Tuesday, September 22, 2009

grounding in what is beautiful

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a group of people who were reminiscing about learning cursive. Some people found it an oppressive tyranny on their block printing and still look back upon the lessons with dismay. Others - including myself - saw learning cursive as a doorway to adulthood that had finally been breached. I recalled writing looping lines as a cursive-less child, thinking they somehow conveyed meaning I just couldn't understand yet. My parents were trained as elementary school teachers, and they were both indoctrinated into the penmanship standards of the time. And I mean indoctrinated - to this day, when I receive cards in the mail from either of them, I am unable to tell their handwriting apart. As their daughter, I take great pride in my cursive style, so I read with interest Umberto Eco on the lost art of handwriting:

My parents' handwriting was slightly slanted because they held the sheet at an angle, and their letters were, at least by today's standards, minor works of art. At the time, some – probably those with poor hand- writing – said that fine writing was the art of fools. It's obvious that fine handwriting does not necessarily mean fine intelligence. But it was pleasing to read notes or documents written as they should be.

My generation was schooled in good handwriting, and we spent the first months of elementary school learning to make the strokes of letters. The exercise was later held to be obtuse and repressive but it taught us to keep our wrists steady as we used our pens to form letters rounded and plump on one side and finely drawn on the other. Well, not always – because the inkwells, with which we soiled our desks, notebooks, fingers and clothing, would often produce a foul sludge that stuck to the pen and took 10 minutes of mucky contortions to clean.