A lost art?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In this world of Facebook, Skype and email, it has become rare to receive a handwritten note, card or letter in the mail. I recently realized I no longer rush to see what's arrived in our mailbox each evening. Instead I sort the mail in my kitchen, dumping unopened credit card applications and unwanted store circulars directly into the trash can. Every now and then, I spy my name handwritten on an envelope and my heart skips a beat. To me, receiving one of these notes from a friend or family member is like getting a little piece of their heart.

There is one woman here in Cassville who routinely sends me notes of encouragement. I now recognize her writing, and I tear open the cards and notes with joy. She always seems to send them when I've had a bad week and need a boost of confidence, and I've saved each one of her communiques -- some are tacked to the bulletin board in my office.

My daughter-in-law, my mother-in-law and my mom are also note writers, and I admire that about all three. When Meg (Nick's wife) visited our home in Cassville for the first time, she followed up her time here by sending a thank you note. That gesture won me over immediately and told me a lot about her character and upbringing. I also look forward to newsy hand-painted cards from Judy in Florida and long letters from my mom who never runs out of words to write.

Just last week, I read about public schools in Indiana that will be eliminating cursive writing from the elementary school curriculum and replacing it with keyboarding. According to the news report, Indiana is part of a national move away from cursive that is being orchestrated by the Common Core curriculum effort, which is led by governors in 46 states. The curriculum champions keyboarding over handwriting.

As I read about this shift in educational approaches, I also came across a new study that reveals the act of writing, as opposed to typing, lights up an area of the brain known as the Broca's region, which facilitates understanding and communication. With that study in mind, I think it's important that young students learn penmanship alongside keyboarding. For me, taking notes by hand and writing out speeches and outlines for articles is an exercise in discipline that strengthens my writing and focus. Writing my ideas down also cements them more permanently in my memory that I find is lacking if I rely solely on digital note taking.

I also think writing something by hand forces a person to think about what they are putting down on paper, which could help diminish the reoccurring problem of hastily typed and unretrievable emails composed in anger. This is becoming a societal problem that has been nicknamed cyberbullying. In this business, I have found myself on the receiving end of a number of these vitriolic messages and I must say it's not pleasant. I like to believe those who sent the mean and hateful messages wish they could take them back, and I also contend they would never have been sent in written form.

Call me old-fashioned but I hope the art of writing survives the threat of technology. As I craft this editorial (on my computer I'm afraid to say), my journal sits on a small table next to my chair. In addition to containing my personal reflections on life, my journal also contains Mother's Day and birthday cards from my sons, which are tucked away in the back. Nothing can replace their written words of love -- they are treasures I will keep forever.

Lisa Schlichtman