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School's In, Mr. Palmer

19 August 2023

To a writer, the art of the letter means many things:

the art of letter-writing;

the art of using letters to write;

the art of letting the letter speak for itself, instead of for the writer;

the art of penmanship.

Penmanship was my worst subject in grammar school. Even as a child, I insisted upon forging my own graphic design upon the paper. Consequently, I was rewarded with the Letter C for a grade. “C”, during the archaic era of public schools that taught the basics, means average.

Average to me indicated (and still means) mediocre. I was fairly content with that assessment. I wasn’t trying to master the basics of the penmanship demonstrated to me in the New Jersey public school system of pre-unionized teachers. I spent many more minutes figuring out how to alter “shapes” I didn’t like. I therefore devised a 2-track system of script:

Palmer longhand for the classroom; my own pen (or pencil) craft for the world beyond the schoolmarm.

My right hand got diligently applied in perfecting the curvilinear shapes on those horizontal green placards above the blackboard. And I girded my scrivenery loins whenever the strong hand of the Grande Dame disciplinarian took that 5-line chalk-holder to the blackboard to inflict, with dutiful vigilance — those nearly straight lines upon it.

I thusly raised my penmanship grade to a B!

I was painstakingly instructed by those elderly, stern but dignified grande-dame teachers in what is known as The Palmer Method. Once upon a time, that exquisite penmanship elegantly graced the stationery of older generations. I confess to having had Palmer-Handwriting Remorse every time that I looked at the refined writing on an envelope and read its contents: a wondrous letter from a much older friend. Through my own innate, albeit artistic, willfulness, I’d taken the abundantly lovely and consistently flowing letters of Palmer, and morphed (or mangled) them into my own script design.

My capital cursives are still very Palmer, but the lower-case letters of the Palmer Method became modified into a semi-cursive, semi-printed, semi-self-inspired style that I’ve been told is lovely and warm. When I do devote a sufficient duration to make the art of the letter look like art, my handwriting is quite nice. When I’m dashing off those laser writing-thoughts, or even a grocery list, this self-created form becomes almost illegible, even to me!

This resultant handwriting is an extremely direct expression of not only what I’m thinking, but how I’m thinking it! It’s a truly creative process!

In spite of what far too many people say, the art of the letter has not been lost, nor is it defunct, dead, or destroyed. The need to express one’s thoughts, and feelings, is just as potent as ever. The time needed to fulfill that need is what’s in short supply. The art of the letter has one very basic prerequisite: the opportunity taken to pause and reflect.

The digital age has been blamed for many a woe, warped idea, and weird behavior. I believe that those noxious problems of humanity existed long before the advent of 1s and 0s to faux-replace good, old-fashioned coming-to-terms with whatever’s inside your head.

If the thinking’s not there, neither is good writing, and, most certainly, neither is the art of the letter.


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