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March 28, 2023


I am left-handed, and my grade-school teachers merely observed that I wasn’t getting it and gave me bad grades in penmanship. Probably they knew there was no help for my problem — though they refused to accept my experiment in backhand. I became famous in my senior year for choosing the multiple choice option on the English regents test and getting it almost all right — not because I was so confident of my knowledge of literature but because I knew I would suffer because my handwriting was awful. You can imagine my delight in knowing the QWERTY typing system favors the left hand.

I still keep a handwritten (cursive) journal, and I write longhand (in cursive) when I do timed writing with my students. (The majority of them type on laptops, which is okay.)

I don't have scientific proof, but I *believe* I think *differently* when I write with a pen in hand vs. typing on a keyboard. I spend a lot of time typing on a laptop, and a lot of time tapping with my thumbs on a phone...but writing by hand *feels different.*

It feels slower: if I want to blog something I wrote in my journal, I have to write it, then type it, then revise. I think of this old-school process as being akin to slow food: doing things fast is fine, but making things slowly by hand has a "homey" and more personal feel.

This is part of the reason I love writing Postcards to Voters: it feels like sending something handmade to a stranger, and the *process* of writing by hand feels meditative to me.

For my postcards, I print rather than writing in cursive since some young folks can't read cursive. I think of cursive as being a special code for us elders. :-)

The last couple months I've been studying classical Greek, largely by copying out texts by hand, and I've been surprised by how calming and restorative a practice it has been.

I was unable to learn to write cursive: my only major failure in school. At the time I let people think that I was too arrogant and impatient to fiddle with it, but it was sheer inability, and I still can't do it -- thinking about where I will need to leave off one letter so as to be in the proper place to start another destroys my ability to write either, and I end up with a surly jagged misshapen mess. I switched to printing, which I could do fluently and legibly, and I stayed with it until overtaken by the digital tide.

So my history with handwriting is unfortunate. But I love forming the Greek letters: they're full of ancient magic -- so old and so beautiful. There's a sense of coming home, of slowing down to human pace. I get to the end of a sentence, look back at it, and marvel that I, or anyone, ever learned to do such a thing.

Peter, haha, I never thought about QWERTY favoring the left hand, but of course it does! It's telling that most of the people responding to this post (here, on FB, or by email) were either lefties or those who had trouble with cursive writing -- and made whatever accommodations they had to in order to get through school. (or maybe I just have a lot of left-handed friends??)

Thanks for this, Lorianne! Yes, slowing down is one advantage, and I also agree with your observation about the homey quality of writing by hand. As for reading cursive, one of the arguments against dropping the requirement was that without a knowledge of cursive, students wouldn't be able to read the Declaration of Independence anymore. I guess it, too, will be considered a "special code for us elders"!

Hi Dale, it's good to hear from you! I'm so happy to hear more about your classical Greek studies and especially this comment about writing the Greek letters. I feel the same way about them: there's something beyond symbolic, beyond beauty, in these ancient symbols, and writing them has always given me great pleasure. You may know that I've been studying modern Greek, for which the only real benefit of having studied the ancient language is knowing the letterforms (well, not entirely, but it must be like Latin and Italian). Seeing pages of vocabulary words or conjugations in my own handwriting still seems magical to me, and seeing carved inscriptions or Greek letters on an ancient vase feels even more so.

It may be completely different, the way one thinks and writes when there is no delete button or backspace... you evoke nostalgia for handwritten letters in inked cursive.

Handwriting was, for me, a curse at school. Occasionally, and quite casually, I was beaten (back of head, alternate palms, backside) for passages even I couldn't always read read back. Journalism meant typewriters, but it also meant the fiddle of feeding in two sheets of paper which acted as the bread for a carbon-paper sandwich. Too much x-ing out and one had to start all over again. The deletion key on a word-processor keyboard arrived like a ray of sunshine after a seemingly endless rain storm.

Yes, calligraphy looked nice but to me it slowed down comprehension. More fun for the writer than the reader. Even when computer fonts included scripts which were, of course, unvarying in their shape. Perhaps I never wrote anything that was worth a pinch of salt but it was always readable. My faults were there for all to see.

Looking forward to your post about the knitting club. I recently attended a week long knitting class at an folk arts school and loved it.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.