I remember taking penmanship classes in grade school. I distinctly recall my teachers using the three-chalk holder on the board to mimic ruled lines before tracing the script letters. I was proud of myself for writing in script, versus print, and took time working on my penmanship, traveling from big, unsteady loops to a surer, more elegant and tightly combined script. I remain proud of my handwriting, and even today, when my parents are mailing holiday cards, they lament that I’m not home to write and send them.
One of my largest surprises has been the decrease of script versus print among my students. Even when they do write in print, I have difficulty deciphering their answers on daily reading quizzes. I sincerely try to make out the words, often writing above what I think the student meant. Before one class, one student asked about what I had written, which led to a conversation on what I consider to be a form of art: handwriting. To my surprise, I realized that penmanship is no longer taught as it once was. No wonder the scrawl that I receive is illegible!
I worry about the increased sloppiness of my own written hand – often when I’m writing in a hurry. During those times, I usually sit down and “practice” by writing a handwritten note. Perhaps my own literary interests have guided my endeavors, but I have always loved watching period pieces as the heroine sits down to read a letter from friends or suitors, and then slowly but deliberately writes a reply. Thinking about the handwritten letter, I realize that writing a letter is an exercise not only in reflection and precision, but also connects to a deeper relationship.
We often hear that social media generates superficial communication and connection. But what happens if a friend is absent from Facebook or Twitter? Perhaps, that friend may feel inadequate as users create videos of their important moments or discuss what they’ve seen on Facebook or Twitter feeds.To maintain and sustain a relationship with the person absent from social media, other forms of communication are used: phone calls, coffee or dinner dates, emails or written letters. How much more do we appreciate direct communication over general statements made to the social media universe on our “walls”? If we truly value our relationships with one another, shouldn’t we speak more directly and purposefully? Shouldn’t our communication be an exercise in reflection and precision or have we traded connection and authenticity for generality and performance?
I still value writing and receiving handwritten letters because they often take more time and inspire deeper conversations with my recipients. I always stop in stationery aisles in stores, perusing decorative papers and cards and look forward to holiday and birthday cards. Maybe these are characteristics of what will soon become a bygone era, but I can’t help but see these “outmoded” forms as a way of developing stronger connections and relationships.