Written Words

sft“He went to Paris, looking for answers, to questions that bothered him so.”

~ “He Went to Paris”, Jimmy Buffet

A few years ago my sister was unable to get email or easy phone access and so we wrote letters to each other — most often weekly. In a letter, you have time to tell stories, perform elaborate feats of logic, and reminisce about things you know (or don’t). We wrote about our daily lives, books we read or shows we’d seen, people we knew or didn’t, and answers to questions that bothered us so.

It was a magical experience, and I feel that we connected in a way that is different, if not impossible, on-line, by phone or in person. There was no need to hurry or cut our conversations short.

Writing is a controlled way to express yourself, and the best, truest writing comes when you don’t overthink what you’re writing about. Christopher Hitchens is one author credited for the quote, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” Maybe our books will never be famous or even read or appreciated, but I believe you write mostly for yourself, anyway.

Writing allows you to delve deeply into your psyche in a way not usually available to you. Sure, not all writing is existential or of cosmic consequence, but it allows you to think — to think about what you are trying to sort out in your head. And I admit, much of what’s in mine isn’t all that important, but it’s nice sometimes to pull it out, dust it off and look it over. Maybe it’ll fit better this year.

My son’s school was crazy about journaling, much to the kids’ annoyance, “Write about your feelings; write about your deep thoughts; let it flow out onto the paper.” I personally think that the journaling concept can be taken too far, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know what is in most seventh graders’ heads. But learning to write out your thoughts is a good way to order them and maybe make some sense out of what you feel or experience.

I write on paper and I write on machine. I was never comfortable with typewriters — I make too many mistakes — but I’m not bad on a computer keyboard with spell check and autocorrect. (I also have a dynamite editor.) I’ve been kidded a lot about my two-fingered typing, but I’m reasonably fast and I find two fingers to be about as many as I can keep track of.

However, typing does allow me to get things out of my head and onto paper fast, before I lose the train of thought or get distracted by the niceties of editing. In the old days, we wrote on yellow pads and I cut and pasted, inserted and threw away lots of ‘golden’ text before I could even send it to a typist, or recopy everything by hand on clean paper. With my horrible handwriting (not getting better with age), having a keyboard and printer or email is a real blessing.

There always seems to be some consternation about spelling and how email, texting and twitting are ruining our kids. Lately we’ve obsessed about the need for cursive writing — can’t we just print? Melissa Breyer reported “The Common Core standards adopted by so many states no longer require teaching cursive in public schools.”

I have to say, given my history, that I kinda like the idea. In grade school, we learned cursive, but I had a particular problem. My initials, SFT, all have common elements in cursive the way it was taught to me, and I labored long and hard to make them look different. When I grew older, I just quit using cursive for the first letters of my name and printed the S, F and T, and used cursive for the rest.

But, Ms. Breyer evaluated writing by hand over typing and came up with seven benefits:

1. It improves learning

2. It encourages brain development

3. It makes for better composition

4. It helps those with dyslexia

5. It keeps older brains sharp

6. It helps to-do lists get done

7. It can soothe the nerves

She particularly emphasizes the repetition for item 7, you know, write twenty times on the blackboard, “I will not wipe boogers on Lucy’s dress again.” (The exercise may have soothed our nerves, but didn’t do much for Lucy’s dress.)

Overall, I agree with Ms. Breyer’s assessment. Writing by hand, particularly using cursive, is obviously what allowed those of us from the earlier generations to overcome the evils of rock and roll. Now if it could just add a little fiber to our diets …

And, where the hell’s that pencil?

Additional information:

7 mighty benefits of writing by hand, Melissa Breyer, Tree Hugger Daily News, Treehugger.com, July 27, 2017

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