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What if Better Penmanship Could Make You a Better Person

14 August 2019

From Medium:

Cursive is supposed to happen at the right speed for steady thought. It hits the page slower than type and faster than print, and in this happy medium, one hopes the mind will hit its stride and think clearly, rationally, linearly. But what if the idea of cursive practice was to humble, even eradicate the content of the written word? That is the project of the narrator in Mario Levrero’s novel Empty Words—recently released in translation from the Spanish by Annie McDermott—to focus on neat, regular handwriting so careful that it smooths out all digressions of the mind. Though the narrator is, like the author, a writer and crossword setter, he takes a writer’s tool and divorces it from the act of connecting with the self or world. Instead, the physical act of writing becomes about avoiding spiritual searching, which has become too onerous—in an opening poem, before he begins his “graphological self-therapy” he writes “ It’s not worth searching, the more you look /  the more distant is seems, the better it hides.”

So the narrator delves into his penmanship not in hope of being a better writer, but to “make changes on a psychological level,” ones that he claims, in a burst of optimism, “will do wonders for my health and charachter, transforming a whole plethora of bad behaviors into good ones and catapulting me blissfully into a life of happiness, joy, money, and success with women and in other games of chance.” When his exercises pick up pace, though, the neat, ordered discipline of handwriting breaks down and sloppy print letters creep into that uniform line of script. This indication that thought has begun to flow freely is not positive—it runs contrary to the two-dimensional bliss he imagines neatness can herald. He takes frequent breaks to play around with his computer, which, even though the book was originally published in 1996, is a daunting tool, “very similar to the unconscious.” Nonetheless, he claims to prefer it to his own exhausted mind: “there’s nowhere left to go when it comes to investigating my unconscious; the computer also involves much less risk, or risk of a different kind.”

Link to the rest at Medium

By the penmanship standard, PG is a terrible person.

One of the great reliefs of finishing elementary school was the elimination of grades for penmanship. Then, in high school, he learned how to type and hasn’t looked back since.

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8 Comments to “What if Better Penmanship Could Make You a Better Person”

  1. I must be one of the worst people on the planet if we grade by penmanship.

    Strike 1 – I’m left-handed. Very few left-handers have beautiful penmanship without a lot of contortion because our written words were built to be drawn left to right which relies heavily on pulling your RIGHT hand away rather than pushing with your left.

    Strike 2 – My thoughts pour out at a pace well beyond my hand’s dexterity to draw the symbols which represent those thoughts (letters) onto a page.

    Strike 3 – Frankly, I can’t even write cursive anymore. I went to a very intense language school in the military and learned cursive Russian. Now I can’t write cursive English without it morphing into Russian letters so I print everything anyway.

    I’m with PG, once I learned to type in high school my world improved and I’ve never looked back. Heck, I can barely read my own writing on those rare occasions when I scribble down ideas into a handy journal because I’m not near a computer.

  2. I can barely read my cursive and my block writing isn’t much better.
    By those standards I’m going to freeze in heck.

  3. When carving rocks was current technology, characters were easy to make with a chisel. When people moved to clay, characters became something easily punched with a split stick. When leather and papyrus became available, with quill pens and ink, separate characters became a problem because the ink would make a blot every time the pen was lifted from the paper. So people turned to joining all the letters together in long strings.

    Ballpoint pens and pencils replaced quills and fountain pens, so we don’t need joined-up writing any more. It was a technological artefact that is now obsolete.

    “If you want me to use this, you need to put a keyboard on it…”

  4. When I see old samples of my handwriting, I am often surprised by how good they look, though I did not think so at the time. The same is true of old photos.

  5. I write cursive, I draw printing (two years of drafting classes did me in.) Cursive is much easier for me, and I’ve had several people compliment my handwriting. All credit should go to my 5th and 6th grade teachers, who made me and all the other little hoodlums do daily penmanship exercises, as well as typing lessons.

    As for my moral character? I’ve been told that I’m a real character, and I’ll just leave it there. 🙂

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