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In the premiere issue of our magazine, the Beekman 1802 Almanac, author Lisa Kogan laments the end of the pen-to-paper era

 

 

Buried deep in my closet sits a battered old box. It’s filled with childhood birthday cards, notes of condolence and congratulations, love letters from the man who would become my husband, and maybe one or two from the man who would not. There’s an apricot

chiffon pie recipe from my grandmother in that box, along with a reminder that “baking soda cleans everything.” There are also a third-grade report card forshadowing a lifetime of math issues, and a dashed-off note from an editor explaining that he was about to jump on a plane headed for Martha’s Vineyard, and would call on Monday—but his plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean that evening, and Monday never came.

There are calligraphic wedding invitations and engraved birth announcements in this box, halfwritten poems on scraps of whatever was within reach when inspiration hit, and a hastily scribbled thought that would become the basis for my last book.

Near the bottom of the box, stacked together and tied with an ancient piece of yarn, are my friend Brenda’s hilariously heartbreaking letters, from summer after summer at sleep-away camp. Brenda and I were close 45 years ago, and we’re still close today. The box also holds a yellow legalpad containing snippets of conversation from when my friend Mark lay in a hospital bed, intubated and unable to speak. “Is Roseanne on tonight?” His once precise writing was shaky, but I always managed to decipher it. “In another half hour,” I’d answer. “You look tired. Close eyes?” he’d write. And I would curl up next to him for a power nap that, if I’m being honest here, never left me feeling particularly powerful.

I stare at each piece of paper now and skim their words with my fingertip. My father’s signature was authoritative; I used to try to make my capital K look as confident as his. My mother’s writing was delicate, more subtle. As a child, my left-handed grandmother was forced to use her right hand—schools did that in those days—and her writing was atrocious as a result.

My third grade teacher’s lettering was perfection, even if her math lessons left a lot to be desired. Brenda dotted her i’s and crossed her t’s like the good girl she was raised to be. My editor wrote with fat, loopy, graceful letters—he was a graceful man. My husband, an artist, wrote in gorgeous flourishes and charming doodles; if he was trying to impress me, it more than worked. My friend Mark? His writing, like his body, was disintegrating before my eyes. AIDS was savaging beautiful young men in the early ’90s, and it killed him about five weeks after our slew of mundane exchanges.

No wonder, then, that his scrawled small talk continues to mean the world to me. I put the lid back on the beat-up box and banish it to the land of old board games, broken DVD players, macramé headbands, and half a dozen pairs of nude panty hose, which Vogue has deemed obsolete. My Wolfords are not the only things that seem to be irrelevant now.

We catch the sound bite, not the speech; we read the reviews, not the novel; we slice pre-packaged cookie dough into coins; and we gulp coffee from Styrofoam cups.

It is only an intense fear of sounding like my uncle Saul, who constantly insists that in 1958 he could’ve bought “the entire Upper West Side of Manhattan for 240 bucks,” that keeps me from going on.

Suffice it to say, I miss pay phones and gluten and the smell of Tame Creme Rinse. A tweet is not a conversation. Facebook will never replace eye contact. Email doesn’t compare to the romance of thick vanilla card stock covered in cursive.

The notes, the report cards, the recipes, the scraps and poems and promises to talk on Monday, the gossip from camp, the perseverance of a friend who died much too young, all had one thing in common—they were written in cursive.

Policy makers say kids needn’t bother to learn cursive any more than they should offer people a penny for their thoughts—as it won’t be long before pennies are also things of the past, like bumble bees and Harry Styles. But I’m going to miss cursive, because cursive is that place where art and language intersect, and because how you form your words says almost as much as the words themselves, and because handwriting tells us something about who the person holding the pen really is, and mostly because it’s beautiful.

Ever read the Declaration of Independence in a word doc? I rest my case.

 

We asked readers of the Almanac to send in some of their own scripted treasures. Take a look at some of our favorites…from a REAL mail bag:

 

To get an autographed copy of the premiere issue of the Beekman 1802 Almanac, click here

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Teresa

Josh, LOVE, LOVE your post. I also LOVE cursive and will continue writing in cursive for as long as I am able to write.

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Marisela Delgado

Hi, Lisa! A few months ago I was invited to participate in a local news story about the lost art of letter writing. I’m 46 and grew up during the time of pen-pals except that I kept mine. Including the one in Sweden. (I’m in Texas). I continue to be an avid letter writer and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It is so much a part of me like breathing. Anyone who is anyone in my life knows that I am a letter writer….and they love it. I get calls from friends asking why I haven’t written. NOTHING beats a hand written letter from a loved one especially those long past.
I hate to toot my own horn, but I have beautiful handwriting. I can thank my teachers for that and my continued practice of letter writing. Funny note, I was in junior high school when one of my teachers noticed that I hold my pen incorrectly. I had never noticed and just learned that way.
For all the nay-sayers, emails and tweets can never replace holding a card or a letter from a loved one. Nothing beats seeing someone’s handwriting and the memories that they bring.
For anyone interested, there is an organization called Campaign for Cursive. They go out and fight for legislation to keep cursive writing in schools.
Keep those pens rolling!

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linda schnell-leonardi

When i see a letter, or note, or anything with my late mother or dad’s handwriting~ it brings tears to my heart~ for that moment, they are right next to me~ and I treasure them~

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Erwin Schrodinger

Cursive should be dropped from all public school curricula.

