Monday, March 2, 2009

The Moving Finger writes...

"...and, having writ, Moves on;
nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it."
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

My finger moves only to keyboard nowadays, seldom ever to write. And when I do write, it's frequently - usually - illegible, even to me. My handwriting was never anything to brag about, once I was freed from the uniformity of first grade manuscript and third grade cursive. By 6th grade I had developed my own "ruffles and flourishes" if you will, with "g"s and "y"s trailing reverse fish-hooks (just like every other girl my age) and "i"s dotted with great circles (also like every other girl my age!). Fortunately, this was before the age of the smiley face, or I'm sure my schoolwork would have sported that degradation as well!

My adult handwriting was an improvement - of sorts. My mom used to say, "Cheryle's handwriting is a beatiful thing to see; you just can't read it!" And she was right: my college papers, letters, notes to my children's teachers, all swept gracefully, grammatically correctly, Emily Post-ly (Postally?) across the papers upon which they were inscribed - and there were NO spelling errors! Folding them to place in an envelope, or stapling the corners together, I would often feel a sense of pride in how pretty they were, never giving a thought to how difficult they were to read. After all, I could read them; what's wrong with you people?

Even through years of using typewriter and then computers, it was easier to grab a sheet of paper and write something than it was to type (or keyboard) it. After all, formatting, finding paper, turning on the printer - well it was just easier to grab a piece of notebook paper from the kids or a legal pad from my office and write the letter, note, whatever.

My sister and I used to write long chatty letters to each other. She lived on one Coast, I on the other, and whenever a fat, legal-sized envelope with my sister's handwriting on it showed up in the mailbox, I saved it for when I could sit and relish it. Cross-outs, digressions, coffee rings - all were dear to me and cherished. And I responded in kind. Sometimes our letters would start on one day and end 12, or 15, or 20 pages later, on another. What treasures they were - and are; I've saved them all.

And I loved - and still do - seeing my mother's handwriting. It takes me back to childhood notes for school, or birthday cards, or mementos for my children, and, of course, her letters to me. I enjoy my grandfather's handwriting, an art learned in the 19th century, with letters that look so different today, peppered with words and phrases lost in the whirl of progress. And I treasure the school papers and too few letters that I have from my own boys, benchmarks of their progress in school, postcards from far-away places, Mother's Day and birthday cards that can make me cry or smile - or both!

Alas! I have become such a slave to the keyboard and email that I can barely write any longer. Sometimes it's an effort even to sign my name on a credit card slip (well, not that much of an effort!). My hand shakes sometimes when I try to write; it's not a real palsy because it doesn't happen any other time (like when I eat). But frequently I have to stop and form each letter in a word very intentionally, otherwise my writing is illegible even to me.

I will not leave behind volumes of letters written to my children and grandchildren, nor will I have many to add to those precious ones tucked away in boxes. And I'm sorry for that.

My sister sent an article about handwriting to me over the weekend. It was sent, of course, electronically, which was kind of ironic. But it speaks to the loss of this once revered art form, and it made me nostalgic for the "good old days."

Progress is good and I love the convenience and speed of computers. Hey, if not for computers, you'd be missing all this musing! But I'm sorry that future generations won't have the evocative odor of letters stuffed in old shoe boxes and hidden away in closets. Or know that thrill of touching a piece of paper that grandfather rested his hand upon more than a century ago. Or finding that word that a relative just never spelled the same way twice. Or especially the quiet joy of holding a letter from a long-dead loved one, re-reading the words so carefully written in an ageing hand, the faded ink a testament to taking precious time to say, "I love you and I miss you. Write soon. Love, Mom"


  1. Oh, my dear Cheryle, another sign of our twin-ness! A dear friend and I, as young mothers, would write long letters to each other and the entries spanned many days. Her handwriting is beautiful, mine just okay. It takes more of an effort to put pen to paper and the missive is more personal than writing on a computer. I miss those letters.

    While I have been all for cancelling the teaching of cursive I must admit to taking a mental step back after reading this entry. Much like losing a language after a generation of non-use, is it possible we will lose a part of our culture if we stop teaching cursive? Imagine going to the Library of Congress only to see word processed versions of speeches rather than the handwritten message. (It gave me chills to see Martin Luther King's handwriting)

    While I love my computer and word processing (if only they had been "alive" when I was struggling with margins and footnotes in college!), you are correct that these tools are sterile. Here's to my renewed interested in cursive and a thank you to you for this entry!

  2. Megan and I exchanged letters from highschool through Davey's birth. She has (had?) her own seal and pretty golden sealing wax; I liked sparkly butterfly stickers. Maybe I'll just give up on my quest for trendy matching stationary sets (the ones with cards, paper, envelopes for the cards, letter envelopes, stickers, and some other trinket - a pen or address book - all in the same pattern. I have one from a couple of years back, but can't even find them on the internet! Where did they go?? Hmmm... maybe I've found my next un-finished project), give up, and grab that legal pad in my drawer. I have shoeboxes in my closet.

  3. I appreciate the work of all people who share information with others.