From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How's Your Penmanship?

Chores and Duties... History and Old Stuff... And What I Think About It...



PenToday I finished filling out a job application I've been dithering over for several days. I'll hand it in tomorrow and wait to see if anything happens. I am not holding my breath.

I had to complete the application by hand, which made me realize how much my penmanship has deteriorated. My writing muscles have grown lazy.

I have a debit card so I don't write many checks anymore. In a month's time, I might address half a dozen envelopes. I have stickers for the return address. Beyond the checks, the envelopes, and the occasional greeting card with a note inside, I just don't write much.

My written communication is done mostly through the keyboard, these days. Even though I'm a member of the generation before the computer kids, I've made the transition. I've crossed over from analog to digital, so to speak.

The handwriting instruction I received in school came from the days of player-pianos and the Gibson Girl. Palmer penmanship was out of vogue in most schools by the 1950's and '60's, but it was still taught at Duff Valley District 4. I was never able to do those long lines of loops and strokes evenly and smoothly.

So you see, I regret that my handwriting is not what it once was and also that it has never been as nice as I wanted it to be.

I think I am my own harshest critic, though. At one job I had, we were always terribly rushed. We scrawled notes to another department in the worst handwriting that you can imagine. One of the girls in that department complimented me one day. "You have such good handwriting," she said. I laughed strangely because she had shocked me so. "No, really," she said. "I can always read it."

My standards may be unrealistically high, thanks to the Palmer Penmanship books of my childhood. It's function over form with handwriting. Legibility is the most important goal. What good would it do to write beautifully if no one could read it?

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6 comments:

Sarabeth said...

I had much of the same thoughts a few weeks ago when I was completing applications and paperwork for my children's school. There I was using a pen to fill in the emergency contacts and doctor information thinking, why couldn't the school turn these into PDF files that can be filled in by typing? I actually made that suggestion.

On thing that I do is write the letters that I send to the Marines in Iraq by hand. That way I have to practice writing instead of relying on the keyboard.

Trixie said...

My handwriting is horrible. I have a slight tremor from time to time, and when it hits, just forget it. There are times when I cannot read my own handwriting more than an hour after taking notes during an interview (this is kind of tough for writers/reporters!) For a while I used a Palm Pilot with a folding keyboard, since I can type almost as fast as people speak. Certainly much faster than I can write by hand and with greater clarity. So what if I drop a letter here and there? I can still tell what the word is. Not so if you see my writing! A lot of people I've interviewed have glanced at my notebook and asked if I take shorthand. Um, no. When I have to write out names of people in photos for the photographers I work with, I try to print in good-size block letters just to give them a fighting chance, then I ask them to look and see if they can read it before we part company.
Isn't it funny this came up in your blog today? I was thinking I might start doing some of the Palmer exercises in my free time to see if I could get better control of the muscles. Not sure it would help, but perhaps it wouldn't hurt!

Anonymous said...

We too had the old penmanship at our country school and the old phonics (which they have found to be a good way to learn to read).In high school I tryed so hard to write pretty like my friend Donna. But even my Grandma told me I needed to slow down and try to write neater. I really thought there was no hope for my penmanship then. But although its not fancy I have had people tell me that my writing is easy to read. I too was surprised! I do need to get back to writing letters though. It would help if I had good bifocals though. Sammie

RunAwayImagination said...

I completely lost the ability to write in cursive sometime in my twenties. As a lifelong piano player, I've always enjoyed great dexterity, so typing came second nature to me when I took an intro typing course during the summer after 10th grade. I began printing instead of writing when my first job in the telephone company business office required me to make notes that other representatives could read. Today I print whenever I'm required to write by hand. The only legitimately cursive writing I ever do is sign my name. It's very "artistic," but certainly illegible.

Wrkinprogress said...

I can attest to the, um, apparent challenge for Runaway Imagination to write legibly in cursive. He even prints his love notes to me! :D They are no less delightful for the difference, I might add, and a love-email is every bit as powerful as a hand-written one.

Oh, and my writing has suffered as well. Sometimes I have to stop and think about how to make certain letters! Is it just me?

Bill said...

I think bad handwriting is often the result of using poor tools. My own handwriting is usually unreadable when I use a ball-point. However if I use an old-fashioned fountain pen and nice paper I can write really well.

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IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
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