The Star-Herald

Putting pen to paper? Who does that?

Remember cursive?  You know, the handwriting method where you connect all the letters … that thing some of us used to learn in grade school?  

I miss that.

 

A younger person observed me writing something recently, and asked me why I connected the letters.

“Oh, well, it’s just cursive,” I replied.

“What’s cursive?”

After I picked my bottom lip off the floor, I said, “You don’t write in cursive?”

He shook his head and looked puzzled.

When my classmates and I were in grade school, most of us couldn’t wait to learn cursive.

I remember being in first grade, looking down at my paper with those big double dotted lines, and so carefully forming printed letters.  But over on the other blackboard, the letters were all loops and swirls.  

“That,” said our teacher Mrs. Mullen, “is cursive, which you all will learn someday.”

I gazed up at those stately strokes on the board and couldn’t wait to connect the letters into cursive like the big kids. In fourth grade, we had penmanship drills, filling lines with single letters, then small words, forming lines and loops over and over as we tried to perfect the “r” or that dastardly “z.”  And asking why on earth the capital Q looked like a 2.

After so long, our teachers required us to turn in work written in cursive — not printing.

There’s been talk about teaching cursive lately, whether it is still relevant in this technological age. A 2019 Maine bill that would have required schoolchildren in grades three through five to learn cursive writing died in process. Many youth can’t write in cursive, but here’s the thing:  They can’t read it, either.

Imagine not being able to decipher old family records, journals, handwritten notes, greeting cards — or the autograph of a famous person you may have met.

One of my favorite things about the holidays when I was a child was seeing whose Christmas cards had arrived. Even before I could read, I loved the intriguing loops and strokes of the handwriting.

I observed the shaky signatures of an elderly acquaintance, the nearly microscopic lines written by a family friend, the indistinguishable signature of a cousin, and on and on. I suppose I formed pictures in my head of the people I had never met, just from studying the greetings they wrote.

I still love reading cards, notes, family recipes and the like. I sense such a connection with the people who actually penned those words.

Handwriting seems so personal. I learned to appreciate the ability to write some years ago when I broke a wrist — my right wrist — exactly a week before Christmas. The cast went nearly from my fingertips to my forearm. I squirmed like a bad disco dancer trying to dress myself, and a trip to the bathroom was an unspeakable adventure. And I was a reporter, after all. I couldn’t manage my camera, let alone take notes. It wasn’t hard to tell who was typing in the office, either: clickety THUNK, click-clickety THUNK.  

The inability to write got to me. The hen scratches I made with my left hand aggravated me no end. I viewed the mundane task of writing a check or a shopping list with wistful longing. The wait seemed interminable until the cast came off, and when it did, putting pen to paper took on new meaning.

I enjoy the act of writing. There’s a serenity in connecting the loops, adding a flourish, seeing your words flow onto paper. It’s creativity. It’s self-expression. It can also be art, which I’ve explored in the occasional practice of calligraphy.

Writing is a deliberate, focused act where you’re not just forming letters, but expressing the words you write. It makes you think carefully about what you’re saying and about the person you’re writing to.  It makes stuff personal.

And heaven knows, in a world where you can see folks out in groups who aren’t interacting, but all texting on their phones, we need “personal.” In a world where too many people don’t seem to have the ability to converse anymore, yet hunger for connection, we are desperate for “personal.”

So pull your own bottom lip off the floor and write a note, jot down a grocery list or start a journal. Teach a young person to write their own name in cursive. 

Let’s keep this dying art alive.

Paula Brewer is assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times and St. John Valley Times, plus websites TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com. She can be reached at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com or 207-764-4471.

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