*Featured Image: “MAGA (I Know Words, I Have The Best Words)” By Norton Pease 2017,
Oil, enamel and glitter on canvas
Pen 2 Paper
By Mary Street
Miss Fisher strode into my first grade classroom like a 1950s fashion model on a runway. From her permanent-waved hair to her open-toed high heels, she was a diva driven by perfection. She taught the Palmer Penmanship method with the zeal of a dedicated scribe. The next hour was going to be serious business, requiring special exercises to prepare for Cursive Writing Mode.
“Boys and girls, sit up straight and begin your arm exercises now.”
A sea of tiny arms flailed up and down in the aisles. We flapped with vigor like crazed birds taking flight.
“Very good. Now we limber up our wrists. Everyone: elbows on your desktop, wrists limp. And . . . shake your hands to release all tension.”
Our little hands wobbled back and forth in a fury. Giggling burbled like a ripple over still water as Miss Fisher headed for her penmanship supplies on her desk.
“Class, you will now carefully pick up your cursive writing pen,” she directed, lifting hers with manicured fingertips. “Be sure the nib is secured in place.”
We held the wooden shaft with reverence. It was sleek and special, a grown-up tool. We placed the pens at the top of our desks, then with both hands unscrewed our ink jars nested in the corner of each desk. We dipped. It was divine.
She placed her pen back in its case and walked to the blackboard, and with a piece of chalk she fashioned a large white oval on the board. When one revolution was complete, she continued swirling over the same oval track. After several revolutions, she swerved to the center of the oval, then made dramatic vertical marks three more times. With a flourish to the right side of the oval, she lifted the chalk from the board. Like an orchestra conductor, the chalk her baton, she turned back to her rapt audience and said: Proceed.
Nibs tinking the lip of glass ink jars resounded in the room. Errant blobs of ink spattered here and there. Pens scraped across cheap paper as we scribes soldiered into Oval Land.
She taught us the charms of the alphabet. Letters have bowls and tails. The cursive letter begins with a loop from the base line to its ceiling, then swoops back down to form a bowl, ending at midpoint with a lyric tail ready to connect with the next letter. Like Jack in the Pulpit, the letter is ready to catch a raindrop in its bowl.
I discovered that letters pair off into new forms. In the lowercase family, jelly bean a mates with Jack in the Pulpit to produce and . . . is the first to drop below the line, and follows suit with a nod to . . . and are first cousins . . . even , and are triplets who turn and upside down.
At the end of the year, each child received a Palmer Penmanship pin, worn proudly that day, and then tossed into the pencil box with nibs and shaft. I keep them now like talismans.
When I was in my thirties, living at Lake Tahoe, I took a calligraphy class for fun. Our teacher passed out pens, paper and ink, then drew chalk examples on the board. She called them alluring, and she was right. The pleasure of those first attempts back in elementary school returned to my fingertips. The resistance of the steel nib gliding along the paper, the glow of fresh ink left in its wake, it all came back in a rush of voluptuous pleasure.
All my life I have put pen to paper on a regular basis, corresponding with family and friends in faraway places. It has been a delight to find an envelope posted to me in response, to slowly slash the sealed edge, to connect with the sender through words on a page. But handwriting is becoming a lost art now that digital gadgets can do the job. Some children today have difficulty deciphering cursive script. Has it become the Rosetta Stone for millennials? Time will tell.
Out of respect for Miss Fisher and the writing army she created, I am sending a letter of complaint to the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. I will use deluxe cream- colored vellum stationery and a fine pen with seductive black ink. I will say:
To Whom It May Concern: Writing a lovely script with an implement in one’s hand has been an integral part of civilization’s evolution. From a whittled branch to a feathered quill, a sable bristle brush and sumi ink, a lead pencil or ballpoint pen, man has made his mark. Manuscripts on papyrus scrolls, the Book of Kells, the Magna Carta, the Constitution, census records from long ago stored on microfiche and written by hand, correspondence bound in ribbon and stored in a drawer for thirty years! To those who allow this history to be washed over by a digital tsunami, I say U R N TROUBLE!
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