Elegant W, do not leave us

There was time in my life when my sole aspiration was to make a cursive W as lovely as the one my third-grade teacher could make. That curly swirl at the top left, the sweeping, commanding strokes from top to bottom, the slender points that anchored it to the baseline, the wave of “wait-there-is-more” at the top right – I wanted so much to fill a page with W’s like that. But the 22nd letter of the alphabet in its dress-up clothes eluded me. I tried but I couldn’t duplicate my teacher’s brilliant artistic flair with W.

I had to settle for fence posts. 

I was just chatting with a friend, the lovely Leeana Tankersley, over coffee last week and I told her I had once wanted to be an elementary school teacher just so I could learn how to make that W. Surely they wouldn’t let you teach any child anything until you could.

I became a writer instead, which should have launched me into an epic and intimate relationship with cursive W, but writers these days use electronic devices that have no use for cursive anything. I make Ws all the time but I tap them out with all the finesse of a woodpecker. There is no artistic call to W anymore. 

No one wants to read a manuscript written in a scripted font. I am not even writing this blog post in a scripted font. It’s just not done. We print these days when we have to write anything by hand, unless it’s our signature, of course. But Susan Meissner has no W. 

I have no need to make the formal W. 

The sad thing is, nobody does. And I wonder what most third-grade teachers pass off as their best long hand, cursive W these days. I wonder if anyone, anymore, can make a W like Grandma used to make.

Today’s San Diego Union Tribune had a rather disturbing article about the imminent disappearance of cursive handwriting. It’s on its way out, experts say. Like the abacus, the slide rule and the quill and ink. Eight-year-olds are learning to write on keyboards with Times New Roman as the rule.  They won’t spend classroom hours doggedly practicing the cursive alphabet. 

I am already mourning what we will lose in that transaction. It’s not that I think the keyboard needs to go. I just wish they didn’t have to cancel each other out. What will happen to the personal signature? Will that go the way of electronics as well? Will we one day sign our marriage certificates and love letters and wills with a sequence of electronic dashes and dots? I think we will miss something when cursive writing disappears. Something that made us creative and individually unique. And we won’t know what we are missing until it’s way too late in the game.

Oh, lovely W. You were a challenge to me. You and Z and H and Q. I will miss your dress-up clothes. I will miss the way you looked when you meant business -but in the most beautiful way.  You made the alphabet graceful. And you made us graceful.

I won’t forget you. . . 

Author: Susan

This post has 4 Comments

  1. Evangeline Denmark on March 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Although I understand your love for elegant handwriting, I have to say I have the opposite reaction to that news article. As the mom of a child who spent three years in therapy to finally get a pencil grip and still labors to write in print, I eagerly await the day when my son will transition fully to a keyboard. I can't wait to see his thoughts take flight when he's no longer chained to his physical limitations. I realize my perspective is shaped by our family's experience, but I thought I'd chime in with the thought that for us, the demise of classroom cursive requirements actually opens the door for further learning and artistic expression. Thanks for this post!

  2. Anne Mateer on March 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Although I tend to write in a mish-mash of cursive and print, I do love the look of cursive writing, especially the letters you mentioned! I think part of the demise is due to our busy lives. It takes time to write in a beautiful cursive hand and none of us (including our kids!) have that kind of leisure anymore.

  3. onangelwings on March 9, 2011 at 12:53 am

    The fact that kids only spend a few weeks learning cursive in 3rd grade and then never have to use it again just crushes me. I remember spending pages and pages, writing these letters over and over again. Practicing and practicing. It is amazing how little writing any of us do. The written word is all but lost. Sadly, I had started trying to write letters last year to friends and family to try to capture it again but I didn't continue. So sad that we are all so electronic now. My hands cramp when I have to write notes at a meeting or when I quickly jot something down for a post later. Thanks for this post. I had no idea I would have so much to say.

    Just finished your The Shape of Mercy so have been researching your name and reading your haunts. Thanks for the book. I love it! My review is here.

  4. Anonymous on March 10, 2011 at 7:21 am

    I agree. No Canceling, no canceling! In this case, more is better: printing, typing, electronic, and writing. And if cursive goes, all that lovely stationery won't be far behind. I would mourn that. Some stationery is a miniature work of art. And you, Susan, are a poet. Thanks for sharing.
    Mary Kay

Leave a Comment