Writing by Hand

writing by handI got As in penmanship when I was a kid. I found an essay I had written my senior year of high school—don’t remember even what it was about, just that I was applying for some kind of senior-year prize. I could read every word. My penmanship was neat and even.

I don’t know when my penmanship turned illegible. You would never know my name by reading my signature. Sometimes, I can’t even discern what I was saying in my journals—not even by context. I’m certain there are brilliant gems, words of an insightful genius lost to posterity because it’s impossible to interpret the penmanship.

Lately, I’ve made a commitment to writing so I can read what I’ve written by hand.

Writing by hand. I call this writing acoustically. When I’m in my Writing Shed, I use a fountain pen—a black fat, elegant pen made by Mont Blanc and left to me by my mentor, Ed Brush. Recently, I have discovered Levenger ink—Raven Black.

My hand-written writing comprises two things: recording the Animal Tarot Cards I draw each day, and my morning pages. I sometimes skip my morning pages. I think that is okay.

As I wrote today, I noticed I was writing legibly, neatly, evenly, taking the time to form each letter, careful to spell words correctly, and punctuate for meaning. The slow flow of the ink filled the white space on the page letter-by-letter, word-by-word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph. Its clean smell wafted up from the page.

I slowed down. I took the time to smell the ink.

An actor friend wrote on his Facebook page today that he was taking his next step without a plan. His other plans had all fallen through, so he was just moving forward, leaving behind fear of what others thought of him, embracing his own life.

He was writing with ink.

My career path in life has been pretty non-existent. I got diverted from a career in health care administration when I quit a job after ending a relationship with my boss. I became a bar tender so I could spend time with my writing.

That was nearly 40 years ago. That decision was the turning point of my life—the moment I decided to embrace my own life, though I didn’t know it at the time. I backslid off and on, taking paths that had clearly marked signposts. I failed miserably anytime I tried. The signposts annoyed me.

Where Fred Astaire aspired for perfection, Gregory Hines would allow a mistake to take him to the next move, making it up as he went along if the occasion called for it.

He improvised.

It has occurred to me that improvisation, rather than a career, has determined my path in life.

The constant has been writing, though it has only been the last ten or so years that I found my voice.

I love writing on a computer. It allows me to keep pace when my mind is racing. Its fluid nature matches the way my mind writes, then edits. Backspacing letter by letter to erase a word, highlighting whole sentence or paragraphs to cut them, or cut then paste them somewhere else. Seeing the change instantly in black and white without the distraction of crossed out words, scratched out sentences or paragraphs, arrows and notes to indicate where to move a circled word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph.

It has its own flow—writing on a computer.

But writing by hand, with the pen that once belonged to Ed Brush, the flow of ink filling the empty page, the smell of ink transporting me into the moment—that’s an improvisational moment for me.

Much like life, there’s no Undo command when you write by hand. Make a mistake. Then improvise.

5 thoughts on “Writing by Hand

  1. Hi Karen:

    I love the metaphor of improvisational dancing, and am picturing letters and words “dancing” across the page as you write.

    As one who has teased his career along the perfectionist bent of engineering and architecture in a science/technology setting… yet at heart an improvisational spirit (the “artist” part of architecture in tension with the “technologist” part of architecture)… I appreciate the metaphor of perfect handwriting as compared to an illegible scrawl, filled with “mistakes”.

    I have finger dexterity issues, and as a result, my musical inclinations drifted towards singing rather than instrumental expression. In a similar vein, I had illegible handwriting as a child, and my mother gave-up on ever getting me to master cursive, yet landed upon italic lettering with an Osmiroid pen as a means to help me to a legible hand. It more-or less worked, and between all-CAPS Roman lettering (as-in “architectural” lettering) and italic lower-case lettering… that is still “how I roll”… though through lack of practice, and near-total reliance upon the computer, I find that my hand-writing is an illegible scrawl as you had described your own (before your recent shift to doing more handwritten efforts).

    I also have a Mont Blanc “Diplomat” which I used for Pen & Ink sketching, though I am also unpracticed in that art… Your essay has me thinking about where my pens are “hiding”.

    Thanks for the wonderful essay!



  2. I use a BIC Ultra Round Stic Grip for my Elliott Bay Book Company calendars and a Papermate Flexgrip ultra for my college ruled, made-in-Vietnam, spiral-bound notebooks. I can still figure out what I meant when I review my notes. Usually.


      • Storied Nights was fun – good to see and hear other folks out there after quite a long time. Recently read at Healdsburg’s first-time participation in 100 Thousand Poets for Change, ‘nother good event and turnout.

        Yes. I’m super picky about my writing implements and tend to buy them by the package!


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