Of Ink and Options

July 2nd, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

penrackWithout a doubt, the meanest teacher I ever had I associate with cursive writing. This came to mind today with yet another tale of a school system dropping penmanship. This time it is Indiana’s…and statewide.

Instead, they want kids to learn keyboard skills. It’s not that any one of them has the digital strength to operate a manual or even an electric typewriter. They almost certainly won’t have to. Squishy brains with vague knowledge shards can push low-resistance computer keys though.

For the gaggle who think “I wasn’t even born then” is any excuse for ignorance and incompetence, not  being able  to write cursive, connected characters easily must certainly seem trivial. Both because of poor manners as well as inability, many may well have never written a thank-you note, even to Granny. If they have to add to a grocery list or put their names on a pop quiz, they can use puerile block letters.

Now instead of feeling like the replacement to my mother’s generation, I could move it farther back. My wife’s grandmother spoke of growing up before electricity, before hardly anyone owned an automobile, before radio and on and on.

While I don’t go back to quill and inkwell, I do span an impressive writing-technology history.

  • I started with fat pencils and crayons suited for holding in fists.
  • Stick pens, like BIC ones, had not been created. Instead, we used fountain pens with tubes of ink.
  • Mechanical pencils were new and fairly expensive, treats to those of us who loved school.
  • As all college-bound students, I had to take a year split between typing and shorthand. The former was on a manual typewriter, as electric models were also rare and very expensive, new technology. There were no computers, much less PCs.

In second grade, I started on the Palmer Method of cursive writing — cruelly boring stretches of sitting bolt upright, while the wicked Mrs. Carnes patrolled the room, hair in a tight bun, mouth in a tight purse, and ruler ever overlaying a forearm ready to strike. A moment’s inattention to the rows of circles on paper and WHACK!

She got me once. We sat alphabetically then and as a B, I was in the left row next to the windows. On a spring morning, a songbird sat on the maple next to our room. Distracted and pleased by its warble, I looked up, only to first hear and then feel the sudden and rough wooden slap on my hand. What an ass Mrs. Carnes was.

I don’t know whether it was some form of reaction to in inanity of drill or the nastiness of the teacher or just my bent and motor skills. I have never had a beautiful hand.

My mother and my paternal grandmother did. I have letters from each and admire the flowing, artistic words and individual characters. My grandmother even developed a non-Palmer lower-case f that doubled back on itself like some plump legume.

Now as an old guy, I’ve gone from time-sharing on mainframes to noisy, slow PCs to graphic workstations to time on minicomputers and on to laptops, fast desktops, and delightful toys like iPads. I’ve been through a variety of programming languages, punch cards, paper tape, ATEX type setting, a numbing range of pre-GUI operating systems, the internet before there was a web (and thus command-line gibberish to connect to distant servers), and both Windows and Mac-based PCs, both of which constantly crashed.

I’ve had all the old experiences and used the old skills. By necessity, I’ve had to learn how thing work, how to fix them, and how to be the alpha-geek both at work and for friends.

I Don’t Do My Phones’ Bidding

Yet, I have my set of fountain pens that I still use (five shown at top). I enjoy both the fluidity of writing with them and the beautiful output. Of my range of writing options, I tend to think  of it like more modes. I certainly did not stop walking when I learned to ride a bike or drive a car. I just have more options.

That vestigial range of experience may be why I have such disdain for those controlled by their electronics. So many do as bidden. The smartphone buzzes and they look at the screen and answer the call, regardless of who is there, what they are doing, seeing or hearing, or whether they should be watching the road. Pathetic.

In my house, when phones ring during dinner, they ring. My phone work for me, not the other way around. I carry my cellphone with me when I leave the house and have taught people to call the nominal land line (part of a bundle) first. That was hard for my cell-only sister.

I like having communication options, not requirements and limitations. I have no doubt many Americans and others will live and die without knowing how to write in cursive. They’ll feel comfortable and likely never consider writing connected letters as any sort of useful or necessary skill.

I think how they have limited themselves, lessened themselves, turned themselves old long before necessary. We become old when we stop learning and do not add to our skills.


4 Responses

  1. Dianne says:

    This article flooded my memory with beautiful and treasured images.

  2. Andy says:

    Good sir where do/did you get such a fine collection of pens? Also, I envy your freedom. Alas, I am enslaved by my iPhone AND blackberry.

  3. Harrumpher says:

    Some pens are gifts. Some I buy (it’s awfully tempting when I go into Levenger’s or Bromfield Pen and hold a new one). The one that got away was my mother’s, which disappeared after her death. I clearly didn’t need it, but I wanted to have hers.

    For you, getting in the habit of writing a letter a week and using a fountain pen for a journal are harmless and would not be inefficient even for an attorney.

  4. Andy says:

    I will have to check both of those shops out. I love handwritten notes and letters. I would love to find some nice stationery.

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