Writing in Your Own Hand

Old letterHow many of you still handwrite? I don’t just mean a letter to a friend or relative (although handwritten letters are growing increasingly rare) or a reminder to do something or shopping list. I’m referring to writing prose, creative non-fiction, poetry or any kind of expression with a pen or pencil.

University student Cynthia Selfe shared, “I like the motion, pushing that lead across the page…filling up pages … I like flipping papers and the action of writing. It makes me feel close to what I’m saying.”

Handwriting is an art that many of us are losing.

A June 2014 New York Times article by Maria Konnikova shares neuro-scientific evidence that links handwriting with a broader educational development. “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters—but how.” Experiments done with young children showed that when they drew a letter freehand, they showed increased activity in three areas of the brain activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex. Children who typed or traced the letter showed no such effect. Researchers at Indiana University attributed the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: “not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable,” reported Konnikova. That variability may itself be a learning tool. “When a kid produces a messy letter,” said Dr. Karin James, psychologist at Indiana University, “that might help him learn it.”

We learn best heuristically, through experience. It’s known that the more senses you engage in an experience, the more efficiently you will learn and more likely you will retain what you learned.

Handwriting slows us down. It is a sensual and intimate way for us to express ourselves. I love my handwriting, especially when I am using my favorite pen (my handwriting changes depending on the pen), a fine felt marker — usually black. When you use a pen or pencil to express yourself you have more ways to express your creativity. Think of the subtleties of handwriting alone: changing the quality and intensity of strokes; designing your script, using colors, symbols, arrows or lines, using spaces creatively, combining with drawing and sketches. In combination with the paper (which could be lined, textured, colored graphed, etc.), your handwritten expression varies as your many thoughts and moods.

The very act of handwriting focuses you. Writing your words by hand connects you more tangibly to what you’re writing through the physical connection of pen to paper. Researchers have proven that just picking up a pencil and paper to write out your ideas improves your ability to think, process information and solve problems. The actual act of writing out the letters takes a little more work in your brain than just typing them on a keyboard, and that extra effort keeps your mind sharp. Researchers have also shown that writing something out by hand improves your ability to remember it. Handwriting improves memory, increases focus, and the ability to see relationships.

Handwriting fuses physical and intellectual processes. American novelist Nelson Algren wrote, “I always think of writing as a physical thing.” Hemmingway felt that his fingers did much of his thinking for him.

According to Dr. Daniel Chandler, semiotician at Aberystwith University, when you write by hand you are more likely to discover what you want to say. When you write on a computer, you write “cleanly” by editing as you go along and deleting words (along with your first thoughts). In handwriting, everything remains, including the words you crossed out. “Handwriting, both product and process,” says Chandler, “is important … in relation to [your] sense of self.” He describes how the resistance of materials in handwriting increases the sense of self in the act of creating something. There is a stamp of ownership in the handwritten words that enhances a sense of “personal experience.”

I know this is true in my own writing experience. This is why, although I do much of my drafting of novel, article and short story on the computer, I find that some of my greatest creative moments come to me through the notebook, which I always keep with me. Writing in my own hand is private and resonates with informality and spontaneity (in contrast to the fixed, formal look and public nature of print). Handwriting in a notebook is, therefore, a very supportive medium of discovery and the initial expression of ideas.

“I am certainly no calligrapher,” admits novelist and poet Wendell Berry, “but my handwritten pages have a homemade, handmade look to them that both pleases me in itself and suggests the possibility of ready correction.” Writer John O’Neill calls handwriting “bodily art.” He suggests that, “the writer’s fingers and the page are a working ensemble, and alternation of intelligible space and spatialized intelligence.”

Berry goes on to share that: “Language is the most intimately physical of all the artistic means. We have it palpably in our mouths; it is our langue, our tongue. Writing it, we shape it with our hands. Reading aloud what we have written — as we do, if we are writing carefully — our language passes in at the eyes, out at the mouth, in at the ears the words are immersed and steeped in the senses of the body before they make sense in the mind. They cannot make sense in the mind until they have made sense in the body. Does shaping one’s words with one’s own hand impart character and quality to them, as does speaking them with one’s own tongue to the satisfaction of one’s own ear?… I believe that it does.”

Cursive Writing: Losing More Than an Art Form

John Boone’s November 15th 2013 article on Eonline reads: “Cursive handwriting will no longer be taught in schools because it’s a big, old waste of time”. Besides the controversy at the time—it’s old news now—I was curious to read how seven states, namely California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah, fought to keep cursive in the curriculum, arguing that it helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate. “Joke’s on them because all kids are illiterate these days,” Boone scoffs. He cites computers as the reason. Of course. Let’s not forget texting on Smart phones and other communication devices that encourage the use of a bastardized form of English. Schools promote keyboarding as a productive alternative based on its direct application to career success. But what about the subtle, integrative, sociological, psychological and creative benefits of handwriting?

