Monday, July 14, 2008

The Aesthetics of Writing

When I was in the 10th grade I took a couple of college preparatory courses to become familiar with the ways of college and earn a few credits. One of the courses I took was Interpersonal Communications, a course in which one became familiar with herself, as well as learning to verbally communicate effectively with others, which was very popular in 1979.

One night the professor had an assignment in which we were to sit and talk with another class member for 15 minutes, get to know them, and then report to the class something about who that person was. The professor paired with a student and took her turn with the rest of us in giving a report. What she said that night changed my life in a way that still affects me today.

The professor said that the student had the most beautiful handwriting she had ever seen, and from that moment there were two things that became important to me. One was somehow getting a glimpse of what the “most beautiful handwriting” looked like, and the other was to make my goal in life achieving the lofty status of having the most beautiful handwriting ever!

I would spend the next year or two consciously working on handwriting styles, altering particular letters when I saw someone else write something in a way I found attractive, and changing from curls and loops to straight lines and back again, as the emotion or style of the times might dictate. I forced myself to go back, erase and rewrite a letter if I subconsciously slipped and put a loop where I intended to make a straight line. I learned how difficult it was to learn to write all over again, even if it was just remodeling my current methods. Going back through my books and letters I can see the difference in styles as they progressed and changed. Eventually I came to find a style of writing I felt comfortable enough with to call my own (some eclectic mix of loops and lines), but I never came close to achieving the most beautiful writing ever.

In addition to being a conscientious student of writing, I am the daughter of a woman whose is noted for its complexity of style and aesthetic beauty. My mother has naturally flowing and graceful writing. I can remember helping her address Christmas cards as a child and watching in awe as she created tiny masterpieces of writing in gold and silver ink. On occasion I tried to learn her technique, but for the most part I was aware that her talents were far out of my league. Even my goal of having the most attractive handwriting in class, I realized, would never take me to her level. She was a natural. If I could just obtain a style of writing that was both legible and attractive I would be pleased, but I still harbored a secret desire to be one day recognized for my penmanship.

Although I never learned to write like my mother and never obtained the status of most beautiful calligrapher in college, I learned a valuable lesson that night in my Interpersonal Communications class. I learned that writing is an art form in appearance, as well as content, and I learned that the physical process of writing is critically important, as it gives unique meaning and heightened sense of value to the words that are written. As a writer I understand the significance of words, but somehow any piece of work seems more noteworthy when displayed through the art of beautiful penmanship. The Declaration of Independence, for example, always feels more impressive when displayed as a reprint of the original document, as opposed to a typed version in a textbook.

When I was learning to write nearly 40 years ago, there were no computers around to deny me the opportunity to develop a beautiful style of writing. Although I am the first person to defend the increased opportunity provided by modern technology, even for writers, I worry today that my children will never learn the importance of good penmanship. It was, after all, the attractiveness of their father’s writing that appealed to me when he left that "secret admirer" note on my door 18 years ago. Now that they are writing, I plan to instill in them the value of occasionally taking a break from their computer keyboard to write a letter to Grandma with a pen and paper.

No comments: