Things are going missing in our lives. Suddenly, I have found myself on a different set of tracks, when all along I thought I was on the same train. As Dellarobia says in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior, “It floored her to be one of the people seeing the world as it used to be. While the kids shoved on.”
In Kingsolver’s book, the dirt-poor Dellarobia is watching her toddler use a play telephone from a secondhand store. It is the kind I remember spending hours with as a child: bulky body, cord, receiver, dial that made a marvelously loud clicking sound. Dellarobia notices that her daughter, Cordelia, is using the phone like a hammer, driving nails like she’d seen her father do, and realizes that this phone isn’t a phone to Cordelia. It doesn’t “resemble any telephone that existed in Cordelia’s lifetime. Phones lived in people’s pockets, they slid open, they certainly had no dials.”
This revelation made me sad for the kids of the future who would never know the pleasure of dragging a phone by its cord and pretending it’s a dog or ringing up some imaginary friend by spinning a dial over and over until it drove your mother nuts. What can you do with a cell phone? Maybe use it as a hammer.
Now, I am not a hermit in a cave raving about the evils of technology. I love the Internet and my computer, when it’s behaving. I am not an old fogy (at least, I don’t think I am). But things are disappearing.
Like penmanship. Have you seen the stretched-out Slinky signature of Jacob Lew, the nominee for secretary of the Treasury? Imagine having that on your currency? Since we are writing nearly everything on our computers and not on legal pads or lavender-scented stationery, penmanship in general has deteriorated. Many states don’t even require instruction in cursive writing. What’s with that? This is going to be a terribly ugly world if people are printing their names everywhere—on legal documents and checks. Oh, wait, no one writes checks anymore either, and now you can use an autopen to sign your will and testament.
So the handwriting is on the wall. Teaching keyboarding is more important that learning cursive, according to school administrators. After all, there are all those cursive knock-offs on your computer, fonts like the sinfully simple CatholicSchoolGirls, the shot-of-calligraphy Espresso, and the lovely Vladimir Script.
But here’s the thing, and I just discovered this because I was bewailing the decay of my own chicken scrawl, signing your name in a flourish of loops and swashes takes time and thought. A society in a rush can’t afford to pay homage to the elegance of a well-formed “S”.
Handwriting is not about communication; it is about patience. So I have begun to practice paying attention to my handwriting on the notes surrounding my computer. Every time I have to jot something down using that ancient instrument, the pen, I take a moment to slow everything down, from hand to mind. Zen writing. I realize this is a small victory. But just the other day at a meeting, someone looked at my name tag and said, “You have lovely handwriting.”
My next step: trolling the antique stores and hand-me-down shops for one of those old Fisher-Price Chatter Phones.
What will you miss when it’s gone? In my novel, Maud’s House, the townspeople find themselves missing a lot of things including their art. Creativity is life’s greatest journey until . . .