Friday, 20 May 2011

Is The Writing On The Wall For Writing?

At the age of 11 I realied that almost everything I had learned so far in life was wrong.

I'd already learned by then that I was stupid: this fact had been repeated to me again and again by every teacher (these days we have things like positive encouragement, but back then you were just constantly belitled), but now I found myself arriving at a new school I had to add to my stupidity the fact that what little I had learned was utterly, totally wrong.

This mainly related to my handwriting: at junior school (ages 7-11) we had been tought an extremely stylised form of writing - cursive script, single letters, mostly italics.  Looking at my few remaining school books from that time is like looking at the scratchings of someone marking the days going by on a prison cell wall. 

This was at a school where the desks still had inkwells (albiet redundant ones) and we had to write with messy cartridge pens and blot our writing because ballpoints were considered too common (resulting in many a blue stain on my school clothes)

But upon arriving at my senior school I was told that my writing was illegible, that I had an extremely odd style and forced to re-learn entirely how to write.  I spent an entire year in special lessons with a ruler under my chin to get the right distance from the desk: because handwriting was important.

People could tell what kind of a Decent Chap you were from your writing, it would come in useful in every walk of life.  You have great ideas, I was told, but if only we could read them...

Now, we're not talking about the middle ages here - old as I may be.  We had typewriters, oh yes - and some computers as well (Mr Babbage for Maths?  Not quite, but close) - but it wasn't the Done Thing to give a child a machine to do his thinking - and so my handwriting had to improve.

Of course it never did.  The main problem has always been that my hand can't keep up with my brain.  Learning to type properly was a total release for me - finally I could start to keep up with the flow of my thought and not be dragged down.  My handwriting still looks like a bag of ferrets have escaped and done some serious damage

But then whilst I was thinking about this last night I suddenly asked myself how long it had been since I had actually sat down and done some serious writing by hand.  I'm not just talking notes to myself during meetings here, I did that on Friday: i'm talking about actually writing a letter or message to another person.

How long, come to that, since I actually wrote someone a letter and sent it through the post - whether by pen or by typed?  It could be as long as 15-20 years ago.  It's all email and SMS TXT these days - and most likely by direct brain transplant of thought at some point in the next few.

Not that there's anything wrong with email, or text - although there is.  Emails are a very impersonal way of communicating and can often be mis-read or mis-interpreted.  Text, whilst very handy, tends to result in a shortening of language.  Ys I txt spk, btw - but I do worry that in order to break the rules of sentence, grammar and structure you first should understand at least the rudiments (and be able to use words like "rudiments" in anger and understand them!) of the rules - and that from what I see on facebook the Kids Of Today don't (be fair here - people of my generation don't either)

So what I wanted to do here today was to try and encourage y'all that read this to sit down at a desk with a pen and paper and write someone a letter - it doesn't have to be anything particularly revelatory or personal.  You can write to the Queen's Lady In Waiting if you so wish (the Queen gets enough letters, and its always the Lady In Waiting that replies - so take pity on the poor, unloved soul)

And you don't even have to send it afterwards (although that would be good too) - just sit down, write it, and come back and tell me how wierd it felt.  Like something you might read by Charles Dickens


Friko said...

I do it all the time, Hungry Pixie, and it doesn't feel weird at all.

Would you believe it, I actually know people who don't hold with such new-fangled things as computers, and who much prefer a written note.

I know I'm a dinosaur and will soon be extinct, tough tittie. Having a foot in both camps feels good, never mind about the kids and their view of the world.

pohanginapete said...

Well, whether you wrote this by hand or not, it's a wonderful piece of writing — sad, funny and full of insight.

I write every day by hand and love the feel of a good match of pen, ink and paper (sadly, Moleskine's paper seems to be getting worse and none of my fountain pens, all of which write well on most papers, flow comfortably on the current crop of moleskine paper). The process of writing by hand seems different in some essential way from typing; my brain seems to work differently (when it's working at all, of course).

Thanks for the thoughts and the inspiration.

the watercats said...

I feel so smug here.. despite the fact I had a similar thing hppen to me education wise, my hand writing got better when i internally thought 'fuck them', and let my hand do what the hell it felt most comfortable doing. I love writing by hand. All the songs are written by hand, and I keep an 'every other day' journal, where I do quite a lot of moaning, some deep thinking, and some listing/scribbling. Keeping a journal is a great release, there's nothing quite as lovely as a hard version of your internal thoughts. I usually journalise when I get into bed, let my mind spill whatever crap is in there, personal or other-wise. Pete there is spot on, writing by hand is the difference between reading by electric light and reading by firelight.

The Bug said...

I just sent out a note the other day to Dr. M's parents (we try to send them pictures every few weeks). I always got bad grades on my handwriting until they stopped grading it. If I take my time I'm legible, but if I'm in a hurry then lord help whoever tries to decipher it (even me!).

When Dr. M was doing research for his dissertation I helped him wade through a ton of letters written back in the 1860s & 1870s. Now THAT was some interesting handwriting!