Tuesday, September 14, 2010

of a type

True story: I had horrific penmanship as a child. I hated to write, it was a physically painful experience to grip a pencil and scrawl crooked letters across the page. I loved to read, I had ideas and stories to share, but the act of putting Ticandaroga No. 2 to that dirty, flecked practice paper, paper so thin that a chubby pink eraser tore it to shreds, hurt.

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?


  1. My handwriting used to be beautiful. I found old letter that I wrote to DOTR and couldn't believe the penmanship. It looked like I drew the letters. Now, not so much. I much prefer typing (or keyboarding, as they call it now) and like you I can type about as fast as I think.

  2. My handwriting stinks!!! In 5th grade I failed handwriting...I am left handed and my teacher would Everyday turn my paper to the proper rt handed angle! My mom bought me pencils that said left handed genius and had conferences with the old coot, but he insisted that in a couple years I'd be typing everything anyway so don't worry. (Half the reason I went into medicine was for the lack of handwriting responsibilities ;))

  3. I have always had good handwriting, but years of working on a computer have made it hard for me to compose without a keyboard.

    Maybe you and your son both have dysgraphia (I'm trying to remember if he has handwriting issues)? In which case, having access to a keyboard would just be a case of using adaptive technology.

  4. I used to have nice penmanship. My letters were big and sometimes a little loopy, but you could always read it. That has changed. Now I write notes to myself and have to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out what I wrote. My husband has perfect handwriting and I have always been a bit jealous of that. Every letter the same size and at the same angle whether he is printing or writing cursive. Thank goodness for the computer.

    I got a C in typing. The only C I had that year.

  5. Oh dear...I am so sorry you suffered! I always loved to write - physically write - and my mom included me when she learned calligraphy, too! I also love handwriting analysis, and at one time set forth to adopt personality traits I wanted (like 'neatness' and 'desire to achieve') by changing my handwriting FIRST *haha!* Odd fact: I do not really have a handwriting style that's "mine"...hmm...I'll have to remember that one for my next psych appointment...heehee!
    * ; )

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  7. I do like my handwriting and seem to need that tactile reinforcement to get my ideas on paper... creating as I go along.

    I never took typing in school... should have!

  8. My handwriting can go either way, depending on how much attention I'm paying to what I'm doing.

    Oh, and I rest my pen/pencil on my 4th finger too, plus I'm a lefty.

    My older girl's handwriting is perfect, utterly and absolutely perfect.

    My younger girl's handwriting, however, is the exact opposite. She has some dexterity issues and spent some time (but not enough) in occupational therapy, so she's a few years behind her peers in handwriting. When she wants to, however, she can produce some lovely and very fancy handwriting.

  9. I hate my handwriting! I can't write in cursive and until the kids went to school, I always printed in all upper case letters...then I switched because I wanted to set a good example....now it's just a mess! My son will only write with a #2 Ticonderoga too!!!! I prefer to write with a black thin Sharpie.

  10. I love to type when I edit but for new ideas, scribbling fast and nearly illegibly in a notebook is my favorite way to get started with a story.

  11. My handwriting has declined over the years of grading papers. I laugh now to remember the days of college when I insisted on writing all papers by hand, as that was the only way they felt "real." Keyboard all the way!

  12. You're going to hate me, but my handwriting is beautiful. So good I can even do calligraphy. Please don't hate me.
    Here's where you get even - my spelling sucks. Thank Heaven for Spell-check or I would be the most avoided blog on the planet. But I can sure make those misspelled words look pretty with my handwriting.

  13. My handwriting sucked in school. I always made C or worse in handwriting. I hated writing and I have a form of dyslexia that makes me mix up letters as I write/type. E's, 3's, M's and W's are all the same to me - and more like that. My handwriting is better now - and mostly I type.

    Wait - you were in 2nd grade in 1979? I graduated from college that year!

  14. Mrs. E. Miller sounds mean.

    My handwriting is terrible.

    And you ARE a writer. If you write, and you do, you are a writer.

  15. As a child, I had a death grip on that Number 2, and my handwriting was sloppy. I barely learned to write my own name in cursive. By the time I left college with my BS, I printed neatly in all capital letters.

    But then my kids started learning to print. And THEN I started homeschooling them. And *THEN* I learned to print neatly. ;) I can almost write in cursive, too! Yay me!

    But when I need to compose, I can type a mile a minute.

  16. I still hold my pen/pencil wrong to this day. I tuck my thumb inside my hand when I write. I prefer to print over cursive, but typing is easiest to get my thoughts out.

  17. My siblings tell me I have awesome handwriting & printing which always ends up in me writing all of their invites to everything.
    I like my handwriting but find it is increasingly hard to craft a decent note without re-doing it a few times. I blame this on computers. They help us with spelling & grammer so much so all we need to do is hit some of the right keys. Some days I feel as if the art of true writing has gone along the wayside. sentances

  18. My handwriting is actually pretty good, but I type faster than I can write. I'm developing arthritis in my hands now, too, making typing much easier than handwriting.

    I'm putting in a request for an Interwrite projector, the first step in finally getting a smartboard. Fun part of that? I can write on the mobi and it'll turn it into type. Cool, eh?

  19. my hand writing is ok -- if i pay attention. if i'm not it gets sloppy. i loved high school typing class. still prefer the keyboard.

    my oldest has the worst hand writing ever -- i can't wait until he can start typing everything...

  20. ....this is fascinating to read!!
    btw did y'all know that there is, to this day, a standardized form of writing that ALL ARCHITECTS must (are required)to learn and use?? Crazy!!! go look on your "plats" or plans for your houses...it's all caps and very wide font...


Spill it, reader.