I was one of those school children other kids have not very nice words for. I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious, it’s just I cared about school. A lot. I wanted my teachers to think I was awesome and brilliant. My strategy for accomplishing this was to listen very hard to everything they said, and later demonstrate how well I’d listened at every opportunity. For example, in first grade my teacher was teaching us how to write a lowercase q. She told us the end of the q is like a fish hook. To help us remember this, she drew a little fish on the board, mouth open, facing the hooklike q-bottom. For the next several months, every time I wrote a q, I added a fish. She finally told me to stop. (I was crushed.)
Back in those days, my handwriting was impeccable. I won ‘best handwriting’ awards. I labored over my cursive. My p’s and q’s were never confused (even sans fish). I even handled the dreaded cursive upper-case Z without trouble. In grade school I spent some time in France, and forever after would cross my 7’s and Z’s to subtly allude to my euroness. In seventh grade I decided my handwriting needed to be girlier, so systematically trained myself to write in wider, rounder loops, and replaced dots on i’s and j’s with tiny open circles. In ninth grade I realized I was not girly and would never be girly, and set out to write like a man.
Unfortunately in about tenth grade I stopped caring about handwriting. It wasn’t a definable moment or anything. I just got tired of penmanship slowing me down. Even back then I wrote a lot of fiction. In eighth grade I wrote an entire 100,000 word novel by hand, then re-typed it later. My focus gradually shifted from quality to quantity. I settled in to the writing habits I retain today. Meaning, I still write like a man.
Years rolled by. In college I abandoned writing anything by hand except my diary. After college I even ditched that. Nowadays about the only time I pick up a pen is when I fill out a check, once every six weeks, to pay the farrier.
Yesterday I needed to send a thank you note. I wanted to get the wording right, so I typed it out first, for easier editing. Once satisfied, I sat down to transcribe what I’d typed onto the card. I tried quite hard. I wrote slowly and carefully, going for a sophisticated, elegant hand. Cursive was out of the question, but it’s out of vogue anyway. I labored along, printing word after word. At one point I accidentally started writing ‘me’ instead of ‘him,’ so I had to write over the top of the m in an attempt to get it to function as an h and an i.
It was so sloppy. I almost threw it away and started over. But then I realized there was no guarantee I’d do any better the second time. I could waste my entire day that way, burning through dozens of thank you cards. And for what? Did it matter if my writing was entirely legible? The card already said ‘thank you’ on the front. My name would be on the envelope. It’s not like the card’s core meaning was in any danger of being lost.
I have a second cousin named Bruce who is a talented architect. He writes long, hand-written cards to his family members with commendable regularity, but his scrawl is so impenetrable no one even tries to decipher it anymore. Looking at my own botched card, I decided there’s something rather independent and high-minded about having horrible handwriting. It’s like having a really thick foreign accent, or being a toddler who hasn’t yet learned to form cohesive sentences. You might not get the precise words and phrasing, but you certainly get the gist.
I signed the card (illegibly), shoved it into an envelope, and affixed an address label to save myself writing the return information. I’m almost certain the post office will be able to figure out what address I wrote on the front. No doubt the receiver will open the envelope, smile at my half-legible message, and throw the card away. That’s what thank you cards are for, after all.