January 2011

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love to all –

I like getting mail.  Not junk mail.  But, real honest to goodness mail – particularly actual paper mail; that which keeps the postal service from shuttering it’s doors and requires a stamp.

Because I enjoy having the cobwebs knocked out of the mailbox by an occasional decorative envelop, I tend to send notes and letters; anticipating that others find as much joy as I do in a handwritten note.

This past Christmas, I sent out several Christmas cards – as I do most every year.  When I was a kid I couldn’t wait for the mail to arrive around Christmastime.  I would rush to pick up the mail as soon as it was delivered so I could read the cards first.

Not much has changed.  Each day during the holiday, I anticipate getting a couple cards.  I so enjoy the notes and sentiment.  However, this Christmas I had several sent cards returned.  They came back with postal service employee scribbles, question marks and a few acronyms…NSN (No Such Number?), AWK (Awkward?), etc.

This is a bit confusing since most were people I am fairly regularly in contact with.  I even felt the need to check the obituaries of one returned card sent to a dear friend that I worked with at the university (I was an undergraduate work-study student and she was on staff at the library).  Good news.  After a quick search, she appears to be alive and well.

With so much returned mail I came to this reasoned conclusion: the post office can’t read my handwriting.  Truthfully, they wouldn’t be the first.  My husband can’t read it (with ease) either.  In my own defense, this is not because I write poorly or indiscernible.  More so because, as my husband puts it, my ‘letters are loopy’.  Ok.  So I’ve got a bit of a flourish to my script.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary.  Really.

~detail: cursive chart

No.  I think the underlying culprit is that children are no longer required to write in cursive.  They learn it.  However, it doesn’t seem to be the required standard in the classroom.  Instead there is a focus on keyboard.  And so, they don’t master reading and writing cursive.

So then, if the postal worker sorting my mail is anywhere in their 30’s or younger, they likely can’t read handwritten cursive.  Just a theory.  We could test it by asking any teenager or 20-something to write a sentence in cursive with proper punctuation.  It’s even a bit of a struggle for some to provide an actual signature.  Theorizing….

One returned card was addressed to a home on Ash Street.  Scrawled (in block print) along the side was, “I s L E t a ?”.  Really?  There are twice as many letters.  The only thing they read correctly was the ‘s’.  This is sad.

~detail: Gregg Shorthand Manual, 1936

It occurred to me as I was met daily by my own cards in the mailbox: if we aren’t requiring cursive writing, and the population is quickly becoming unable to recognize the script, then we will soon extinguish another creative form of communication (…anyone remember shorthand?).The lines of the words connected by cursive lettering provide character, beauty and tone to a note.  There is a speed and fluid run from one letter to the next.  Even the spaces between words create a rythym on the page.  Beautiful lines!  Will we lose the ability to create lines connected with elegance and purpose?

I once mentioned to a collegue that I wished I could see a particular exhibition in Chicago of the works of Cy Twombly.  Her response was, “Why would you want to see Twombly?  Just a bunch of lines.”

Hero and Leander, 1985. Cy Twombly

Just a bunch of lines? No. I don’t see it that way.  They are marks that show emotion, direction and value.  Likewise, cursive handwriting illustrates those things with the added responsibility of a message.

I will continue to write – by hand.  I’m sending my grandmother some note cards and stamps.  She writes – in cursive (she’s 91…probably learned shorthand too).  Her letters are created with care as she jots down news about her day.  I’ll be looking for her letter in the mailbox.

love to all,

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