My penmanship has always been terrible, and I’ve always thought it was just the way it was. Some kids have it and some don’t, right? It didn’t help that I was always in a hurry and without patience for things like drawing straight lines, tracing round circles, cutting precisely on the dotted line, or coloring left-to-right within the lines. (I still shudder at the admonishment to “fill in all those white spots!”) In school, I wanted to be DONE and onto the next thing. Being the first one done with a worksheet was a badge of honor for me, not to mention other benefits like getting to read in the time left over, or playing in one of the classroom’s discovery areas. In other words, I was internally motivated and externally incentivized to finish, not necessarily to finish well. Sarah Schmidt might have been singled out and praised for a particularly fine rendition of “Billy throws the ball”on her worksheet, but look at me: I had an extra five minutes of playing Chutes and Ladders with my buddy Brad! Who really won the day?

I never had the natural talent for handwriting or art, so I just muddled through and treated those times like I did taking medicine or sitting through church. The lessons were to be endured, the worth of developing the skills never explored.

My handwriting was okay, I suppose. I did get teased for it, Mom thought I had real potential for becoming a doctor with handwriting like that. Sometimes I cringed when my teachers scrunched up their faces at my scribblings as they puzzled out what I meant. But by the time I hit junior high, it had settled into a style I like to call “legible enough.”

Later in life, I had an ah-ha moment in a corporate training class where the instructor mentioned his brother had a greater natural talent for playing piano, but wasn’t nearly the player that he was. It took the instructor longer to reach the same level of initial accomplishment as his brother but he kept on with the lessons long after his brother had gotten bored with the piano and stopped playing. The takeaway being that any skill can be learned and improved, natural talent notwithstanding. A person could learn to do anything, given enough time and practice.

Somehow for me, that led to taking a drawing 101 class in my 20’s and learning how to actually draw what my eyes were seeing rather than the symbols my head were telling me to draw. I learned about negative spaces. I had the patience to sit for hours and just practice. By the end, the drawings actually looked realistic and not like my usual cartoon doodles.

Fast-forward 20 years and I’ve developed a journaling habit. I decide to look over some old entries and I can’t make out what the hell I was writing about. It may not have been all that interesting, but what if it was an idea or mid-babble turn of phrase that I could use later? What if I wrote in a clean hand? I’d bet it come in handy and not just with journaling. Maybe I wouldn’t have to translate the grocery list for the rest of the family either!

So me being me, I jumped down the rabbit hole of handwriting styles. One of the things I learned was the styles of handwriting I learned in elementary school, Zanner-Bloser, aka “ball-and-stick” print and simplified cursive, isn’t really ergonomic and quickly leads to hand cramps, but isn’t a terrible choice in a world where typewriters exist. I discovered older styles like Palmer, Spencerian, and the elaborate Copperplate, which have different holds and arm positions, and then stumbled across Italic.

No, not italic. Italic. Probably what you think of when you think of calligraphy. Digging into the ergonomics of it, it’s written from the wrist, rather than the fingers (Zanner-Bloser) or shoulder (19th century “business handwriting” styles). While I thought writing out grocery lists like Thomas Jefferson and the US Constitution would be pretty bad-ass, there were many convincing arguments that Italic was an equally bad-ass style that was just as quick as cursive, more legible, and ergonomically okay. I made my choice and jumped in.

So yeah, I’m learning calligraphy. I have stub-nibbed fountain pens bleeding ink all over the page and across my fingers. I purchased a paper-like gripping screen protector for my iPad so I can practice with PDFs on the couch. It’s been a month now and I can’t say my new style is any more legible than my old one, but neither is is illegible. Right now it’s just different. Like a Germanic monk was put in charge of the grocery list and can’t resist adding serifs to every letter. I’m watching YouTube videos and reading workbooks from dudes in the 1970s showing how to form the letters and hold the pen.

It has so much old man energy that I’m liable to start looking at cardigans and taking up smoking a pipe. All because I tried reading an old journal entry and couldn’t read what I had written.

No. All because I wanted an extra 5 minutes of Chutes and Ladders in first grade. I bet Sarah Schmidt’s grocery lists are a delight to look upon and she spends her evenings at her leisure and not hunched over a desk copying out the alphabet and writing about quick brown foxes like I am.

Wanna go down the rabbit hole with me? Here’s where I started:

A short primer on Italic Handwriting: https://penvibe.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Handwriting-Repair-Guidebook.pdf

There’s a standing list of Free, Helpful Resources for all handwriting styles at the r/Handwriting subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/Handwriting/

The workbook I’m following: The Italic Way to Beautiful Handwriting by Fred Eager. It’s out of print, but you can find it online from places like AbeBooks.com for less than you’d pay at Amazon.

Reader Goodies

A motley collection of starship captain, pirate, 12-year-old princess, human digital intelligence, artificial intelligence and ancient admiral find themselves caught when a galaxy-wide network attack strikes the heads of state and reprograms them into into cannibal zombies.The human purists (aka space nazis) behind it all are hell-bent on liberating humans from the abhorrent gene mods, cybernetics, and AI robots because that’s their ideology, I guess. If you’re looking for nuanced philosophical debates, don’t ask space opera. It’s here for the action, adventure, and witty one-liners.

This well-written, enjoyable story doesn’t apologize for what it is, with homages to Firefly (reavers) and Ian M Banks (artificial intelligences with extra-dimensional brains and emoting via colored shields). If there’s any nit-picking, it’s that the space princess is a little overly precocious at times but that’s a familiar trope so I can overlook it. The Cruel Stars is a fun romp and I will likely pick up book 2 when it’s time to restock my kindle.

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