Stories Told

I wouldn’t be a writer were it not for the computer

Much hullabaloo was made in June when the Indiana Department of Education sent a memo to schools that made teaching cursive handwriting optional and emphasized teaching keyboarding skills. The decision touched a statewide nerve, and the responses were binary: hands were wrung, or relief was sighed.

All of my sons, I’m sure, are in the latter camp. My 12- and 14-year-old sons discarded cursive shortly after they learned it, rebuffing my protests that cursive writing is faster than printing. My 26-year-old stepson was compelled to use cursive in school, but has printed ever since. I believe he’s representative of his generation – this anti-cursive sentiment is not a recent development.

I was taught the dreaded Palmer Method in elementary school in the 1970s, but never got the hang of it. I hated writing in cursive until I was about 13 when I decided to heck with Palmer and adapted his method to suit me. My hand became legible and writing in script became a pleasure. But then my teachers started asking me to write papers, and handwriting became a drag again. I’d write, rewrite, and re-rewrite until I had all the words arranged to my satisfaction. Then I’d write a final clean, legible copy. It took forever. I decided that if I had to go through all that, then I hated writing!

Looking for relief, in the eighth grade I took a class in touch typing. Row after row of Olympia typewriters just like that one filled the classroom. But I found no joy on them, as I found typing to be difficult. It was work pressing those keys hard enough to get the typebars to reach the platen. An A in typing required 40 words per minute, but by the end of the semester I managed a dismal 14 words per minute. The less said about the corresponding grade the better.

But then my dad bought me a Commodore 64, which was a watershed moment in my life not only because I taught myself to write code on it but because it finally made typing a pleasure. Light pressure on any key made its character instantly appear on the screen. When I entered college, one of my roommates let me use his PC and word-processing program to type my papers. My typing skill and speed increased dramatically, to the point where I could type almost as fast as my brain could think. The mechanical process of transcribing my words was no longer a barrier in the writing process, and I began to enjoy writing. After college, I took several jobs as a writer and editor and thus fed my family for 14 years.

I type blazingly fast today. Is it any wonder that when I have anything substantial to write, I want to do it at the computer? But that doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy, and often miss, putting an actual pen to actual paper. Perhaps I should take up writing and mailing short notes and cards to my friends and family. If enough people did that, maybe the United States Postal Service wouldn’t be so strapped for cash.

The other thing I came to enjoy in school was singing. It sustains me. Read that story.