I’ve been writing about the therapeutic benefits of making things by hand, but I’d neglected one thing we do–or, used to do–by hand: writing. Writing by hand, like other hand-done activities, confers both emotional and creative benefits. We should take a moment to appreciate hand writing and what it does for us.
“Precisely because it is no longer essential for communication, handwriting can now be free to express its true nature as an embodied practice of creative expression, a synchronization of mind and body.” –The Simple Joy of Writing by Hand, Barbara Bash
Like most of us, I certainly write far less by hand than ever before. But when I want to express something directly from my heart, I write it by hand: a love letter, a sympathy card, my diary. The slowness of hand writing, the focus of my attention on the flow of ink and the shapes growing on the page put me into a more mindful state, a state that holds open the door to my inner self.
“Handwriting is a powerfully simple way to bring natural creativity and connection back into our lives. It is an act of wholeness.” –Barbara Bash
And, of course, I won’t ignore the all-important hand-written signature, an individual’s unique, hand-wrought self-representation, a graphical expression of who we are. A signature is “a mark or sign made by an individual on an instrument or document to signify knowledge, approval, acceptance, or obligation,” according to the dictionary. Our signature is small, but a big deal. It’s something we make by hand perhaps hundreds of thousands of times, yet for the most part, we pay little focused attention on it.
When I look at my signature these days, I almost don’t recognize what it has become; letters are missing, there are flourishes which make the signature look like a Rococco drawing. Signatures evolve, I know, and like the rest of my handwriting, signatures reflect a person’s state of mind, their mood. We depart from the well-trained formation of letters over time, propelled into a life where we sign our names hundreds of times a year–if not thousands. Our joys, fears, sorrows, and the current state of our mood cause our hands to form different shapes, to press into the paper with different pressure. And also, over time, we stop thinking of the signature as individual letters and we allow ourselves to make shapes that are more pleasing, more accurately like what we feel about ourselves.
The actual shape and orientation of my signature has transformed into this sort of artistic, loopy, forward leaning, impatient scrawl:
According to graphology (which, I recognize, is not a verifiable “science” but has nonetheless been studied since moving away from chiseled marks in stone to more flexible tools), the large loops in both the first and last parts of this signature indicate imagination and openness. The folding of letters on top of letters in the first name, along with the “unfinished” letters in the second name indicate impatience, eagerness to move ahead. And both the strong pressure and the right slant to the signature indicate confidence. Do I think that’s “me?” Not the confidence part, no, but the rest, yes. I like signing my name to things I’ve made, to letters I write, cards I send. I’m proud of the productivity and creativity I have these days.
My rushing, flourished, flamboyant signature of today grew slowly from British boarding school vertical writing with an affected 1970’s lower case “i” and a different name (Pherber St. Germaine)(I changed my name at least 8 times during my youth). I note the small dots or full stops that bracket the signature here, indicating a very introverted, protective soul. The broken ascender on the “h” and the very spare letter forms speak to a fractured persona, perhaps holding herself together by strength of will. Was that “me” of the 1970’s? Yes: affected, introverted, unsure. But most importantly, it was obviously not fun to sign my name in those days.
The Common Core, what is to be taught in schools in America, no longer requires the teaching of cursive writing. Most of us who could afford them have moved to computers for our writing tasks–it’s so much faster than writing one letter at a time, and there is Spell Check and we can erase and replace so easily. Our brains have gone from processing shapes of individual letters, recognizing them, then adding them together like blocks of meaning. Now our brains see typed words as instantaneously recognizable words. The physical movements of typing–a two-handed, all-fingered tapping movement has replaced the one-handed, riveted focus on the shape being created as ink flows from a pen.
I think that writing by machine has removed the joy and honesty from writing by hand, honesty that that flows from the heart, through the hands. Gone are the artistic modifications individuals could make to their expression when all typed letters are the same as other typed letters. “Mechanized writing deprives the hand of dignity in the realm of the written word and degrades the word into a mere means for the traffic of communication,” wrote Martin Heidegger. “Besides, mechanized writing offers the advantage of covering up one’s handwriting and therewith one’s character.”
“Writing is the painting of the voice.”–Voltaire
So I’m pushing for us to get back to claiming our handmade selves, writing by hand–at least to choosing to write by hand when we are writing from the heart. And, importantly, to pay attention as we write our signatures; to feel the swoop of your fingers, to watch the formation of letters. As you write, pay attention to how your hand automatically follows a pattern you mostly don’t think about. Was it pleasurable to write your signature? Or did your hand feel rigid and tight?
Then take a moment to look–and really see--what your signature looks like when you’re done signing. Is it balanced? Slanting strongly one way? Are letters rushing forward, collapsed into each other? Are there interesting swirls, swashes, dots or underlines? Do you LIKE the way it looks? Does it feel “right” for you?
That’s it. This post is a simple request to pay attention, slow down, focus as you sign your name. No rules, no test to take. Just enjoy the feel of writing, focus on your movements, the shape of your letters and words. And then enjoy a few of these signatures from people you might know of…
“Your handwriting… it’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.”–Chuck Palahniuk