Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Now that I'm doing all this letter writing, I am finding that sometimes I am doing actual letter writing. I used to have fairly good handwriting, but over years of disuse, it has deteriorated. But there seems to be a conspiracy afloat to get me back into the business of writing again.

Today I received a letter from my new pen pal Troy (Penpalling Dad), who is very proud of his handwriting, and proud he should be. There is no way I could produce something that looks like this.

Troy.jpg  (39724 bytes)

There is not exactly a great emphasis, but definitely a trend toward hand writing letters in the on-line community. There is no doubt that many of the letters I get these days are handwritten. I've also written a few myself, especially if I have some cute stationery that seems to need a pen rather than a printer.

On CBS's Sunday Morning this week there was a segment on handwriting and penmanship, asking the question whether cursive writing is even necessary any more. It covers various forms of teaching handwriting, including the odious Palmer Method that caused me such pain in school.

I went to see if there was a copy of the segment on You Tube and there was. It covers the history of handwriting and is really kind of interesting, but my favorite part starts at about 7:30 minutes in (of a 9 minute segment), when there is an interview of calligrapher Margaret Shepherd, who discusses the value of hand writing, specifically in writing letters and how much more personal is a handwritten letter.

The interesting thing is that she holds up a letter written by her mother and she talks about how just holding the letter in her hand conjures up memories of her mother that she would not get with an e-mail. If you look closely, the letter starts "Dear Alison..." Margaret Shepherd is the sister of my friend and co-author, Alison Lewis. I have known Alison for 40 years and she used to give me one of Margaret's calligraphy calendars every Christmas, but I have never met Margaret herself...though she seems to be popping up in letter-writing blogs all over the place right now.

I have some problems with handwriting. I learned the dreaded Palmer Method in school, but I never got good marks and a glance at the videotape will tell you why. In all of the video and photos that the segment includes of children practicing their letters, there isn't one child who is left handed.

Palmer, the sadist, never took into account that people who are left handed can't do those damn exercises neatly and even if they somehow manage to tilt their hand in the right way, it means that everything you write gets smeared by your arm, which must follow the hand along as it draws lazy circles on the page. Of course Palmer was probably of the era where children were not permitted to be left handed. Fortunately, my school did not try to force me to write with my right hand. But they also made no accommodations for my left handedness either.

I know many left handers (Peach, for example) who have perfectly fine handwriting because they were taught to let their hand do what came naturally, which is to slant the letters to the left rather than to the right. I can do that, but it doesn't feel comfortable to me because of how many years I wrote the other way.

pens.jpg  (50261 bytes)The other problem I have with handwriting is the use of the writing implement. Right now I have a number of pens on my desk (I use the Sharpies to write addresses on dark-colored envelopes). But none of them feel right in my hand.

When I have a pen that doesn't feel right, my handwriting is much worse than when I have something comfortable.

So I've been on a casual hunt for The Perfect Pen.

Yesterday morning I happened to spy a "uniball" pen lying on the kitchen counter. Lord knows how long it's been there but I kinda sorta remembered that it had a good feel to it, so I decided to experiment and I chose a postcard to address.

It did, indeed, feel comfortable in my hand and the tip of the pen glided very nicely over the surface of the post card. It may have been the best example of how my handwriting looks at it's best.

uniball.jpg  (71219 bytes)

But as you can see, it has the old Palmer Method problem. The letters are a bit smeared, which may be partly because of the slickness of the postcard surface, but I hate sending something messy like this.

Fortunately, the letter-writing community is forgiving with people, like me, who prefer to type their letters. In the book "Good Mail Day," by Jenni Hinchcliff, she says that most people have difficulty composing at the typewriter. For me it is just the opposite. If I have to hand write something, I often type it first because then it reads better and I copy it onto paper with pen (of course I also throw caution to the wind and occasionally actually compose with a pen too,but it's not as interesting as it is if I type it first).

I guess that I will always continue to type most things, and occasionally write a letter. But in the meantime the search for The Perfect Pen continues.


phonelady said...

I love my fountain pen and always will . It flows so nice onto the paper and I can truly thank the academy of holy names and Sister Mary Agnes for her penmanship class .

Harriet said...

I have always composed better at the keyboard, even when it was a manual typewriter, because I can't write as fast as I can think.

I learned Palmer method in public school -- five years' worth, 'cause you don't write until you've learned to print (first grade). I don't do it well because I never felt free enough to use my whole arm. I write with my fingers. (My tiny shorthand --formed by just fingers -- intrigued my teacher.)

Mary Z said...

Well, here's another thing we have in common. I compose better on the typewriter (guess it's a keyboard now). So I do that, then copy it for the handwritten note.