A Dying Art

It’s a beautiful day in Cambridge.

I walked into town this morning to grab a coffee and wander. Wandering quickly turned into walking from Costa Coffee directly next door to Waterstones Booksellers and not wandering any farther. From what I can tell, Waterstones must be the UK’s version of Barnes & Noble, but bigger, better, and British. This branch is four stories strong with comfy chairs, a massive coffee shop, sweeping staircases, and the most deliciously tempting display tables between shelves that caught my probing eye much more than I expected (such as the “When You Just Want A Good Book” table, or the “Novels That Shaped Britain” table, or even the tiny table on the first floor landing titled the “Too Good Not To” table). However, my favorite little display table was tucked away in the back right corner of the fourth floor, truly as tucked away as possible. The table itself had no description, but the two shelves behind it were christened “English Language,” and they were filled to bursting with books about etymology, forgotten words, idioms, development of language and culture, writing help, and the process of translation. If the display table had had a title, I’m almost convinced it would have read “Everything Ellie Ever Wanted In A Nonfiction Book.” 

After deciding to purchase The Completely Superior Person’s Book of Words (this decision was swiftly made after finding the word “loxogononsphericall” with the subsequent definition of “I have no idea what this word means, but the Encyclopedia Britannica alludes to it meaning ‘impenetrably obscure'” followed by me laughing much too hard at this) I came across a book entitled The Missing Ink: How Handwriting Made Us Who We Are. Utterly intrigued, I planted myself in one of the many comfy chairs and was instantly engrossed with something as simple and overlooked as handwriting.

I find it so fascinating that people always tell me the same thing when they see my handwriting for the first time, and I am always so shocked with the continuity between perfect strangers regarding this one point. Without fail, my handwriting is described as “messy…but at the same time…really neat.” This has always made me pause (“so you’re telling me, it’s messy…but it’s not messy…?”) but majority opinion has stated it to be effortlessly the case. In some ways, I’ve adopted this description of my handwriting as an echo of myself: a little messy, a little scatterbrained, with thoughts whirring much faster than my tongue can speak, but eventually managing to still convey myself in a way that is somewhat clear and to the point. In fact, the more people I meet and the more handwriting I see, the more I am convinced our handwriting to be an echo of who we are.

I’ve come to the opinion that you can’t fully know a person until you know their handwriting. It is such a personal part of who we are: when the voice can’t speak, the hands speak for it. In English, we all write the same twenty-six letters in the way we all speak the same language, but think of how diverse handwriting is. Do you write your O’s clockwise or counterclockwise? Do your D’s have little tails? How on earth do you write your Q’s? Are your W’s pointed or round? Do you cross you uppercase I’s and J’s? I don’t.  Who told you to do it one way or another? 

(I suppose now would be a good time to acknowledge the irony of the fact that these thoughts on the loss of handwriting is not, in fact, handwritten. Yes. Irony acknowledged.)

Handwriting is dying out – it’s becoming more inconvenient, more time consuming, more useless every day. Why handwrite when I can type? Typing is instantaneous. I don’t even have to hear your voice. I wonder, can you even hear my voice now? Can you hear me speaking? Or is it just the Times New Roman voice you read every email, Facebook post, or Instagram caption in? 

If this had been handwritten, it would have sentences scribbled out and whole paragraphs with arrows pointing somewhere else, loads of misspellings and asterisks leading to new thoughts. There would be no autocorrect, no automatic capitalization, no double space bar for a period, but I almost guarantee you, no matter how haphazardness this draft would’ve been, you would have heard me speaking so much better than you can ever hear me speaking here. You’d see where a sentence gave me a new idea that I scribbled later in the margin, or where I tested out a word, scratched it out, and decided a new one is better. You’d see my train of thought, plain as day, on the paper; here, all you get is the stale perfection of my final draft. This isn’t a conversation, it’s a lecture: it doesn’t ask you to respond, or converse with me, or me with you. it demands you to sit and listen. I don’t want to lecture, I don’t want you to just sit and listen, I want you to see me thinking, and think with me, challenge me, and encourage me. How are our friendships ever suppose to grow if we don’t?

So next time you have a story to tell me, or you want to make plans, or you just want to chat, I’ll give you two options: call me, or write me. Either way, I’ll be able to hear your voice.

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