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On Writing, Part I: Letters

July 10, 2011

I saw in a recent news report that experts predict my children’s generation will seldom, if ever, write as adults.  Not with pens and paper that is. 

Heartbreaking, isn’t it.  I get a bit choked up even talking about the subject.   Damnit, I want my children to grow up writing only the old fashioned way.  I want them to breathe in that scrumptious wood smell of their new and perfectly sharpened No. 2 pencils during the first week of school.  I want my daughter to one day write “I love horses” on her Trapper Keeper folder in bubbly cursive script with a purple-inked pen (although absolutely not past 8th grade – nothing good ever becomes of those high school girls with the bubbly purple handwriting). 

Is it sadistic that I want my kids to get temporary arthritic cramps in their hands after they finish their 4th grade science reports on the habits of dung beetles?  Shouldn’t they too get the pleasure of growing those disfiguring calloused bumps on their middle fingers?  (Or in my case, on my ring finger since I hold my pen like a monkey in a sideshow act.  Not kidding.  The grocery store checkout clerks will confirm this and that it’s grotesque to witness me signing the credit card receipt.) 

Back before I could blog, and even before I could let off teenage angst in my high school newspaper, I found writing outlets through traditional pen-and-paper means.  One of those was through letters. 

I had a pen pal in second grade.  Her name was Emma.  Emma lived in England.  Her hobby was collecting rubbers.  I’m not making this up.  That’s what she wrote.  “My hobby is collecting rubbers.”  I read her letter slowly several times, always tripping over the bit about the rubbers.  Why would she collect galoshes, I wondered.  Why not umbrellas – I love umbrellas.  I would own one hundred and ten umbrellas if I could! 

I later read the letter aloud to my mom and brother.  They could hardly pick themselves off the floor when I finished.  I assumed they were as befuddled as I was by the absurdity of it all, since what I knew to be rubbers were hardly worthy of being collected.  Because I could never get past her odd fetish for rain boots, my pen-palling soon fizzled. 

Later, I learned that “rubbers” in England referred to pencil erasers.  And at that time I collected them too.  What good friends we might have been if only I could have translated Britainese.  Much, much later I learned what “rubbers” referred to in America.  And I can tell you that no one should be collecting those either.


During my young life whenever best friends moved away, I would carryon in typical melancholy fashion like my life was over.  Soon after, I’d begin eagerly planning my first catch-up letter written on my favorite stationery.  And I took it seriously.  Very seriously.  And I expected a response.  When I was the one to move away in 3rd grade, I wrote diligently to all my old friends, including my close friend Susan.  Each week the mailman brought no letter from Susan.  The nerve!  Finally, I’d had it.  And I made sure to tell her so – in a letter of course.  Even back then I knew that telling someone off in a letter is always the way to go. 

Turns out, Susan kept her May 15,1984 promise to me and finally did write back.  She wrote back to tell me in no uncertain terms to go f— myself.  In Kid World, that translates to a lot of exclamation points!!!!!  And probably ones that were not dotted in hearts or even open circles!!!!!!  

“For your information, I moved away too!!!!!!!!!  To Rapid City!!!!!!!  I didn’t get your letter until now!!!!!  It takes a long time to forward mail!!!!!  I have a lot on my plate here with the whole new kid thing going on and I don’t have time to worry about the stupid perm you just got!!!!!  Or about your stupid fluorescent green jelly shoes!!!!!!!!!!  And I think you’re stupid!!!  And I also think the Care Bears are stupid!!!!  Leave me alone forever!!!!!!!!!!”

Ooh, burn.  Yeah, the Care Bears part still stings a bit.  See!  You cannot convince me this letter would have had the same dramatic effect in a text message.  Especially when considering she wrote it on rainbow stationery.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. david kreiman permalink
    July 11, 2011 4:45 pm

    At 6 1/2, my twins still like actual writing and book reading, especially my daughter. As they get older, I am sure electronic communication will attract their attention, but like you, I hope to “parent” them into appreciating both the art of writing, but even more importantly to me, the habit of reading an actual book … an actual book … not on a Kindle or whatever fancy device will be around when they are older. Nice blog! (David Kreiman – friend of Mark’s)

    • July 12, 2011 1:44 pm

      David, I am so with you on wanting the actual three-dimensional books that kids can hold in their hands, draw on and dog-ear. Library fines for all the many, many books we forget to return on time are well worth it. Nothing like real books.

  2. July 15, 2011 6:01 pm

    Somehow, I have a feeling that with you as their Mom…writing will NOT escape their little lives!! Teach them well…You GO girl!

  3. Davis permalink
    November 29, 2011 11:20 pm

    I was at a meeting of English teachers in your alma mater when the matter of cursive came up. Apparently cursive is still taught in many (or most?) elementary schools. But a 9th grade teacher said that earlier this term she was writing in cursive on the board and several students admitted they couldn’t read it. These were quite average students and this lady has great handwriting.

    Except for the nostalgia factor, I’m not sure teaching cursive is worth the time.

    I waited to post this comment until this blog was deep in the archives, hoping to avoid an onslaught of outraged cursive lovers.

    Who will make a convincing non-nostalgic argument for teaching cursive?

    • December 2, 2011 9:14 am

      It’s somewhat reassuring that kids won’t as likely grow up with the disfiguring bumps on their fingers. And I’m thankful that fewer little girls will adopt that hideous bubbly cursive script with circle-dotted i’s. And who knows, the elimination of girlie bubbly cursive might one day help to advance women closer toward equal pay.

    • November 27, 2012 2:24 am

      For some strange reason, I wish I could write this in cursive, if for nothing else to show its beauty.

      Seriously, however, I noticed an article in my local paper only a few days ago. The article mentioned that the vast majority of states were amending their curricula to either eliminate mandatory education in cursive writing, or to make it optional for students. The basic reasoning, much like you mentioned, was that students “couldn’t read it.” What a shameful tragedy!

      If for no other reason, cursive is worth the time it takes to teach — and learn — because the vast majority of our history is written in cursive. Take the Constitution and Declaration of Independence: written in cursive! Sure, sure, others have already “transcribed” those texts into print format (and I’ll be the first to admit, it is hard to read even for someone who knows cursive). But what of the actual document, placed so elaborately in the Library of Congress? Should we just place it away somewhere in the labyrinth of the Archives, and replace the original with an MS print-out?

      The second reason, mentioned in the article, is that cursive is simply… get this… faster to write. How many times have you, while filling out one form or another, had to print your name, and then give your (cursive) signature? Thinking about it, which was faster to write?

      Maybe, if just maybe, schools were to reinforce cursive writing (which, if our historical documents are any reference, was once considered a mark of education) rather than let students print (sloppily, I might add), this wouldn’t even be an issue. Now, penmanship (penwomanship, penship, what have you)… that is an entirely different issue altogether.

      • December 2, 2012 9:43 pm

        So much good still in cursive writing. My 5-year-old daughter’s older cousins taught her cursive the other day and she has been extremely geeked about practicing it the past two weeks.

        Thanks for reading.

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