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.

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§ 2 Responses to Sign your name across my heart

  • The Layman says:

    This is evocative.
    1982. Std 2. Miss Dewey. Crewe primary. East Londen.
    I invited her to my birthday party.
    She gave me an F for handwriting.
    Only thing I ever failed.
    Our memories are somewhat different, but equally clear.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Marie Keates says:

    My handwriting went through a very similar process to yours and was similarly ruined by dictation and note taking. These days it’s barely legible even to me but, like you, I mostly type.

    Liked by 1 person

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