In my Catholic School, it was in fourth grade, (in the classroom reigned over by Mrs. Sullivan – the one that said we couldn’t wear sweaters inside, and also the one that told us dogs don’t go to heaven) after Christmas break, cursive writing would be mandatory for all things written until the end of the year. It was an upcoming deadline that most of the class were dreading. I thought cursive was prettier anyway, and it seemed faster if you got to connect everything together. The snow arrived and so did Santa, and soon my written life was completely in cursive for the next four years – just as the world started to become obsessed with computers.
My parents never objected to the cursive mandate even if their handwriting was a bit sub-par on the spectrum. It was my grandparents that could dance the pen across the paper in beautiful sweeping lines. My grandmother’s looked like it was from a fountain pen even when it wasn’t – thick to thin billowing ribbons of ink that matched the melody that her voice and the deep confident scent of her perfume. I don’t remember my Papa’s. I was too young before he was gone, and his letters with him.
My Nana’s was more precise, pristine, with tucked-in loops and compact yet feminine – absolutely perfect for a school teacher. Years of notes to parents, years of teaching the skills to children of the next generations. Perfection was needed. It was evident. My Grandfather’s was still perfect. Even after the nuns beat his left-handedness out of him. Even after he worked with doctors and surgeons and all of those medical people that seem to have their own language written on the prescriptions. His hand would scrawl out the letters, compact but jagged, restrained and painstakingly written, but still beautiful. I’m doubting my memory a bit now, but I’m almost positive the index card taped above the toilet at The Farm is written in his hand telling all of us hooligans that he created to stop throwing things other than toilet paper in the bowl – signed “The Management” with big swoopy letters for emphasis.
My Mother’s handwriting has always been a tossup of big rounded letters half in print and half in cursive. They connect in odd ways and roll over one another. If they could move, they’d bounce. Scribbled bubble letters that match her personality – no sharp corners, all in a line. Taking her mother’s ribbons and shortening them into line. Modern font with a background of antiquity. Always perfectly straight across the page. When I was younger I’d wish I could make my hand contort the letters into her style. It never happened.
My father’s handwriting was erratic and jagged with peaks and valleys that tossed themselves around the page. His cursive was usually illegible to the general population. His normal writing style was like my mothers, just pointy instead of round – connecting cursive with print, spelling my name with capital and lower case letters. Lines of words would fall down or up the page. Scribbles could be interpreted as one of a few different words. Chicken scratch. They called it. Illegible to all those outside of his circles.
I got Dad’s handwriting. No matter how hard I try my pen wades across the page without structure. Letters forming themselves how they want to be formed for that word in that moment of time. They’re a mix of the spikes of my father’s and the round curves of my mother’s with the tight letters and the big swoops overlapping on the lines of the page, turning it into a big mess of ink swirls that almost no one can read. Almost all of it in cursive – truthfully because in my mind, picking up the pen to write in print is more difficult. I write in cursive because it flows, because I’m lazy, because my print is just as bad as my father’s, and just as illegible – this almost secret script that was influenced by all of the hands that had held me.
In highschool, I’d still write in cursive, even if it wasn’t required anymore. The teachers didn’t make a big deal of it – and most papers started to be on printer paper typed on a computer. My senior year during the SAT, I sat in a hot classroom with my classmates as the proctor told us to write a three-sentence statement saying we swear not to cheat etc, and sign it in cursive. Why? Idk. But I did it in seconds and as I signed my name to my chicken scratch that I now have come to love and own as my ridiculous handwriting, I looked up to a sea of pale faces and blank stares. “CURSIVE?!” the rest of the students whined, and they held their pencils as if they’d never touched one before and shouts of “how do you make an upper-case “I” echoed through the classroom. I knew my classmates didn’t like writing in cursive, but this was ridiculous. And this was twelve years ago.
Today, apparently no one is using cursive anymore, and no one is really writing anymore, so I’m going to keep going and make it my own secret script that I can write in without anyone reading it, and I’ll go dive deep into the libraries full of handwritten books and revel in the strange fact that I am one of few that still knows how to read them, and I’ll pass down my ridiculous handwriting to my future generations and make them appreciate my silly loops and swirls that flow across my notebooks, because if I don’t do it, apparently no one will, and suddenly all those words will be as useless as the other languages we’ve lost when something “better” comes along, but those newfound ways of writing will certainly never be as beautiful.
“Harvey!” Mr. Harvey (no relation oddly) yelled from his desk as he graded our most recent history essays. “You didn’t put your name on this!” He extended his hand with my mess of scribbles.