Americans love a holiday. The penchant for celebrating the mundane results in a calendar peppered with “National Cow Day,” “Be Late for Something Day,” or “National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.” But I was wholly unprepared for “National Handwriting Day,” although the act of grasping writing utensil in hand shaped my formative years and has led, in no small part, to my current state in life. And though I may find myself at a professional crossroads, contemplating a new career path, I don’t see writing leaving my life – whether it takes digital form or the rushed and furious scrawl onto paper. I am not sure that e-mails and text messages provide the same connection to a person, a place, and a feeling as a handwritten missive. Who says, “oh – that is my Granny’s font!” Nope, doesn’t have the same ring…
Established in 1977, I can’t describe today as venerable holiday, but I do find humorous that it was established 38 years ago to fight the waning importance of penmanship in American life. Now, wed even more to keyboards of all shapes and sizes, I wonder what handwriting means to people outside of the walls of academia and research?Writing by pen (or pencil) must seem laborious and foreign. The creative process itself often appears inseparable from the computer – I can’t recall the last time I wrote a report longhand. The holiday is the brainchild of the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association. The group’s website describes handwriting as allowing “us to be artists and individuals…Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created movements and declared independence.”
I first struggled with the spidery crawl of characters on the backs (and sometimes fronts) of old photographs, and when I began to research my thesis, I tentatively entered the world of historic letters. After a while, the rhythm of 19th-century handwriting begins to seem familiar, as your eyes adapt to the elongated shapes of particular letters, or abbreviations common to the writer but unknown and strange to the modern reader. The shape and flow of the words lend themselves to a speech pattern at once both eloquent and quaint.
My mother wrote me one letter a week my four years of college. I have them all, bundled stacks of yellow legal paper, with news of the farm, the weather, and bits of news about my small hometown. They are beyond precious to me. Old love letters – the ones I didn’t burn in a fit of pique – also take up residence in the barrel vaulted trunk, and I’m not sure whether laughter or tears are my first response when perusing their contents. Today, a letter in the mailbox in a familiar and loved hand makes my heart skip a beat and a smile with no hints of ever fading to crease across my face. Although I rarely stick to my resolve to write one handwritten note a week, I do attempt several a year – even if they are just cards with a few lines scribbled at the bottom to my nephews and niece – to whom the idea of “learning to write cursive” is an alien concept.
So Happy National Handwriting Day! Tell someone you love them…in your handwriting.