On Writing and Handwriting

I’ve always had beautiful handwriting. With minimal effort on my part, penmanship was the only subject for which I consistently received an A+. Learning the Rhinehart Handwriting Method in third grade felt to me like initiation into adulthood: I was writing cursive clearly, I was grown up.

Since that time, I’ve hand-written countless invitations at the request of friends, “penned the place cards” for many events, and if there is ever a call for a designated scribe, I’m it. Clear, legible handwriting was just something I did; I never even thought about it.

During a recent Theatrical Intelligence Workshop a distant memory crept into my mind about winning a United Nations Essay Competition for high school students in New Hampshire. I had forgotten about this honor for 45 years and as I was pondering the reason why, it suddenly struck me: I was convinced that I’d won because of my handwriting. Every one of the judges commented about my beautiful writing*, yet it never occurred to me that they were referring to content, or style, or ideas in my essay. Of course I forgot the award – the reason (I thought) I had won it had no meaning to me.

If you had known me in high school you would have known I was obsessed with the theatre. Jeezum crow (as we used to say in New Hampshire) everyone in in my whole town knew I was going to be an actress – I had a reputation to uphold! At no time in my first seventeen years did it even cross my mind that I might do anything else. I discovered my passion early, and pursued it with a vengeance.

For twenty-five years that’s what I did; until I didn’t want to any more.

Readers of this blog are familiar with my belief that we all come into the world with Theatrical Intelligence and it often goes underground as we morph into grownups. Imagine my delight when my own theory provided insight into one of my own roles.

That role is writer. And the task is writing. Not handwriting.

*Truth be told, one out of the five judges did use the phrase “old fashioned penmanship”. That’s the only one I remembered, of course.


22 Responses to “On Writing and Handwriting”

  1. Nancy Forsythe says:

    Ann’s love of life and her relationships to others, to information, to connecting people are passionate and so inspiring to witness and be a part of! I have known Ann for over thirty-five years and this energy has only increased. I love this blog! Now there’s a place where I can stay tuned to the musings, creations, and connections that Ann posts in her usual Theatrically Intelligent way!

    I have many notes and inscriptions written in Ann’s beautiful script. My only comment, Ann, is that I think my handwriting is almost more beautiful…But I learned through the Palmer Method. ;>)

  2. Marnie Mosiman says:

    Beautiful handwriting is thought frivolous in this modern age- only practiced by those who don’t have important things to do, and no time to linger thoughtfully with pen in hand. Our children’s fingers fly- almost too fast to really see- across their keyboards, but neither of my children can write anything legible by hand. They actually print, laboriously and haphazardly, when required to use a pencil or pen. And yet, a few well chosen words, beautifully written and placed on a page, are more meaningful to me these days (is it because I can’t remember whole paragraphs anymore?) Like a wonderful sketch, considering our handwriting requires us to look- and play- with what we’re really trying to communicate.

  3. Ann Sachs says:

    Ha! You’re right, Nance, your handwriting is arguably more beautiful than mine. I’ve always thought that Rhinehardt was the Jewish version of Palmer. Googling it recently, however, brought up nothing. Guess I’ll have to dig deeper.

    Thank you for your heartfelt comment – it means so much, coming from you.

  4. Wendy Hanson says:

    I love this discussion—as a “printer” I have always had “cursive” envy. I attended St. Catherine’s Academy in the Bronx and the sisters were not pleased if you didn’t have nice handwriting. When I look at your writing Ann–it’s an art form to me. I feel the flow of thoughts rolling down a smooth river.

    Many years later—I am now setting my sites on being more proficient in “Graphic Facilitation”-taking notes with pictures. I read that the brain likes that even more than nice cursive writing :’)

  5. Julie says:

    I have always LOVED people with beautiful handwriting. Somehow they skipped that training during my era of education and my handwriting looks like the passionate scribblings of a self-educated adolescent boy – – I grew up with 4 brothers and think I have the LEAST FEMININE scrawl of any of us.

    THAT BEING SAID, I met a woman at OMEGA who did handwriting analysis and she was SO GOOD she was able to tell me ALL KINDS OF THINGS not only about career predilections, but also about such seemingly unrelated things as health.

    Recently I read that the Journal of Advanced Haptics posted an article saying that LEARNING occurs completely differently when one WRITES than when one TYPES. Writing in one’s hand (as opposed to typing) apparently enhances comprehension and RETENTION!!!

