My mother was a postcard writer. Filling the back of a card, she turned it on its side and kept writing, adding one more sentence before signing her name.
When I tell friends she wrote to me daily during my college years, they roll their eyes. They’re skeptical, and no wonder! We have become people of the “tweet,” of Facebook, emails, of texting. Unless we are tourists, browsing in a gift shop, who buys postcards today?
I dread asking, but the question looms: Who will write letters or postcards by the time Kathryn’s children are in college?
Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art. My favorite paper goods store has reduced its stock of stationery to one section of shelves. Half of the note cards are sale-priced.
Still, I hold fast to the words of a Yale psychologist who believes “with handwriting, the very act of putting words down on paper forces you to focus on what’s important.”
In most schools today, printing the alphabet is taught in kindergarten and in the first grade, then computers reign in classrooms, the keyboard taking the place of cursive writing, that dinosaur skill from the days of mastering fine penmanship.
Even as we give up the pads of paper with blue lines, those fat pencils guiding fingers to capital and lower case letter formations, research has found students learn better if they take notes by hand. Somehow, growing bodies with busy brains process information, say, from a lecture, with more clarity if the teacher’s words are written rather than typed on a keyboard.
Studies shore up cursive writing as a factor in teaching self-control. Maybe it’s the rhythm of holding a pen or pencil and learning to follow through, to take time to add a tail to a letter or conquer the domain of a capital “D,” over, under, up, ending with the flourish of a crown.
As the teaching of cursive writing disappears from curriculum after curriculum, surely we will feel its loss in literature, in play writing. No longer will a serious drama concern itself with the reading of personal letters, their words spoken from the stage. How can a novel tie a plot to secret information, sent by hand-written notes, passed from courier to spy?
I have just finished a book, its spine thick with letters from Japan, carried by the force of a tsunami, washed ashore on a beach in British Columbia. In the packet, letters wrapped in oiled paper speak to a novelist’s image of a Japanese pilot forced to train as a suicide bomber in World War II.
His history is preserved on paper, in ink, smudged and faded by time, connecting his diary to the young pilot’s nieces and nephews, yet unborn. He writes he will nose dive into the sea rather than crash his plane on the deck of an American ship. His superiors will call his fatal accident a “miscalculation,” but his letters reveal the truth. He refuses to kill young men, caught up in a war, those, who, in another life, might have been his friends.
God willing, generations still to come will not send letters from war zones, but without the angles and curves of legible penmanship, won’t declarations of love and promises of friendship come through cyberspace as emails, missives wedged between advertisements for Canadian prescription services and sales on designer shoes?
As we reinvent the “givens” in life, it is bittersweet to imagine an end to pride taken in the discipline of writing, bowing, alas, to printed lettering. Naming ourselves on paper has been a sign of literacy, of learning for centuries, a far cry from making a mark with an X.
Is it just me, or is losing sight of hand-written letters, of signatures, very sad?
Judy Elliott is a longtime resident of Marietta.