Ink Smudges on Fingertips

The other day I sent a handwritten note to a friend, only to have him tell me he could not read what I wrote. “My handwriting has always been bad,” I said. “Not this bad,” he replied. And I’m sure he’s right, because who has time to write by hand anymore and why bother?  We do everything on the computer now, right?

Still, his reproach has bothered me for days.  When I sign books for elementary and even middle school  kids, none of them can read my inscription, and not just because of my poor handwriting. Most of them can’t read cursive at all! It’s not being emphasized in the schools. Again, does that matter? Well only if it bothers you that this generation may never be able to read our great historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence, in their original form. Then again, I can’t read the great writings of Plato in their original form, and that doesn’t matter. It’s easy enough to find them fully translated on the internet.

So what is the answer? Do we fight progress? And what do we lose if we don’t?

A few weeks ago my computer crashed while I was working on development for a new talk. I was away from home at the time, so was forced to work by hand, jotting all my notes on a yellow legal pad, and I was shocked at how the thoughts tumbled out of my head and onto the paper. They do so on the computer, too, but on the legal pad, I could draw arrows and circle ideas and doodle in the margins as I mulled over a point. It was quite the liberating exercise and so energizing.

But what did I do as soon as my computer returned from the shop? I went right back to typing. I keep thinking there needs to be a balance. That maybe once in a while I should head to the coffee shop with only a pen and a notebook. Maybe all artists need to do that. Get back to the basics with our art. Do things the old-fashioned way from time to time. Slow things down a bit and really get our hands dirty. There’s something romantic about ink smudges on fingertips, don’t you think?