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing your beautiful script, Ann.

  6. Ann Sachs says:

    Handwriting analysis seems so clear! And Wendy, doesn’t “Graphic Facilitation” remind you of story-boarding for films?

    A colleague just sent me a link to a fascinating video of handwriting specialist Ruth Brayer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rziToUKBmaQ

    And my Twitter pal Dean Meyers is a “Digital Strategist & Visual Problem-Solver” http://www.deanmeyers.net

    This whets my appetite to get everyone together in a festival of what is “Hidden in Plain View” in all of us!

  7. Ann, this is an excellent illustration of how we interpret what people important to us say and do – i.e., we tell “stories” that we then make into “facts” about our abilities. All these years you carried around a sense of limitation that you were able to free yourself from just by telling a story that is ‘true’ and reflects who you really are! Your writing is from the heart and inspiring (I can only imagine how the words would fly off the page if they were handwritten). Thanks for sharing!

  8. Dean Meyers says:

    Dear Ann,

    Thanks for the mention…and, perhaps not coincidentally, I have books on the Ziller method and the Franklyn method of penmanship. Being ambidextrous yet left-hand dominant, I struggled with penmanship until I discovered fountain pens, italic nibs, and calligraphy at age 12. But that’s another story entirely. Or, perhaps, to the point, it was about both taming and clarifying the visual expression of thoughts and ideas, realizing that aesthetics and order might often make for half the battle of getting a thought across, or making it more persuasive.

    I’m always delighted, however, to talk about my fountain pen collection as an extension of my fascination with how (and what) people communicate.

  9. As usual, I’m entranced with an Ann Sachs idea, which always prompts interesting conversation. I’m a product of loop-upon-loop instruction and always got A’s for my efforts as well. I don’t remember the name of the method, but I do remember being incredibly bored. On the contrary, writing – the kind where one snatches an idea out of the air and puts it on paper or a screen in a compelling way – well, that excites me when I see it done well (Ann!) or when I can pull it off.

    I’m glad that Julie posted the remark about handwriting something makes it stick better in one’s brain. Works for me.

  10. Ann Sachs says:

    Yes, this is such a fun conversation – thank you everyone, for participating. It’s fascinating to see the differences between Anne (above) being bored by handwriting, and Dean (above Anne) being liberated by the fountain pen.

    And as you say, Anne, the WRITING part: “snatching an idea out of the air” and expressing it in a compelling way is what makes me practically levitate!

    These stories are indeed powerful. Sharon, as a Dr. of psychiatry (psychology?) do you know what makes Wendy and Dean attracted to graphic facilitation, and Julie, Marnie and Nancy drawn to beautiful script? What is it in the brain that prefers one over the other?

  11. Paulo says:

    It’s not your fault Ann. That word “write” is asked to do too much. That’s why a girl became confused. We could make it right by using wright. We have playwright. So why not essaywright, poemwright, novelwright and scriptwright?

  12. Ann Sachs says:

    The word “write” certainly does have to work hard, Paulo. And aren’t we lucky in the theatre world to own the word “playwright”!

  13. Roger Danforth says:

    I have always been proud of my handwriting. Both my parents had beautiful handwriting (I loved the dash and beauty of my dad’s signature.) My mother was a stickler for good handwriting, and was always on me to improve mine. And I am so glad she did. (I tried to do the same with my son, but it proved futile in this computer age.)

    My handwriting pales though in comparison to my partner’s mother — she is 86 and her handwriting is absolutely exquisite. She makes extra money addressing wedding invitations, etc. A year or two ago I was at an old inn that has been in continuous operation for 200+ years, and they had an old ledgerbook on the desk. The handwriting of EVERYONE was amazingly detailed, expressive and so beautiful! Oh man, it is an art we have truly lost.

    Do you know about the web program where you can write emails in your own handwriting? It’s amazing. You type, it writes! And in your own handwriting! You must check it out — you would love it. Go to http://www.pilothandwriting.com/en/

  14. Ann Sachs says:

    Roger, thank you for pointing this out. I tried it, and it was great fun! Then I started exploring other handwriting programs and it has actually started me wondering if I could hand-write my book! I mean in MY writing. (As if the process isn’t complicated enough already…)

    This idea will probably last as long as – oh – tomorrow morning. I usually come to my senses after “sleeping on it”.

  15. I always loved my own handwriting until someone analyzed it and said, “Girl, you need to take a deep breath!” Ever since, I adore my handwriting!

  16. Garrett M Brown says:

    Ah, Ann, the gift of the hand and writing by hand, ‘a lovely hand’ — my mother had that, and funny, I’ve often judged women by their writing, their cursive, and the care they took with writing, to me, was an indication of how they tenderly (or not) touched the world, bespoke their sensuality.

    Marie, my wife, has a lovely hand, and when she saw mine one day — which is rare now (will explain), she said she liked it better than my printing, it was more legible.

    When my daughter Ryan was born, since I thought she’d want to inherit my journals, but would have to be able to read them, ashamed of ‘my hasty hand’, I turned to printing my letters. Well. Apparently they are as illegible as my script, or more so. And, a few years back, I learned from my daughter that she has no interest in my journals (alas) – but I’m still printing my letters!

    Hi to Roger and hugs cross country, o’er the hills and valleys of all sorts of finely hewn letters, be they by hand, printed, cursive or cracked – yo ho!

  17. Abigail Gampel says:

    Hello Ann!

    I feel in such intimate company on your blog! Reading your piece…and then the responses….the sweetness in all of it- An intelligence that has…sweetness. How rare…how permissive..for deeper possibility of thought.

    Beautiful writing, penmanship, penwomanship, penship….for oneself, and for others. The beauty in the writing, the written for someone else to read- I have spent so much time writing my deepest demons and heart thoughts on the subway- close beside another- that my pennings have become a secret code- that only I can discern, when lucky- a hand drawn scrawl of meaning.

    I stumble upon my father’s scribblings on a pad or napkin, he now deceased, and the ink is like sitting on his lap- It is what I have of him, the markings….they are so of him that they slow my breathing.

    To care to write, to create the curves of words and the meaning of words….to let them live in their letters and their poetry or banality…with care. There was always a deeper meaning in your childhood award, whether the givers knew it or not….isn’t that wild!

    Much love- Abigail

  18. Hi Ann!

    Love your blog, how fun! The only thing more beautiful than your penmanship is your lovely voice!

    Warmes wishes, Steph

  19. What a shame the art of handwriting is falling by the wayside. Children today are given a fraction of the lessons in penmanship that we were. I think it is such a shame. Writing has such intimacy to it that a keyboard just does not have. And of course the letter as well is soon to be gone for good. Alas…..

  20. Cherie Burns says:

    Ann–I remember your handwriting because I always thought it rivaled mine, which I, too, have always thought was handsome. I find it interesting that I use two kinds of handwriting when I go about different tasks. My regular, pretty handwriting is for correspondence and signatures. But my blockish printing is for paying bills and doing ledgers. It is more like my father’s handwriting! Isn’t that interesting…… Also, when I was beginning to write professionally I had an editor tell me to stop typing my stories and to sit down with a legal pad and compose the story there first. It slowed me down and made me more conscious of my writing voice. Nobody saw that handwriting, but it was comforting to me to like it. It felt personal and distinctive for those first drafts. I have just spent nearly two years trying to read the most illegible handwriting of my latest book subject, the Standard Oil heiress, Millicent Rogers. It has reminded me how important handwriting is, or at least was. Quite ironically, the cover of this book, Searching for Beauty–The Life of Millicent Rogers, was designed with the most beautiful script. Appropriately, it is more like my handwriting than Millicent’s.

  21. Ellyn McKay says:

    I read this blog several days ago and have spent time since then wondering why it was so moving for me. It’s a blog about handwriting, for God’s sake! After much thought I have found that it has inspired me to dig a little deeper to find a gem within myself like you did, Ann. I think there’s still a bunch of stuff hiding in there and your courage to re/discover your latest ‘role’ gives me more courage to do the same, so thank you. Let the journey continue!

  22. Ann Sachs says:

    Wow. I just read all the comments above. What a thrill to see the conversation that took place virtually, with no one actually talking to each other. Thank you to each one of you for sharing your experiences.

    Ellyn, your courage to “dig a little deeper” inspired ME to keep on blogging, so it looks like we’ve got a good little rhythm-thing going here. Keep on diggin’ for that gem, to add to your collection, and we’ll compare our discoveries!

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