Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Handmade

As a writer, I didn’t know whether to be more alarmed or amused by an article in the current issue of Dallas Child magazine.  Author Rudy Klancnik marveled that his son is still being taught to write in cursive script.  “When’s the last time you wrote a sentence in cursive?” he asked.  “Exactly how much longer cursive will be taught in our schools is anybody’s guess.  I’m thinking it’s short-lived.”  (Ironically, the contents page of the magazine features cursive writing in an illustration for another article.)

I would be less alarmed at the possible loss of cursive handwriting if public schools in my area hadn’t already stopped teaching children to print their words.  (Schools still expect young children to submit their work in writing, but the skill of print is taught in public schools at the preschool level, and public preschooling normally is only available to students from impoverished families or whose first language is not English.)  Even while I’m composing this on a keyboard, I mourn every loss of writing that is handmade.

My better-read friend Elaine pointed out recently that another journal, The Paris Review, features interviews with Jonathan Franzen and Louise Erdrich.  And besides Erdrich’s widely known penchant for writing her manuscripts by hand, the Review includes an illustration of a narrative chart from Franzen’s Freedom.  He wrote the chart, yes, in cursive.  Elaine writes more now in cursive.  Not that she expects to become the next Franzen or Erdrich from writing by hand, but for the reasons Judy Reeves discussed in A Writer’s Book of Days – a return to the sensuality of writing in feeling the movement of pen against paper.  I mentioned Reeves’s book last fall, but this is a good opportunity to repeat it and recommend her website, www.judyreeveswriter.com/

I welcome computers as others previously welcomed the technology of the typewriter and printing press.  But there’s something deeply resonant about the use of hands, something embedded in our idea of our own humanity.  When a group of ancient tribes decided to record what they knew about their origins, they declared they had been made by hand.

*****

I hoped to post writing prompts today, but people are still shy, so I'm extending the contest for the meantime.  Hope to hear your great ideas!



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