There is a spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. Research has shown that learning cursive writing is directly related to literacy, the ability to read well and to comprehension generally. Scientists discovered that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development. The brain develops functional specialization through cursive writing that integrates sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during the learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice. To write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed over the fingers. You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it. You have to practice. Brain imaging studies show that cursive activates areas of the brain that don’t participate in keyboarding. Psychologists at Princeton and the University of California reported that students learned better when they took notes by hand than when they typed on a keyboard. Handwriting, they reported, allowed the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it, to reflect and manipulate that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

In an April 2013 New York Times article, Kate Gladstone contended that handwriting matters, but not cursive. She further shared that adults increasingly abandon cursive. A recent survey of handwriting teachers revealed that over half used a hybrid of cursive and print: some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive. I myself have adopted this hybrid form of handwriting since grade five (despite the authoritative perambulations of my teacher). But, if I hadn’t learned cursive to begin with, I wouldn’t be in the position to hybridize it with print. Cursive remains a life-skill, whose subtle merits we have yet, and may never, fully discern. Instead of using Gladstone’s inappropriate metaphors of abacus or slide rule, learning cursive is better compared with learning notes for music or learning how to add, subtract and divide to do higher math.

We are poised to slide down an insidious and dangerous path. To willingly give up a basic ability and skill that will inevitably close doors in knowledge, particularly historical knowledge, is akin to handing over a piece of your freedom and heritage. It is actually more insidious than that: When your son Johnny can’t sign his own name on a document, he loses more than his ability to identify himself as a unique individual and citizen with inalienable rights; he has lost his very identity. Printing your name is akin to marking X. And that’s the situation some kids are finding themselves in today.

In another New York Times article, Morgan Polikoff recommends that educators and policymakers resist the urge to add more skills (referring to cursive, as if it hadn’t been there to begin with). “Doing so would simply result in a crowded, less-focused curriculum, undermining the strength of the standards,” Polikoff ended. I find this ironic; because the reality is that cursive writing as a taught skill goes hand in hand with active handwriting. If time is not devoted to cursive, it’s not devoted to handwriting. And THAT will have grave consequences. The truth is that going to exclusive print-writing will eventually lead to no handwriting at all. Students will opt to use keyboarding exclusively and handwriting will go the way of the slide rule and the abacus. How will the exclusive use of the keyboard affect the act of writing and expression, generally? It will be certainly at the expense of artistic expression and creativity itself.

“Many people now cannot form legible letterforms at all except by tapping on a keyboard. For those people, writing and the alphabet have, quite literally, ceased to be human. How do you expect to be able to cook good food or make good love when you write with prefabricated letters? How do you expect to have good music if you live on a typographic diet of bad Helvetica and even worse Times New Roman—never mind the parodies of letters that flash across your cellphone screens and the parodies of numbers marching over the screens of your pocket calculators and cash-dispensing machines? How can things so ill-formed have a meaning?”—Wendel Berry, The Typographic Mind (in Everywhere Being Is Dancing)

In medieval times only a small elite could read and write; they created the stories and recorded them in glorious illuminated manuscripts for future storytellers. They created history. The masses made do with handing down stories through oral storytelling, which, because it was not tangibly recorded, morphed and was eventually lost like water down a flowing river. The power lay in the script. What was handed down.

If we are not careful, the ability to read and write will become the sole pursuit of an elite, those few who will hold the key to birch treesinterpreting the past. And ultimately controlling the future.

 

References:

Munteanu, Nina. 2013. The Journal Writer: Finding Your Voice. Pixl Press, Vancouver, British Columbia. 172pp.

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

45 thoughts on “Writing in Your Own Hand

  1. Thanks for this article. I still write my notes before typing them. It’s easier for me though it does slow me down somewhat for deadlines. I have yet to master the art of direct typing a paper. My father had beautiful handwriting and it saddens me to see his handwriting becoming distorted after his stroke. We still encourage him to write what he can. So I still prefer writing cursive. Enjoying the flow of my thoughts forming through my fingers while I still can and able to craft my written notes. Though I must admit I am becoming quite attached to typing on my smartphone 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, Madia… I really liked what you said about enjoying the flow of your thoughts forming through your fingers…I fought the urge to use my smartphone and continue to use a notebook. I’ve invested in beautiful leather-bound notebooks and love carrying them everywhere with me, like Turner, Thoreau, Wordsworth and Darwin… (giant grin) … My father too had beautiful handwriting. Until he passed away, he used to write long letters that I loved to read… Handwriting is an art I love to cultivate. I recently bought a new fountain pen and so enjoy how it courses along the paper.

      Best,
      Nina

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Walking Helps Me Think and Imagine | Nina Munteanu Writing Coach

  3. Re:
    “if I hadn’t learned cursive to begin with, I wouldn’t be in the position to hybridize it with print” —
    What we, today. call “cursive” didn’t exist until the Baroque era a century or so AFTER the earliest published handwriting books in our alphabet The handwriting form of those earliest published methods (today called “italic” from their Italian Renaissance origins) was print-like and semi-joined: the optimized form that we’d regard as a hybrid (a convenient term, but this “hybrid” is older — not younger — than conventional schoolday ideas).
    Because italic and similar semi-joined print-like “writings are taught in many nations today as the standard handwriting for beginners and onward — right from Day One of Grade One — I’m having trouble understanding why you thought this couldn’t happen without “cursive to begin with.” Please explain.

