My new second grade teacher, Mrs. E. Miller (not to be confused with her sister, also a teacher at Ralph Witter Elementary, Mrs. V. Miller), was a gaunt, wrinkled woman who wore dark glasses. She observed my right hand clutching at my pencil during handwriting exercises and flew to the side of my desk.
“You’re holding the pencil wrong.” She peeled my gnarled grip away from my Ticondaroga No. 2 and repositioned them so the pencil rested on my middle finger instead of my fourth finger. “This is how we hold a pencil.”
She straightened up and continued down the aisle of desks while I flipped my middle finger back to the top of my pencil and continued copying the sentences off the board. The girl likes to play with dolls. People eat many kinds of food. In 1979 whole language instruction had no place in public classrooms. “Writing” meant copying meaningless subject-verb combinations from a teacher’s manual.
A week or two of battling over my grip on the pencil ensued before she called in the Big Gun, the Principal.
“Green Girl, holding the pencil the wrong way makes your handwriting sloppy. If you hold it correctly,” the Principal’s hands pried my middle finger away from my index finger and placed it below the yellow pencil, sliding my hand far from the pointed tip, “you’ll be a better writer.”
But my handwriting remained atrocious regardless of where I placed my fingers on the pencil. To better instruct me on handwriting, Mrs. E. Miller adhered to the “practice makes perfect” school of instruction. She kept me in during recess to copy extra sentences on that thin, dirty, blue-lined paper. The pressure from my frustrated pencil tip and angry eraser tore through those horizontal sheets of paper while I tried and failed to make a passing grade in Penmanship. And the more sentences I was given to copy, the sloppier I wrote. My hand grew tired, my attitude grew bitter.
Years passed, the stories brewed in my brain, my handwriting improved slightly and I found myself in a high school Typing class. An entire year of typing--sitting at an electric typewriter, Mr. Smith, the lazy business teacher at his desk with his feet propped up telling us to hit the keys "GGHHGHG." As my fingers trained to hit the keys, my accuracy and speed developed and I learned to type, really type. I found a method to get my ideas onto paper that didn't hurt and always looked legible. I found a method to write that worked at the same pace as my brain and I found I could type for hours without tiring. My brain clicked into a new gear that year, allowing me to think my ideas while typing them, the act of typing requiring as little thought as swallowing or blinking.
Learning to type gave me freedom of expression. My penmanship is still pretty awful (heaven help those poor students of mine who had to read it off a chalkboard back in the day!), but thank God for keyboards and printers. I can pound or clack or tap my thoughts onto the page (or screen) as fast as I can think them. Technically speaking, I'm not a writer, but I've found words to be the most valuable medium for communicating and there's more than one way to get those words on a page. Someday I hope to write clearly and legibly, I'd like to learn proper cursive and refine my handwriting. But until then, I'm thankful for a type of writing that's as easy as pressing a button.
Spill it, reader. How's your handwriting? Are you a typer or a pen or pencil writer?