Writing by hand…a lost skill?

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Do you make marks with your hands anymore? Small notes to youself? Grocery lists or little post-it messages for your colleagues? Or an actual letter to a friend? Did you grow up in an era when cursive writing was taught in school? Or have the digital ways taken over your life completely?

I have been having the handwriting debate within my head and with my friends lately. I was probably one of the last set of school going kids who were told the importance of a good handwriting, and was even graded on it. Teachers never failed to mention the best hand-writer in the class to set an example for everyone else. Non-cursive writing was not acceptable, and in fact, the older kids had the key to unlock the mysteries of strange connected marks they made on paper. If one didn’t write cursive, one was a “baby”.

Pencil was the only option available to children when they started school and writing. Markers, the only accessible pens, were strictly for colouring. I think it was believed that starting one’s writing life with a pen ruined their handwriting forever.

Grade five was a rite of passage for writing. Finally the students were allowed to write with pen. And not just any pen, but a fountain pen. With real ink and nibs. I remember my father showing me how to take care of the pen he gave me the day before grade 5 started- to refill the ink, to keep the pen clean and to change nibs when they got broken tips. I still treasure the real gold tipped pen he gifted to me on the occasion of my undergrad graduation- a pen I had grown up seeing, but it was too precious for me to use as a child. I have to admit though that I haven’t used it in a long time…

Back to When I got to Grade five- it was the most exhilarating time- to show off to our friends our new pens, of being admitted into the society of grown-up kids. Of course, ballpoint pens were not acceptable. They were considered trashy as far as pens go, bad influence that destroyed one’s handwriting!

I hand-wrote letters to my friends and family. I used to rush home to check for my best friend’s letter when my family and I had moved away to another town. It was usually pages and pages of handwritten saga of our current lives along with cutouts of interesting articles or hot dudes we wanted to share with each other. We even managed to sneak small pieces of jewellery in the envelopes on the occasion of the each other’s birthdays. I would read each received letter at least ten times, and it would make me smile every single time. The letters got collected in a special box. And every time I opened it to deposit the latest envelope I read through the rest of the letters all over again.

I would do the writing of my reply to her in a few sittings- usually entire evenings devoted to the task. Writing was just as much fun as reading. Thinking of how she would react to my words as I was putting them on paper would make me write with even more vigour. Long-distance phone calls were too expensive (and certainly not very accessible to children) and Internet was nonexistent to the general public. So writing by hand, putting a stamp and address on an envelope and sending it on its way was the only way to keep in touch. And in my humble opinion, it was the more satisfying way. One really was committed to stay in touch in this way!

Fast-forwarding to today, writing by hand is almost dispensable for most of us. Even children use computers for their projects. No one tells them the importance of writing to impress. It is not a measure of one’s character anymore. And, really, ink pens?!

But does it really count in someway deep down in our minds to mark the paper with our own hands rather than pressing buttons to do the job? Or worse still, to touch a flat screen of a smart phone to create our letters and words? Even more than the tactile sensation of holding a pen or pencil between our fingers, and rubbing its tip on the tooth of the paper, isn’t there more heart and brain involved in creating marks that are one’s way of communication with oneself or others? Research suggests that note taking by hand makes more stick in our brains with the help of physical and mental effort involved in the task. Older students today can be seen using their laptops to follow presentations of their professors. And it’s so easy for them to change tabs or windows to be available on social media every single minute, for every single comment or story that comes their way. I wonder how much is sticking in their brains with no physicality involved in the process of following the lecture.

Now, I’m a mother, and I have a responsibility towards my son’s learning, especially as we are an unschooling family. Hence the handwriting debate that I am having within and around me with my son starting to wield a pen and begin his writing journey.

Do I insist that he write with a pencil to start with?

Do I role model writing for him to see and absorb?

Do I emphasize a skill that’s losing out rapidly in our society?

Will it at be relevant for him to be able to write well by the time he’s a grown man?

I am going to go with Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes as of now. I grew up handwriting, and I know the pleasure of it-which I still enjoy (see this post). So I hope my son will know it too, and maybe find a friend that he would like to write to. And relevant or not, if it makes learning a little deeper for him to write his notes by hand, well, I’m in! And of course, he’ll choose his own path at some point, and then I’ll be happy to know that at least he had a choice.

Dear Diary…

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I like to write in a little black notebook that I keep around with me at all times. It has mundane details, reminders, ideas, recipes. Notes of my life in general. Nothing spectacular or sensational or even intimate. Just somewhere to dump my brain. How in this world am I going to remember the TED talk someone recommended, or the impromptu poem my son made, or the idea of painting something I saw at the coffee shop yesterday?

Not one of the fancy Moleskins, but a humble plain paper notebook just the right size and shape to carry around with me, I like to keep this notebook is for two reasons:

— To be able to handwrite somewhere- to manually and slowly use my hand-eye-brain coordination, with all the scratching off, writing in the margins messiness. It feels so much more organic than making a digital note. The way only my notebook can feel.