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    • To explain, it comes down to what these little kids learn from the beginning in terms of movement of the arms and hands, etc. How can you have a hybrid of two things without a knowledge of both? Cursive has a whole movement connected to its execution.

      If indeed a majority of schools are truly teaching some form of “hybrid” with cursive–italic and semi-joined print-like writing–then I stand corrected. However, it is my understanding that schools are teaching rudimentary PRINT, perhaps with connecting lines like cursive but not cursive — along with keyboarding in some cases — which is far from cursive expression and the ability to sign one’s signature. I recall being reprimanded in grade 5 for intuitively introducing “print” form to my cursive writing; I can see some grade 5 likeness being rebuked on some future date for intuitively introducing cursive to her print writing… This is because the two forms are very different physically and the mindset they engender. When I print I am in a different place than when I write cursively. That is not interpretation. That is a reality for me; and obviously for others. A colleague of mine agrees. She says that “with cursive writing both my hand and mind are in the flow, so that my hand is keeping up with my mind. When I’m printing, I’m no longer in the flow; I’m no longer writing as quickly as I can think.”

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      • Re:
        “If indeed a majority of schools are truly teaching some form of “hybrid” with cursive–italic and semi-joined print-like writing–then I stand corrected.”

        Worldwide, it’s a majority of schools, and about half of those nations that have a nationwide curriculum in this subject. (This form of handwriting instruction happens to be more common in nations nearer the top of international rankings — e.g., Finland, which usually heads the list). In the USA, italic instruction accounts for 1/3 of the handwriting teaching done by homeschoolers: probably giving it the plurality vote (though not the majority vote) among them.
        Elsewhere throughout the United States (namely, in public and private schools) italic instruction is indeed in the minority (although in every U. S. state there are some teachers and schools teaching handwriting the italic way). As you note, though, in most schools and in most state curricula nothing more is offered in handwriting than a sketchy introduction to print-writing — after which, soribally, the child is left to “sink or swim.” (And this has been going on for so long that the parents and teachers and administrators are, in each year, increasingly likely to be themselves alumni of the “print-then-sink-or-swim” method … or non-method. To my personal knowledge, some of the teachers whose school administrators or state departments of education require them to teach cursive cannot read the cursive textbook, let alone write in even remote accordance with its illustrations and requirements.). When, under these circumstances, one looks at the handwritings of the “sinkers” versus the “swimmers” (considering, in each category, all ages and walks of life), it becomes plain that the “swimmers” have, by and large, subconsciously reinvented italic. l therefore argue that, in a nation of “sink or swim” survivors of sketchy instruction in print-writing, the best hope for good handwriting today and tomorrow lies in teaching a fluent handwriting which /a/ is immediately readable by print-writers, /b/ resembles the handwriting that the best writers among the “print-writing generation” have already come to produce, /c/ is research- supported (as noted in an earlier message), and /d/ is readable anywhere in the world that our alphabet is used. (Cursive handwriting, as we have conventionally had it taught in North America, is — even at its best and clearest — nearly indecipherable to the people of most other English-speaking nations, even when they use the word “cursive” to name their own national handwriting. Likewise, people in the USA who did well both in cursive and in foreign-language classes often find, when traveling or working overseas, that even perfect French (or perfect German or Spanish or what-have-you) is worse than useless for international understanding when it’s written in even the clearest of conventional North American cursive hands. French cursive, for instance, has grown in very different directions from North American cursive, as they have each evolved (or devolved?) for some centuries in differing fashions from their most recent common ancestor (italic) — which is legible anywhere our alphabet is used, even when/where the local cursive differs.

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  4. Re: “Johnny can’t sign his own name on a document” —
    Reality check: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
     Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.
    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

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    • “in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)” — I find this most bizarre. The fact that it exists doesn’t justify it. Nor does it mean we stand by mute and watch our handwriting diminish to something less than legible. The title piece for “Johnny” was from a Toronto Star article in which real-life 14-year old “Johnny” couldn’t sign his name on his passport; all he could do was print it, which apparently wasn’t permitted. His father was appalled that his son couldn’t sign his own name! I would be too! I’m sorry, but I really can’t agree with you on this one, Kate. This is the best example of what I mentioned in the article about what learning cursive (or at least a hybrid of cursive) helps us do, like learning basics in anything and then adapting to one’s unique voice–or signature.
      Best,
      Nina

      Liked by 1 person

      • For what it’s worth, attorneys from Canada and other nations (as well as from the USA) have noted to me that passport office staff are as misinformed generally (on this matter of signatures) as are other members of the public — the law never has in fact required that signatures use cursive, and in fact has always expressly permitted a signature to take ANY form. No one, for instance, gets out of a legal contract because of having signed it in print- writing.

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  5. Re: “If time is not devoted to cursive, it’s not devoted to handwriting” —
    False; not all handwriting instruction is cursive (or, for that matter, print-writing either).
    Teaching material for fluent non-cursive handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is revered by so many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html

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      • Judge for yourself — from the evidence at those sites — whether my observations are correct.

        Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

        More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
        This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
        
        — According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

        Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There’s even an iPad app teaching kids and others to read cursive, whether or not they write it or ever will write it. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit appstore.com/readcursive for more information.)