The practice of connective-writing, or cursive, originated in the days of the quill pen. Writing with a quill pen was nearly an art form as the ink delivery system was inconsistent and, as such, was prone to splattering with each pen lift. Thus, cursive – the practice of inter-connecting letters — was invented as a means to reduce the number of pen lifts and thus reduce the incidence of ink splattering. As a consequence, cursive was a required skill in an effort to make documents as clear as possible. The practice of cursive became out-moded in the late 19th century due to an invention that evenly distributed the ink in a limited manner. Inventor John Lourd dubbed his creation as the “biro”, or ball-point pen.

As is with much of modern educational curricula, the inclusion of teaching cursive in schools is a hold-over from days of yore. Contrary to popular belief, cursive has never been shown to be a valid mechanism for developing manual dexterity, nor does it improve handwriting skills. With regards to the latter, the opposite is true. Think carefully: how many people do you know who exhibit indecipherable handwriting, despite the fact that they were taught cursive? And what is so terrible about teaching children standard printing anyway?

Sorry, but cursive serves no legitimate purpose.

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Jim

Not only are we not teaching cursive, but we’re barely teaching keyboarding. We now type with two fingers or two thumbs.

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booklover0199

I think it’s a national tragedy that the schools are doing away with cursive. What will the future hold if people don’t know how to write?? Will nothing require a signature anymore?? God help us all if that happens. Cursive should not only stay in the schools, but it should be a requirement!!!! That’s my opinion.

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patricia nashmy

i have my grandmother’s autograph book from high school in NYC and it’s over 120 years old ! Can’t understand some of the writing as it’s full of flourishes, but nevertheless, it’s an amazing piece of history / art that I cherish ! Yes it’s very sad that cursive writing is in itself a ” lost artform !”

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Rachel

I remember my second grade teacher Ms. Szuba trying to teach left handed students how to hold the pencil just write in order not to smear the work they had already done. I think it a shame that we’re not teaching this in schools as a requirement. It feels like there is less planning and more ad lib with the curriculum as a whole on the elementary school level. I’m doing by best to teach my children. So sad to see cursive lost.

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jeanne / juNxtaposition

one of my main pet peeves…. it truly will be another ‘language’ to our children, they will have to get a ‘translator’ to read anything their grandparents wrote. i always have to be careful to sign cards to my grandkids in print or they wont know what it says…. sad, just sad.

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Shannon Sullivan Smith

if you need a little Prell in your life i can hook you up- it is a close relative to Tame!

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ileana

I love writing with a pen dancing across a sheet of paper. My mother was a great writer of notes and would mail cards to me and my daughters just to say I love you. I treasure them. I love that my handwriting resembles hers and whenever I write a capital M, I think of her. It is so sad that they don’t teach cursive in schools anymore. It is a disservice to students because I’ve read that a person retains more the information that they hand write in notes.

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Linda Turner

I also love the careful wording used in the past-proper grammar and spelling, and long sentences sprinkled with perfect punctuation. Writing was an exercise of discipline, and as much attention was given to learning letter formation as it was to understanding scientific principles. Since it was once the only means of communication across miles, countries and cultures, it was necessary to ensure that your written document was completely legible and understandable. People were proud of their unique signatures, complete with their own fancy flourishes. I treasure letters written by family members long gone; some of their soul is still on the pages.

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Monica O'Malley Tavares

Oh so true! I am a 6th grade teacher, and have taught for 24 years. I have watched times change and cursive has bit the dust. Used to be a requirement. I’m not allowed to require it anymore. I love to write in cursive. But my students cannot read it any longer. Sniff sniff. When I wrote the date in swirly cursive one day, one of my students told me he liked my font!!!! I mourn the loss of cursive for its beauty and formality, but I also mourn it for the same reasons as you, for what has changed in our world, for the quick fixes, for the instant gratification, for the shortcuts that never really get you anywhere. There’s still hope for change, not just with cursive….

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Lorraine Racha Faulds

I am very proud to say that cursive is still taught in many Catholic school systems. Most notably (and closest to my heart) is St. Joseph School in Columbia, SC that won the national handwriting contest among Catholic schools last year (and where my daughter is a third grade teacher)! Genealogists know the importance of scripted writing also.

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Eva

I had a wonderful teacher named Lillian Carpenter. I went to a small, private school because I needed special attention. and she took care of me. Mrs. Carpenter had the most wonderful handwriting, but after leaving school I never heard of her again. One day, decades later, I was looking through old postcards at a flea market, when one card stopped me cold: I recognized the handwriting! It was signed “Lillian” and mentioned her job as a schoolteacher, but it had been written nearly 50 years before I ever met her. I bought the card, and treasure it to this day. It was written in cursive.

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Dawn

true. i am told daily accept change embrace it I do not do well with change. maybe due to my age but how can it be good if we do not know how to write our thoughts, sign something with a signature everyone can read know how to live without Internet, cell phones, spell check (that makes decisions for you so your mind does not need to be used). I do still send letters, cards with a stamp and read the paper at the dining room table. I also dabble in email, Internet, and Facebook my point, you need to be well rounded so you are able to use your brain to figure things out when the power is out. ?

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