Rambling about Penmanship

notes made in green and pink on a steno pad page

When making notes for genealogy I enjoy my vast collection of color ink pens. When I change sources or persons being researched I reach in and grab another color to make the notes.

Recently I’ve been playing in my pens with various color inks. I’m such an office supply slut, stationery slut, and pen slut it’s astounding. Any way, I’ve been doing some genealogy notes and to vary the entries as well as entertain myself I’ve been reaching into my giant stash of pens to change color from each person’s notes. It also serves to easily see when I changed sources or persons in a source. In the endeavor I’ve seen handwriting from the late 1700s to my own today. Which got me thinking…

My best friend and I were talking about how poor the handwriting from late teens to early twenty somethings has become. Now granted my penmanship on notes for me isn’t grand nor is it in my personal journal. But if I need to write to someone else I tend to make sure it’s legible, well proportioned, and attempt to be straight in my lines.

As I looked over my own handwriting samples for this entries photos I was surprised to see my notes when working on writing tasks (like researching Male Cherokee given names for a character) tend to be very decently formed block printing. Didn’t consciously make the choice but apparently my subconscious does. However when I’m flowing on plot ideas it’s chicken scratch cursive.

Cherokee names with their meaning noted in blue ink on quad paper

Here I was researching given names for Cherokee men and their meanings for a character.

So why does the younger generation’s handwriting look so awful to us? I think part of it is we were raised going to handwriting/penmanship class daily from Kindergarten through 8th grade. It is because of the work of my parents (mainly my Mom) and many frustrated teachers that I can now with effort write well in block print and cursive if I want to (or my subconscious wants to do it).

Somewhere between my attending those grades and my son attending those grades penmanship was no longer taught beyond here’s how you make the letters in print lesson for half a year in Kindergarten and a few years later here’s how you do it in cursive lesson for a quarter of a year.

This has been an issue with us since Aaron set foot in Kindergarten. It’s no longer taught how to hold a pen/pencil. When we’d correct his hamfisted grasp we’d be told his teacher said he could hold it any way he wanted. During parent teacher conference we were told this is true. Also we discovered penmanship wasn’t something that was even considered in grading for any course. Then again by fourth grade he was turning in word processed work. I thought maybe this was some progressive thinking of that school district but no it’s not. I’ve surveyed parents of children of similar ages and came away with the same answers. Not much writing is taught, even less concern is given to penmanship. Our kids don’t know how to do this well because we never taught them. (Lord knows I tried but TEACHER SAYS)

A pile of pens of various colors with a moleskin journal tossed on top

Sometimes recording those thoughts requires many colors of ink! LOL! I do enjoy pens that glide well or have unique ink.

The combination of not teaching penmanship and the use of keyboards for just about everything has caused the ability to form letters on the page in various styles to become a lost art. I’m not talking calligraphy here just basic writing. I have to admit I regret this. I’ve found so much joy in putting writing instrument to paper. I’ve thrilled at walking to the mailbox to get a handwritten message from a friend far away. I had pen pals from other states and countries all through middle school and high school. I’ve journaled most of my life. If I’m thinking out something I take pen to paper instead of clicking a keyboard. It’s how I get alone with my thoughts.

Computer keyboard in background with open journal page showing various color swatches of ink with pen names written beside them gold pen on top of journal

I’ve journaled most of my life. I go there to play on paper, record thoughts, sketch, doodle, plan, or whatever. Here I was playing with colored pencils and yes that’s a gold pen right there on top. Writes in gold too. OHH!

That’s changing. I should say that’s changed. Kids take notes on the laptops nowadays. They proof on the screen not on paper. They think things through, note reminders schedule activities, contact friends in faraway places all with a keyboard be it on a phone, connected to a cpu or on a tablet. No need to put pen or pencil to paper. It’s not their generation. They don’t judge one another by handwriting (admit it people over 40 you do, you judge lots by handwriting from education to emotional investment in the missive).

I’ve defended the younger generation and their keyboard usage. When a writing teacher said editing on paper was better I commented for us yes but those who have never turned in a handwritten paper in their life (and yes some are in grad school now can say that) working on the keyboard and screen is their life training. It’s a talent I still struggle to master – screen line edits. I do much better with a red pen and printed copy.

I’m fine with technical advancement. I remind myself when I see a new college grad with penmanship that would have gotten me a D in third grade that s/he will never hand write a thing for work or personal life for that matter. Yet I wonder if they know what they are missing. What would they do without electricity for say a month or so? It was six weeks after Hugo before I got electricity back. I could write checks and mail them (oddly the mail was the only service NOT interrupted). I could journal. I could write friends and assure them I’m okay and clean up is going well. I had pen, paper, and envelops.

Total dependence on keyboard or penmanship isn’t good. I think honestly there’s a good mix to be struck here. I think honestly as much as I hated penmanship classes. I was always a mediocre student in them. Yet now I find I’m thankful for the nine years of lessons. There is a joy to handwriting that I don’t want to be lost to those that are younger.

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