        We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to _read_ cursive correctly — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
        Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
        The evidence, at the links I gave earlier and elsewhere, is that “high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance” is no synonym of “cursive.”

        Educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
        (If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and nor restricted to teachers — visit http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — as in the survey results — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
        
        When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?

        Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)

        What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
        Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

        So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

        /1/ either the claim provides no source,

        or

        /2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrases by the person citing it
        
        or

        /3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.
        
        Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
        
        By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
         Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

        All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

        Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

        SOURCES:

        Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

        /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
        Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015

        /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

        /3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
        JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

        Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

        Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4

        The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
        https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james

        Background on our handwriting, past and present:
        3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

        A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —

        TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —

        HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
        (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —

        Yours for better letters,

        Kate Gladstone
        DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
        CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
        http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
        handwritingrepair@gmail.com

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Within this fine article, one sentence that defends cursive pops out at me. “You have to pay attention and think about what and how you are doing it.” How so? The letter shapes one forms should remain in the background, automatic movement while one concentrates on the text one composes.

    How do you define cursive? Do you accept that any writing by hand that is made automatic by personal modification of letter shapes is cursive? Or, does cursive refer only to the sort that joins all lowercase letters within words? I define it as “conventional cursive.”

    Automaticity is the key to useful, effective handwriting—legible at a reasonable speed.

    Before decisions are made about handwriting instruction, and whether conventional cursive should be taught, we need sound research that may or may not prove its benefits. To date I know of none, only the research that you refer to that applies to forming letters by hand.

    Why teach conventional cursive, the method that joins letters with loops, when more and more and more people can’t read it?

    Just some of the misguided, misquoted statements I often read:
    1) It strengthens cognition. No, any writing by hand will do that.
    2) It is faster. No, that’s never been proved.
    3) We need to read the Constitution and Granny’s letters. Not a problem: it takes less than an hour to learn to read the conventional cursive alphabet.
    4) It benefits fine motor skill. Then why do I see so many media illustrations of children writing their cursive lesson with death grips on pencils? No one is teaching the relaxed pen hold that is essential to fluent writing!
    5) We need signatures. No, every hand makes an individual mark.

    A variety of cursives have been used ever since the Romans gave us our western alphabet more than 2000 years ago. There must be a better way for today, one that would be easier to read and faster to write.

    Meanwhile, reading cursive should be taught. It takes about a half hour to teach kids to read the conventional, looped cursive. I’ll send a lesson I have successfully used upon request.

    My vote is for italic cursive, an easy-to-learn alphabet that is also easy to read. I have successively used it for instruction for nearly forty years. An option is to teach print-like script and guide that alphabet into something more fluent and individual; it’s often called “hybrid” writing.

    Advocates of conventional cursive may truly believe the unproven, unresearched claims that cursive is superior. Frequently, the media backs up this belief by misinterpreting and misquoting researchers. For the sake of better education for our children, serious, thoughtful attention is needed.

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  7. Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1…
    I hand-wrote 95% of my novel. I find that I am much more creative when I hand-write my ideas. Plus, I lost that 5% and had to completely rewrite from scratch! I sure wish I had written it by hand first! 😉

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    • This is something I wonder about. You and others who write novels by hand in order to be in the best communication with their creativity all were taught handwriting as children. It was the way they submitted their schoolwork for the most part. But is the brain being retrained with immersion in technology so that writing by hand will not be needed? It’s hard to imagine, but we humans evolve.

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      • Interesting thoughts, nan … and we never know what transhumanism will bring, because that is where humans are heading with technology these days… I personally feel that handwriting is a natural extension of a more primal need to be creative and express sensually and artistically, using our bodies from a deep place within. “Handwriting” is not the same as “Writing”. When I think of writing I think of expression, communication, engagement, discourse with others; when I think of handwriting I think more of meditation, rhythm, sensuality: meeting myself. I think handwriting is primal. Sensual. Emotional. And deeply connected to us in ways no analyst can imagine. In truth, I do most of my novel writing on a keyboard. The notebook I reserve for the intimacy of personal creation. Evolution? Unless we are no longer in touch with the sensual beauty of the biological world, handwriting and all its cousins of wondrous expression–doodling, sketching,etc.–is here to stay…

        Best Wishes,
        Nina

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I can imagine a future in which handwriting, like painting or sketching or musical composition or cryptography–or long math, for that matter–will be the purview of an elite of masters, an arcane cadre– elusive, needed yet set apart, resented and, of course, feared … hmmm… I feel another novel coming on … talk later!

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    • Re:
      “There is a spill-over benefit for thinking skills used in reading and writing. Research has shown that learning cursive writing is directly related to literacy, the ability to read well and to comprehension generally. Scientists discovered that learning cursive is an important tool for cognitive development. The brain develops functional specialization through cursive writing that integrates sensation, movement control, and thinking. Brain imaging studies reveal that multiple areas of brain become co-activated during the learning of cursive writing of pseudo-letters, as opposed to typing or just visual practice.”

