There’s something irrepressibly personal about handwriting. Always distinguishably you, it betrays a bit of who you are – as any old-fashioned crime drama will tell you. Forensic graphology aside, there is something very intimate about glimpsing the handwriting of others. That first time you catch your lover’s penmanship, for example. Your handwriting is there with you, unshakeable, from childhood and is very hard to essentially change (dotting your i’s with a circle like you trialled as a teenager doesn’t count).
But I worry that handwriting is increasingly becoming more of a nostalgic notion, a whimsy, than it is an actual part of our lives. As we rely on our screens and reach for the pen less our biros and our fountains are cruelly stripped of their responsibilities, relegated to notes and lists. Well, if a phone hasn’t got there first. Nowadays, if we’re writing something important, something big, something final it’s handled electronically, and the only time we physically handle a pen is to sign our name on the print out. Only the signature is left to trusted to the pen.
Until I started writing creatively again handwriting was becoming a fond memory. It reminded me of primary school visits to re-imagined Victorian classrooms at the Black Country Museum where handwriting was serious, we were told by a stern-faced woman in fancy dress. If you didn’t join up your letters you got the cane! We all shivered as we sat at the great mahogany desks. Especially me and the one other left-hander in the year group – a punishable offence.
Handwriting was a skill. It had authority. Literacy and language still is, of course, an essential part of who we are and a crucial tool in navigating the world we live in. But I often wonder how today’s children think about handwriting – do they feel they are being forced to practise a pointless exercise, something they’ll rarely use in real life? Like the way most of us felt about algebra?
Some people are, of course, gifted in a way that renders their handwriting an art form. My boss is one such person, her handwriting arresting, unapologetically bold and memorable – totally characteristic of its creator. An envelope addressed by her create an actual buzz. Is there anything capable of piquing intrigue more than receiving a handwritten letter? The feeling that leaps from the page. The bloody effort they must have gone to write it! The humanness of it. No auto-corrector. No spell check. Just your thoughts and the page. Not so easy to reign in your emotions with a pen in your hand. Not so easy to take the words back. You can’t press delete on a letter that people may hold on to for years. Forever.
I find there is nothing quite so flagrantly impersonal as the handwriting font. These things cheaply tart up a letter with false authenticity. Without the pen, writing is mechanic and unsurprising. It keeps the writer, and reader, at a distance.
I am not exactly guilt-free. The last time I wrote a proper letter (ok, a fan letter) was to then Chelsea and England international footballer Graeme Le Saux in 1997. I cringe at the horror of what I’ve become (I cringe at that letter, too) – crooked fingers bashing away at a keyboard of some kind for the most part of most days. Even when cooking a recipe for God’s sake! And as a result I honestly feel as though I absorb less. Like I have become a little numb.
I’m not sure what any of this says about my very-much-electronic blog… But the one good thing is that creating it has, in a roundabout way, made me pick up the (coloured) pen again. Last week I began doodling, just to brighten it up. And then I realised what my doodles were doing was in fact personalising my blog, as though I had handwritten the posts. I look at it now and it is unmistakably me. I had forgotten what it was like, to spend so much time holding a pen. To craft something by hand. And that tactile handling has shot straight to my brain – I feel switched-on again.
My mother has since commented on how I seem to have come full circle. As a child I was always with an item of stationary in my hand. Whenever we went out for the day I would come back from wherever we were via the gift shop, inevitably the proud owner of a new pencil. Now I’ve got my parents hunting around the crevices of their house for all my old pens. I kept them, you see. Who knows when you might need them.
Handwriting will no doubt become trendy again as we hanker for the good old days – as we have recently seen happen in the UK with baking and make-do-and-mend crafts. But despite the inevitable onslaught of cushions and tote bags we will have to endure (no doubt all printed with handwriting fonts), this renaissance will be a good thing. Helping to secure the art of handwriting in our minds and in our hearts before we forget the joy it brings us.