As I sit here trying to read some notes I wrote a day or t`wo ago, I think back to poor Miss Shattuck and Miss Martin and Miss McGee and all the other teachers who tried to teach me good handwriting.
They were wonderful teachers, just like all the teachers I had in school, but they failed.
I excelled in spelling bees, but if my school had held a handwriting bee, i would have had to sit down after the first round.
Oh, I was a fair printer in the first and second grades, able to stay within the lines of the wide-lined paper that allowed us to compose, ever so carefully, a B that looked good enough to write home about. In the third grade, though, we learned cursive.
I was jinxed from the start. I was a left-handed kid using a right-handed desk. (Hey, the school system couldn’t go making special desks for a few kids who didn’t know which hand to pick up a pencil with.)
Because the English language is written across the page from left to right, my printing hand would slide over the letters I had just made, smudging the soft No. 2 lead my gigantic pencil had just created. In later grades, my hand would smear the ink I wrote with.
I sat contorted to the right over the desktop so I could take advantage of the flat writing surface to the right, the territory where the right-handed kids flourished. In an attempt to keep my hand from running over the freshly printed words, I would twist my body even more, writing in that uncomfortable way you see so many lefties write.
When they began teaching us cursive writing, we copied a large version of the alphabet that was posted across the top of the blackboard: each letter in capital and lower cases. Maybe you are old enough to remember those.
Even long ago, some of those letters were already outdated. The capital Q looked not like we all write a big Q, but like a No. 2. The Z, whether large or small, looked nothing like a Z or a z, but like a 3 that had been horribly disfigured by acid.
We asked why that was. Why couldn’t all the letters be like M, which looked the same in cursive as it did when printed? Why did we have to learn yet another way to write all those – what, 25 or 30? – letters they had thrown at us?
“Just do it,” my teachers said, so we did.
They gave us what they considered a good way to shift us from the printed word to the written word: We had to practice drawing flowing horizontal tornadoes across the page, line after line, sheet after sheet, day after day. That was supposed to make our written words smooth and fluid.
My tornadoes always looked like real tornadoes: messy and dangerous.
They never got better, either. Beset from the start by left-handedness and the wrong desk, and maybe a lack of skill, my handwriting remained a wonder of illegibility. To this day.
The only way you know what I just wrote is that someone invented typing.