Reinventing Writing

I had never used cursive since maybe the third grade when I learned it. “You only need to know your name,” I was told, and the other sixteen letters of the alphabet vanished from memory. I had no need to even be able to read cursive until this last spring when my literature professor wrote exclusively in this flowing form of script.

I never expected that would become my gateway back.

61. Cursive

(If you’re lost by the number, don’t worry! I’m writing a series of posts cataloging one hundred things I’m thankful for, although it’s been a while since I actually included the current count in the posts I’ve contributed to it. It’s been about two years since I began, and with forty things left, maybe this’ll be the year I finish.)

In all honesty, though, my teacher wasn’t the real reason why I turned back to cursive–the true fault rests upon my iPad. I received it at the end of the of the semester as part of a very generous scholarship I had been awarded, and my sole intent for the technology was to use it as a way of making learning better.

So far, I’ve used it for a lot more games than intended, but I’ve also downloaded a number of reference apps, recipe apps, utilities, photo-editors, and writing and art apps. At first I was using a stylus my mom had given me, but I wasn’t very thrilled with the tip: It seemed I was always fighting to get it across the screen. It wasn’t comfortable. And every time I tried to write, my standard chicken scratch became even more illegible.

Something had to change.

I noticed the screen picked up with more precision long, continuous strokes as opposed to rapid and short ones that tended to get jumbled up and messy–much more than if I were writing with a pen or pencil. With this revelation in mind, and with the memories of my lit teacher’s scrawling script floating around up there, I investigated a few cursive writing apps to bring me back up to skill.

I downloaded a few, deleted some, and practiced with the one that worked best. It took some time, but soon enough my own mind had reforged those forgotten connections and I was writing quickly and carefully once again. With a new stylus in hand that glided like air over the screen, my words were crisp and precise.

I’ve since been rewriting my calculus notes on my iPad. It’s been a great conceptual review, although I’m a little concerned I won’t make it through all three courses before classes begin again. I’m very nearly finished with my first course (I’m all the way to Riemann sums and I’m certain they’ll be as painful this time as they were then), but if I can at least make it through calc II, which was the course I retained least, I think I’ll be able to manage more easily–and maybe over winter break I’ll wrap up the rest of my community college math notes. Regardless, being equipped with cursive has made reviewing these notes and transcribing them into the digital realm not only an enlightening exercise, but also an aesthetically pleasing endeavor.

I hadn’t actually written in cursive off my iPad until a few weeks ago when I wrote in my journal a list of all the fears that were, ironically, keeping me from writing in my journal. There was another lapse then until the night before my transfer orientation at NC State. I was so excited I had to put pen to paper once more and write it out–and the words, once more, came in beautifully twisting curves that I would die from euphoria if I were able to easily calculate their curvature, instantaneous slope, and arc length. The next day, during orientation itself, I wrote once more in cursive all my notes, but I did notice that it wasn’t quite as natural-feeling as scribbling like I did before. But, I told myself, I’ve scribbled for twenty-three years–it might take some more time to pick up another skill with the same level of proficiency.

Last night I wrote in my journal again. Four pages. Structural and elegant, sophisticated words drawn in the blue blood of a ballpoint pen stained up the shaft. I reconsidered why I find it important to write and why I demand so much of myself in an activity I have never been able to uphold as significantly as I want to.

“Keeping a journal is a very romantic and writerly thing to do,” I wrote, “but is it necessarily my thing to do?”

I think this revelation was important, especially important since it’s time for me to reevaluate my year-long goals and determine what my goals for this month will be. Lately a lot has cropped up in terms of preparation for classes and a change in the itinerary of the rest of our summer, and possessing a deeper understanding of myself will certainly aid me in taking my life and moving it forward.

In schools today, I know cursive isn’t taught as much anymore because now the focus lies in typing proficiency. I can understand the need for that, but perhaps we’re overlooking an important reason why cursive is worth keeping: Not only does it demand greater dexterity which yields more aesthetically pleasing and personally appealing handwriting, it’s the easiest way to write on a touch screen. With technology as it is, with tablets likely to displace notebooks within the next decade and the physical act of writing producing more retention than typing, perhaps re-incorporating cursive into the classroom will only enhance the learning we’re trying to foster. Yes, teach them typing, but teach them cursive, too.

And maybe give them each an iPad so they’ll know why it’s worthwhile.

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5 thoughts on “Reinventing Writing

  1. This is awesome :) When I was in fifth grade, I abhorred learning cursive. Our teacher was incredibly strict. Then I eventually came up with my own little hybrid of cursive and regular print. I don’t have an iPad, and I have been trying to use my journal more than my keyboard for jotting down ideas and poems, since I am on the computer so much for work and for my novel/play. Seeing it as being good to learn cursive because it works better with technology is tickling to my brain, I love it!

    • Thank you, Jennifer! I think an important part of learning is having just enough freedom to choose how and why you want to learn something. I know that’s a little challenging in elementary and middle school, but to me it’s one of the real beauties about college. I also think too much strictness stifles creativity–and any interest children can have in a topic, but that’s a different discussion altogether, I suppose.

      I find my handwritten poems and stories have a different tone than those I write type. Does this happen to you, too? Either way, I wish the best of luck with your writing, especially your novel/play! Thank you so much for commenting!

      • My handwritten things DEFINITELY have a different tone than my typed things! That is a really good thing to think about, perhaps I should spend a bit more time with them :) thanks for helping me notice! And I fully agree that an important part of learning is having freedom to choose how and why you want to learn something- very critical :)

      • My pleasure, Jennifer! I’m going to attempt to handwrite my NaNoWriMo novel this November. I’ve always typed it before, but I think handwriting it might make it something special. Plus, the feeling of having handwritten something is just so amazing–completely different than the feeling of finishing typing something!

  2. “And maybe give them each an iPad so they’ll know why it’s worthwhile.”

    Your closing statements are often more rhetorical and persuasive than the entirety of your preceding text. That is a very admirable feat and a the ability to do so consistently a great skill to possess.

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