The Lost Art of Longhand
I have always admired people who had a beautiful and consistent longhand script. I considered the ability to have that lovely artistic flow to one’s handwriting as a talent, a peek insider one’s innermost self. I always blamed my fourth grade teacher for robbing me of this talent. She didn’t approve of the way I held my new ink pen, complete with light blue ink cartridges that had to be changed at regular intervals. It was such an exciting new skill for me. I loved the way the ink flowed onto the paper, how the heaviness of my hand on the pen would change the amount of ink in my writing, and thus the depth of each letter with every stoke of the pen.. It carried such emotion, such feeling.
Several of my cousins had developed this lovely, passionate longhand. I admired it and found myself rather jealous of their skill, for it seemed that no matter how much I practiced, my “cursive” had a sloppy, uneven texture to it that made it seem insincere and unprofessional.
I have loved exploring my family’s past from the time I was a teenager. Among the treasures that my grandmother kept in a quaint old wardrobe were copies of letters and photographs dating back to the Civil War. My favorite letters were those written by my great-great-grandfather when he was a prisoner in a Yankee prison camp in Sandusky Bay, Ohio. It was surprising to me that even many educated men in this era had developed a lovely script and flow to their writing. Somehow, the beauty of the longhand, itself, seemed to fill his thoughts with a sort of prose. There would be hopeful letters reporting that “no one else had died” in the camp, or emotional letters of how he longed to meet his son, born while he was a prisoner of war. Later, when he worked as a surveyor and traveled, he had written this same son, now grown, a letter of advise on what to do to insure the success of his upcoming marriage. His dark, elaborate script brought his words to life.
My aunt had inherited a collection of another relative’s Victorian-era Post Cards. Many of them had photographs of loved ones on the front of the card, as was the style during that time. Each card would draw out to the reader details surrounding current events in the life of the person or persons pictured. I remember my aunt using her finger to trace the delicately slanted script that filled the back of each card. The beauty of the handwriting served to enhance the details of her captions.
Remembering my struggles to develop the artful script of longhand writing, I encouraged my daughters to work on the quality of their “cursive”, as it was called, when they were around nine or ten years old. This “coming of age” event, when we were allowed to write in cursive was a big deal when I was in school. Even fifteen years ago, when most school papers were written by hand, the art of using “cursive” instead of print was becoming less important. Sadly, the older daughter never really learned to write in a traditional cursive script, and the younger one rarely used the nicely flowing script she developed when word processors became the way to write papers and e-mail and face book took the place of writing letters.
Perhaps, now that we have realized that using longhand to communicate is becoming a lost art, we will seek to teach its beauty and heritage much as we have begun to revere the customs and languages of our forbearers. There is something about seeing a letter written in someone’s own hand, that makes it more personal, gives it life and personality. Indeed, longhand is much like any craft we might learn, it serves to remind us of a more simple time, when people took pleasure in communicating their feelings and didn’t mind investing the time required to do it.