      Which studies, please? I want checkable citations (author and title will do). Here’s why I ask — without exception, when I’ve managed to find a citation for any study which had been described as specifically supporting cursive, once I read the original study (the research itself, versus the popular summaries) it turned out to have been misquoted. Specifically — in every case, the study turned out _not_ to support cursive. (ln the worst example of misquotation, for instance, a study on keyboarding versus print-writing among kindergartners (citation on request) had been “authoritatively” summarized — in blog after blog, editorial after editorial, and elsewhere — as a study on cursive versus print-writing among students (of unspecified age and grade). I am curious, therefore, to see what you are citing (the actual research — or a derivative popular summary, at second-hand or third-hand or fourth-hand), and to check for myself how accurately (or inaccurately) the research is presented by you or by some source you trusted. You can reach me at handwritingrepair@gmail.com — unless you want to post your sources here, to let others see and check them.

      Like

      • I’m sorry, Kate, but I’m not going to chase down the primary sources of the meta-data I shared here (sources, which I deemed reputable and trustworthy). First, this is not my area of pursuit (I’m a writer) and would likely take a while; it’s yours and in your interest to do so yourself. Second, and for me more importantly, I am confident in what the interpretation of the data suggests; because it resonates with what I know in my heart to be true—and, I wager, it is the real reason so many mature individuals are rallying against the decisions of schools to stop or curtail the teaching of cursive writing. It isn’t because we’ve been drilled with cursive in school ourselves that we feel handwriting is important. It is the other way around. Because we connect so intimately and deeply to expression through handwriting, we support teaching cursive in our schools. Cursive, per se, may be tradition, but its roots lie much deeper inside our creative need. And all the rhetoric—for and against—is just rationalization (another reason I’m not going to dig deep into the coffers of original data reports. I know about data. I worked with data for over twenty years and it can be manipulated and interpreted in incredible ways—never mind whether it is primary, secondary or tertiary to its source material. The bias of intent conveys the “truth” of data: in its form, presentation, context, etc. And social data is so vulnerable to such ‘unintentional’ manipulation.)

        Which brings me to this, Kate: why are we even debating this? Why is it so important for you to make a distinction between cursive handwriting and some other kind of handwriting? Surely both are cursive! Only the one you call cursive is the old-fashioned traditional looped cursive and the one you or your colleague Nan call italic is, in fact cursive italic. Again, both are cursive! One of the sources you even provide here to my readers defines cursive as, “Handwriting [that] has a flow, making it comfortable and efficient.” Dubay and Getty go on to say: “Cursive comes from the Latin word, currere, which means to run. Cursive writing is literally a running hand. So cursive handwriting doesn’t mean that every letter in a word has to be joined to the next letter or that the writing must be sloped or that loops should be added to letters.”

        So, what are you in fact saying, Kate, when you say that “handwriting matters; cursive doesn’t”? Isn’t that a contradiction? It is in Dubay and Getty’s definition of cursive. If you are, in fact, arguing against looping cursive vs cursive italic or some other form of hybrid cursive, then that is what you should say—and educate the public (and me) at the same time. I’m starting to think that part of this whole debate for or against cursive is semantic in nature. While on the one hand, this gladdens me (because it means I was wrong about cursive not being taught in schools), the misuse of the term by the public, the media and particularly by experts in the field also troubles me. It troubles me because of what it suggests and what it does: such as pit allies like you and I against each other, when we are both obvious proponents of handwriting and should be focusing in solidarity on this worthy pursuit. Instead of debating the points of what cursive is or isn’t, and whether studies on cursive are accurately described and prescribed, I’d much rather see us move forward and give merit to these same arguments for HANDWRITING in general. It’s handwriting (and cursive in whatever form flowing writing takes as part of handwriting) that we want to preserve.

        Best Wishes,
        Nina

        Liked by 1 person

  9. For most purposes and audiences, I use the word “cursive” as the average North American uses it — to refer to 100% joined writing, generally in an un-print-like form of the alphabet. Cursive — in that very restricted sense — does not “resonate” in _my_ heart. (Perhaps I am not a “mature individual” — being a couple of months shy of 52. Thanks for unintentionally making me feel younger again!)
    Many years ago, I did indeed use (at the outset of discussions) certain more precise terms, much like those now sagely recommended by you and endorsed by Nan — e.g., “looped cursive” for what most North Americans call simply “cursive.” However — back then — I found that, with such terminology, I could not make myself understood, and/or was accused of making up my own words instead of using “the real words.” I have of late been experimenting with “conventional cursive ” or the like, as phrases that can be understood without being imprecise. Results, so far, are encouraging … so may we use either that phrase or “looped cursive” or “100% joined cursive” here in discussion henceforth? (I continue to call italic handwriting “italic handwriting” because “cursive italic,” to most of my interlocutors, sounds as self.contradictory as “a Ford Hyundai” or “an American Euro.”
    Another question — why do you call looped oursive “the old-fashioned traditional looped cursive” when it is much younger than italic handwriting?

