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October 2009: Putting Cursive in Its Place

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Last month, we delved into a Newsweek piece on letter-writing, and wouldn't you know, I came upon another lovely piece from the online version of that dead-tree pub, “The Curse of Cursive.”

The solitude and mental clarity is amazing when going to a tech-free zone, sitting down with pen and paper, and just composing in a journal. It’s more important than ever, these days… Extra Fine Points

In it, author Jessica Bennett claims that cursive is dead, en route to reviewing the book Script & Scribble, (see “Further Reading,” below) longtime editor Kitty Burns Florey’s love note to longhand writing and defends its importance in today’s tech-happy culture. We might have pockets loaded with cell phones that text and Twitter and Facebook, and that has led to the de-emphasis of teaching handwriting in school, Florey laments. The fact is, handwriting still matters.

Penmanship lesson

On the other hand, Bennett says “good riddance,” and — I fear — let the door hit cursive’s backside on the way out.

Most of us fountain pen collector-user-enthusiasts have been accused of being Luddites at worst or wonks at best for using fountain pens in a ballpoint world. Now the culture seems to be shifting even further away, making pens and handwriting themselves a piece of history.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is, this hobby’s strong, even in this down economy: Pen shows still persist; new collectors email me, Barbara, and Richard daily looking for advice, and countless others scour this site and leave educated without having to drop us a line; and as far as I can see, pen chasers on eBay and other auction venues haven’t slowed down — at least as much as their cousins chasing sports memorabilia.

And, as I’ve pointed out before in this space, the technology stuff gets more and more overwhelming by the year. Are you seeking peace from the din? Get away from the computer and its email/Facebook/instant messaging, the Blu-Ray hi-def television and its Dolby surround sound bombarding you from all directions, and the technological pocket rocket that makes calls, takes pictures, and fires off texts.

Hand writing

The solitude and mental clarity is amazing when going to a tech-free zone, sitting down with pen and paper, and just composing in a journal. It’s more important than ever, these days, because computers overload the senses and dampen creativity in the process. It’s like trying to compose a sentence in the middle of a street riot among your 50 closest friends and office colleagues.

These days, amping up the tactile experience of writing actually helps in finding that peace you seek away from the bits and bytes that represent your cloud of electronic friends and coworkers…and their expectations of what you’ll be doing for them now that they’ve made their wishes known with a terse Tweet or text.

More importantly, for writers, it’s becoming more and more pronounced, this difference between tech-free writing and stuff dashed off in Word or an email or notes program. For instance, here at the computer, I’ve got Google ads flashing from that Newsweek page to which I’m referring, a ticking clock on my computer’s desktop, any number of icons and notifications when people beep or buzz me, and these buttons with which Bill Gates’s army enveloped my writing experience. It’s a surprise I can put together a sentence together, period, with all this visual noise — let alone one that adds up grammatically.

Photo © The Computer History Museum

With pen and paper, ideas crystallize better. You make more sense. You make stronger arguments. You’re more clear and concise. I’m not just making this stuff up; I write for a living and constantly analyze the process. Maybe it’s just me; maybe because I have to slow down and filter my spew because my hand to paper cannot move as quickly as fingers over keys, I more formally edit my thoughts and therefore communicate more effectively. Whatever the reason, I suspect I’m not alone in experiencing the syndrome of writing better stuff on paper than on screen.

So don’t feel like a Luddite or a wonk. You just go ahead and seek solace with your favorite writing instrument, and write. As for me, I find that handwriting and journaling work great for venting, organizing the confusing, chaotic internal dialog that all these electronic communication devices breed inside my brain, and outlining future essays. I really can’t write whole articles, longhand, because even I didn’t do that back in school—even in the early 1980s I was word-processing with an Atari 1200XL (left). I was one of the first in my class with his own computer, but this whole death-of-cursive thing has been going on for 30 years.

But that’s not going to stop me from keeping cursive alive. Speaking of which, it’s about time for me to introduce Patrick to a journal in which he can start writing down some of these vivid stories he’s enacting with his Thomas trains and Cars diecast toys. Until next month, I bid you farewell.

cover Further Reading: Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, by Kitty Burns Florey
A semi-formal history of graphology, this is a must read for pen collectors and anyone else concerned that the death of handwriting may contribute to the downfall of Western civilization.

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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