Wednesday, May 21, 2008

C U L8r

I went to Catholic grammar school taught by the Sisters of Charity before they consolidated (? merged? rightsized? combined?) with other orders. Growing up in the Diocese of Trenton we were all aware the Sisters of Charity, based right up the road in Elizabeth, New Jersey had been founded by Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton and that she was practically single-handedly responsible for Catholic schools.

In the school I went to, and maybe the catholic schools where you live do it as well, it seemed (even as a small child) the most important subject, aside from religion (duh) was penmanship. We learned cursive (I've heard British people call it 'joined together' a turn of phrase I quite like) and we were taught the A. N. Palmer method where the letters flowed from one into the other and words resembled more a work of art than a written communication.

One of the tenets of the A.N. Palmer method (in pursuit of its one, and one only, way to write) was the assumption everyone on earth was right-handed, or should be. If you were a child who happened to be left-handed you were S.O.L. which wasn't an acronym that Sister Thomas Anne used, but she knew what it meant, that's for sure. My middle brother was left-handed and was scolded and chided and ruler on the knuckles often enough that he became right-handed, sort of.

That I would learn a penmanship method allowing no dissent or disagreement in Catholic School strikes me now as deliciously ironic. I'm not sure what I thought about it back then except I imagine I feared I'd never learn the two ways to write a lower case t, depending on whether it ended a word or not. And I don't mean to suggest learning a cursive capital Q was anything like the Spanish Inquisition but it was close.

I mention all of this because in the computer age, with a bewildering variety of type fonts and colors and styles and built-in language and grammar checking software all of which could, at least in theory, assure us of perfectly written electronic correspondence, we have invented texting instead of emailing and/or phone calling as means to impede the very communications we purport to be enhancing and which geezers like me don't grasp, but Judy and Elrod, my children, and everyone in their generational cohort seem to embrace whole-heartedly.

Much of it doesn't seem to involve actual words or very many words. It's sighs and whispers, smirks and shrugs, grimaces and winks, all reduced to letters, numbers but mostly keyboard strokes, that sometimes I have to turn my screen sideways and upside-down to read, appreciate and understand. For years, I missed the meaning of LOL and ROTFLMAO and all the variants and variables and now that I've caught on to those, I get to wade through the valley of emoticons and understand when people are happy, ;-), uncertain ;-/ , or sad, ;-( and when they're telling me to go chase myself, ;-P.

I once had the most wonderful penmanship in the sixth grade, and somewhere I still have the A. N. Palmer Method Certificate of Excellence, signed by Sister May Immaculata, Mother superior herself to prove it (her signature left a LOT to be desired as I remember it). Now I need to have the hardest working opposable thumbs in show business, tapping in a frenzy of semi-Morse code to tell the peeps in my posse I'm ;-O to still be on the planet.
-bill kenny


KateGladstone said...

As a handwriting improvement specialist, my clients include so many adult survivors of Palmer-style instruction and/or nuns that I've occasionally contemplated re-naming my business "the Kate Gladstone Therapy Center for Recovering Catholics"!

Seriously, I have helped many "nun survivors," many left-handers (left-handers form about 15% of the world's population but over 50% of my client base), and many youngsters for whom writing had meant only "texting." (The "texting generation" seems to take particularly well to my decidedly non-Palmer approach.)

If the above interests you, drop me a line at

dweeb said...

As a FARC in more than handwriting, I've often wondered do you think John Hancock would've had better penmanship if he'd been raised in colonial Maryland, in light of Lord Baltimore's tolerance and forebearance, or would he have written more like a doctor? ;-) [hope you noticed my homage to texters right there]

Take care, Be good and stay well!