    Since you are not about to search for the primary sources that were summarized by secondary sources you trusted, I’ll observe only that — in every previous instance of such a summary — whenever it was possible for me to track down the primary sources (which i have by now otfen done), the secondary sources turned out (without exception, so far) to have seriously misquoted/misparaphrased the primary sources. On several occasions, I was in fact eventually able to reach both the primary- and secondary-source authors, and to introduce them to each other (generally via e-mail). Whenever this was done, the primary-source authors quickly confirmed that they had been misquoted, and were naturally very angry — the secondary-source authors typically claimed to regard the misrepresentation as justified because (they averred) such misrepresentation was necessary to allow handwriting to continue in the 100% joned form they favored. Several of them claimed that no other form (except 100% joned) was even handwriting.

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  10. Thanks, Kate! I understand about how the terms evolved and how you had to navigate the waters of “cursive terminology” for the lay public to stay on the same page… And I agree on your suggestion: “I have of late been experimenting with “conventional cursive ” or the like, as phrases that can be understood without being imprecise. Results, so far, are encouraging … so may we use either that phrase or “looped cursive” or “100% joined cursive” here in discussion henceforth? (I continue to call italic handwriting “italic handwriting” because “cursive italic,” to most of my interlocutors, sounds as self.contradictory as “a Ford Hyundai” or “an American Euro.”

    Re your other question — “why do you call looped oursive “the old-fashioned traditional looped cursive” when it is much younger than italic handwriting?”–my thought is that, while cursive italic is much older, the looped cursive is now the default “old-fashioned” in our current society of writers; not unlike a ’57 Buick being considered old-fashioned by a society who doesn’t know much about the first steam powered auto-mobile, its predecessor. So, in this case, conventional cursive is old-fashioned, given that it is according to the Free Dictionary “of a style or method formerly in vogue and currently outdated.” Or in my own words: on its way out.

    I also want to thank you, and Nan too, for taking the time and effort to come here and enlighten my readers—and particularly me—on the issues, the language, and current situation to do with handwriting in our schools and society in general. I feel much more informed on it and do thank you both for that. I hope you continue to provide your excellent leadership in keeping handwriting alive.
    Wishing you well,
    Nina

    Like

    • Thank you! Nina, it’s so encouraging to hear from ANYONE who cares to have reality be the arbiter. Time after time, defenders of conventional cursive have told me that they “prefer to feel” (or prefer to have their audiences believe) that conventional cursive came first, even thousands of years ago (some of them falsely aver) , and that everything else including italic is “a later deviation.”

      As far back as the late 1990s, one major USA magazine — details on request — tried to get me to falsify history in a feature on handwriting. The magazine owner, a celebrity in the home-décor business, said that I “needed ” to re-sequence the historical info that she had asked her reporter to get from me, “so that the writing style of the earliest published handwriting textbooks will have been Palmer Method [a USA conventional cursive] back in the Renaissance when handwriting textbooks were first written, and then italic will have come about from Palmer many centuries later in the twentieth century.” I was told that “your approval on this revision of the historical sequence you gave is needed because the audience will relate better to the history when it is presented with [conventional] cursive as being the historical original and inherently coming first. Otherwise, none of your interview or other material can be used, and you will need to be dropped from the piece.” (How I prevented being dropped — and forced the magazine to print the history _correctly_ is, again, something I’ll share if you or others ask me for details: handwritingrepair@gmail.com )

      More recently, when I obtain video footage or other reporting of legislative debates on bills to mandate [conventional] cursive, I note that — without exception, so far — testimony given under oath (as well as media statements) by the bill’s introducer or supporters includes documentable misstatements on history (similar to the “needed” misstatement described above), or documentable misstatements on handwriting research findings, or both. When (rarely) the makers of those misstatements have responded to queries documenting the factual errors, so far their responses have either been “My sources are all over Google and therefore trustworthy” (this was from a professor of English, who had falsely testified to the legislature of his state that the cursive conventionally taught in our own times had been used by the ancient Romans and published in the earliest handwriting textbooks in the Italian Renaissance) or, more often, such things as “The possibility that the statements which were made may have errors is not relevant, as the statements made are necessary in order to ensure that this form of writing continues to be taught and culturally supported.” (Again, details on request — I am ready and willing to name names.)

      Like

      • Kate, that’s amazing! And what a palaver! I was in a similar situation as yours in a scientific collaboration–and I lost (that is, in refusing to “sing their song”–that is, to interpret the data within a certain political mandate–I was excluded and my work deleted from the larger study). So sad when the truth of science is subverted by politics… I’m glad you managed to prevail.

        As I said earlier, my passionate wish is that handwriting–cursive handwriting, in whatever form it takes–prevails. It matters not whether one is writing looping cursive, italic or the crazy hybrid style I have created as my own, which includes printing, italic, and the flatlines of “shorthand”. Flowing handwriting is an art worth keeping. I can understand why proponents of conventional (looping) cursive would wish to show historical precedent from ancient times, as though that in itself establishes a kind of dominant lineage and validation over other forms. I personally think the argument is moot. Cursive is cursive, and so long as we handwrite in some cursive form, we are OK. The looping cursive dinosaur is roaring its last cry. Let it. My only concern–and it’s a big one–is that in exposing that dinosaur’s desperate cry, we may help the forces bent on taking out ALL CURSIVE … ALL HANDWRITING … And THAT would be sad, indeed…

