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December 2005: Cursive, We Hardly Know Thee

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Writing cursive is a lost art that’s getting more and more lost with each passing year.

What do you do to make opportunities to write? Extra Fine Points

Think about it: How much do you write today, compared to what you wrote, say 10 years ago?

I will say, without hesitation, that I write 2% to 5% of what I did before I first sat down at a computer.

And I, like you, am a fountain pen collector. I go to great pains to make writing time in journals. I hand-write letters and thank-you notes. I write lists: Grocery lists, to-do lists, and sometimes I even hand-write directions to where I’m going when a simple MapQuest web page to the laser printer would do. Writing out shipping labels on packages when a quick “Ctrl-P” would do the job. Even writing out checks to the credit card company and mailing them when a quick online cash transfer would do.

While this month focuses on the art of calligraphy, no one will mistake my chicken-scratching for art. Writing longhand — while I do still write cursive and rarely print block letters — is not an art I have to lose.

But I have a good excuse. I’ve told pieces of this story previously in this space, but let’s do the Cliff’s Notes: My relationship with pens used to be a pretty uneasy one. Back in second and third grades, I ran into a couple septuagenarian teachers whose dictionaries claimed that I, a lefty, was “sinister.”

They tried to mend my ways by making me write righty with this apparatus that resembled a handcuff. It took years of special-ed to correct this diversion from sanity, just to get me back to the typical slob cursive of the typical boys in my classes.

(Just the other day, I picked up some sheet music I had from those dark days, a piano exercise book of scales and chords I refer to now sort of like I would a dictionary how many flats is in a D-flat minor scale, again? — when hacking out a tune for the benefit of the kid. I’d written a note to myself on the cover about what my teacher had asked me to play. I could barely make out the glyphs, and I was the one who wrote them three decades ago!)

By the time I hit my freshman year in high school, I decided to be one of the early adopters of computers. Only a couple other kids had these machines. I was the coolest kid on my block with an Atari 1200xL with a word processor. It was cool not because I could spew class papers out faster than anyone else — and print unlimited copies on my dot-matrix printer — but because the machine also took game cartridges. With a 12-inch color TV hooked up to that baby, we had hours upon hours of good, clean fun playing Choplifter, Q*Bert, Defender, and Ms. Pac-Man.

Writing, at that point, was in my rear-view mirror.

But now, having picked up fountain pens in the last 10 years and resumed writing cursive in a serious way, it’s more of a recreational thing. I’m not worried about how the teacher will grade my penmanship, so the curse of writing has been lifted in favor of actual enjoyment.

It’s fun. But no one will mistake it for any lost art. I’ll leave carrying that torch up to the calligraphers among us and stick to writing junk in journals for my own eyes only.

Which brings me to my question for you. Or, shall I say, questions. What do you do to go out of your way to write by hand? Is cursive dead? Write in your responses and I’ll run the greatest hits in a future “Extra Fine.”

cover Further Reading: Daily Handwriting Practice: Contemporary Cursive, by Jill Norris

While it was a pain back in elementary school, relearning the fine points of writing cursive is another great excuse to try a new ink color, right? If you feel the same way, check out this excellent training guide. It might be a bit juvenile for your tastes, but if you have kids it’s a great way to get them sucked into the fountain pen hobby, especially if you sit down with them and have some fun working these exercises!

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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