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MARK PATINKIN Handwriting on the wall? You won't find it



Published: Wed, February 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



It's time to start a new 12-step support group, and I suppose I should be the first to stand up.

"My name is Mark ..."

"Hello, Mark."

"... and it's been several decades since I handwrote a line of legible script."

I think it's safe for me to come out of the closet because fine script is in decline. Everyone seems to be keyboarding instead.

This month's Reader's Digest has a Norman Rockwell-type painting of a boy passing a note to a girl during class. Only he's doing it electronically -- cell phone to cell phone.

See? Kids don't even write love notes in longhand anymore. They text.

Recently, we celebrated National Handwriting Day. I know, there's now a day for everything, but it prompted a press release confirming that it's a bad time for penmanship. "Most educators," it said, "lament handwriting's ever-increasing lack of legibility."

It was sent by a woman named Jeannette Farmer who bills herself as a handwriting remediation specialist. Her theory is that the patient discipline of writing by pen organizes the brain, teaches impulse control and even improves reading scores.

I suppose it does make sense that a culture of video games, instant messaging and texting may well leave kids with short attention spans.

Cardiogram readout

But I didn't have any of those things as a child, and I'll match my bad penmanship against that of anyone today. My script usually looks like the readout on a cardiogram. That's when I take it slow. When I take it fast, like when I'm doing an ultra-quick signature, it looks like a trail of pancake syrup.

I've long thought the CIA should hire me. If my notes on the enemy ever fell into North Korean hands, even their best cryptographers couldn't decipher it.

My bad script is my own fault. I remember learning it in Mrs. Migliaccio's second-grade class. I didn't try. The girls carefully did "e's" one at a time, while I scribbled a single chain of them that looked like a stretched Slinky. Nor did I practice much over the years. In high school, while the diligent students took copious notes, I drew flip movies in the margins of my textbooks. The movies were usually of two stick-figure guys in a kung-fu match.

Kung-fu was very big back then.

Today, they don't call it "script" anymore. It's "cursive." I don't know why, but I do know The New York Times also confirmed that handwriting is on the decline. Schools, the paper said, spend less time teaching it.

Everything's going over to keyboards.

I'd hate to see what the Declaration of Independence would look like today if a young 2005 politician were to write it in longhand. We'd lose half our rights because no one could read them. (Though at least we wouldn't put F's in spots where S's belong. I still don't know why they did that back then.)

You've got mail!

It's old news that almost no one writes letters in longhand anymore. I'm a good case in point. Just about all the mail I get in response to columns is by computer. I get maybe one longhand letter for every 20 e-mails. And most of those letters are from older folks. I know this because they usually begin by saying, "I'm 85 years old, and ..." But their script is good. As I said -- it's a dying art.

Still, most of us no doubt feel we are judged by our penmanship. I know I do. I'm particularly embarrassed when cashiers ask me to sign on an electronic screen. The guy who came up with that technology must have had bad handwriting, and wanted everyone else's to look bad, too.

I used to argue that perfect penmanship is a sign of an obsessive-compulsive mind, but that's just my way of being defensive. In truth, most people think terrible penmanship is the sign of either an immature or chaotic soul.

I'm probably guilty on both counts.

So I'm giving myself over to a higher power and accepting my inner truth.

Thank God for keyboards.

I will never be legible.

Scripps Howard News Service




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