When I was young, there were lots of things I wanted to change about myself. I wanted curly hair. I wanted perfect eyesight. I wanted bigger boobs. I wanted ears that didn’t look like biological adaptations that rendered me capable of flight. I wanted a button-like doll nose instead of the bulbous schnozz that is a hallmark facial feature of my paternal lineage. I wanted shorter toes. Strangers and friends alike commented on my (apparently) freakishly long toes.
Most of these flaws I grew out of, or rather, grew into. Or just stopped caring about. Hair is hair. Mine has good days and bad days, like everyone’s does. I’m fine dealing with contacts. I do not care how safe Lasik is. If I’m that 0.3 – 0.57 percent for whom it goes terribly wrong, well, that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take. My boobs are perfect. I have no idea how women can walk around with ones that are larger than mine. Seems like they would be uncomfortable at best and more likely an inconvenience. My ears and nose appear normal now, at least to me. And my toes? I can tell you most assuredly that my toes are completely normal. Thirty-six years of empirical research have proven that lots and lots of people have toes much longer than mine. If someone is wearing sandals, toes are the first thing I notice. I always notice. So you can comment if you must, stranger, but you are wrong.
So, now that my adolescent psychoses are (almost) a distant memory, what’s the one thing that still drives me crazy? My handwriting. My handwriting is a hybrid of print, cursive, and demonic scratchings on a dungeon wall. I should have become a doctor. Instead, I was a teacher for many years. I have no idea how my poor students deciphered anything I wrote on the board. Especially my Russian and Korean students for whom the very Latin alphabet itself was foreign.
Recently, I’ve come up with a theory as to why anything I write by hand will be viewed by future historians as some kind of secret code. It’s because I always did my homework on the bus. Not to brag, but school was very easy for me. No, scratch that too. I am going to brag. Reread the first paragraph – I was a terrifically awkward looking child, so I am absolutely going to brag that I was wicked smart. Anyways, I never had to put much effort into my schoolwork and my parents didn’t hassle me because I got straight As, so I generally left my homework for the bus ride to school in morning. School busses back then did not have seat belts and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have shocks either. The potholes sent the descenders on my Js and Ps careening into the margins. The ruts and gravel corners shot the ascenders on my Bs and Ds five lines above. The frequent, jolting stops made my bowls and loops look more like bark around a tree than the edge of a protractor.
Over time, my muscle memory kicked in and I began to write that way all the time no matter how many cursive alphabet tracing pages I practiced with. Watching my hand write is an out-of-body experience at times. I’m powerless to stop the pen from careening a centimeter to the right before deciding to output the next letter or doubling back on itself as if envious of the æ and œ of other languages and attempting to create new, unnecessary ligatures. And the longer I write, the worse my handwriting gets. Wide-ruled, 8.5 by 11 paper is my enemy. My seventh grade English teacher accused me more than once of writing larger and larger as I got toward the bottom of the page just to take up space and avoid real writing. I object, Mr. May! My hand is an object possessed. After filling 20 lines without pause, I retain all the dexterity of Cookie Monster and my already nearly illegible letters devolve into the scribblings of one of said monster’s fans.
I used to be so envious of the happy bubbly handwriting that all grade school girls (and some boys) seemed to have. I don’t know how they got it but it seemed to be a universal trait. I went through the mandatory period in junior high where I dotted my i’s with hearts but that didn’t help. It was just lipstick on a pig. Scratch that. Pigs are cute. It was whipped cream on a dog shit pie.
I’ve grown up from wanting happy bubbly handwriting to wanting looping, elegant, antique-looking hand writing, but short of picking up multiple sets of the Spencerian Penmanship Copybooks and spending all my free time tracing pages and pages of letters until I reach a point of madness rivaling that of Jack Torrance, I don’t see me achieving that goal either.
Wannabe writers are always trying to justify why they don’t write more often. My hideous handwriting has definitely served as my rationale at times. It’s hard to see the meaning of my words as beautiful when the physical manifestation of them is like thousands of floaters clouding my eyes. Every writing instructor I’ve had always said that I needed to have writing habits that work best for me. Yet some of those same instructors insisted that I write by hand in their classes because it’s the best way to be creative and find my inspiration, that writing on a computer does something bad to the writer’s brain. I strongly object. My words typed on a computer are motivating. They are already in print! They are a success! They can actually be read without a translator! I can insert, change, reorder, delete, and the page stays clean. Writing on a computer from the very first draft allows me to focus on what I want to say and what I want my writing to be. It also allows me to capture all the fleeting ideas and phrases for other writing projects that pop into my head as I work on one piece. If I’m writing by hand, those thoughts are gone before I can get the first squiggle on the page.
I do finally have “my” pen now too for those times when I absolutely have to write by hand. Like that one time a year when I address an envelope or get inspired to leave my partner a handwritten love note. Many instructors have recommended finding “my” pen as part of developing a writing habit. The idea always seemed a little silly to me until I found the right one. Just like finding a man – when it’s right, you’ll know. My pen can’t make my handwriting nice, but it does make me feel like it could be nice. I guess that counts for something. But still, if you ask me to write by hand in your class, not even my Pentel R.S.V.P. Ballpoint Pen, Fine Line, Blue Ink is going to save me from the frustration you are causing. I’d rather just stab it in my eye and that’s why I’m not doing the exercise you’ve just given.