        Best,
        Nina

        Like

      • ln my experience and observation, one thing that causes many younger folks to reject handwriting altogether is precisely what they’ve been told by their elders:
        that
        /a/ handwriting is either print or (conventional) cursive — that nothing between those two opposed extremes is legitimate or even has existence or a name —
        and that
        /b/ print-writing, or anything which seems like it, isn’t actually handwriting anyway.
        When they see that “real handwriting” (conventional cursive) is a dying dinosaur, and they see (on their own) the problems with it, they form the false equation “handwriting = cursive = dead.” When I show them that a fluent, print-like handwriting IS extant, with a name and a respectable pedigree (longer than of the writing they gave up on), they welcome this with eagerness and sheer relief (not to mention a little “So THERE, cursive-lovers!” acerbity! — in my judgment, richly deserved.)
        Like you, Nina, I have even tangled with the peer-reviewed science-journal folks on this issue. Done years ago, when the (then) editor of the medical-myths-and-facts column in the journal NURSING was asked (by her boss) to find me and collaborate with me for a column on myths and facts re dysgraphia (a condition I have), it took us NINE MONTHS to persuade the reviewers that the column COULD NOT be edited to please them by declaring their favorite myths to be facts. (E.g., they wanted us to say that any handwriting except [conventional] cursive will fail us dysgraphics and not be learnable/usable by us … Neither I, nor my well-informed collaborator whom the editor had ORDERED into the collaboration after I came up on Google, was willing to say [in effect] that the past few decades of scribal success in my personal life, along with the whole of my professional life, couldn’t have happened. happened, which is what the currently accepted theories would predict or demand.)

        Like

      • Kate, what you said resonates… Youth need something to keep them going with handwriting. I remember my own experience with an imperious grade 5 teacher who informed me that I was being unruly and there was only ONE way (the RIGHT way) to write the capital letter F or T (when I brashly decided to do it differently … hehe …). You might have convinced me too… Perhaps the word “cursive”, given its current strong association with “looping cursive”–at least in North America–has too much baggage attached to it. I wish you success in this what may be a new renaissance of handwriting … As for your unfortunate experience with the peer-reviewed journal… Shame on them! And good for you in prevailing!
        Best,
        Nina

        Like

  11. p.s. It’s National Handwriting Day today! A good time to consider getting a new fountain pen (my favourite is a Cross cartridge-filled fountain pen with standard nib) or beautiful writing notebook (my favourite is a leather-bound notebook made by Manufactus in Italy.

    Best,
    Nina

    Like

  12. Kate–and other readers–you might be interested in a recent National Post article (January 23, 2015) entitled “The Power of Penmanship” by Michael Zwaagstra, who cites the work of Dr. Hetty Roessingh in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. Perhaps, you are familiar with her work.

    According to Roessingh, “making students print letters by hand, particularly before the end of the second grade, plays an important role in their reading development,” says Zwaagstra. According to Roessingh, says Zwaagstra, “printing creates memory traces in the brain that assist with the recognition of letter shapes. Typing on a keyboard does not have th same impact. In other words, handwriting helps students move information from their short-term memories into their long-tern memories, while typing does not.” This resonates with me, given that much of what we learn well is heuristic in nature… learning by doing, kinaesthetically, going through the motions and letting the brain take it in from the physical motion. Roessingh invokes the importance of “automaticity”, reflected through legible and fluent handwriting , something, says Zwaagstra is supported by cognitive psychologists such as Drs. Jeroen van Merrienboer and John Sweller, who note in the June 2005 edition of Educational Psychology Review, that in order to make the most use of our memory capacity, transfer of information to our long-term memory from short-term memory (not unlike RAM to ROM) helps us to organize this information into various “cognitive schemata” that help us solve more complex problems. “Thus,” says Zwaagstra, “students who handwrite fluently can engage with more challenging text than … because more information has been transferred to their long-term memories.” Zwaagstra goes on to share that “learning how to write individual letters and words by hand, and doing so fluently [through handwriting] is essential to entrench reading as an automatic skill…primary grade students who do their assignments on keyboards and tablets miss out on this valuable skill development. Instead of training their brains to memorize particular letters each time they painstakingly print a word, they simply press a button to get eh letter they want. Often the spell-checker feature supplies the correct spellings to students never learn how to independently spell more challenging words.”

    I am inclined to wholeheartedly agree.

    Best,
    Nina

    Like

      • Agreed, not the conventional looping cursive we discussed above. But a kind of hybrid cursive, the kind of handwriting you teach, I believe. Roessingh notes that connecting letters together in a script makes it possible for students to write more quickly and this contributes to the quality of the writing outcomes. Roessingh is quoted as saying: “When writing by hand becomes both legible and fluent, reflecting a sense of automaticity, the writer is able to generate more text.” Zwaagstra’s article goes on to say that “in the upper elementary grades it is still important for students to learn cursive writing.” This is again where semantics gets in the way and many will misinterpret (if not he himself) what Roessingh and her research mean when it comes to “handwriting”, “cursive”, “fluent writing”, etc.

        Best,
        Nina

        Like

      • You may or may not have seen my response that I send out frequently to articles about the handwriting controversies. In the event that you have not, here goes,”‘Cursive’ is known to many as the method of letter formation that dates to the latter part of the 19th century. There are other cursives.

