Disappearing Ink: Thoughts On a Dying Art Form…

15 12 2009

“The bundles of paper are bound by brittle elastics, stuffed into broken-down shoeboxes and shoved under the bed.

Flowered notepaper displays the familiar swirls and curls of a childhood best friend who moved away. One glimpse and I am 12 again, ripping open envelopes and fretting over who has replaced me.

A teenage boy’s first declaration of love is hidden in a page of scrawl, the three brave words less daunting to put on paper than utter aloud.

My father’s quirky upright script is as distinctive as his blue eyes peering from a family photo. As a kid, finally managing to decipher it was as exhilarating as winning the 25-yard dash on track and field day.

There are a colleague’s reflections in fountain pen, so handsome they could have been written by a medieval scribe. Camp letters scribbled in haste by a son who couldn’t wait to get back to his canoe. Words that slump with the homesickness of a sister living half a world away.”

— Andrea Gordon

I read this article about “The Death of Handwriting” (excerpt above) earlier today and man, did it hit me like a ton of bricks! I know it sounds silly but I was actually fighting back tears as I was reading it. As a (hand)writer myself, losing this art is like losing a loved one. Growing up, handwriting was something I tried hard to master…yet something I always detested because it was forced upon us to learn in school. “Cursive?”, our class would moan, “…why learn it when printing is sooooo much easier”. It was hard and it was ugly. But as the years went on, we had no choice but to embrace it and I remember a time in junior high when my girlfriends and I would compare our handwriting with one another. “Ohhhh I like your ‘G’…let me see if I can copy it!” And so we would try to imitate each other…picking and choosing the letters and styles that we thought were ‘pretty’…each one of us trying to find our identity through penmanship. I remember distinctly, at one point, all of our writings actually looked oddly similar. Until those days of imitation stopped and comparing with one another was no longer a priority…

…and finding our own unique style of hand writing was something, not done deliberately or consciously, but something that simply came to be. I can look back on the evolution of my penmanship and see the early years of confusion. They started off big and fat, then sharp and pointed, my ‘i’s dotted with hearts and round circles, tails on my ‘t’s extended to add that little oomph…like a teen actually trying to find her identity, trying on different masks to see which fit the best. Until of course, you realize that it’s simply best to just be yourself…and let the writing flow. Don’t think, just write. And when that happens, when it’s natural, when it’s you…it’s gorgeous as it is. When you find that, the writing…and you, are stable and confident. Sure there will be changes throughout the years but the essence remains the same. And it’s that time that cursive becomes free flowing…it’s that time that your cursive becomes an art. I’ve had many people compliment me on my hand writing, saying how it is “so me”. And that’s something I pride myself in…with no arrogance intended, I love it too. After all, it’s something I painstakingly worked for throughout the years…

So everything the article described is true, and it’s something I’ve never actually given much thought about. Because really…who thinks about cursive writing as a daily activity? But as the author notes, “handwriting, like a human face, is unique and evolving” and it tells such evocative stories, so unlike the ones we read on our computer screens or smartphones. After reading the article, I rushed to my bedroom to reach for my box of birthday cards, love letters, and postcards…all items that seem to be from the distant past. And all the emotions that I felt when I first tore up the envelope of each card or letter came rushing right back…the joy, the giddiness, the disappointment, and even the indifference.

I realize this might be ironic considering I’m blogging about this right now and the fact that I work so heavily with ICTs everyday as a part of my personal and professional life. And yet, a part of me is heart broken when I read about the supposed death of handwriting. Of course, I welcome and advocate greatly for our move towards technology…for those of you who know me, know how much of a positive force I believe it can be. But it’s also true that “no emoticon can impart as much enthusiasm as an exclamation mark dashed off by hand”. It seems we’re letting go of a certain romance that I’m not quite ready to let go of. So is this the trade-off for the worldwide connectivity and ubiquity that our generation of technology provides? Are we only left now with a nostalgia, a memory for a time long gone? Have I just written the eulogy for that old, forgotten but ever beautiful art?

Read the article here – The Death of Handwriting (via @robertoocampo)




11 responses

15 12 2009

Awesome job. Better than the orginal article even.

16 12 2009

d’awww this makes me so happy!

17 12 2009

Abby Girl, loved it! you made me cry!

18 12 2009

Thanks D! 🙂

17 12 2009
John Belgue

Hi Justine,

Not sure if you remember me, but apparently I gave you your first job…..at least according to your mom. You worked for me at Apotex and that is where I met your mom.

Reading your recent article immediately made me think of my 10 year old son, who like your article states, moans everytime the teacher says “Cursive”! He hates and doesn’t understand why he needs to do it. I’ll read your article with him and see if it changes his opinion.

Keep up the great work. You clearly have a gift that should be shared with as many people as possible.


18 12 2009

Of course I remember you, John!

Thank you so much for your kind words. And I hope your son will change his mind but then again, maybe not! I know that at that age, I would never have believed it if someone told me that there was something good to be found in cursive writing 😛 …something that he’ll learn on his own, along his journey.

Thanks again. So happy you took the time to read this…

18 12 2009

Great insight Abby. I agree that nothing replaces a handwritten note. Typed up notes can invoke a lot of emotions and feelings as well but there’s nothing else hidden that can be seen behind a typwritten word or sentence. Handwrites on the other hand can can show the care taken to write the note, or the hastiness that one feels to get over writing the note – the writing itself is a mood. Did you do any handwriting as you were composing the article above? Now that would be a good one to see 🙂

18 12 2009

I like that…”the writing itself is a mood”. It’s so true…you can really tell if the letter was carefully crafted and thoroughly thought about…

And that’s the irony of it…I didn’t even hand write any of the stuff I wrote above. :S

Thanks for reading T. Ronna!

18 12 2009

Wow, what a beautiful, thoughtful post! I think it brings up a bit of nostalgia for all of us who grew up actually writing homework assignments. In junior highschool, my teacher took penmanship a step further and had a group of us learn calligraphy. After mastering the basics, one of the joys of learning calligraphy was to see how others added their own touches and flair. Handwriting is as unique as a fingerprint. Lovely, thanks for sharing!

18 12 2009

Oh Emily, thanks so much for your comment! I had a teacher who did the same…still have my calligraphy pens/ink but they haven’t been used in ages. I remember everyone was excited to learn that…I guess because of the idea that calligraphy was such an old time kind of thing. The novelty was the allure.

And you said it exactly…”handwriting is as unique as a fingerprint”. Couldn’t have put it any better.

20 12 2009
Barry Wellman

Nice post, J-A. Nice thing is that these days you can write as well with a < $10 gel pen — at the UofT bookstore — as with a $150 Montblanc. Just keep writing!!

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