— To be able to document the very simple everyday ideas of my life…a place in time of my days on this planet. I will surely have no clue of any of it the next day, let alone a week later. Or a year later. What quote from which book touched me? What knitting project excited me? What was the profound statement my 4 year-old made? To remember the little moments of a busy life…

The best part of this documentation for me has to be flipping through it to find a particular entry and getting lost in all the colourful messy pages that are memories of the previous days…of thoughts and ideas that obsessed me last month but are amusing to read about now.

I do not like to share this book with anyone. It’s about me and my deepest thoughts… and no one gets to visit all the crevices of my mind…

So to discover this morning that I could not find the said black notebook was not a happy moment. I really needed to dump an idea in it but it was elusive. But after looking in all the likely places, and then desperately looking in all the not-so-likely places, between and under furniture and in-between books the frustration and anger were rising. Now the thought turned from I-really-need-to-write to someone-got-to-have-a-peek, and my mood turned darker with it.

Where did I last use it? In a public place, I think. Ugh.

A set of stranger eyes groping my words. Yuck.

Hand on the hip staring into space, I was lost for any more ideas to look for my beloved black notebook. I was getting nostalgic about the look of its front cover, of the feel of its rough pages. Then who stares right back at me, from the folds of the throw on the sofa…but my lovely black paper brain! I can safely say that I have never been happier to see a set of paper before!

To my son’s utter amazement and amusement I was the jolliest person in that moment…

Look What We Found!

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This conversation happened after the closing circle of my son’s Outdoor school last week. The find of the day in the woods was a dead frozen raccoon that had been brought out carried on fallen tree branches. My son had never greeted my arrival to pick him up with such enthusiasm, and I was obviously wrong to presume it was my presence that generated the joy (well it was, but only to share the amazing treasure from the woods with me!)

I feigned (don’t you judge me!) almost as much excitement as him at the sight of the dead body, and he waited patiently till the closing circle. But as soon as we howled a coyote howl to finish the day, the words poured out of him…

Him (looking at the staff member expectantly): So can I take the raccoon home now?

Staff (looking at me with a suppressed smile/smirk?!): Mmmm….

Me: NO!

Him (turning to me with a shocked expression): Why not? I want to put him on my Nature Table.

Me (softening at his innocent reaction, and checking my reaction in time, I hope): Well, it will rot after a while, and stink. Bugs will crawl all over it (etc. etc.)

Staff: Yeah, you’re mum’s right. Not a good idea.

Him (in his wise guy manner): Ok but I can put in the backyard. Can I take him then?

Me (thinking fast): But I really think he would want to stay in his home.

Him: What home?

Me: These woods, where he lived.

Him (looking at me like I’m the biggest fool!): But he’s dead! He won’t know!

Staff laughing by now…

Me (thinking faster): But his soul would know.

Me (very firmly) I’m not taking the raccoon home honey.

Him (speechless for five seconds)

Him (Walking away from the raccoon towards the car): Can you tell me more about soul?

You guessed right, it was a long drive home for me…

In My Sliver

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Today is one of those days where I completed all the tasks that I aimed for, when dinner and dishes finished on time, when my creative life took a full flight, when I exercised, and when I had a sliver of time on my hands when I was twiddling my fingers wondering what to do next! Yes, an impossible kinda day by everyday standards!

So I got thinking, in my sliver of free time ofcourse, why my life is a series of things to do that are almost always unachievable. Why I promise myself everyday to have a better start tomorrow, to be more on top of things tomorrow, to journal, do yoga, to answer all the social emails it would be nice to answer etc.?

EVERY SINGLE DAY

Why does life not feel perfect as it is, in this moment, in this day? Why does it always need improvement? Does everyone live like that? Wanting a better, more productive tomorrow? This never ending hunger for perfection that will never be achieved. And then I started writing these words in my sliver of free time.

Oh well, I guess I’ll have to think about the big question of my life in the next such sliver of free time I have on the next perfect day I have…and it might be a while.

Because this sliver is now over.

Fire

Last week my son finished the Fall session at his outdoor community school. As a celebration the parents, the staff and the children shared food and songs and stories. All of this happened around a fire. All celebrations for our school happen around a fire.

Fire. It seems to just pull everyone around in the park towards itself. It’s where songs happen, where stories are shared, where a cold day’s hardworking hands are warmed, where treats are passed around, where drums sound to call people from afar.

My son seems to get pulled by it’s lure and that’s where he stays put. The children are heard playing and screaming around, but my son is always hanging out by the fire- with the grown-ups. He needs no other company when fire is visiting. I’ve seen him mesmerized by it. My beautiful boy works tirelessly to collect and feed the fire. To make sure it feels welcome, and is well fed.

He thinks it’s magic that creates it. The science is there only to help the magic happen. He thinks the flying sparks become stars in the sky. I stop myself from telling him otherwise, to enjoy the magic of his childhood.

And now it’s winter…a time when fire is most welcome. The fire pit is a common sight in the park, the smoke easy to spot though the bare branches. The familiar smoky smell that fills every fibre of my boy’s snowsuit floods my home and car. The charcoal covers his hands and face. I smell it in his hair.

I give thanks.

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