Molly Fisk: More Than Your John Hancock

467789543_e288fdf3a0_zPhoto by MyEyeSees via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Yesterday, I paid my bills. I took them to a café, sat at the counter and wrote twelve checks. Stuck on return-address labels, slapped on some colorful Latin Music stamps and put the envelopes in size order. Then I stopped by the P.O. on the way home to drop them into the outside box.

I know this is old-fashioned of me, but I love writing my checks. I put “exactly” before a round amount like forty dollars, the way my mother did. My dates read “25 March, 2016.” I love the idea that humans have carried paper letters from sender to recipient for centuries. It makes me feel part of a long chain of humanity that includes the Pony Express riders. Call me nostalgic and sentimental, I don’t care.

Many of my friends pay automatically, through their computers. I can see the benefits: efficiency, trackability, less paper in the recycling bin. But there’s one huge downside: no handwriting. Look around your own life. When do you write by hand any more? Parents make lists with their smartphone’s note function. VPs write dates in iCal using their thumbs. Postcards are vanishing from the 21st century landscape and letters are pretty much already gone. These days most people just write their names . . . on credit card signature lines or at the voting booth. Maybe on a birthday card. When was the last time you wrote a complete sentence by hand?

The trouble with progress is that after a while there are a lot of people in the world who don’t understand what they’re missing. Good things get lost, and then the people who knew about them grow old and the last, say, roadside telephone booth disappears.

My grandmother, born in 1906, began writing letters to me when I was seven and I still have most of them. She wrote in green ball point and signed them with a little drawing of a seagull. Her writing was legible but you could tell she was thinking fast. She had a rushing-around personality that her handwriting reflected: sharp pointy letters, and lots of width as the pen raced across the page. Not big round grade-school printing like my Mom’s, which I admired but could never replicate. The word “signature” isn’t metaphoric: both of them expressed character traits through their writing, in a way that choosing among ten fonts and using emoticons on a screen just can’t compete with. My mom was patient and followed most of the rules. My grandmother was in a hurry to get outside and live her real life, banding birds.

I’m aware that handwriting, like the phone booth, is doomed. But just like my crusades on behalf of proper grammar and using the word “bottom” instead of that synonym for a donkey when you’re speaking in public, it will disappear over my dead body, and I mean that literally.

Do me a favor, and write something by hand today, just to prove you haven’t forgotten how. Please? For me? A song lyric, a to-do list. A home-made prayer.


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Day 305 of 365 - Read On Mr. Potter Those of you who know me and know my 365 project will not be surprised that when presented with a prop like Trevor's halloween costume I would not be able to leave it being used just once. Thus I give you the spectacles from the costume in this composition. It is also a part of my learn out to focus the flippin lensbaby project. I think that part turned out well though I might not have chosen such an extremely small sweet spot for it in this composition. In any case I give you day 305 :) Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and halloween!I’m trying not to read. According to the teacher of a class I’m taking, one week of reading deprivation will teach me more about my own habits of avoidance than any other method.


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  • Mickey April 2, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    My niece, who is dyslexic, mentioned that handwriting, cursive, is NOT being taught in school any more. What? Why not?! Oh, right, computers and keyboards at our fingertips. Sigh. I have fountain pens, calligraphy nibs and pen holders given to me by my dear friend, Jane, who died last October. I have terrible handwriting but write by hand, use my purple ink, another gift from my friend, in my (rats, can’t read what brand) fountain ink pen. What a world. I gave my son a gorgeous birthday card by ?Creations? and a signature I can’t read but that’s okay. I love the cards this person created. When’s your birthday, Molly? Do you have a neutral p.o. box you can give out like Nicole who has correspondence send to Greenfelder in Chicago? I’d love to send you one of these cards.

  • Molly Fisk March 26, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    So glad I’m not the only person who cares about this! 😉

  • WENDL in Manhattan March 26, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Molly, today I wrote a condolence note on a blank stationery card, as well as a grocery list. I learned Palmer Method handwriting in the 1950s & can still remember those shiny cobalt first-prize ribbons I won. Still use Pitman shorthand to take notes at meetings, too.

  • Judith A Ross March 26, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    My husband made me a cutting board for my birthday this week. He was surprised when I asked him to burn his message and initials into the side of it using his own writing, rather than a font he’d chosen from the computer.

    Handwriting, my mother’s, my grandfather’s all evoke such special memories for me. I still send my adult sons handwritten birthday cards each year. Do they keep them? I have no idea.

    Thanks for the great post, Molly!

  • Molly Fisk March 26, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Hi, Shirley and Hillsmom! Thanks for your comments today. Shirley, I’m so glad you write in your journal still by hand. I start about 90% of my poems in long hand, and only move to a computer when I’m more than half way done revising. Sometimes when I’m feeling nostalgic about letters, I go watch or read a few of the Civil War ones from Ken Burns’ TV series. Those people were so eloquent!

    And Hillsmom, thanks for veering back to the subject, but I agree about the USPS. And I think schoolkids are not being taught cursive in many places, so their ability to read it may start to disappear. Certainly the name “Palmer Method” is passing out of existence, and I don’t think I used that even myself, although I’ve certainly heard of it.

    I always like the vestigial words we still use like “horse power,” but it’s pretty sad to be watching the literal meanings disappear right in front of us.

  • hillsmom March 26, 2016 at 10:16 am

    You do make good points Molly. Like you, I still pay bills by mail as I wish to support the USPS. They have been under political attack, and have gone from being…well, I better not go there with this comment.

    Is it true that many young people can’t read cursive? Do they even know what that means? I remember having the “Palmer Method” used to learn cursive/longhand. How I did hate the boring, repetitive, lines and lines of “drawing” the letters. When that was finally over, and I passed, I changed the letters in my signature to be like my Mother’s. That teacher didn’t like that at all, so I had to wait until the next grade to use my choice.

  • Shirley March 26, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Molly, I so wish I had kept old letters from my early life. My mother wrote me very few letters since she died when I was only 19 years old. My first love wrote me a couple of letters when we were in college. My future husband wrote me a few letters. Later, having finally realized the value of handwritten letters, I saved ALL my father’s letters to me after I was grown. There are many of them, and I treasure them.

    My grandmother taught me to write the word “Only” on checks in front of the written amount. People used to comment on that. I write very few checks compared to years ago.

    Emails and social media have replaced letters and phone calls. When I called an old friend a couple of years ago, she answered with, “what’s wrong?” The main writing I do now is in my journal. At least I enjoy doing that.

  • Julia March 26, 2016 at 8:02 am

    When my daughter started first grade (she turns 32 today!) my mother and her father’s father started sending her postcards in big printed letters. I have always felt this was a sign of their being able to put themselves in her small shoes.