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Jacqui Oakley 2014
Growing up overseas, I fondly remember getting hand-written letters from my family back in England. Later when I moved to Canada at 11 years old, I would still get letters from friends in Bahrain. The fact that they didn’t come as often as a Twitter message or an email made them that much more special. There’s something so much more personal about a hand written note rather than an email, similar to looking at an artist’s sketch rather than a finished piece of art. You can see how they hold their hand, what kind of mood they are in from the pressure of the pen on paper, and usually their personality comes though more, maybe partially due to the fact that one can’t backtrack and correct things. I guess composing on a computer is more subtractive and hand written is more additive and therefore more ‘of the moment’.
Letters from my Grandma are written exactly how she speaks. Since she’s from Lancashire, England, her notes are filled with her local dialect Such as t’other day instead of the other day, or aye instead of yes. So, getting these letters always feel like I’m actually having a conversation with her. Also, they were always written in a lovely cursive which sadly I hardly see anymore.
Maybe I also lament the death of handwriting since I never really properly learned how to type. Yes, I’m one of those pitiful folks who type with two fingers (although fairly quickly) and when I glance up from the keyboard my screen is filled with misspelled words. I blame taking drafting in high-school instead of typing class. That year of AutoCad has never really furthered my life ambitions. But who am I kidding, I was just as lazy at writing letters back in the day as I am at emailing today.
Here’s a piece I did on the demise of cursive handwriting in school in Hour Detroit magazine, written by Ilene Wolff and art-directed by the lovely Jen Hamilton & Jessica Decker. You can read the article here: Writing off Cursive, because the widespread use of computers, learning the fine art of handwriting in school is gradually being erased.
Cursive handwriting was evolved from the days when people used to dip pens and ink. It allowed people to cut down on those messy blotches by having a continuous line. Even though dip pens had been long unused in schools, I do actually remember having to do these exercises in pencil when I was a little kid. I even remember practicing how to sign my signature. Jacqueline is awfully long for a little kid. Supposedly now with the decline of kids knowing how to write cursive there’s also a decline in knowing how to have a proper signature too and even the chance the children won’t be able to read cursive.
Here are signatures from Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Nostradamus, John Hancock, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King Jr. Leonardo daVinci, Walt Disney, Rembrandt, Renoir, & Miro. (some found here & here)
Computers may wipe out cursive writing, leaving behind yellowed manuscripts that only anthropologists can decode…..The handwriting is on the wall for cursive’s demise, or at least for teaching it in school. Don’t expect educators to cry at the funeral, though. “I want my child to at least be able to read it,” Avery says. “That’s an illiteracy of sorts.”
Marijean Levering, Ph.D., a native Detroiter who now is associate professor of theater at Utica College, in Utica, N.Y., reads primary-source documents for her work. For example, she combed through records written in cursive for her book, Detroit on Stage, about Detroit’s Players Club. What if she had never learned cursive in school, she wonders. “I wouldn’t have access to well over half the documents, or I would have to pay somebody else to transcribe them,” she says. “The thought that something written in my language wouldn’t be understandable to me is mind boggling.”
In addition, she says, handwriting offers a glimpse into someone’s personality.
There was a great article on this subject in the New York Times, The Case for Cursive by Katie Zezima
Richard S. Christen, a professor of education at the University of Portland in Oregon, said, practically, cursive can easily be replaced with printed handwriting or word processing. But he worries that students will lose an artistic skill. “These kids are losing time where they create beauty every day,” Professor Christen said. “But it’s hard for me to make a practical argument for it. I’m not one who’s mourning it because of that; I’m mourning the beauty, the aesthetics.”
Here’s some beautiful samples of older letter writing that I find truly inspiring. This piece is from Michael Twyman’s 26 November 2007 presentation on French Notarial Handwriting found on Dan Reynolds Flickr
Below is a 1850 Austrian letter (found here)
Some beautiful and touching letters can be found on the site, Letters of Note. Maybe not as gorgeous as the 1800′s letters, quick notes written on torn-off notebook paper, seem so personal that I almost feel embarrassed to read them. Here is a letter from the late Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker – a veritable musical genius and one of the world’s greatest, most innovative saxophonists. Here’s an apologetic but undeniably poetic handwritten love letter, penned to long-term lover Chan Woods. Parker’s adult life was a turbulent one, his musical brilliance often affected by his addiction to both heroin and alcohol, and he split with Woods in 1954 following the death of their two-year-old daughter. Tragically Parker passed away the next year, aged just thirty-four.
The way I thought was wrong, having not known, it was right. Here is the proof of my feelings, Don’t hate me, love me forever: — — — —
Beautiful is the world, slow is one to take advantage. Wind up the world the other way. And at the start of the turning of the earth, lie my feelings for thou.
Shame on me.
I love you.
Another touching note from Letters of Note is a parting note written by Frida Kahlo on the back of a depository envelope – used by Kahlo to hold jewellery during a stay at hospital – prior to a trip to New York. Her husband (for the second time), Diego Rivera, was painting a mural in San Francisco which now resides at City College. He was assisted at the time by fellow artist and mutual friend ‘Emmy Lou’ Packard.
Diego, my love,
Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another.
Behave yourself and do everything that Emmy Lou tells you.
I adore you more than ever. Your girl, Frida
Some truly touching moments can be found in postcards. Since they have such a minimal amount of space you can read between the lines and guess at the more complex feelings that could be there between the sender and the receiver. This can be especially found in postcards from wars such as this one below (found here).
Hope you enjoyed this post. Now to try and find more time to work on my atrocious handwriting!