So what happened to handwriting? It's a good question to ponder and after reading Philip Hensher's recent article from The Guardian, I think we all should. Handwriting is a task that involves a steady hand and practiced thought, and it's quickly disappearing from our world of electronic correspondence.
Everyone prefers to print these days, or so it seems, and that's fine. It's almost guaranteed to be understood, so that's a plus. But I feel printing lacks real and true conviction. I see it as a means to an end.
(Plus, I must admit, my printing is atrocious. Just... it looks like a third grader with Parkinson's. I am ashamed of it, so I never use it. Too much cursive crippled my print.)
While most of my classmates quickly abandoned their scripts like pets left behind after a move and cruelly put out of sight and mind I nurtured mine. For me, the strange looped G's and terribly affluent "z's" of cursive handwriting were a gateway. Cursive was a key to adulthood. A way to show sophistication and maturity. It was a means to set myself apart from my peers. But, most importantly, it was to model myself after my parents.
My parents both write all their correspondence in their signature handwriting. My mother's cursive is short and powerful with a quick hand that slashed a single, efficient line through all the "t's" in words like "throttle" and "transportation." Just as opposite, my father's notes showed a more reserved, sometimes forgetful hand where the occasional "i" went un-dotted like little men without their heads. His handwriting wasn't illegible like most therapists; instead it was short and contained with each mindful letter properly connected for ease of both secretary's transcription and patient's prescription. (Minus those beheaded "i"'s, of course.)
When I was a child I would go through their papers when they weren't in the room and read their writing. I didn't matter what it was - shopping lists, random notes on post-its, letters to co-workers, and a few documents I probably shouldn't have read but at the time didn't understand - I dissected and digested each loop and curl until I could finally read their writing with a simple glance. I felt it gave me insight to who my parents were. Through the breakdown of handwriting from start to finish I understood my dad's frustration with having to write so much. I could interpret my mother's mood as she wrote, a hurried hand when she was in a rush or frustrated or how the arches in her "f's" opened up when she was cool and calm.
For everyone in my family printing was a chore. It was slower, meant to be legible for the everyman, and contained little personality. Printing was perfunctory whereas handwriting was expressionistic. In addition, both of my parents pushed us to practice our handwriting and develop flare for it. We were a clan of cursive writers and that's all there was to it. We're eclectic that way.
So through genetics and no small nudge from upper class aesthetics and expectations I took to handwriting and still prefer it today.
Once I had it mastered I slowly altered it through the years. I added a bar to my 7's to give them bit more measure. My 8's graduated from two circles stacked on top of one another like deflated rubber balls falling into themselves into a singular motion that moved with the delicate flash of a fencer's epee.
At one point, and I remember this clearly, I was doodling little stars in my notebook in seventh grade. I realized - it was like a firecracker going off - that I could do similar with the two "t's" of my last name. A star secretly embedded. Only for me to know (well, now all of you). A way to show, "This is me. Garrett. This is my mark. Of this document, I approve. And I am awesome."
The star remains today.
I remember signing my first lease and after so many signatures I quickly adapted my initials into a shorthand signature. I modeled it after my mom's: the initials both in capitals, connected, and then looped around in a circle.
And just like that I inherited a piece of my mother's hand.
Handwriting has fallen out of style and practice. Many schools don't teach it and as a result many kids and even teenagers can't even read it, which saddens me. We communicate by text and e-mail, we write our papers on Word, blogging certainly doesn't require a pen. In fact, when I write thank you notes by hand I am shocked at the positive response. "A written note?! Thank you! I haven't gotten one of these in years!"
How sad is that?
But I can see why most people type. It's more applicable these days and it is faster. Whereas you have to strike or scratch out with your pen any mistakes because they will exist forever even under that storm of scribble you put over it that still just shows you fucked up, the delete button will wash all sins away. There's not only underline, but bold, italics, fonts of every kind; none of which cursive can really do (except for underline). In text and email we develop similar personal cues that handwriting may possess, but LOL in place of a period can hardly be called unique.
The thing is that none of these means of writing contain your soul or personality the way your handwriting can. They don't capture your very movements at a contained point and space in time. You are physically connected to the pen as it becomes an extension of your body.
Lastly, handwriting encourages patience. Remember that? That thing before we could Google the answer to any question or had to wait to go home to make a phone call (lord, kids today will never know these TRIALS many of us suffered through). That thing you had as you listed to the sounds of dial up? Handwriting requires us to reflect on what we want to say and how we want to say it, to focus on the meaning behind each word and how it will be interpreted. There can be no rush as it leads in illegibility and confusion in both tone and purpose.
The effect is we display our souls, personality, and thoughts in our words. It shows we appreciate someone enough to take time out in our day to give this person (even if it's just yourself) some thought. Handwriting is appreciated.
So it can be with food. Some recipes, like handwriting, take forethought. Take marrons glaces. Candied chestnuts. A four day recipe. Not much work after the first day (which is a nightmare, I admit) but requiring patience and determination.
The result? Heavenly candies that you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Sweet, vanilla laced chestnuts that are soft and rich. So, so rich. The chestnut syrup that results on the side? You could sell it for $20 for 8 ounces and you could still make a killing. There are few things that taste as good in the world and I promise you, chestnut syrup is one of the best foods in the world. Period.
2 pound chestnuts, shelled
2 pounds sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1 vanilla bean, split and seeded
1. Place the chestnuts in a large pan with just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and allow to cool. Peel off the fibrous skin (some use a towel for this, other a flash in cold water; either way expect some work). Some of the chestnuts will break into bits. It happens. Don't stress. Or do... whatever floats your boat.
2. In another pot place the peeled chestnuts, sugar, water, and vanilla bean. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off heat and allow to cool. Place the mixture in a container and place in the fridge overnight.
3. Repeat the previous step three more times (use the same cooking liquid). You want the chestnuts to absorb that chestnut-vanilla syrup.
4. After the last boiling, place the drained chestnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Preheat an oven to 250F. Place the baking sheet into the oven and turn off the heat. Allow the chestnuts to dry in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until they have firmed up and the surfaces of the nuts are dry. Place on yogurt and devour it. Share if you want, I guess.
5. Take the liquid and add about 1/4 cup more sugar. Bring to a boil and cook hard for about 5-10 minutes, stirring every so often. You'll have a delightful sauce that just, fuck, seriously... just try it.