There's been some discussion lately about the value and importance of handwriting. My handwriting these days is situational. How it looks will depend on the circumstances of its production. If I'm writing a card or letter (yes, I still do that sometimes) I still use the looping, sloped "running writing" I learnt at primary school; but if I'm scribbling notes to myself, it's a more upright and messy version. Writing on flip charts and white boards, I am told that I have a good, strong hand.
My study of penmanship occurred at a time when class time was dedicated to the practice of letters. Exercise books ruled with blue lines to fit letters between and red lines to guide the length of ascending and descending loops were filled with copies of individual letters. Once perfected, the letters would be joined to make words and those words would be endlessly copied.
I was also subjected to the variations of education systems when state borders are crossed. In NSW where my career in penmanship began, we were taught Modern Cursive. As the name suggests it was a modernised version of "running writing" - all the loops were removed and the uppercase letters were basically the same as the printed letters, but they leaned to the right. Gone were those beautiful fancy captial efs and kays; the es was stripped of its flourish and the el was just two perpendicular lines. How would that have looked embroidered on Laverne's breast? There was no drama, just function. When I moved north across the border to Queensland, they were still doing a version of Copperplate, a little less fancy than actual Copperplate, and I don't know what it's called, but it was better. There were more loops, swirls and I just liked it. I went wild. (I was also really good at drawing treble clefs, so maybe all that practice just translated to the letters.)
Perhaps I had been influenced by my Grandfather's pride in his own handwriting. From an early age, my siblings and I were encouraged to write letters to our grandparents. I've seen some of my early work, written in pencil, and while the prose is a bit lacking (of the "hi-how-are-you-I-am-well-variety") those letters were legible. The importance of having a good "hand" was impressed upon me early. The character of others could be immediately discerned. Being described in very serious tones as having a "good hand" or a "lovely hand" was far better than being described as being a "tight knitter" or a "loose knitter".The tones describing the latter were doom-laden and accompanied by knowing glances and shaking heads. For example, "Oh, yes, well, you know, she's a very tight knitter. Very tight." Or, worse, "What do you expect? She's a terribly loose knitter you know." They were actually talking about knitting, weren't they?
Of course, back in those days, the ability to write a letter was an essential communication tool; as was the ability for others to be able to read it. Who writes letters anymore? Well I do. Recently I wrote a letter to a friend specifically because he said that no one ever writes him letters anymore. Sometimes I will write a letter to commemorate a special occasion or even just to express a feeling that deserves to live beyond the five minutes after it is emailed or tweeted. Just last year, I wrote a letter to an 85 year old woman in response to the Christmas card she had sent me. She's Jewish and I agonised about whether to send a Christmas card. I should have just written her a letter anyway. It was a lovely letter -full of descriptions of the garden and the visiting wildlife - one I would have been happy to receive, and was pleased to have written.
I have more than a passing interest in typography. This interest was piqued early in my days of journalism study. When we studied print, we learnt about physical layout of type and a page. I'm not old enough to have been composing with metal type and tweezers, but it was still a time, pre-computer software, when the term "cut and paste" was literal. I will soon be attending a workshop which is all about hand lettering. I know I will swoon as I smell the ink and then hear and feel the sound of the pen on paper. It's pleasing to see a page filled with letters, those letters forming words and fitting on the page in a pleasing and easy to read way.
I wonder how my Grandfather observed his own experience of writing by hand. Even his shopping lists were written in the same formal hand. Had he been to university, I can't imagine that his notes would have been scrawled. (He didn't finish high school.)
I'm lucky to still have samples of his writing. I'm sharing with you now, not only his handwriting, but also part of the story of my family, the Fife family from Ireland. Grandfather wrote this piece for a history of the family which was published to coincide with a family reunion in the mid 1990's. I remember him reading it to those gathered at the reunion because, as far as anyone knew, he was the last man alive to know Nixon Fife, one of five children who was sent by his father from Ireland to Australia during the 19th Century famine. As far as I know, Grandfather never owned a computer and probably never even used a type writer.
From my maternal Grandfather, Eric Hilma Brown, who was born 3 July 1912 and died 7 April 2001.
Is handwriting important? How's yours these days?