The Pen  IS MIGHTIER

Back to school. This time of year has always harbored a bit of excitement for me. Now that I’m long past college and with no children of my own yet, it’s a time of erstwhile sadness as well. You see, now I lack the justification to buy school supplies.

I’ve always had a love affair with writing utensils. From the fat pencils that I used to scrawl my name on the top of Big Chief tablets to the first gel ink rollerballs that seeped through three layers of college ruled paper, I love to write. The irony of this comes, of course, from my epically poor penmanship. My greatest school supply love is also the biggest indictment of my failed skills.

I was always a good student. I love to learn and so I was the obnoxious kid with her hand up for most questions in class. I was the Hermione Granger of the 1980s. I was always in the top reading groups, wrote short stories and poems in my free time, and loved the practical applications of science. Math and I have never gotten along, but even that I could deal with. My shame comes from report cards with lower marks in penmanship.

Now I come by this honestly. As most of us do, I take more after one parent than the other. For me, it is my father. My mother has lovely, looping handwriting, easy to read and almost impossible for me to forge, not that I would ever try that, of course. My father, on the other hand, quite literally, is left handed and writes like someone is trying to steal the pen, the paper and his words away from him. He was an early adopter of the typewriter and later the computer, partially because that was the only way that he would ever be able to read his own thoughts again. It was as if his words left his head in English and appeared on the paper in Sanskrit.

I started out fine. I followed the forms, traced the letters and did okay for a while. It was cursive that threw me. I think that my thoughts have always come out faster than I could write, so half formed letters became the norm. Ws became Us and a half. My Ms went on for days, as I got carried away or saw something shiny. Luckily for me, I’m one of the newly named ‘Oregon Trail’ generation and the computer was about to hide the shame of my penmanship to great degree. As papers were turned in on giant floppy disks, no one had to know that occasionally, I couldn’t read my own handwriting either. The Murphy curse continued.

With more keyboard use, starting with a Sharp machine and moving on to an early Mac, the problem didn’t exactly correct itself. It has followed me and become worse. I was actually told that I was not allowed to write the specials on the chalkboards at a bar that I worked at because I had, and I quote, “The handwriting of a serial killer.” Well, gee. Thanks.

While I do stop short of cutting letters out of magazines and pasting them together for handwritten communiques, I do have to take my time and think about how to make the letters match the thoughts I’m trying to express. When I write longhand in journals while traveling, typically on bumpy roads in the backs of buses or airplanes, I just have to know that I’ll need to pray for the interpretation if I ever want to go back and explore those thoughts again. It’s my curse.

So when I see those rows of undulled pencils, gleaming gel fine points and even fountain pens, I have to hold myself back. I sometimes find an unvisited aisle and just smell a new college-ruled, spiral bound notebook and let my memories slide back to school. Hopefully someday I’ll have children to live out my school supply fantasies with. I just hope I don’t pass on my penmanship.