Cursive: For People with Nothing Else to Do

I was filling out a birthday card for a coworker when the subject of cursive came up.

I have scratchy handwriting, by the way. I can write neatly, and I usually do when I know it’s important that something be legible, like when I’m writing a check for rent or illegally procured pharmaceuticals. But if the only eyes reading what I write are informal ones, I usually revert to the comfortable chicken scratch I’ve fostered through two decades of scribbling in notebooks.

While everyone around me discussed the inevitable disuse of cursive, I mentioned that cursive is a useless concept anyway, because, you know…it is. I mean, I guess I’m not opposed to promoting whimsical gibberish, but when something needs to be written down, it seems like it would be helpful to use an actual alphabet, and not a self-important system of loops and swirls.

This prompted a coworker to comment on my admittedly poor handwriting, the inference being that it resulted from my resistance to cursive. Because, you see, cursive automatically turns whatever you’re writing into a gilded masterwork. It certainly doesn’t become even more horrifically jumbled and incoherent. No, no, never. And never could the fact that I was writing on a thin piece of paper with only my thigh to support it alter in any way my ability to write legibly. Again, no, no. Never.

When I was little, I was always a little astonished by how personally old folks took the concept of handwriting. Still do, even. I once mentioned my dislike for cursive and had an elderly lady ask me in astonishment: “You mean you never write letters?” I told her I do, but at the expense of having people actually being able to read mine.

I’ve had teachers tell me that less-than-perfect handwriting indicates a lack of respect on my part. I’ve had youth ministers tell me that inattentive handwriting was a form of irreverence. My handwriting isn’t sloppy. Everyone I’ve ever interacted with can read it clearly. It’s just ugly, easy to read but irritating to look at, like a sign on the freeway. An aunt once looked over my shoulder while I wrote in a notebook and told me: “You must be dull-witted.” Casually, like it was an observation. The content of what I was writing was irrelevant. The contours of the lines were what mattered to her. I said nothing, assuming at the time that her leaky double-wide was filled to bursting with the works of Guy de Maupassant.

Old folks tend to forget that their handwriting was just as shitty as ours. I’ve seen letters aunts and uncles and grandparents wrote each other in the day, and I’m relatively certain half of them don’t use an actual alphabet. Going off first impression, I’d have to conclude that most of them simply mimicked the stylus of a seismograph, trusting their pen pals could decipher the peaks and valleys of their spasmodic slashes. If anything, the only aid cursive gives them is that it now removes the burden of lifting pen from paper, allowing them to save energy for the intensive tasks of the day, like lifting half-gallon jugs of milk while grunting with effort.

It really does bother me, knowing that we spent decades pushing an arbitrary alternative form of handwriting on our nation’s schoolchildren, instead of simply emphasizing fine penmanship while we taught them how to write checks or manage investments, or any other skill that actually meant something. Educate children on methods of financing college education? Oh, please. Once they figure out the cursive form of the lower-case z, those sorts of things just fall into place, don’t they?

Listen to the over-sixty crowd, and the absence of cursive handily begins to explain most of the ills plaguing the world today. I’ve found that Vietnam and World War II provide disquieting contradictions few are willing to address, however, and fewer still are willing to listen to a personal hypothesis of mine, concerning the correlation between declines in the use of cursive and declines in the practice of institutional racism. I will be heard, dammit!

I mean, I understand the importance of writing neatly. Accidental pharmacological overdoses happen because doctors are too busy to cross t’s or make m’s look like anything other than bumpy lines. But fans of cursive become hysterical when the obvious faults of cursive – namely, it’s absolutely uselessness – are brought to their attention.

If the written equivalent of Esperanto suits you, fine, use it, you savage. I’ll type my letters like a civilized person, looking beyond the bulky text to the spirit that set them down.


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