Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The handwriting project

Last fall my internet surfing turned up an article about the decline of cursive writing due to the more common use of keyboards. It caught my eye because my handwriting has always been considered poor and I too had early abandoned longhand script over issues of readability. Last year I had asked a school teacher friend if it is possible for a grownup to improve on their sloppy handwriting. She didn't think so.

I spent some time thinking about the topic and surfing the net and somewhere in that reading and thinking I found a website introducing calligraphy. No, I did not attempt to take up the art, but I did learn something. I have been writing incorrectly my entire life. More precisely, I have been using the wrong muscles. The way I have been writing is to grasp my pencil firmly between thumb and forefinger, plant my wrist against the paper and use the muscles of my fingers to push the point around. The calligraphic method is to hold the pencil still in your hand and use the muscles of your arm and shoulder to move the point around. The difference is that the former method produces tight and cramped letters, while the latter produces smooth flowing lines. Another advantage is that the muscles in your arm are stronger than the ones in your hand and can be trained to be just as precise.

Somehow I got the crazy idea that I could improve my handwriting by re-learning the muscle memory of letters with a different set of muscles. I started by practicing with my arm instead of my hand. Drawing slashes, circles, X's, squiggles, spirals; simple marks to get the new muscles used to doing this sort of work. Then I adopted a new grip for my pencil, I would hold it between the first and second finger so I could not accidentally push it around with the wrong muscles. I then picked out a nice font to try to copy and set about re-learning how to write.

I felt like a first grader again. Great big letters, slowly and carefully drawn. I would spend about ten or fifteen minutes a day and work on one letter each day, drawing it over and over again. It looked like a first graders work too, imprecise lines that were only roughly the right length and direction.

It took much longer that I anticipated. Being human I began to skip days and lose the discipline to do my homework. It was a few months before I had practiced every letter of the alphabet in both upper and lower case. Then it was a couple more weeks of doing numbers. The hardest letters were M's and W's, with two halves that I could not quite make symmetrical. The loops in P's and B's proved a minor challenge as well. For some reason the lower case A is pleasant to draw and I can use the same loop in lower case D's, G's and Q's as well.

After learning my letters I began to practice making them smaller. Then I started using my new writing in my day to day work. Actually using this new handwriting has been the best way to practice it. Small, neat writing is not difficult but it is painfully slow. If I need to scribble out a note quickly then I revert to my old cramped style. These days I am pretty much bouncing back and forth between the two techniques depending on how fast I need to write something out. I can see some of my old style writing creeping into the new. But some of the new is creeping into the old as well. My habits about things like where to start the line in a letter are changing.

It has been six months since I started this experiment. I still need more practice, this new writing is terribly slow and when I rush it becomes ugly. It may actually be a couple years before I am writing proficiently in my new hand. By then it might be time to tackle cursive again.





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