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Conversations About Handwriting

It's gratifying to see how often people still talk about handwriting, even as the doomsayers are predicting the end of pen-and-ink communications (nope, isn't going to happen). These are some items that have caught our attention over the last few days:

WRITER Patricia Cook described a brilliant idea for letter writers that she calls the "back-and-forth book" on her page over at Associated Content.  The way it works is that instead of writing letters to your friends, you buy something like a journal and write in it, then send it to a friend, who writes in it and passes it on. Sort of a low-tech Facebook, but better because people probably wouldn't write the same stupid stuff in the book that they do on your Wall.

One of the things that makes the book interesting is that the previous entries are there, so you can see what the other person has written long after the fact, you can follow the course of a 'conversation,' or track the progress of a friendship.

Unlike traditional letters, in which you have only one side of the conversation, with this book, you can see questions or ideas and responses or reactions. You have things in a different context than in a regular letter.

In the back-and-forth-book I had with my friend, we did not have any real rules for the book, but we both just kind of agreed that the things we would write in it weren't the everyday things of life, such as today I did this, and tomorrow I'm going here.

The only downside is that it could get expensive sending this thing back and forth constantly...and if it gets lost in the mail, a lot of great correspondence will be gone. Still, if you circulated it among a group of four or five friends, you'd only have to forward it once every couple of months. At that, you could probably afford to send it via Fedex or DHL for relatively little, which would be a lot safer. All around, an idea worth trying.

RESEARCHERS in France say they have used electrodes and MRIs to isolate the exact location in the brain where words are translated into writing (a separate area from where speech originates). The researchers from the Inserm in Toulouse say that by identifying the tiny area in the upper left frontal cortex, they have taken a step toward understanding writing disorders brought about by diseases such as Parkinson's. No word on whether they'll come up with a cure for ordinary sloppy handwriting. For now, you just have to keep practicing.

WHILE the science above seems like legitimate research, India's Daily News & Analysis ran an article recently claiming the "science" of graphology makes it possible to prevent suicide, especially in kids, by detecting signs of depression in handwriting.

DNA says:

“Depression can be detected at an early stage in one’s handwriting,” said Mythili Ravi, a graphologist. “In suicide notes, you will often find the tendency of the writer’s sentences to slope downwards. This is known as the baseline drop,” she said, also noting that when a person cancels his signature or ‘mutilates’ his signature, or cuts the alphabet ‘i’, it is another indicator of low self-esteem.

At least they qualified that claim with this:

While psychiatrists agree that handwriting could be one of the indicators, it shouldn’t be the only parameter, they say. “While one’s handwriting does reflect one’s state of mind, it cannot be used as an absolute diagnosis. There are other physical indicators, such as changes in mood, emotion, behaviour, cognition, activities, sleep and eating pattern, etc which can be easily spotted,” said psychiatrist Dr YA Matcheswalla, head of department of psychiatry, JJ Hospital.

Yes, behaviour and sleeping and eating patterns do seem much more likely...and obvious...indicators of how a person is feeling than their handwriting.

HERE'S an interesting juxtaposition: One is a story about a company in the U.S. that holds seminars to show teachers how to make handwriting fun for kids; the other is Hugh McNichol's column fondly recalling learning the Palmer method of handwriting from strict Catholic nuns.

At a seminar in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, trainers from Handwriting Without Tears had teachers singing and tapping their toes to drive home the point that handwriting lessons don't have to be dull and lifeless.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on the handwriting seminar:

The program includes the basics, such as the proper way for children to hold pencils. It covers mnemonic strategies; the "magic c," for example, can be turned into other letters, such as "d" or "q," with an additional stroke. And the program offers tips for keeping children engaged.

At one point, Ms. Heinricher led the class in a burst of vigorous foot-tapping, with the goal of getting the participants' energy and attention levels up. If children are given the same opportunity to let off steam from time to time, she said, they're more likely to keep the optimal handwriting position -- "feet on the floor, tush back in the chair."

Teachers should "ham it up," she said, suggesting that they pull on imaginary wet suits when covering "divers" -- letters such as "r" that begin with a downward stroke, then require the hand to float back to the top.

These aren't the traditional ABCs. For example, Ms. Heinricher said the program teaches children the "F" before the "A" because straight lines are easier to master than slanted ones.

According to the HWT website, the company's trainers hold more than 500 seminar around the world each year to help teachers improve their handwriting instruction.

Meanwhile, McNichol, at the Blogger News Network, says he learned the Palmer Method from the nuns at Saint Gabriel Parish in Gray’s Ferry, Philadelphia.

(The Palmer Method was used in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th Century. It was introduced in this book.)

McNichol describes his early forays into handwriting, under the nuns' tutelage:

Of course, I was not very good at the Palmer Method. As a southpaw, I was always smearing the ink, dragging my hand over the page and letting my fingers do the work of writing. Mortal sins in the world of penmanship for the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Quite often my lack of Catholic penmanship contributed to Sister’s need to go to Confession and perhaps even pushed Sister to imbibe more than holy water. At Saint Gabriel’s School, the sister that taught me would always exclaim, “Mr. McNichol, you have the handwriting of a priest or a doctor…do it over again, until it is right!”

Apparently, the lessons stuck, though, because he says he still uses a fountain pen to this day, a Montblanc Diplomat, and waxes quite eloquent when reminiscing about his handwriting lessons from the nuns.

...every time I pick up a pen, I am thankful for having experienced this part of Catholic education in the 1960’s. The simple pen over the years has provided me with comfort, solace and even income from my writings. Who would have thought that the rigorous exercises taught by a group of religious sisters would provide the catalyst for writing about religious events and topics forty years later?

Theologians tell us that moments of grace occur through subtle and often unnoticed means. I think the use of the fountain pen, the Palmer Method and the I.H.M. Sisters has provided this author with a lifetime of graced moments through Catholic education and the example of devoted religious educators.

We'd like to hear from you, readers. How and where did you learn handwriting, and was it a pleasant or painful experience?

2 thoughts on “Conversations About Handwriting”

  • Carole Rule

    I learned in public school in the 1940's. Don't remember it as painful tho' I was not as good as many others. But in my graphology class we did an exercise of using our non-doninent hand. The several of us who had really old examples of our childhood writing brought it in. The surprise? How much it look like our writing when we were learning!

    • TonyB

      That's very interesting. I'm so uncoordinated with my left hand, don't think I could string together enough letters to even make a coherent word.

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