A plea for the return of handwriting

I like to watch people write. Handwrite. I watch the way their fingers curve around a pen, crunched into a crab-like grip like mine or gracefully spread along the bottom to guide the ink. I watch pens leave trails of ink that form letters and words and ideas, filling up blank sheets with blue and black that leave ink splotches on our skin, that are the simple combination of the mind, hand, pen, and paper.

I often zone out while I write, staring as my pen leaves mesmerizing, endlessly curling, almost illegible loops of black script on the page, my hand feeling the weight and shape of every letter as it writes. I find that words pour out more easily, and not only that, but that I feel more in tune to them because I crafted them. I shaped them, formed them, chose capitals or lowercase, made them big or small or neat or messy. I made that letter, made that script “q” loop in a circle and dive down into an oval, back up on the line to dissolve into the “u”.

This is all lost on the computer. That’s not to say that computers aren’t incredibly helpful and make things easier (not to mention I’d probably get papers back from my professors covered in question marks begging for handwriting clarification and shaking their heads at my elementary school teachers), but there’s a little bit of distance.

This distance comes when I’m physically typing. It’s almost mindless on the computer, an endless tapping of keys that make sentences that get underlined in red by Microsoft Word and then moved into a folder within a folder and get lost in my hard drive. I also don’t look at my hands when I’m typing (damn you, Type To Learn 3) and I feel I lose something when I just push buttons and letters appear miraculously on the screen in front of me, reflected in my glazed eyes. Anyone could be doing that. The text is anonymous, could be put there by anyone in the world instead of watching it impressed on paper by my pen and hand. I almost don’t trust it. There’s also a ridiculous amount of distraction that comes with writing on the computer: while I wrote this, I simultaneously checked Facebook, responded to some unread messages, read about the Democratic debate online, read an email, and responded to some texts. When I’m writing in my notebook, I stare at the walls in my room covered in posters and listen to The Fleet Foxes, my gaze unfocused and my pen gently resting against my cheek, until it swoops back onto the paper to shape more letters amidst spools of curling hair that are unwinding on the page as I lean over it.

There’s also the incredible personal touch you get when you read something handwritten by someone else. Letters are just immediately so much more involved, emotional, and intimate. It’s one step down from physically listening to someone read their writing out loud, and you get the feeling of being connected to the words they made. Text is blank, generic, filled with emotion that’s glazed and airbrushed with formality and uniformity. It’s easy to read and neater, and fits in careful perfect margins and equally spaced lines, but it’s nameless. I sometimes wish I could get little letters from people delivered to me immediately in paper airplane or owl form like in Harry Potter instead of through my phone. Or that I could see someone’s handwriting craft the text on my iPhone, for electronic and environmental facility. JK Rowling and I are in talks on this.

I stuff scraps of paper, letters, tickets, stickers, and postcards in my journal, all the while covering it in designs and doodles and stamps and notes from myself and other people. It’s heavy with my words, heavy with stories and characters and musings and scrawled phrases that all have incredible significance to me. I know it’s mine. I know when I got bored and penned in illustrations for notes on Candide in French, have memorized the curves and impressions where I pressed deep onto the page, the diagrams, notes scrawled on the margins that I made, notes that other people have written and full-page illustrations of the New York City skyline. My plea for a return to handwriting is mostly a personal endeavor, and I’ve started creating stories in my notebook immediately when I think of them rather than title a blank Word document with my name and a blinking cursor. So if you’re willing, write something down once in a while other than notes for class. It doesn’t have to be a diary entry or an angsty teen drama, but just be empty and watch your thoughts materialize on the paper, and watch your pen lead the way like the leader of a parade holding the cap as a flag.

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