A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Good Round Hand

More often than not I write these reflections directly on the screen. Occasionally, however, I have both the time and opportunity to work longhand and in ink, with a nib pen by preference.

There are deep memories associated with this for me; myself in the third grade making the letters using a Schafer pen with a ball nib, conscious all the while of the physical pleasure of writing with a real pen, instead of an ink stick. It has much the same feeling, resonating in the fingers all the way up past the elbow and beyond, of the satisfyingly exact scratching of an itch with the hard pointed corner of a square clipped fingernail.

These days, I prefer a square calligraphy nib. It slows you down to prose period speed as you draw each thick black stroke definitively. Phrase follows phrase and clause follows clause with a pace like slowly rolling thunder.

A square nib keeps an old hand honest, for it will write neither crabbed nor scratchy. The letter forming technique must remain both precise and fluid for the ink to even stain the paper. Another thing that keeps both an old hand and old eyes honest is quad ruled paper. The blue lines of N-S, E-W naturally correct variations in line levelness and letter slant.

I say writing, but I actually print, in a style with a flat nib that wavers from italic to half uncial. I abandoned cursive at the age of twenty-one, due to a complaint from a snotty supervisor, deputized to "help" my regular supervisor, about how my writing looked on a carbon paper form. It was all hand work in those pre-personal computer days. Info from the forms was keyed in by specialists to a mainframe with far less capacity than any CPU sitting under a desk today.

I could print as fast as I could write cursive (this was a rare accomplishment); I disliked the style of cursive that I was taught in school, the same one, I believe, still taught in Columbus today; and I was always impressed by the high degree of legibility possible with printing in a young and flexible hand wielding a ball nib pen.

My father had a beautiful cursive that I envied greatly. He was taught the Palmer Method cursive in Chicago catholic schools, in the dim and comfortable years before the Great Depression. It required more time, practice, and training than my cursive, which is undoubtedly why the schools abandoned it. We must remember that in the 1920's a personal typewriter in the home was perhaps no more common than a collating copier there today. When it did exist there, it was likely to be the prized possession of a professional writer, but not very many other people.

Back then, you received typewritten letters from businesses, but you commonly wrote handwritten letters to them. Portable personal typewriters were commonplace when I learned to write, and it was becoming more "businesslike" to use them in home to business correspondence. Which is why schools had ceased to care about anything but expediency and ease of teaching in the matter of penmanship.

My father's initials, WM, were spectacular in Palmer Method capitals. They looked like species tulips nodding in the wind, since each sharp turn of the pen in a letter was executed with a graceful and narrow oval loop, and the flow of the letter slant was an elegant 25 degrees or so NNE. My script was pedestrian and ugly beyond belief beside this, even when you wrote it well, and I doubt I could even write it today, except for my check signature, which is as spiky as the track of a seismograph, the flat nib turned almost due north/south, and the ink shredding in an iracable temper. I hope never to have to try to write anything else in it.

When I look at the business letter formats built into Word and Works today, it is amusing to see how they still derive from those old, handwritten, business letters of eighty and more years ago. It is like the nose, cheekbones, and jawline of my maternal grandfather staring back at me in the mirror, married incongruously to the paternal forehead of both my father and his father.

There are layers in such designs, for eyes to see than care to and can, of penmanship, of feathery carbon copies in unevenly worn typewritten pica, and of the rough rasters and pixels of the early personal computers--a ghostly trace of each in every hopeful resume and cover letter destined today for the paper shredder with nary a reply back, as was once the courtesy of businesses, now long lost, even when I was growing up.

I recently had lots of contact with the handwriting of American students. I won't give details because the people who let me do this are as touchy about such things as if they were fighting terrorists. One thing that struck me was the persistence of a cursive style (in my day confined to girls, and probably still so) that has no name as far as I know, but which I always called "cutesy round curliques". When I do so, I suspect almost everybody knows what I mean. It is an ink stick (a.k.a. ballpoint pen) style and, from my mature perspective, deserves far more respect than I gave it forty years ago.

It is not an official style. It seems to have been an underground tradition passed on among schoolgirls as the years have passed, probably by example in letters and notes between them. As a man dedicated to the pen, it gives me hope. For people who exercise their own private taste in the matter of handwriting, as opposed to the majority, who let it deteriorate anyhow as they age, are the people who will keep pens, ink, and paper alive.

They are worth keeping alive.


Blogger KateGladstone said...

I wish you'd post a scan of something you'd handwritten or calligraphed.

5:10 AM  

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