Monday, December 21, 2009

Writer's Cramp

I had to do some writing today. Handwriting, that is, with a pen on paper. I needed to inscribe a note to a friend. An email or typewritten letter wouldn't do. My mind and spirit were willing, but my out-of-practice writing hand wasn't.

Blame it on technology. Constant keyboard use has made me almost spastic with a pen. I don't have arthritis. I've simply lost the ability to write with ease. To be honest, though, my handwriting difficulty goes back a lot further than the advent of the computer.

I'm left-handed, a disadvantage when holding a pen and trying to write from left to right. This was exacerbated by my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Moshy, who insisted I hold my pen the way a righty would, with the unfortunate result that as I formed my letters with the required fountain pen, everything smeared. In desperation, I learned to hold the pen correctly yet not let my hand touch the paper as I wrote, resulting in a cramped, awkward penmanship.

In junior high school, I tried to train myself to write with my right hand. It's a miracle I passed the seventh grade, since all the right-handed notes I took in class were illegible, even to me. I later learned the backhand style that many left-handed writers use, but alas, Miss Moshy had taught me too well—I eventually reverted to the penmanship form I had developed in her class. As a result, though my handwriting remains graceless, I assure you that I hold my pen perfectly.

My handwriting low point came in law school—the endless note-taking was pure agony. How I would have loved to have a laptop instead of a spiral notebook, but laptops didn't yet exist. In my effort to write quickly yet not smear the ink of my ballpoint pen, I put a tremendous strain on on my wrist, resulting in a large unsightly lump known as a ganglion. The ganglion eventually resolved (after I accidentally smashed my wrist against a big amplifier) and I eventually finished law school, but my handwriting failed to improve.

Happily, computers evolved and touch typing takes care of virtually everything, except for the occasional check or handwritten note. Lack of practice has made my penmanship more stiff and clumsy than ever. When I try to give my handwriting an elegant flourish, I wind up slurring my letters and rendering them illegible. Often, I have to re-write birthday cards and thank you notes several times. Today I did relatively well— I only had to rewrite my note twice.

So, if you receive a birthday email from me rather than a handwritten card, I hope you'll understand—I'm doing it to spare you the task of deciphering my scrawl and to spare myself the torture of putting pen to paper.


  1. I can identify with you, Barbara. I journal by long-hand. At times, I've been tempted to move my journaling to the computer, but I'm simply too enamored with the wonderful journals themselves, and the lusciousness of the paper.

    When I was in the first grade, my teacher from the old school, forced me to use my right hand, instead of my left which I preferred. Now I can write with either hand, I can also write with both hands at the same time, for instance I can write my name which will come out looking like this, only in cursive:
    BonnieeinnoB. I know, I know, what earthly good is that?


  2. I am with you Barbara...I would much rather type. and now I have been doing it for so long that I cannot seem to get my brain to work with pen and paper, it just seems so permanent, almost risky. no cutting, pasting & dragging until it is right. I also long for lovely, graceful letters and am nearly always disappointed at my scrawl, and resort to printing. so I may as welll type anyway.