Tuesday, October 09, 2012

'I bet your handwriting's gorgeous.'

You'll know from my previous blogs, the header on the very blog itself and from the many pictures I've chucked around of my studio that I like pens. I'm using them all the time, and you very often see what I've drawn with those pens.

But one thing which troubles me is my handwriting. You know - my ACTUAL handwriting. The words which emerge unplanned, out of necessity; devoid of a prior sketch or purposeful positioning on the page. The note, the shopping list, the post-it, the forms I fill in from time to time. People often say 'I bet your handwriting's beautiful, isn't it?' and I've got too used to shrugging like an embarrassed schoolgirl while explaining that no, actually, they'd probably be really disappointed.

You see somewhere along the line I made some sort of unconscious distinction between 'writing for public consumption' and 'writing for me'. Who's going to see my shopping list? Only me. Who's going to email me feedback on that bizarre backward descender on that note to myself? Nobody. Who minds if I lazily switch from italic to infant 'a's? No-one. A graphologist would probably run from the room in terrified confusion.

In fact - maybe I've had to pose in so many hundreds of different handwriting hats over the years that I don't actually KNOW what my own real handwriting is like, unless someone's directing it - without art direction, the hand forms the essential shapes, but doesn't dress them. A sort of multiple-personality disorder, in autographic terms. If, as Philip Hensher says, 'Handwriting is what registers our individuality, and the mark which our culture has made on us...it has been seen as the unknowing key to our souls and our innermost nature', then I am...what?

So it makes me uncomfortable, because it almost suggests that I decided gradually over time that if someone isn't paying me to write nicely, I won't. I have never actually decided that...but the handwriting says otherwise. My old tape covers are neat, legible, but very stylised. Old diaries (still have them) bear testament to a time when if I chose to write it, whatever it was, it got written properly - and slowly. Like a lady who wears her make-up and dresses nicely even though she knows no-one will call on her that day. My school file stores prizes for best handwriting, yet the notebook next to me, written in every day, is full of the footprints of an ink-sodden spider at Bangface.

I'm a pain-in-the-arse stickler for grammar and punctuation, and I can't blame emailing and typing - I like to write postcards, letters and keep notebooks. So I shouldn't be sloppy with the form. Thus, with the recent gift of another nice fountain pen, to join my Dad's yellow Parker, the Schaeffer twins and black and white Mont Blanc, and the many others, I have made the decision to start making the effort. It's good discipline. My hands can do it, it's a 'state of mind' adjustment.

It was this article about the importance of handwriting, sent by Melanie Tomlinson, who remembers when I had nice handwriting, which stiffened my resolve. The subject is also covered in this radio programme by the same person, Philip Hensher, on Radio 4.

'[Our] attempts to modify ourselves through our handwriting become a part of who we are. So too do the rituals and pleasurable pieces of small behaviour attached to writing with a pen. On a finger of my right hand, just on the joint, there is a callus which has been there for 40 years, where my pen rests. I used to call it "my carbuncle". "Turn right" someone would say, and I would feel the hard little lump, like a leather pad, ink-stained, which showed what side that was on. And between words or sentences, to encourage thought, I might give it a small, comforting rub with my thumb.'

I look at my permanently tattooed right thumb webbing - stabbed with a full 0.5 Rotring in 1991 - and know exactly what he means. I'm wedded to the letterforms, and they to me. I'd better start showing them some love - in and out of the spotlight.

1 comment:

Melanie said...

Sarah - I didn't read the guardian article properly when I sent it to you. Just to say that you have always had beautiful handwriting ! Even your bonus print was fantastic! Best typographer in our year I think!


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