Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Extreme Intimacy of Penmanship: National Handwriting Day

Dad's handwriting
Yesterday was National Handwriting Day.  How did I not know this? I love everything about it.

It was declared waaay back in 1977 by WIMA, the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, to "celebrate the lost art of penmanship."  So it has nothing to do with computers replacing handwriting. They were worried about typewriters replacing pen to paper. Imagine that.

They chose January 23 because it is John Hancock's birthday. A lovely touch.

Twitter did it proud with #NationalHandwritingDay and people posting photos of personal notes; of writing favorite poems/passages to take a picture to post for the day; and of posting examples of famous writers handwriting. It is wonderful hashtag to peruse.


Mom's handwriting
The Extreme Intimacy of Handwriting

If we count the modern age of home computers from Apple's 1984, I squeaked in to have the experience of letters from home, and first love letters, that needed to be, well, physical letters.

When I went for a senior year abroad at Southampton University, England,  there were no cell phones or email.  There was only one phone in the whole dorm, at the bottom of the staircase. So contact was by letter, and I have to say my mom & dad, and brother were wonderful and wrote to me almost every week. That's a lot of letters, and I cherish them greatly.

But yesterday's National Handwriting Day reminded me of something I hadn't thought about in years: the enormous emotional charge of seeing the handwriting of a loved one.

 It is a  simple visual experience, on the one hand, seeing the ink on the envelope. But it is something of a phenomenon that those particularly shaped letters connect—instantaneously—to your deepest feeling, knowledge, love, of the person who formed them. 

When I was feeling homesick, I only had to pull out a letter from mom or dad, each with their most distinctive penmanship, and the homesickness dispersed. What my mom wrote was important, but it was her handwriting that created the feeling of a hug 3,000 miles away because that visual DNA is only hers, and it brought her into the room along with our bond. This is not so with email.

When the letter is from a lover, that instantaneous recognition/connection for me was literally electric. I felt sparks within my nervous system that I couldn't control, it would sometimes actually take my breath away, because of all that lay beneath those particularly formed letters. (Which is why it did all eventually burn out, like a circuit board.)

All from the Alphabet. Formed. On a Piece of Paper.

It is a very special, magical corner of the human condition that letters on paper can so vividly evoke he who wrote them. And one that our digital generations are missing out on.