“Learning to write gooder”

My wife and I were looking at a beautiful sunset over Hawaii the other day. More specifically, we were looking at a photo of a beautiful sunset over Hawaii. There must be photos of beautiful sunsets over Covington, but they’re not as widely distributed.

“That sunset sure is neat,” I said.

“Neat? ”said my wife. “What century are you living in? Who says neat anymore?”

I replied loftily, “Guys who are cool cats and groovy hipsters—that’s who! Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go get something out of the icebox.”

Yea, it IS something I do—use words long after their expiration date—but mostly just to be ironic. I just think it’s sort of funny to say, “How’s it going, Daddio?”—as if I were a latter day beatnik dropped to earth.

My wife thinks it’s pathetic. “You are about as much of a beatnik as you are an NBA power forward,” she says. Remarks like that can cut deep into my 6’ 11” muscular frame.

Who gets to decide which words—or practices—are no longer relevant? Why do perfectly good,
timeworn, antediluvian, moth-eaten, old-hat things suddenly get discarded?

And why did they cancel Leave it to Beaver?

When I was a kid long ago—in the days before Kardashians ruled the earth—the bane of my elementary school experience was a subject called “cursive.”

I once asked a second-grader what she thought the unfamiliar word meant. She pondered for a moment and then said, “Cursive is what my dad is when he tries to fix stuff around the house.”

In fact, the kind of cursive I’m thinking of refers to a style of handwriting—longhand, script—that is conjoined in a flowing manner. In my school days, they called it “penmanship”—and I was spectacularly horrible at it.

The Cashman kid report card would arrive—time after time—with the invariable grim news: “Your son continues to show poor skills in penmanship. He needs to work harder at it. However, his neatness has improved slightly.”

My dad—always the optimist—thought that my indecipherable handwriting meant I might someday become a doctor. But my mom was mortified.

“If you don’t improve your penmanship,” she warned, “you’ll have to give up your piano lessons.” When she found out I didn’t like my piano lessons, she pivoted. “If you don’t improve your penmanship,” she said, “you’ll have to continue your piano lessons.”

I got the message. I worked at it—really hard. And suddenly, the cursive looping hand movement no longer threw me for a loop. I got it—became good at it—and before long I began to dream of a career as a professional hand-writer.

But now, all these years later, my number one skill is as obsolete as the quill I prefer to use. More and more schools around the nation no longer even teach cursive—or very little of it. Today, it’s all about laptop and tablet keyboard learning.

So if Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address today, it wouldn’t be on the back of an envelope, but on the front of an iPad—or in a pinch, a Kindle. And with battery life what it is, good thing it’s a short speech.

John Hancock’s famous signature would be rendered with the obscurity of a keystroke font. Who would want to name an insurance company after a guy so mundane?

Modern day bank robbers would be greatly handicapped too. Simply handing a teller a handwritten note wouldn’t do. It’d have to be an email written with a subject line that wouldn’t send it straight to spam.

There is still hope for real handwriting though.

Microsoft’s new device laboratory is developing a digital pen—and a start-up company called Mail Lift has a handwritten letter service for marketers and sales professionals, who have figured out that a thank you note with real handwriting, no fonts, is much more personal—and more likely to yield continued business.

Because there’s no doubt about it—nothing can replace the thoughts conveyed by real penmanship. As someone recently said, “The pen, as a tool for someone’s mind, to express ideas and make them tangible, is incredibly powerful.” It’s true, even though the writer of those words probably did them on a keyboard.

I remember how my mom used to emphasize to my brothers and me the importance of the written thank you note for birthday gifts, Christmas presents and other kindnesses.

I bore that in mind as I carefully wrote out a card to my grandma when I was twelve- years old. I wrote: “Thank you, Grandma for the nice birthday card with only a dollar in it.”

My penmanship was perfect, but thanks to my eagle-eyed mom, that card never got sent.