On Handwriting

By Kimiko Maeda-Leon

The Rough Rider (Honolulu, Hawaii)

I’ve been obsessed with handwriting ever since I was in elementary school, when I realized I wasn’t quite good at it. I hated mine; it was so ugly compared to lots of my peers, and was the bane of my teachers. I would scan the papers of my classmates and then back to my own wondering why, if we were all in the same class when we learned it, did we write so differently? How come the girl next to me wrote in a big, curlicue, typewriter font when mine was deemed ‘almost illegible?’

I struggled with that question until I moved up to middle school, where all of a sudden the complaints about my handwriting stopped. I was happy, and didn’t think much about it; I just assumed my penmanship improved enough to get by. Perhaps it was maturing. Soon my worries ebbed away and I began to open my eyes and notice the connections between the writer and the written. I was amazed how one’s way of writing vaguely resembled them in an odd manner. It was a fingerprint they created for themselves, and it was as easily identifiable as their name.

I remember looking back at my old papers and being at awe at how different my scrawl looked from just a few years ago. It was mine, but a younger me. It was as if throughout my life, my handwriting was always there beside me, like my academic shadow, growing and evolving as I was.

It was then that I came to the understanding that your handwriting isn’t just something you generically spit out; it’s something you create, and you leave an impression in it, like how an artist or a writer leaves a part of themselves in their work. Why then, should I hate my handwriting if it’s a part of me? Upon closer inspection of it, I could see my entire life in that uneven, slanted scrawl. I could look at the lowercase ‘y’s’ and remember back in third grade when I stole it from my classmate because I thought if I copied her letters, maybe my writing could start to resemble hers. I could see the pointy ‘m’s’ I used to think looked like mountaintops in fifth grade. It was through my handwriting that I truly learned how to accept myself. Sure, my scrawl isn’t perfect, but it has scars and flaws that evolve and change with experience and time, just like me.

By the time high school hit, I was in love with my handwriting. Whenever I wrote something, I would take a minute and inspect my trusty ol’ scrawl and from it I could tell if I was tired, moody, or excited. As I became more outgoing, my scrawl’s size grew bigger and explosive. If I became emotional, the slant turned more irregular. It was the most accurate portrayal of my inner self, and I was just fine with everyone seeing it.

So it was a huge slap in the face when my handwriting once again became a problem, and could actually harm my grade on the English AP exam (if they can’t read it, they don’t score it). How could my font, that was me on paper, be hindering my progress in life? Flashbacks from elementary school ensued as I began drawing parallels to the two situations. It felt like a betrayal.

I reevaluated my handwriting again and was shocked. Sure line by line it was beautiful, flawed and slanted, but if one pulled back farther it looked neurotic. Jagged edges stuck out like spears, prodding the already tipping letters until they looked like they were being flattened against the margin. Some words shrank down, as if cowering from the other inflated phrases beside them. It looked like chaos. Since when did it become this? What did people think of me as they struggled to read through the dying, psychotic letters and words?

Out of the fog of questions that surrounded me, one thing was crystal clear: that it was going to have to change. But how does one change something they’ve been doing their entire life? First I tried to cross out and rewrite words I felt were too messy, to no avail. If anything I made it worse, as the ink blots and violent scratches only added to the discord.

I finally decided on a different approach: writing in caps. Clear, concise and hard to mistake one letter for another, it seemed like the perfect solution. So, determined to fix my handwriting and life in one go, I sat down and took psych notes-all in caps.

It was slow torture, almost an hour to write one page of notes. I had to stop every other word to erase a misspelling, my hand ached, but it was the best feeling in the world to have accomplished it. Legible at last! I beamed and held up the paper, then as I stared at it, my smile slowly faded.

The blocky letters gaped at me, stuck at odd angles and positions. Sure they were clear and readable, but they lacked everything I was fond of in my old handwriting. Gone was the ‘y’s’ I copied as a child, gone was the clubbed ‘a’s’ and ‘c’s’ that determined how fast I was writing, gone was the slant that showed what mood I was in. Gone was me. These weren’t my notes, they were a stranger’s. I felt a pang of sadness run down my body. It was as if I saw my whole life-everything I struggled through and experienced- get erased away and replaced with blank, heartless faces. But it was needed, I told myself, because your trusty ol’ scrawl doesn’t work anymore.

I continued to work on my caps handwriting for a couple of months until it was almost automatic. It was slow at first, but soon I was able to write just as fast as my old font. And as I struggled through and persisted in writing, I began to notice something strange. Soon those faceless, odd-looking letters began to evolve, just like how my old scrawl had done. It began to take on a personality of its own, and through it I began to see traces of me again.

Now I believe that handwriting is not just a reflection of one’s self, but also a process that can be changed and refined. So when I write in caps I smile, because in an odd, strange way, it truly portrays me.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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