I used to write. A lot.
I still write, but not by hand.
I was pretty young when I learned to use a typewriter to “hunt and peck” out primary school reports. I learned actual typing in high school — my god what a useful skill.
My handwriting, always awkward and misshapen but usually legible if I wrote with extra focus and care, has evolved over the years to the point where it’s painful and pointless beyond a few lines. Within the last few years, typing has gotten more painful more often too. I have an ergonomic keyboard. It helps. Typing on my phone is harder physically than typing on a ergonomic keyboard. It’s slower, and more rapidly and more widely painful for my hand and arm than using the molded and adjustable ergonomic keyboard with my special keyboard tray and my special wrist pad. I use dictation software when my hand and arm pain is particularly bad.
Below is a picture of a sample of my “good handwriting”. I wrote that over 20 minutes ago. The muscles in my hand and forearm still hurt and are weak now, fatigued as if I lifted weights. The muscles in my upper arm hurt too, from compensating for the stiffness and pain in my lower arm.
Here is the description of this photo of a page of my handwriting. It’s 12 lines of print – handwritten in black pen on white, lined notebook paper. Most of the length of the page is covered.
The text reads as follows (in italics): This is my writing. Just now, I skipped the dots in the “i” (the first one) in “writing”. Then, I started writing the “e” in “the dots” to early and it messed up the “h”. Then I started writing the quotation mark in “writing” (in quotes above) and instead wrote a “w” up high, where the quotes were. Now I’m completely skipping letters and my hand hurts and my wrist and forearm are cramping and this is my “good handwriting”.
In the picture of my “good handwriting”, my written lines erratically overrun the page’s lines. The writing is not neat to start with, and becomes degraded as it progresses. By the 6th or 7th line, it has become bloated and less precise: not all parts of each letter are formed. Many letters merge into one another. Starting in the 4th line of writing, I’m skipping letters here and there that I correct by mutating the wrong letter into the right one. By the seventh line, that is happening more frequently, and as I was writing, I had become acutely aware of how much this is slowing me down. By the seventh line, I could no longer reliably mutate a wrong letter into a right letter and I had to add some back in after I completed a word or phrase.
This process, which happens every time I write by hand for more than a line or two, results in squeezed and overwritten letters and words, which makes the text less legible.
The bloating, which consists of more width on connectors or strokes for the letters themselves, also makes it hard to identify the exact letter, e.g. the “a” in the phrase “hand hurts” has an unnecessary and inappropriate loop at the start of it and the top is not closed, which makes the letters look like “hec…” rather than “ha…”.
I am relieved that the world has become less reliant on writing by hand. As a kid, it was discouraging that so many of my teachers believed the difficulty I had physically forming connected, pretty letters on a page was a sign that I was a “bad student” or not trying hard enough. My second grade teacher placed me in the lowest literacy group based on this and on my (then) tendency to speak quietly or not at all. She had assessed our reading skills by having us read out-loud in class. I had been reading and writing before first grade. Once she realized I was a better reader than her assessments had suggested, she reassigned me into a more appropriate reading group. However, all of my extra time in class was spent practicing print and cursive. I was told to place my pinkie finger in between words to help keep them from running together, to keep my letters equally spaced, to just try harder.
By college (part two), I routinely had to soak my hands in school restroom sinks after bursts of pressured writing — that would be writing when I was short on time and space, like the kind of writing you have to do for the essay exams with those fucking tiny “blue books”. My last year of undergrad, a professor told me that if my handwriting didn’t improve in his blue book exams, he was going to start taking points off my tests. Since I was in my late 20s by that point and a bit more confident in setting and defending boundaries, I replied that if he put such a high priority on neat and legible writing, he should give take-home exams for us to type. I didn’t consider myself to be disabled at that point in my life because my problems were very isolated and context specific, e.g., if I was in an appropriate context where I could use a keyboard and word processing program (which by that point were available at public libraries and in spaces across my campus), my problem with writing more than a few lines of text by hand was not at all disabling.
I still hate when I come across people complaining about presumed laziness or something like the loss of authenticity that they think is inherent in non-hand written text. I can type, talk, or dictate just fine. And I’m pretty sure my text nearly always “sounds” authentic. So they can fuck right off. But it still pisses me off because it’s such a narrow, outdated, and ableist view of written expression that conflates manners with abilities.
What’s got me thinking of this right now is that I got invited to a political campaign’s postcard party yesterday. It had a virtual option. At first I was thinking “oh hey, cool” because I have some problems going to the in person ones, so I never want to commit to them. The opportunity to participate in a virtual one would be kind of neat. But I read this part:
“During this event we will each write 20 postcards. Bring a pen & good handwriting, beverage of choice & I will provide the postcards & take care of everything else.”
And I thought “well fuck you very much!” I will not write 20 postcards. I will write maybe three. And I will not bring something that anyone thinks of as “good handwriting”. So perhaps this isn’t for me.
My initial responses aside, I do believe the person who wrote that thought they were being cute, not demanding or exclusionary. And I believe it probably didn’t even occur to them that they might be asking for something more than manners.