        Teach handwriting, but why teach conventional cursive, a method that joins letters with loops, when more and more and more people can’t read it?
        I will send the whole if you have not seen it.

        Like

      • Please take care! Before decisions are made about handwriting instruction, and whether “cursive” should be taught, we need sound research that may or may not prove its benefits. To date I know of none.

        “Cursive” is known to many as the method of letter formation that dates to the latter part of the 19th century. There are other cursives.

        Teach handwriting, but why teach conventional cursive, a method that joins letters with loops, when more and more and more people can’t read it?

        Just some of the misguided, misquoted statements I often read:
        1) It strengthens cognition. No, any writing by hand will do that.
        2) It is faster. No, that’s never been proved.
        3) We need to read the Constitution and Granny’s letters. Not a problem: it takes less than an hour to learn to read the conventional cursive alphabet.
        4) It benefits fine motor skill. Then why do I see so many media illustrations of children writing their cursive lesson with death grips on pencils? No one is teaching the relaxed pen hold that is essential to fluent writing!
        5) We need signatures. No, every hand makes an individual mark.

        A variety of cursives have been used ever since the Romans gave us our western alphabet more than 2000 years ago. There must be a better way, a better cursive, one that would be easier to read and faster to write.

        Meanwhile, reading cursive should be taught. It takes about a half hour to teach kids to read the conventional, looped cursive. I’ll send a lesson I have successfully used upon request.

        My vote is for italic cursive, an easy-to-learn, easy-to-read alphabet. A perhaps lesser option is to teach print-like script and guide that alphabet into something more fluent and individual; it’s often called “hybrid” writing.

        As first stated, handwriting in elementary grades strengthens cognition. So children do need it. They move their hands and fingers to form letters. The action goes into their motor memory to be recalled for reading.

        Advocates of conventional cursive may truly believe the unproven claims that cursive is superior. Frequently, the media backs up this belief by misinterpreting and misquoting researchers. Yes, The New York Times article was misinterpreted.

        For the sake of better education for our children, serious, thoughtful attention is needed.

        Like

      • Hi Nan,

        Just to clarify for my readers, the controversy about “cursive handwriting” is largely a semantics issue. When people use the term CURSIVE in America, including your reference to it in your first sentence, most mean CONVENTIONAL CURSIVE / LOOPING CURSIVE (something, both you and your colleague Kate taught me–thanks). However, this form of cursive is not the only cursive writing out there! Cursive writing exists in many forms, as you yourself identify. There’s italic cursive, for instance (a much older form of cursive, that is actually being adopted by many schools and for good reason, as you describe here).

        What I don’t like seeing out there is when people, particularly experts who know the difference, use the simple term “cursive” to represent just one form of cursive (the conventional cursive) and then vilify it in favour of another form of cursive. That not only seems hypocritical but it’s not accurate. I understand how the use of the terms evolved, but that doesn’t excuse us who know better from not using the accurate terminology. It’s in everyone’s best interests for those who are in the field to promulgate accurate terminology.

        So, when you say that there is no sound research to support the benefits of “cursive” you really mean “conventional cursive”. Because that very same research does support other kinds of cursive, namely cursive italic, hybrid cursive that make use of the cursive connections in print-like writing, etc.

        When you use just “cursive” to represent “conventional cursive” you are confusing the issue–and the benefits. What you just said above is that you don’t support cursive but you support italic cursive; they are both cursive! Let’s educate the public here and call a spade a spade.

        Best Wishes,
        Nina

        Like

  13. Hi Nan,

    Apologies if I sounded a little harsh. But this is my point: there are people out there lamenting the demise of cursive, when in fact cursive is still being taught (by people such as yourself) in another form. When semantics gets in the way of a discussion, it can ruin it for everyone. Until you and Kate edified me on what most North Americans (certainly Americans) mean when they say “cursive”, I considered the word “cursive” to mean all types of cursive, not just the old looping traditional cursive. So, in light of my recent edification of its inappropriate and inaccurate use by the media and general population (they should be saying traditional cursive vs cursive italic, say), I’d love nothing better than to see erudite people such as you and Kate and other mentors educate the media and our population on the term, its proper meaning and usage.

    Best Wishes and in solidarity,
    Nina

    Like

    • Hello again, Nina,

      As I recall, Kate and I, and perhaps others decided against “traditional cursive” in favor of “conventional cursive,” the reason being that one could say italic is more traditional. It has never fallen out of use since the Renaissance, whereas other cursives have. I hesitate referring to conventional cursive as “loopy cursive” as there may be an unnecessarily negative connotation; one who is loopy is flaky—maybe the handwriting is too! I hope you can come up with a better adjective.

      Like

  14. Thanks everyone, especially handwriting experts Kate Gladstone and Nan Jay Barchowsky–both well known and celebrated handwriting instructors and mentors–for coming here and sharing your thoughts and expertise on this very important topic. I, for one, have gained a substantial insight into what is actually happening (vs. a perception of what is going on) and feel much relieved. Let’s keep handwriting alive by remaining positive about all its iterations and evolutions! In solidarity,
    Nina

    Liked by 1 person

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