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Conversations About Handwriting

Lots of good stuff for you this week:

No wonder people in the Victorian era seemed to write so many letters. The New York Times has a very interesting article about how mail was delivered 12 times a day in London back then. You could receive a letter and respond to it the same day.

“In London, people complained if a letter didn’t arrive in a couple of hours,” said Catherine J. Golden, a professor of English at Skidmore College and author of “Posting It: The Victorian Revolution in Letter Writing” (2009).

And, not unlike us, most Victorian letter writers seemed more concerned about getting a rapid response than a long one. “Return of post” was an often-used phrase, requesting an immediate response, in time for the next scheduled delivery that day.

Part of the reason everyone wrote so much was that England had introduced an inexpensive flat postal rate, according to the Times. Before that, the person receiving the letter had to pay the postage, and the rate was determined by the length of the letter and the distance traveled to deliver it. Getting a letter apparently cost a day's pay in some cases...which seems like it would have been a great way to punish a frenemy.

The Independent's Simon Usborne tried a nifty little experiment recently to discover the fastest way to communicate a message. He timed himself as he wrote a 100-word block of random sentences using eight different devices, from smartphone to ordinary pen and notepad.

...clock ticking, I'll take each device and enter the text three times, dividing the number on the watch by three to get an average time. I will also divide the total number of mistakes by three, and add that number to the average time to adjust it for accuracy. Finally (stick with me) I'll convert that time into words per minute to establish the speed I can achieve using each method.

For the pen and paper, he used a plain Bic Cristal and a Niceday notebook.

I am quite fast and in my first attempt finish the passage in two minutes and 48 seconds. But, when I give it to my editor to read, she fails to make out 15 words. Slowing down improves things and I end up with a tired hand and a speed of 33 wpm...about average, I'm told. But surely I can do better.

The winner was his Dell PC keyboard, on which he was able to type 91 words per minute. But that's probably not a fair comparison since all the other methods, including the pen, involved mobile methods of messaging. Of those, he was fastest with his iPhone, hitting 43 wpm.

His Bic held a respectable fourth place, or right about the middle of the field.

A touching profile in the Denver Post introduces us to an elderly Colorado woman named Texana Striggles who has spent the last 10 years struggling to learn to read and write again after suffering a stroke.

She married while in the 10th grade and dropped out of high school. Writing, like reading, brought serenity.

"When I was upset about something, I'd sit down and write about it," she said. "When I was done, I'd feel great. I'd get up, get my gun and my dogs, and take off for the hills."

She started trying to teach herself in 2000, but now has a grant and works with a professional reading and writing tutor, using flashcards and practicing her writing on a white board, according to the paper.

The 85-year-old now is fighting a malignant neoplasm in her lungs that could take her life this year.

But she refuses to give up on the simple pleasures she once enjoyed — like sitting down to read the newspaper or expressing emotions in handwritten letters.

We wish her the best and hope that she gets to enjoy at least a little more of what she loves.

Columnist Laura Porter shared a story with her Worcester Telegram readers about how her godmother recently sent her a package of letters written years ago by her now-deceased mother.

...when I finally had time to open it, a sheaf full of letters fell out instead, some in my mother’s handwriting and some she had typed on our old Underwood. There was no accompanying note from Aunt Polly, as though she knew that these letters she had saved for decades would speak for themselves.

And so they did.

Those letters were a powerful gift for her.

My mother has been gone since 1984, 26 years last month and fully half my own lifetime.

But on a chilly winter’s afternoon in 2010, I sat down in a quiet house, the dog sleeping beside me, and spent two hours with her.

...Written words. They last forever.

The Suburban Journals of St. Louis, Missouri ran a loving ode to fountain pens and handwriting from one of its readers, a therapist named Mike Williams. He says he's not afraid of technology and uses his smartphone regularly, but still feels passionate about the art of pen and paper.

I use e-mail for unofficial correspondence and to cut down on paper waste. But for really important documents, a printed-out letter with correct formatting and spacing and an original signature is still the workplace standard. When I sign a letter or memo with my fountain pen, it feels good. My original signature is who I am, and it is my testament that I wrote and approved the content of the letter.

...As I sign my name to documents, my name flows; the loops and swirls that the letters make are artistic and definitive. When I make a particular turn with my pen, it sends a fine spray of dots that accentuate my work, little orbiting satellite moons that are attracted to the gravity of my flowing name. Ballpoint pen and e-mail signatures are thin, anemic signatures that make a person look timid and unsure of themselves, and let's face it, they're just plain wimpy.

It's always nice to read something like that from a person who clearly loves the look and feel of ink put down on paper with a good pen.

A handwriting textbook in a Christian region of northern India has lots of people angry about the letter "I." Or more specifically, the word and image used to represent the letter, according to Agence France-Presse.

...a picture showing Jesus Christ holding a beer can and a cigarette...used to illustrate the letter "I" for the word "Idol".

So far, no answer on how it happened. What made it worse was that the textbook was for primary-children attending schools run by the Catholic church. Apparently, the government is considering pursuing charges against the company that published the book.

While we think everyone should write more letters, it's probably a good idea to be careful to whom you write and what exactly you put down on paper. It could come back to bite you in the bum years later.

A Swedish woman who had a brief affair with U.S. President John F. Kennedy and carried on a correspondence with him for several years is auctioning off his love letters, according to The Times.

The letters are being sold in the US by Ms von Post, 87, who has kept them in a safe deposit box for more than half a century. The two-week online auction, which began yesterday and is being handled by Legendary Auctions, has a starting price of $25,000 (£16,000) “People have read about Kennedy’s family life, and the type of person he was as a political figure,” said Doug Allen, the president of the auction house. “These letters are very romantic. They show a different side of Kennedy. It’s not an appropriate relationship. But it is part of history.” The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston declined to comment.

(As of Tuesday night, bidding on the eight JFK letters was up to $US45,000, with eight days left in the auction.)

So, just remember, anything you write down could be read by someone else...and not necessarily the person you intended to do the reading.

By the way, if you would like to read some brilliant letters, cards and notes that have made their way into the public by accident, we recommend you take a look at Found magazine.

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