Sunday, August 2, 2015

Can you still write cursively?

The other day I spent about 15 minutes trying to decode a note I had written to myself. Once I finally figured it out, I wondered how I got to the place where my handwriting became hieroglyphic. I must admit up front that I never received an “A” in handwriting in grammar school. But still, how did this happen?

Step 1: Be left handed in a right handed world. Like all kindergartners and first graders, the nuns put a pencil in my right hand and started me on the path to illegibility. To their credit, near the end of the second grade Sister Theresa Marie stood over me watching me struggle and asked me to try the other hand. It immediately felt better but I had lost three years; kindergarten, first grade and most of second grade of foundation building by printing. Third grade was the dawn of cursive writing, but I simply did not have enough eye-to-hand coordination to become anything more than a mediocre penman.

Step 2: Be impatient. Yup, impatience could have been my middle name. I hated being a newbie at anything. I wanted to gain skills without practice. There was only one thing this did not apply to; music! I loved practicing music and seemed to have a knack of picking up new instruments, especially brass and woodwinds. So by time I was a senior in high school I could get by on most every instrument from Tuba to flute. But I really loved trumpet and saxophone, despite the fact that the armatures for each were very different. Sadly the only guitar I ever mastered was “air” guitar. Again my impatience was too strong to spend time mastering fingerings and chords. I still have a dream that I will pick up guitar late in life.

Step 3” Go to college! Sure, we took notes in class during high school but that can be compared to a paddleboat next to a speedboat as one makes the transition to college. I found some of my old college notes a few years ago and the deterioration was clearly visible in my handwriting from my freshman year till I finally graduated. It became more important to record what the professor said than being able to read it easily. By time I reached my junior year, cursive had given way back to printing. Because I had just finished a technical graphing course where neatness counted, my return to print was initially pretty clear and easy to read. But even that gave way to the pressure of recording so much in so little time.

Step 4: Start keyboarding! In the 70s I took my first computer programming course in the Fortran computer language. Like so many men, I was not exposed to typing in high school. Mother was a pretty good typist and she spent some time teaching me the basics. I thought that was pretty cool because the results were always readable. Note that I did not say neat and readable; that was because I always had to use liquid paper to correct my typos. By the time the nineties arrived I was completely immersed in a quasi “hunt and peck” method for everything I wrote, be it for school work or hobbies. Rare indeed was the time I picked up pen and paper to make a note of anything. There was an app for that.

Finally, step 5: Get older. I remember how my Mother’s beautiful cursive handwriting began to change as she entered her senior years. Nature takes its toll on muscle and nerves and we all get a bit shaky. Sure enough, my handwriting reflects that. There is a silver lining to that, however; my keyboarding skills continue to improve. The crude hunt-and-peck style that I started with has improved to a more sophisticated hunt-and-peck style. Those hundreds of thousands lines of code, project plans, e-mails and word processed documents have improved my typing. I now use almost every finger of each hand instead of only the first two. It is not exactly touch-typing but the fingers hover near the prime position over the keyboard. I look at the screen most of the time instead of the keyboard. And there are far fewer typos than back when my Mother was training me. Although auto-spell is clearly a contributing factor.

Do I regret having to learn to print and then to write cursively? Absolutely not! I have fond memories of that number 2 pencil and that Schick ink pen, complete with the pool of blue ink that appeared under the shirt pocket on my white school uniform. Remembering working on those technical drawings with mechanical pencils with a special lead sharpener always make me smile. Nothing can compare with the joy of inking those drawings and copying them with a blueprint machine before turning them over to the professor or storing them in the print drawer at work for documentation. The sight of one of those handmade drawings stuck to the wall of my workspace made me feel more at home than the output of any graphics or CAD program ever could. To those who have come along since the demise of printing and cursive writing and hand crafted engineering drawings, I feel sad that you will never have the chance to craft your masterpiece with your own hands. It is like the woodworker looking at the person who builds a chair from a kit. Not the same thing! Oh MY!

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