Writing in Cursive

Back to the basics…

As a young child in the 1960s attending a Roman Catholic elementary school, I learned to write on gawdawful, flimsy, triple-lined paper—paper made from such poor pulp that it had a faintly brown cast and even occasional wood chips hiding beneath the blue lines. Regular #2 pencils had a terrible habit of tearing through these fragile sheets; it was impossible to erase a mistake neatly, as the graphite just smeared over the shoddy surface.

But even worse was our promotion, usually in fourth grade, to the dreaded cartridge pen. Made with thick nibs that were supposed to encourage neat writing, these cheap ink pens scratched and stuttered across the surface of school notebook paper. They had a terrible habit of leaking and even exploding, usually over a vital test paper. One always approached with trepidation the necessity of inserting a fresh ink cartridge into the pen. No one, teacher or student, managed to achieve this without ending up covered in ink—blue or blue-black ink, only, thank you. Colored ink, like the more rational ballpoint pens, was not permitted.

But putting aside lousy first grade paper and cartridge pens with their shortcomings, the one thing those parochial schools taught competently, even superbly, was handwriting. Penmanship. Cursive.

Starting in the second grade, just after we had mastered printing, we students were given penmanship lessons every Friday afternoon. (As an aside, what a brilliant, master strategy: Take a bunch of kids who want nothing more than to get the hell out the door of the classroom for the weekend, and use the last hour of Friday afternoon to teach the two least cerebral classes imaginable–Art and Penmanship!) But as a 7-year-old child, these lessons in cursive infuriated me. I already knew how to write; why did I have to learn it all over again?! But learn it I did, scribing line after line of looping circles across the page to acquire the feel of writing in cursive. I was criticized by my nun teachers and forced to use a special notebook paper when I failed to end each word by drawing the final hook on the letters to the appropriate upward spot of each line. Struggling valiantly through the irritating lessons, I began to find that, not only was cursive writing much faster, but it could also be far prettier. I listened in excitement when my beloved third grade teacher, Mrs. Dryer, explained that she believed the letter “L” to be the most graceful of all the alphabet. My middle initial was L! I began to try ever harder to produce a graceful, swooping letter L,

Letter (2)

and finally succeeded, to the praise of my teacher. My middle initial–indeed, my entire signature–is written, to this day, in those elegant, flowing loops.

But worlds turn; times change. Faced with the onslaught of the computer era, teaching cursive began to seem to school officials evermore like a waste of time. Why did one’s signature matter when, scribbling it onto a touchpad, it looked nothing at all like a signature, anyway? Schools began to drop the teaching of cursive writing, and I wondered, sadly, how any future American child would be able to read the signatures at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence.

My sadness bubbled up into laughter, though, when I realized that I had a skill even beyond cursive writing which ensured that anything I wrote would remain a secret: Because I knew how to write in cursive, I‘d long ago mastered the art of Speedwriting, a form of simplified shorthand. After using Speedwriting at my job for years, I continued to jot notes and make lists in that quick and easy stenography.

Cursive (2)
If you can read this, then you not only know cursive, but you can also read speedwriting.

Continue reading “Writing in Cursive”

Clickbait

When did mockery become an accepted standard of behavior?

When I was a young woman, both my grandmothers wore little cotton housedresses and soft leather shoes.  If they wore hosiery at all it was when they attended Sunday church services; most of the time, their veined legs, evidence of their years of childbearing and hard work, were bare. 

It never occurred to me to question or mock their “style” choices.  They were elderly women, wearing what they found comfortable.  That I didn’t find their clothing attractive or fashionable was not an issue; I respected them.  They’d lived through world wars and Spanish Flu; through the Great Depression and Richard Nixon and innumerable personal disasters,  both of them surviving it all with an intact sense of humor.  They deserved the right to dress and do as they pleased, without criticism.

Turn the world a few thousand times on its axis: I am now the old woman.  But the world has turned; respectful behavior towards one’s elders is no longer a given.  Those who have spent lifetimes working, paying their taxes, raising their young to adulthood and funding their educations, possibly doing military service, and generally being upright citizens and decent human beings are all too often the subject of contempt and impudence, with never this behavior more rampant than on the Net.

So it was with a sense of both trepidation and scorn that I have, a few times recently, tapped  on one of those “about Boomers” clickbaits. (Oddly, I have never seen a corresponding clickbait about Millennials, or Gens X/Y/Z—or, again, perhaps not odd, since they are the people writing this ludicrous material.  Their time will come, though.)

I have to admit, a few, if not more, of the “OMG!  They do/dress/eat/behave” complaints were spot on for me—guilty as charged, and not in the least regretful to admit it.  I do, for instance, still write in cursive rather than “normal” writing.  I shall continue to eschew the kindergarten printing and write as an adult, too.  So sorry you’re not educated enough to read it, youngsters.  Tell me, how do you read the signatures at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence, hmmmm?

In the most recent clickbait I so masochistically read, though, no fewer than half the remarks were geared toward clothing choices.  Virtually none of them applied to me, and the rest, well, my automatic response was, “Who cares?!  Why is this non-issue even being remarked upon?” Yes, I do find white socks with sandals to be rather an odd choice (if your feet are cold or you don’t like the feeling of sand, don’t wear the sandals), but it’s not really any of my business.  It’s their feet, after all.   

Footwear seemed to occupy the minds of the younger generation to an excessive degree. But then, those who have stood upon their own  metatarsals for only perhaps 25 to 30 years are probably unaware of the extraordinary pressure their bodies are exerting on that support system.  Given twice or more that length of time, they, too, will find that their footwear choices extend to comfort, not fashion, and that arthritic fingers find Velcro tabs so much easier to manipulate than laces.

The funniest entries regarded food, the most hilarious of which was, “They eat TOAST”.  Apparently, it did not occur to the youthful writers that their alternate breakfast suggestions–waffles, for instance–have also been available to those of my generation throughout our own and our parents’ and grandparents’, ad infinitum, lifetimes.  Toast is quick and easy to prepare, lends itself to an infinite variety of toppings, and is an excellent way to use up stale bread, not to mention tasty.  Why on earth do these blockheaded kids think it was invented, after all?

Another remark that sent me into gales of laughter was the complaint about Boomers buying their bread off the grocery shelves when “artisanal bread” was so much more delicious and enticing.  There speaks a person who is not yet a parent with three hungry kids needing sandwiches slapped together as quickly and inexpensively as possible!  Granted, I gave up spongy white Wonder bread along with my early childhood, but I’d like to see the average financially struggling parent try to fund “artisanal bread” enough for a houseful of famished children wanting lunch.

The clickbait criticized hairstyles, vacation choices (face it, kids, the reason some Boomers choose cruises is because, unlike your frenzied, financially precarious existence, they have the time and the money.  Jealous, much?) and countless other petty, ludicrous minutiae until I finally grew tired of waiting for all the ads to finish loading before I could click “Next” and exited the link.

But, in the end, I wasn’t left laughing, but with a sense of discouragement.  Why, I wondered, did any of this even matter?  Who were these individuals, the writers who took such glee in contempt and disdain, in derision and scorn, of other people?  Is the fate of our future world truly being placed in such pettish hands?

Sighing now, I think I will close this essay.  It’s time for breakfast, so I shall wander downstairs and pull the last two slices of non-artisanal oatmeal bread from the frig, where I will pop them into the toaster, and then smother them, perhaps with butter and blackberry jelly, or cream cheese and raspberry jam, or cinnamon sugar….

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Mindless Headlines”, which you can locate in the Archives, published June 5, 2018.