Caveman Scribbles, At Best

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009, 11:14 am

When I was in grade school we didn’t receive grades for penmanship. We learned how to write, sure, and I remember those heady days when we were first allowed to try our hand at cursive. All those loops, those swirls! The letters linking arms to form each individual word. I want to say it was third grade when we first took cursive out for a spin, Mrs. Piasecki directing us like Leonard Bernstein, “Sweep UP, around, DOWN, stop!”. The day we learned how to write the seventh letter in the alphabet, the “G”, oh what a day that was! To spell my first name for the first time! And let me tell you, my capital letter G was something to SEE. A graceful (but not effeminate) top loop, followed by that proud, aggressive, decisive swoosh to the right, ending with a point so sharp you could remove your spleen with it. And then down, down, down!, a dizzying plunge back to earth, rescued at the very last moment by a gentle ascent that carried my pen ever so gracefully to the starting point. Baryshnikov with a #2 Ticonderoga, I was.

So far as the letter “G” goes, anyway. My handwriting was always pretty bad–as I said, we weren’t graded on penmanship, but if we had been I would’ve earned gentleman’s Cs. As time wore on my writing got worse instead of better, as I drifted away from the rigorous lessons of my past and learned some bad habits. I stopped connecting certain letters in a pattern I never figured out (some future psycho-anthropologist might analyze my handwriting and say, “This subject had scary, SCARY problems) and before too long I stopped writing in cursive altogether. I think this is how it goes for most people, you get your schoolin’ and then you develop your own unique hand.

What truly destroyed my handwriting was writing for The Daily Collegian at Penn State. I would cover an event and do interviews and frantically try to write down what the person was saying and that did irreparable damage to my script. I had a tape recorder, there was no need to scribble, but I feared that day when the tape would snap or the batteries die in mid-sentence (which happened once) and I would be left with nothing. So I developed what I liked to call my own personal “shorthand”, but was really my normal handwriting played at 78rpm. I started writing that way all the time and over time the words became less and less intelligible to the casual observer. I used to keep a journal and wrote almost every day and when I look at them now even I can’t deduce what half the words are. And then the “internet” came along and so did “blogs” and soon I was doing most of my “writing” on the computer, to the point where picking up a pen at times feels weird and alien. “What is this plastic stick?” the most refined part of my brain asks. “Do we, stick it up our nose?”

Last week I did a quick interview with Joe Sebok after the taping for Poker2Nite, which is the new poker show he and Scott Huff have on FSN. I’m going to do a brief preview post on the UB blog so folks can know what to expect on that night’s episode. Talked to Joe for ten minutes, got some quotes, bid him good evening. I turned to my notebook, looked at the random marks slashed across the page, and said, “OK…what the f*** does any of this say?”

Because the “writing” looked more like the EKG for someone who’d just been thrown out of an airplane without a parachute. Sharp staccato lines and go-nowhere squiggles covered the page. “Aw, c’mon Geno,” I moaned, “an orangutan could write more legibly than this!” All was not lost, I quickly opened WordPad and transcribed as much as I could. And I think I got the gist, at least. This is what one of the better sections looked like:

I do find it amusing that I’m a writer and yet I actually can’t write anymore. Putting ink to paper is hard for me, man. The keyboard has definitely ruined me, and not just because I don’t often take pen in hand anymore. I can type a lot faster than I can write longhand and when I’m writing on paper a logjam quickly builds up between my brain and the pen. My mind is already in the middle of the next sentence while my lagging hand tries to place the last period. It gives me a headache.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s script is pffft; heck, I don’t even know if they teach cursive in grade school anymore. Typing would be the more useful life-skill. And maybe someday soon there will be a port drilled in your skull so you could just plug in a USB cable and download your thoughts right into the computer. And then you’d have the kids saying, “You had a PORT drilled in your SKULL? You didn’t just transmit your thoughts telepathically? Wow, the old days SUCKED.” Unfortunately I don’t think we’re gonna have USB implants or ESP before I talk to Joe tonight. Gotta go practice my ABCs.

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3 Responses to “Caveman Scribbles, At Best”

  1. StB Says:

    Wow. That is pretty interesting. You may owe cavemen an apology.

  2. JoeSpeaker Says:

    They definitely still teach cursive. AJ is learning it now–3rd grade–and by the time they return from winter break, all home and class work will have to be in cursive.

    AJ is positively giddy. It’s like a new language to him. And I am of no assistance as my own cursive long ago took on its own rules and flair (like I’m really gonna make a capital ‘Q’ look like a 2). I gave up after a couple sessions when he kept saying, “What letter is that?!?! That’s not right!”

  3. joxum Says:

    That post could have been about me, too.

    Good, clear handwriting is way underrated in this day and age.


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