Diarists know what many of us have forgotten – people have been chronicling their own stories in diaries and journals for more than a thousand years. In order to better know themselves, or to express their own truth in the face of a public reality, or just for the fun of it, people have been writing for longer than some civilizations have been around.
All that changed in the last 30 years with the advent, first, of the personal computer and then of the internet. We are seeing the first generation in the history of our planet that does not need to use the written word as it’s traditionally meant. In another generation, it will be unthinkable that some folks don’t know how to type – and it will, some predict, create a huge culture gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not.
But that’s not my purpose today. No, today I have a humbler calling. I simply wish to defend the simple, humble, pedestrian pen. Once known to by mightier than the sword, it is now relegated to the place next to the buggy whip: a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but obsolete.
But is it?
I argue it is not. When we write, we connect ourselves to our physical or kinesthetic truth. The study of penmanship, or graphology, can tell us quite a bit about a person and, it follows, the practice of writing can therefore tell us a lot about ourselves. We cannot get a feel for the emotion of a typist unless it is through their word choices and syntax. Yet we can know at a glance the emotional state of a writer by whether the letters are calm and even or erratic and out of control. Did the writer tear the paper with their emotion? Are there teardrops on it? Lipstick? Did the writer press hard on the paper and leave ridges on the back, or did they leave barely an impression of themselves behind?
Writing by hand can inform us of our shifting moods the way the tide can inform us of the moon’s gravitational effect on us. Subtle yet powerful, writing by hand connects us to ourselves and to our subconscious. Try writing with your non-dominant hand and you’ll see what I mean.
There is beauty in writing, even that of an untrained hand. Lovers have known this for centuries. The personal, intimate handwriting of a loved one can bring comfort in dark times, solace to the lonely. When’s the last time you sent a letter through the mail? For less than half a dollar in the U.S., only a little more if you’re sending outside it, you can bring a smile to the face of someone for whom you care. In my group of friends, we call that “Non-Bill Mail.” If you save these letters, over time they become like a scrapbook, reminding you of moments in time encapsulated in an envelope.
What would you preserve by hand if you had the time?
Next time: “In Defense of Learning to Type”