Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Lost Art of Handwriting

About ten years ago I interviewed a co-worker in her 70's about her days teaching in a one room school house. My interview also touched on the role of technology now versus when she taught and one of the areas she felt was becoming extinct was the art of letter writing. When she was in school the teachers taught handwriting. Not cursive and printing, but handwriting - a specific style of hand movement that was designed for letter writing. Since sending letters and postcards was such an intricate part of communicating back in the 30's, it was part of their curriculum.

I love the look of a handwritten letter and that's maybe why I am still so resistant to writing directly on a computer. I love all types of pens- ink dipped calligraphy ones, soft rolling gel, and my favourite-my french Waterman fountain pen. I'm particular to yellow lined paper, the soft kind that the pen can leak through- but also to the feel of the pen in my hand. I don't write anything on the computer without first doing it long hand. In fact, being online is still really difficult for me to do. I prefer the typewriter first ( I have a working Smith Corona and a 1920's Royal) because there is something meaningful to me to feel the page beneath my fingers.

Before Christmas I spent about 3 hours going through old postcards in an antique mall that were written by a woman named Marie who was corresponding with her sister over a year in 1932. It was fascinating to read the handwritten script, the loving words and thoughts accompanied by a photograph or drawing that may or may not have had meaning. The postcards were sent back and forth almost daily. It was a fascinating character study, and although I couldn't afford to buy all the postcards I'll never forget the rich letters written in strong black ink on the cards.

With email, text messaging, cheap phones, ( you used to have to pay for every call), the one thing that is never conveyed in those formats is tone. And that is one of the reasons that arguments, disagreements and misunderstandings occur. Tone in an email can be difficult to surmise. Sure you can mix up the fonts, add a few emoticons and a few LOL, in the mix, but it's tough because most people who write in emails can be either rushed or reactive or tired of answering countless emails.

In a letter one can see the brushstrokes that formed the words and letters, one can feel the tone coming through with the pen on the paper. A rushed hand comes across, a bold and angry tone is easily detected by the style of print and a soft gentle loving touch can almost be felt on the page.

Have we lost the art of letter writing? With books still being published like the Griffin and Sabine Notebooks by Nick Bantok the art of correspondence is still alive, but it has dropped off drastically. Of course with the notoriously bad Canada Post losing letters left right and centre it's not surprising that sending a real letter by "snail mail" is on anyone's mind.

I think as long as there are people who do value the written word with pen and paper the art will survive, but not as it once was, and there are no more handwriting classes left to teach people the art- well there might be a few out there, but really it's up to us, the writers to remind people how it used to be, and to mesh the two worlds together.

And there isn't a script font on here so I'll have to use the typewriter one instead!

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Great post! You say all the things I think exactly. And when I read a lot about letter writing most people feel the same. So, we're all out here staring at our mailboxes and hoping and waiting! I also hear a lot of people say they have a lot of hand cramping and that they find writing things by hand difficult because they do it so rarely now. Sad! I love handwriting, too.

Anyway, I also do a letter writing blog. I hope you will come visit us over there!