Thursday, March 20, 2014

Not So Mighty Now, Are You?

I freely admit it: I’m paranoid. I look for bad things to happen. That way, when they do I’m not surprised. Not always prepared, but at least not surprised.

Recently my paranoid mind hit on a thought that sparked a fresh round of fear, because it would affect the way I write. Normally I’m in favor of any excuse to put off sweating blood and words onto the page, but this one troubles me.

Some time ago I became aware that some schools no longer teach handwriting. You know, cursive. The one you sign your name with. God only knows how future generations will sign contracts and personal checks, or read old letters and diaries left behind by their families. Since most generations cling to the notion that all important history started with them, I suppose this won’t be much of a loss.

(Quick derail: does anyone know if shorthand has also become extinct? Does anyone even know what shorthand is? With all the recording devices out there, I guess there’s no reason for secretaries to take dictation any more. Or type, if everybody has their own personal computer or voice-recognition software. Not that this has eliminated paper. Remember how computers were supposed to make us a paperless society? Yeah, right.)

Here’s my concern: if everybody’s typing and nobody does handwriting any more, what does that say about the survival of that ubiquitous bit of office supply, the pen?

Personally, I love pens. I keep at least half a dozen in my purse at all times. Most of them even work. I have a small pocket-sized notebook to go with them. You never know when an idea or a scene will hit while you’re out on the road. It also comes in handy if you’re in an accident and need to jot down the other driver’s info. If your car breaks down and you don’t have a cell phone, you can write SOS on a piece of paper and make a paper airplane, but that doesn’t work very well.

Pens play an important role in my writing system. I can write on a computer if the mood strikes me, but I prefer creating my first drafts in longhand. Maybe it’s because my computer crashed one time and I lost everything on the hard drive. Paranoid, remember? Once you’ve committed that ink to paper, you’ve got yourself a copy that won’t crash. I type a lot faster than I handwrite, for sure, but if I’m going to sit there staring at the page/screen for long periods wondering what comes next, it really doesn’t make a difference what writing method I use. Besides, if I get stuck or bored I can doodle cartoons in the margins. You can’t do that on a computer. It smears up the screen something fierce.

Anyway, there’s something immensely satisfying about holding a pen in your hand, setting its point on a piece of paper and watching the magic physically flow from your brain to your hand to the page. When I really get going I can write longhand almost as fast as I type. Reading that frenzied scrawl three days later does pose a problem, I’ll admit, but it also forces me to slow down and really consider my word choices. This is only the first draft, after all. Messy pages are par for the course.

I do type. My second draft consists of typing the handwritten manuscript onto a computer—either my Paleolithic original system, the one with the printer (so paranoid me will still have a hard copy), or directly onto the laptop. If I need to add a scene or a chapter, I draft it in pen. Someday when I’m famous and kids are forced to study my work in Lit class, colleges will fight over my stacks of handwritten manuscripts, with all their scribbles and cross-outs and doodles in the margins and snide notes to myself.

Which nobody will be able to read because cursive will have become a lost art in the meantime and anything that isn’t block printing might as well be cuneiform. At least older folks who’ve lost their jobs will be able to find work as handwriting translators. (Just ignore that drawing of the saber-tooth tiger in the corner. It doesn’t represent anything, other than I was hung up on a plot point at the time.)

It might be a good idea for me to start hoarding pens, just in case. I remember when vinyl records disappeared practically overnight. I don’t want to be caught flatfooted again. Ditto spiral notebooks, just in case that prediction of a paperless workplace actually comes true. In a pinch I can use crayons. Crayons are the only things that’ll quiet down unruly preschoolers. They’ll never go out of style.

The alternative is to work harder and write my books faster, so I’ll have a fat pile of handwritten drafts finished when pens finally give up the ghost, or the ink or whatever. Then I can sit back and type all day, and use my crayons to draw colorful doodles all over my computer screen. I always think better with some form of writing utensil in my hand. No way I’m giving that up.


Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, this whole not teaching cursive is INSANE!!! simply because like you point out how do you read what has been written in cursive???

You know, like the Constitution... Bill of Rights... other critical historical documents.

But then, maybe at some point reading and writing cursive will be a sellable skill.

I love pens too, all kinds. Although, for a long time I've been able to type much easier than writing longhand because of being health-impaired, so to speak.

Yeah, back in the day, you were supposed to learn shorthand for taking notes in college classes... but heck, I wrote so fast, I never needed that particular skill for taking notes. That was true for some of my earlier administrative jobs, too. Never needed shorthand for the secretarial stuff.

Sorry for all the awkward rambling... the brain is tired.

Great blog, Pat!

Pat C. said...

Or maybe in 10 years everybody will be communicating in textspeak and it won't matter how you write because no one will be able to read. What happens if you can't type, for medical reasons or whatever? Will you be left behind?

My biggest question is, "How will people sign their names?" Or we'll all use ID numbers, which can be printed. And easily copied.

Savanna Kougar said...

If this cyber idiocy continues, then you'll be able to speak your textspeak, that is if you can talk.

But, really, if the power grid goes down across the country, there aren't enough transformers to fix it. Plus it takes a year to build the big ones, and they're only built in China.

So, those of us who can still read and write cursive, and speak might be needed... huh?

Although, actually, the cell towers can transmit electricity through the air... but that doesn't mean THEY, whoever is in charge of the military, will let us peons have any.

Savanna Kougar said...

As far as signing your name, likely that won't matter if the cyber-tyranny continues because BIG BROTHER/BIG SIS will designate what you get and what you don't. Yeah, likely you'll have an ID # -- which is what the SS# is, anyway.

Pat C. said...

Plus if my power goes out, like it did for an hour the other Saturday, I can keep working. I really only need the computer for emailing the final draft to a publisher. And for posting on blogs. :)

Pat C. said...

"I am not a number! I am a free man!"

That was a weird show.

Savanna Kougar said...

I didn't see that show. But yeah, this whole number ID thing does NOT make me happy. No human should be designated by any number, imo.

Pat C. said...

That was "The Prisoner" from the 1960s. Patrick McGoohan played a spy who resigned and was dragged off to the Village, where #2 (a different person every week) tried to find out what he knew. McGoohan was #6 -- or was he really #1? It was loaded with symbolism and allegory and left a lot of questions unanswered, including that one. They did a remake a few years back which I didn't watch, although Ian McKellan was in it. Some things should just be left alone.

Savanna Kougar said...

I keep hearing people talk about THE PRISONER as a future predictor, including John B. Wells, the most popular host at coast to coast am... who was mysteriously fired recently... I know I watched that show, but recall only glimpses. Now that you've jogged my memory, I do remember that about the numbers.