Monday, July 16, 2012

Handwriting, my old bugbear

"The moving hand writes, and having writ, moves on..." wrote the poet Omar Khayyam almost a milennium ago. With this metaphor, he captured the futility of regret about past actions.

Although I have spent most of my professional life training others to communicate effectively, I have a checkered history when it comes to handwriting. This may be a moot point now; some say handwriting will be replaced by printing and word processing. Kids now learn keyboarding so early that they have no time to practice writing by hand. Handwriting in connected script may be a dying art.

Nevertheless, the feeling of my hand racing across paper has been an important part of my life. The sensation of scribbling is deeply satisfying, and it connects me to a long chain of pleasing memories.

When I was in grade four, I failed this basic skill. In those days, we had a double-line notebook called The Maclean Method of Handwriting, and all the kids were supposed to adopt the same style of written script. I couldn't do it, or maybe just wouldn't. I could barely stay within the solid and broken guidelines at all. My teacher was displeased, and awarded me the grade U, unsatisfactory.

My transcription troubles persisted. In grade nine, I signed up for typing class, and though I tried hard to master the skill, my fingers just wouldn't go where I wanted them to. Even though I bought a used typewriter with money earned in an essay contest and practiced at home, my failing marks in typing remained consistent. That year, my name did not appear on the honour roll. People who had even one failing grade were not included.

Eventually, as my hands and body matured, I learned to type. This hard-won skill has been one of the most useful I've ever acquired. Indeed, since I got my first computer in the late eighties, I have probably typed or keyboarded almost every day.

Over the years, I have made many attempts to improve my penmanship, but none of this effort has made much difference. Maybe it's a matter of personality. People like me are more impatient to get the ideas down on paper and indifferent to how those words and sentences look, as long as they are legible.

Right now, I am having a busy few weeks at work, and there's a lot to keep track of. One of my strategies for making sure I attend to necessary details is to write myself little post-it notes. Unfortunately, as I get busier, my handwriting seems to get worse.

The other day, I found a crypic note I'd written to myself, but reminding me of what? I can't decipher my own handwriting.

The moving hand of the poet is all very well, but what about writing that's too illegible to read? Perhaps it helps the writer maintain a certain innocence, not knowing what to regret.

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