I haven’t written on paper in a while. At work, when I take notes at meetings, my coworkers lean over and marvel at my penmanship.
“Wow,” they say, “It’s like a font….like you typed it, but it’s like cursive.”
Like a font! I thank them but what I really want to hear is, “Goodness you write like Queen Victoria!” (Once at an exhibit in London, I had seen her handwriting. It was gorgeous.)
They don’t know how much my handwriting has deteriorated since its heydays – during my first semester at NYU and in my two years at Berkeley, when I wrote furiously in my journal and in letters to friends and family in other cities. Now I type and text. It’s not the same.
In college, I developed the impractical habit of starting my essays longhand before typing them onto the computer. The other students wondered why I would do something so time-consuming and, in our day and age, anachronistic. And Berkeley, as a community, was actually quite conducive to this. I wandered from bookstore to bookstore, cafe to cafe, and often saw young men and women like myself, sitting cross-legged at wobbly cafe tables with a half-drunk latte and a Moleskine open to a middle page that was either filled with scratchy handwriting (very rarely, with my nose turned absurdly up would I ever see anyone with penmanship as nice as mine) or doodles or lyrics or whatever it was the young artist was working on. I too, have a Moleskin – though the cheaper, three volume paperback kind that is lighter to carry around, not that I ever do. I walked by these people with eyes both critical and congenial, after all, I was looking at like-minded souls who were also potential competitors.
Ah. Another writer at work. I wonder if what he/she is writing is more profound/interesting/marketable than what I am writing?
But generally I walked into these cafes with the express purpose to “study” and write essays for school, hardly ever to write for myself and as a result, I’m certain what these other aspiring Joyces and Faulkners were jotting down in their Moleskines was far more interesting than what I was writing on my yellow legal pads, my medium of choice for school essays.
There is something about writing in cursive that is akin to rolling down a grassy knoll. This is the momentum I relied upon when writing essays for school. On the computer, the words did not pour forth as easily if at all and I often sat for hours in front of a blank screen (intermittently populated by Facebook, the NYTimes, horoscopes, crosswords, etc.) typing and deleting and typing the same opening paragraph in varied syntax. All students know this feeling: the worst kind of constipation. It is knowing that you really do need to pull something out of your ass by a certain time lest the university becomes a bathroom stall you can never leave.
I forget the paper, there were so many, but for one paper I had an early spark of inspiration and as my computer was not with me, I reached for a legal pad and jotted down the introduction I had in mind. Some fool told me a while ago that once you have your thesis down, it’s all easy as pie from there. Well, I often have my thesis – otherwise how do you even set out to do your research? – but rather than feeling like I’m rolling down a grassy knoll afterward, collecting body paragraphs and whatnot, I usually felt as though I stepped off a cliff. It is difficult to write when your ideas lay shattered at the foot of a cliff. Anyway, I wrote the thesis down on the yellow legal pad and almost automatically, my hand shifted to start a new paragraph and for a split second it was as though I were watching someone else’s hand at work – someone whose brain was clearer and more organized regarding the subject matter at hand. She took the pen and directed it a dozen or so lines further and voila, paragraph two emerged. This sensation was entirely new to me: how could I have written two paragraphs in such a short time?
I recall looking up and around at the cafe folk around me, wondering if anyone else had seen the miracle just performed on my yellow legal pad, but of course no one was paying attention. It didn’t matter. I ducked my head down and let the cursive work its magic. In this way I transferred the momentum felt when writing a particularly satisfying diary entry into my schoolwork and from then on, began my school essays thus.
Now though, more and more I am neglecting the paper. Saving trees, sure, but what about my “craft?” Not the content itself but the writing – the actual act of putting pen to paper and watching the ink…(“bleed” is such a violent, messy word)…flow from the tip of a particularly smooth rolling pen? In my two years at Berkeley, I tried, unsuccessfully, to woo my lovely professor with my handwriting. I didn’t write him love letters, no (though perhaps I ought to have), but I did write him a Christmas card or two, and little missives here… his own writing was abominable, the very reason why I went to his office hours in the first place, because I could not read his writing. And it was in the quiet moments of deciphering what he had written, both of us leaning over my papers (“I think that says…well, I’m just not sure. Ha ha.”) that I fell in love, a minor case of savior complex rearing its head. I felt I could fill in some gap of his – as though messy handwriting was a case of mild cancer and me, with my polished J’s and Y’s and flourished G’s, could waltz in like Florence Nightingale (who also wielded a glorious pen) and save the day.
But mostly, I blog. I’m no calligrapher, and I’m sure if Queen Victoria were to rise from her grave and peer over my shoulder one cold, rainy night as I write in my diary, she’d probably sneer and say, crisply, “My dear, you have a long ways to go before that pen of yours produces something truly beautiful.” We shall see, won’t we?