IN ONES OWN HAND

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“A national fight is brewing to keep cursive writing in U.S. classrooms.”

What? I had no idea it was out. But, yes. According to an Associated Press article last week – “When the new Common Core educational standards were crafted, penmanship classes were dropped.”

And now, seven of the states in this country are fighting to restore cursive instruction. Why? For one thing, proponents argue that scholars of the future will lose the ability to interpret historical documents, not to mention old familial correspondence. Can you imagine a child of the future on holiday at the Smithsonian, dumbly staring at the Declaration of Independence as if it were written in Mongolian or Persian? Or stumbling one day upon an ancient chest in the attic of the family homestead which contained letters written home by their great-grandfather who was to soon die at the Battle of the Bulge? And miss the personal significance and not be able to read one word.

It is an important point for teachers and parents to note that recent brain science shows that fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye coordination and develops motor skills in general. And many educators have come to believe that writing by hand helps students “to slow down their thinking, encouraging deeper and fuller thinking.”

Thanks to the influence and passion of a personal mentor, Dennis Patrick Slattery, I would have to plunk the whole issue into a far greater bag of consequences and implications. In “Riting Myth, Mythic Writing,” and repeatedly at a workshop I attended last year, Dennis suggested that “there exists a deep psychological, even mythic magic in these cursive letters.” He writes of the “ceremonial enactment that allows a more meditative, meandering, spiraling back, down and into the story, to the energy that provides its life force, so to animate its design and discern its shape and focus of interest.” 

At the workshop and in his writings, he also encouraged us to keep a daily journal where “the slow looping and curving of the letters in one’s own hand is essential to slowing and often thereby deepening the quality of expression.”

I have years of old journals sitting upon my bookshelf where I once did just that, scribbling across each page with abandon if not always with something I might today describe as “quality of expression.” I wrote about passion and pitfalls, foibles and folly. I wrote about the mundane and the magnificent, petty concerns and youthful enthusiasms, things of the sea and thoughts of the spirit. And I got used to the sound and the rhythm of words in my head and the swirls on the page.  

Of late, however, I have been primarily writing on the keyboard, letting my fingers rat-dat-a-tat out the words on the screen, hurrying through ideas, scurrying onto the next thought, anxious to post. Or make a point. And I would never, ever, abandon my AOC and my COMPAQ and my HP DESKJET, my modern friends at the desk with my Roget’s Thesaurus to the left and Webster’s New World to the right. But the Common Core and Dennis Patrick Slattery have a point and now set me to wondering about my own depth of thinking and the spiral and the curve, the sweeping back, that might lend my writing “it’s own ritual gradient, its own energy field.”

Consider the instinctual ways in which we use movement and rhythm throughout our lifetime. It begins with the comforting of a fussy baby, the rocking back and forth, or side to side, patting and cooing “There. There.” all the while. It isn’t something learned or taught. We just do it.

When in stress we walk or pace back and forth, as if trying to recapture a state of balance, Or, I do.

Movement plays a major role in so many spiritual disciplines – Sufi Dancing, twirling about with the right hand raised to the sky and the left toward the earth; T’ai Chi, bringing the energy into focus and harmony; and the Garuda practice from Tibetan Buddhism which balances and taps into new life, mirroring the Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Walking the pattern of the Labyrinth has been a tradition throughout the ages, revitalized in modern church settings, and is thought to enhance right brain activity while establishing a meditative state of mind. And in Greek drama there is the inclusion of Strophe and Antistrophe where the chorus chants while moving from east to west, or left to right, and back again. But never back to the exact same place.

When I pull out some of my tattered journals, all sizes and shapes, fanciful and business-like, and dare to reread the entries, I can trace personal  movements – the inside and out, left to right and back again. But never back to the exact same place.

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Only one is fairly new and was purchased with new-found enthusiasm one year ago after the workshop and quickly abandoned. On the front it is titled “Decomposition Book, 100% Post-Consumer-Waste Recycled Pages, Made using Bio-Gas, Processed Chlorine Free, Printed with Soy Ink, Made in the USA.” This says something about its modernity.

On the inside covers are fanciful drawings of the solar system, the life cycle of the soy plant, a map of the Mississippi River, stages of the common garden ant, the Great Sphinx of Giza compared to the Blue Whale and the tallest dinosaur, and a representation of someone trying to peek into the universe and see “what is behind the stars.” It appears to be a nod to stimulating one’s imagination.

At the same time I also purchased a fresh bottle of Parker black ink and unearthed my cherished and lately unused Mont Blanc fountain pen and placed the three items by the chair in my meditation aerie.

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And on the first day of the new journal I wrote – “All Hallows Eve. A good time to start.” And two weeks later, ended the last entry with – “Hope the weather will bring a white Christmas, but not hamper driving to the airport.” Left to right and back again. But never back to the exact same place.

Back to the original question: Will our schools in this digital-heavy age continue to turn out master computer keyboard kids? Or will they reintroduce the old, familiar lined pages and encourage a slow looping and curving of letters about Blue Whales and dinosaurs, life cycles of garden ants and soy plants, and the mythic magic behind the stars? In the classroom and in my meditation aerie. I hope so.
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This entry was posted in education, favorite things, IMAGINATION, STORY TELLING, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to IN ONES OWN HAND

  1. Beth says:

    I feel so bad for my youngest who is unable to read my notes or a letter I have penned. He has studied some kind of cursive, which I strongly encouraged his sixth grade teacher to keep in the curriculum against administrative wishes. I do hope it comes back. However, I asked a friend of mine who speaks fluent German to interpret some family letters for me, and she told me if they were very old, she could not make out the script. So it goes. Times have changed, and always will, just like language changes. I guess this is inevitable. Still, I would like to think that in the future, any words I have written can be read by my kids, good times recorded and remembered, bad times taught to help the next generation overcome adversity. Wonderful ideas here.

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