Tuesday, September 3, 2013
The teaching of cursive writing, the writing we each develop into a unique handwriting style, is already being phased out in elementary schools in the US, replaced by keyboarding proficiency. In Australia and Canada too, handwriting is being dropped from curricula. And even when it is taught, handwriting is now more likely to be printed letters joined together. It’s not handwriting as most of us know it.
We called it running writing when I was at school. You learned it after printing, like a new language. We practised it a lot as I recall. I was never any good at it but I love it still, the capital D that looks like it was made for words like Delight and Delicate, the beautiful S with its supreme loopiness and potential for curlicues, those hills of small ns and ms that could just keep going. Oh God, I am starting to sound nostalgic. Quick, put on Radiohead and get out the iPad.
I confess I have a conflict of interest when it comes to handwriting; I write novels by hand. Not in a beautiful script, mind. I look at anything written by my grandfather, who was taught in an English public school, or my eleven year old, who’s taught himself various styles of writing, and it’s art. My writing is not art; it remains cramped, small, illegible even to me at times. I could have been a doctor with writing like mine. And I didn’t always write by hand. I typed my first novel on an Apple Classic II. Quite the techie, I didn’t even print it until I had a finished manuscript. But I soon found a computer file too linear for the way I work.
Since that first novel, I have written three more, all by hand. For one novel, I wrote on cards of different colours (which had the advantage that you could shuffle them when totally lost as to what to do), and now I like a particular kind of notebook for its narrow lines and plain cardboard covers. I write with a fountain pen. My favourite is a Waterman in a burgundy lacquer covered in little gold squares, given to me when my first novel was published. It only has one drawback – it no longer writes. I had an efficient little Montblanc that came with a leather notebook case, but I left it on a plane and like everything left on planes, it immediately vapourised. My day-to-day pen now is a hardworking Visconti made with cellulose using a refound technique – given me when I was researching In Falling Snow. I am also coveting a vintage Waterman, to replace the one that doesn’t work, although you really only need one pen to write and the more I focus on pens, the less I focus on getting a novel written.
I can’t say why I handwrite, in an age where handwriting has all but disappeared from our lives. I can type faster than most people can talk, I was using email before anyone had heard of it except my computer room colleagues (one of my first jobs was as a computer operator), and I mess about on the internet in favour of just about any actual task. But I can say that for my novels, handwriting feels about the right pace. Even Scrivener, which I love later in a project, is too structured early on. I write little sketches and scenes and eventually they coalesce into a novel.
Many things we don’t need in life fade from view. If handwriting is dying as an art, perhaps I shouldn’t mourn its passing. I imagine the rationale is that it’s hard enough to teach children one set of letters, let alone two. And since few of us end up with a hand that even vaguely approximates that beautiful script we were taught, why try to teach it at all? Joined up printing will do.
But before we altogether consign handwriting to the land of outdated technologies, we should take a moment to consider a small fact of history. The very first Macintosh computer was a winner, its creator Steve Jobs said later, because of its beautiful typography, which was unlike that of any other computer before it. Jobs had sat in on a calligraphy course on the way to dropping out of college and had seen the art of handwriting, the art in the science, he called it, which had inspired him.
So every time I type an email, thumb a text, or flick a page, I try to remember that the technology I’m using, the technology with which we are fast ridding the world of writing by hand altogether, is only available because the person who dreamed it up was in love with handwriting.
About In Falling Snow: Iris Crane’s tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love.
Posted by Amy at 12:00 AM
Guest Post: Writing by Hand by Mary Rose Mac-Coll, Author of In Falling Snow