Cursive, Hieroglyphics of the Future

Recently there has been a lot of debate over the teaching of cursive handwriting in American schools. Maybe it has something to do with my love, not just of writing, but of history that makes me Pro-Cursive.

Every now and then I sift through the few old letters I have managed to save written by my grandmother’s. I am struck each time with the notion that the person who wrote those words took time out of their busy day to stop, sit down and write to me because I was important in their lives. It made me feel special. Every now and then we read in the news how new, historic documents have surfaced after many long, forgotten years. Quite often these are letters from war veterans to their families and in most cases these snippets of history are written in cursive. As a lover of history, I am filled with dread that one day these documents and their importance will lose all meaning.  Only those that hold degrees in cursive writing will be able to translate the obscure swirls, loops and humps of this cryptic form of writing. So much will be lost then.

What of the documents we already have carefully preserved in museums and library archives? What will become of them? They may be saved for posterity but what of their physical link to our nation’s past? When the vaults are opened and the common man is permitted a glimpse of these relics, will he be able to connect to that document merely by reading it in the very handwriting of the person who so carefully crafted it? What leaves a more lasting impression, reading the Gettysburg Address on a computer screen or standing before the very item knowing its history and reading its words for yourself? Will there be any sense of awe, purpose and pride gained when we have put ourselves at such a distance from those things that matter to our liberties? Or will these documents hold onto our hearts as much as an image in a book of Egyptian hieroglyphics we cannot begin to understand? 

To those school children of the distant future deprived of an understanding of cursive writing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and original Bill of Rights may as well be in cuneiform and will feel just as distant to them as such. For the non-history buffs, imagine being given the opportunity to lay your eyes on the scientific formulas of Newton or Einstein not just in a book or on a cold monitor, but right there in front of you. What a thrill it would be to be permitted to hold the very quill of Archimedes or the ink pen which Beethoven used to write his 9th Symphony and not just look at these items but understand their meaning, to be able to read those special languages of scientific notation, mathematics and music.  Cursive holds that power over me, that love, that connection to those before me.

It is said that those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. If the generations to come are intentionally allowed to forget a form of written communication, what affect will that have on the collective memory of our nation? How much will be forgotten simply because we were too busy to teach them the simple art of cursive and there is no one around anymore who can read it. Is this a risk we really want to take? I believe it’s not. Whenever that day may come that I am a grandmother, I will take it upon myself to teach my grandchildren and all their friends this craft. Too many people depend exclusively on the typed word, restricting their research and experience base to that leaves out so much of the world.

There are those that will argue cursive is out-dated, old-fashioned and simply too slow a method of communication. To which I reply, “What’s the rush?” We humans have rushed ourselves far too long. We seem to think we must constantly be ten steps ahead of the next guy and that somehow we are superior because our technology is more advanced than someone else’s. Sure, we can wipe out life on this planet in the blink of an eye if so inclined. That hardly makes us better, just more dangerous and maybe just a little bit more insane than the other living things we share this earth with. Faster is not always better.

I think we need to slow down, not speed up. We need to communicate better not faster. How about instead of stopping to smell the roses, we let ourselves stop and get a cup of tea or coffee, a pad of paper and a pen and write something down in the  slow, graceful, easy curves of cursive for the future generations to remember us by.

The Death of the Love Letter

“I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart!” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Lewis Carol did it for Gertrude. Beethoven did it for his ‘Immortal Beloved’. Bonaparte did it for Josephine. It’s been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. If that’s so then maybe the way to a woman’s is through a love letter. Call me old fashioned.

I’ve been writing letters for as long as I’ve been able to write. My grandmother’s got me started. Though we lived less than twenty miles apart, we wrote to each other all the time. It was the highlight of my week to get a letter from Nana Jean. When my Gramma Daniels spent more time in Florida than next door, she too would write to me on an almost weekly basis. Even my best friend since the fourth grade and I exchanged letters, and still do!  I think I had my first pen-pal around that same time.  Her name was Yaffa and she lived in Israel. Our letter writing only lasted a year or so but I still have the few that she sent me. There was a pen-pal in Virginia, too as well as in Georgia. By high school, I was writing to six people (all male) in the U.K and one in Germany. It was always a thrill going to the mail box and finding that air mail envelope waiting for me. It never got old. One of those Brits would go on to become my first fiancee.

Then along came email. It was the beginning of the end for the hand-written love letter.  As it became easier, faster and cheaper to send things via email, with the exception of holiday cards, there were no more air mail envelopes in my mail box. There was still hope though!  I could get a reply within hours of having sent something out. Oh, how I loved it back then! It still lacked the personal touch of seeing the way someone would write my name or sign theirs. I pine nostalgic.

Technology stepped it up a notch and gave us Instant messaging and online chat rooms and cell phones and texts. Faster ways to communicate indeed but along with that speed there has also been a huge decline in the quality of the content of those messages. The thought, the eloquence, the emotion that went into the letter writing of my youth has been completely sucked away.

And now with all the talk about doing away with teaching cursive writing to children, I am utterly horrified! My father has the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. It’s as much a part of who he is as what he looks like and the way he speaks. It’s a pity we are so willing to give up something as personal as our handwriting just to save a little bit of time. What’s the big hurry anyway? Is there some sort of race going on I am not aware of?  In the end, we are all going to end up in the same place, the grave, and quite frankly I am in no rush whatsoever to get there. Maybe if we all slowed down a bit and took some time to look around at what we’ve been doing, things would be better. When you rush too quickly into any situation the chances of screwing it up on the way through increase. We’ve all gone mad trying to get too much done in too little time and for what?

When it comes to love it’s also a good time to slow down and consider. That’s what writing love letters can do for a couple. It gives each person time to sit back and think, to open up in ways that maybe they can’t face-to-face. I know I am horrible at face-to-face communication. By writing I am able to stop, breath deep, think it through and write it down slowly and carefully. It not only helps the one I am writing to to better understand me, but it helps me to better understand myself, my own wants, goals and dreams.  Maybe if couples were required to write each other love letters once a month there were be less misunderstandings. It would open an avenue of communication that seems to have been lost lately. I’ve even heard that writing love letters to yourself can be very therapeutic. Why wouldn’t doing it for the one you love have the same effect?

It has been said that when Love is not madness, it has not Love. Let’s write each other love letters again and spread the madness.

My dearest,
When two souls, which have sought each other for, however long in the throng, have finally found each other …a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are… begins on earth and continues forever in heaven.

This union is love, true love, … a religion, which deifies the loved one, whose life comes from devotion and passion, and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights.

This is the love which you inspire in me… Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels; but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension.

Yours forever,

(Victor Hugo to Adele Foucher, 1821)