Sign your name across my heart

November 11, 2015 § 2 Comments

The boys at my high school knew one thing for sure: if you said your friend had a nice personality, that was a sure sign that she wasn’t that pretty. But if all you could say was, “She has lovely handwriting,” then they knew she had very little going for her.

I know, I know, children can be cruel, but it is a little funny. And actually, one of the things I miss about the digital age is seeing people’s handwriting – it’s just not that common anymore.

When I was at school I agonised over my handwriting. I was always on the lookout for ways to make it distinctive, and in multiple acts of irony, I achieved this by shamelessly copying flourishes from friends and classmates. I liked the roundness of this girl’s letters, or the large loops that someone else produced. I copied a ‘2’ from one friend and stole the ‘7’ from another. My handwriting was like a living, breathing thing – it leaned this way and that, changed from round, fat apple-shaped forms to long, lithe spindly letters that leaned like poplars in a hot wind.

Finally, halfway through high school, I decided that the handwriting of Andrew Honey, my isiXhosa teacher, was the one to emulate. It was small and neat, and leaned slightly to the right; it was legible and unlike the looping handwriting most of my friends had finally settled into. This handwriting would set me apart from the rest.

I still have my isiXhosa notes and textbooks from school, with Mr Honey’s handwriting immortalised, and when I compare my handwriting now, I see his influence, but the flourishes are mine. My Gs and Ys swirl lavishly in a way his never did. Besides, my handwriting has been ruined by years of taking notes in interviews – it’s difficult to be neat when you’re capturing the nuance of a phrase, the perfectly uttered thought from another’s lips.

I’ve loved watching my children’s handwriting develop as they’ve moved through school, from enormous crayoned caricatures to small blue printed words on a feint line, neatly lined up and awaiting a teacher’s approval. They don’t teach cursive in school any more – I often wonder why, and then realise I’m not sure why we had to learn it in the first place.

Some of my most treasured possessions are notes I’ve received from friends: a foolscap page in pencil from a friend who stayed over, a birthday card in purple, spidery ink, a luxurious blue and cream card of encouragement that blends poetry and prose in ways that touch me every time I read it.

My life and my work revolve around digital text – on my laptop, my tablet and my phone. I text prolifically, email and use social media to keep in touch with all kinds of people, to send my thoughts out into the world, to support and send love those who are close to me.

But I still feel a tiny thrill every time I discover what one of my friends’ handwriting looks like. It’s like a small doorway opens up to a part of their soul I’ve not yet uncovered.

I hope we never stop putting pen – or pencil – to paper.



November 4, 2015 Comments Off on Skin

Last Friday after work I was too tired to even think about making dinner, so I loaded my girls into to the car, and we headed for our local Nandos. 

It was a very warm evening after a blisteringly hot day, and as we sat at our sidewalk table, chatting and people-watching, I noticed that everywhere I looked, bare skin was the order of the day.

As we got into the car again to head home, I said in my most supercilious tone – the one I reserve for mocking beauty pageants – that I’d seen a lot of woman in short dresses who really shouldn’t be wearing short dresses, especially not at their age…

Without missing a beat, my older daughter asked: “Who are you to decide what they should or shouldn’t be wearing? They should be allowed to wear anything they want to wear; anything that makes them happy.”

The younger one chimed in: “How can you body shame them like that? You’re always telling us it’s not okay to do that.”
And in that moment I was both terribly ashamed of my own hypocrisy, and ineffably proud of the young women I’m raising – both for their certainty that I was behaving badly, and their courage to call me on it.

It was one of those parenting moments where I felt that in this respect, at least, I’d got something right.

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