As a child, I often heard adults talk about the importance of hard work, perseverance and good athleticism. Still, I soon came to the conclusion that this was an elaborate smokescreen. For what really seemed to matter was to have nice hair, elegant handwriting and to be good at gymnastics.
At least these seemed to be the characteristics shared by all the alpha children in my elementary school; those who all wanted to sit next to, and who were invited to all the parties. Bonus points if you also wrote in large, swirling scripts and dotted your i’s with small circles, or even love hearts.
If these elegant, well-dressed children were alphas, then I was omega. Because I was a child whose carriage wheel was more of a cube than a wheel, whose hair stubbornly danced to its own drum and which suffered the humiliation of being sent back to purgatory after losing my pencil in grade 5.
Even now, deep into middle age, I remember this with a hint of lingering bitterness. My chicken-scratching handwriting has only gotten worse as I get older, accelerated by the fact that I now have so little opportunity to practice it. It has become so bad that when my husband goes to the supermarket, he insists that I text him my shopping list, because he can not read my handwritten attempts. I would like to indulge in some self-righteous annoyance over this, except that I also recently found myself stranded in the dairy aisle, unable to decipher my own graffiti.
I once wrote all my university essays by hand, but that’s almost unthinkable now. Part of another life. I still write in the margins of books, and I occasionally write notes for myself on pieces of paper and in my work diary, but even these modest efforts become more difficult to decode. I have also noticed that my hand now cramps when I write longer notes. Whether it is due to over- or under-use is largely academic. In fact, I will not win back my pen license any time soon.
The popularization of personal computers eventually freed me from the curse of illegibility, and I never looked back. Writing suits my busy mind, allowing me to spit out as many thoughts as I can at once, faster than pen and paper could ever. At the same time, electronic communication also made old-fashioned letter writing superfluous, or at least charmingly retro, like listening to vinyl records.
We competed to write the smartest and funniest messages.
When I met my husband, the e-mail age had really come, so from the beginning we courted each other via electronic correspondence. During the first months, we emailed each other many times a day and developed a flirtatious rivalry as we competed to write the smartest and funniest messages. It was a great way to get to know him, and the immediacy of these emails, the ability to respond instantly, set an exciting pace in our early flirtation.
But when I recently tried to remember the exact content of all these messages, I drew a void. Until I realized it was one thing I had written to him that I remember, almost word for word. And it happens to be the only handwritten letter I’ve ever sent him.