design  /  visual art  /  writing  /  reading  /  podcast

Handwriting, Impatience, and a Slow Death

It pains me to admit this, but I have bad handwriting.

Understand that when I say “bad,” what I really mean is “barely readable to anyone, including myself.” Chicken scratches are more legible than my handwriting. Using the term “handwriting” to describe my incomprehensible scrawls is an insult to actual handwriting. I have never had good penmanship, even though I am old enough for it to have been a large part of my elementary education as a child. When I was a kid, Apple was not a company yet and computers were still room-sized, so learning cursive was part of what we did every day.

I am jealous of those with good handwriting—deeply, unapologetically jealous. To me, watching someone with good penmanship write a sentence is like watching an artist make a beautiful line drawing, or watching a dancer perform a ballet. I find it captivating, magical. I have paper, pens and pencils. I have a desk, a light, and an understanding of language and words. Even more than the average person, as a graphic designer I have a clear knowledge of typography and letterforms. Still, making something with my hand and a pen that is legible remains a fantasy to me.

I have bought books and found tutorials online that claim to make me have better handwriting. I have read blogs and studied YouTube. I even bought a reasonably nice pen and some good pencils. Even though I know enough about making things to know the tools do not do the work for you, I adore these pencils and my pen. I think the truth is that what I need most is what I am not able to buy: patience. I need to sit and practice. A lot. Over and over again. Everything I have read has told me that repetition, practice, and being studious will result in better penmanship over time. I need to make the time to sit calmly for 30 minutes a day and practice my writing. I find this incredibly difficult to actually do. Just slowing down casually seems to be hard, never mind being purposefully slow with the intention of practice.

As a creator, I am very much an enthralled with form and process, and these are things I emphasize greatly in classes that I teach in foundation and graphic design. My lines of critique tend to ask not only what did you make? but also how did you make it? All of us in the class, students and teacher, work fast as the semester is always too short. I want these conversations about process and discovery to go on for days, not for minutes. I feel as though we rarely have the time to slow down, to sit and contemplate what we are doing. There is little time to practice our handwriting for 30 minutes each day in a quiet corner.

This makes me wonder if my handwriting would be better if there were no Twitter. If there was no internet, Netflix streaming or Google. Turning off the feed of stuff I see every day is both difficult and seemingly dangerous—I like knowing what is going on as much as everyone else does. I have to ask how this affects me as a designer, and how it affects my students as emerging designers. It is so easy to see so much, that I find it difficult to believe we can really contemplate much of it at all. In many ways we have become masters at editing what down what we care about in the blink of an eye. We have no choice in an average day of dozens of emails, hundreds of articles on RSS, and thousands of Tweets—I count myself lucky I do not use Facebook.

Something that seems as simple and unimportant as bad handwriting seems like a warning sign—if I can’t concentrate on making simple zigzag lines to practice my letter formation, how can I concentrate on big questions of pedagogy and curriculum, as well as my own research and ideas? What connections or revelations have I missed because I was simply moving to fast to see them? This idea that life moves quickly now is nothing new, and has been a topic of conversation since the Industrial Revolution. It is now hitting me in a clear, tangible way. I am not good at handwriting, but I am quite good at impatience. I am excellent at culling 200 blog posts to the few I think I care about.

I am getting worse and worse at slow. My slowness is dying, and it is literally a slow death.

© Mitch Goldstein /