My family moved to France when I was nine and I was faced with culture shock. Of course France offered much of what I was used to… big cities, mountains, good food, a stable school system etc. The “big” changes were actually quite small but to a nine year old, they struck me as incredibly strange. I distinctly remember being thrown into the French school system with a somewhat broken understanding of the language after years of french immersion. My most distinct memory is being called our for not only writing in pencil (PENCIL YOU SAY?!) but I wasn’t writing in cursive. Although I’d learned cursive in the third grade (and I admit, I thought I was the best) I was used to printing. I was also used to pencil, to the wonderful grey half moon smudges they’d make on my hand and to being able to erase whatever I pleased. Well the French weren’t going to make any exceptions. Not only did I fail French class (I was treated like any other French student and as a result, I wound up with many zero’s) I was also forced to give up my beloved pencils in exchange for fountain pens and French ruled-paper. If you don’t know what it looks like, check out the picture below. All those lines? Yeah, they’re there on purpose. Now you can know exactly how high to draw you “l’s” or your “o’s.”
So I learned that there’s an art to handwriting. I paid careful attention to curling the bottoms of my “g’s” and to always cross my “t’s” or dot my “i’s.” My younger self would be horrified at the state of my handwriting nowadays. I’ve become reliant on laptops and cellphones and rarely write by hand. I also don’t take notes for school, so where most of the people I know continue to write by hand, I spend most of my time improving my pig drawing abilities. I’ve also drawn some pretty good flowers and stick men. This being said, I occasionally find myself feeling detached from my computer and in those times I pick up a pen and paper and return to handwriting. There’s something freeing, being able to write on an angle or in an colour pen. Many studies also claim that people tend to remember content better when they write by hand.
One of the best gifts I was ever given was a beautiful Shaeffer fountain pen when I first found out I’d been admitted to the creative writing program at the University of Victoria. I wonder if others feel the same way, but I feel as though I developed a bond with this pen which ultimately adds to the writing experience. When I pick it up, I feel as though I am reconnecting with someone or something special. I feel inclined to write. I can’t say I feel the same way about free pens with a tooth and “Dr. _____’s office” scrolled down the side.
I also wrote an earlier blog post about letter writing. In that post, I considered whether or not letters extract more sensitivity from the writer. I can’t say I have an answer. I can say, however, that handwriting something hard or emotionally difficult to admit feels truer and more daunting when written by hand than when using a keyboard. Perhaps because writing by hand requires a more conscious connection, a more acute awareness.
I’ll conclude by saying that hand-writing is also very mysterious to me. Nowadays, many of us are less accustomed to reading the writing of others. As someone who studies history, I have given myself a goal: I plan to practice reading archived letters in order to attune my eye to the writing of others. My uncle recently e-mailed my family with some World War One documents. The name on the document was Wilfred Meagher, my Grandfather’s name. When my Mom saw the document she immediately exclaimed that it was her father’s signature, the same signature she’d seen him sign her whole life. He was not, however, old enough to have fought in the First World War. I immediately googled “123rd Battalion, C.E.F. Royal Grenadiers” and discovered that the Attestation Paper was from the first war and not the second. The Wilfred Meagher who’d signed this document could not be my Grandfather. Upon further thought, my Mom figured that they’d grown up in an era when everyone was trained to write in a certain way. Having similar signatures, therefore, wasn’t all that surprising.
Perhaps this week I’ll settle down with a cup of tea and my favourite pen and start writing again. For now, however, I offer you this post in a typed format.