Handwriting vs. Typing, Part II

One last thought on handwriting, concerning the way we all view our penmanship with some blend of curiosity, vanity and shame:

  • “Wow, my handwriting is terrible.”
  • “Wow, my handwriting is beautiful.”
  • “Wow, I haven’t done this in months, except to sign credit card receipts.”

I don’t believe anyone is indifferent about how their handwriting looks any more than I believe anyone is indifferent about how their face and body look. Sure, maybe some people care more than others, but everyone cares, or notices, at least a little.

And when we’re writing by hand, we have no choice but to look at our own handwriting. So whatever opinion we have of it is a constant presence in our brains as we engrave the page.

What I’m of course suggesting is that nice, orderly handwriting is more likely to be spelling out nice, orderly thoughts, maybe with a tinge of pride. Ragged, chaotic handwriting is more likely to trace the mouth of madness.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I base this on extensive, peer-reviewed research (LOL, JK, LMAO et al., 2004, pp. 210-219). Look, I’m not saying the shopping list of someone with bad handwriting is necessarily going to be something out of Kafka. But I also don’t accept that there’s no connection at all between penmanship and content.

In typing, your Arial and my Arial look equally stylish, your Comic Sans and my Comic Sans look equally ridiculous. They don’t reflect anything back at us. Maybe the few handwriting advocates out there benefit from the mirror effect of looking at their beautiful or hideous calligraphy, while for the rest of us it’s just a distraction.

Wait, does that mean the computer can actually remove a writing distraction? Mind officially blown.

For some interactive fun on the subject, check this out.

And here’s my ridiculous handwriting (of this blog post). Probably more legible out-of-focus and backwards anyway:



Handwriting vs. Typing, Part I

“Only know that handwriting and pressing the keys with your fingers are two different physical activities, and a slightly different state of mind comes from each one. Not better or worse, just different.”

-Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend From Far Away

Then she goes on to take some not-so-subtle digs at typing, including this doomsday scenario presumably aimed at impoverished MFA candidates: “What if you can’t afford to pay your electric bill? You should still be able to write.” Natalie’s partisanship continues throughout the chapter.

It’s disappointing (or maybe it’s fun) when sides are taken over something that is just plain fascinating. Handwriting and typing, especially computer-typing, are the differentest (yeah, not a word) of different experiences. The words may burble from the same magma, but they ooze down entirely different sides of the volcano.

Doing it the way you and I are doing it now gives us straight lines and a cursor that blinks like an eager personal assistant. And the delete key. The delete key is just a monster, a game-changer (in the Ivan Drago sense).

On the screen we can instantly rearrange the flow of ideas with cut, copy and paste, or we can jet between sections, strafing them with a few lines–even a few words–each time. Nothing is permanent, anything can be moved. How can this not affect what we actually write?

Or we can grind ink or graphite against a substance made from live plants, feel the tendons in our hand strain as blood rushes to oxygenate them, let our skin drag through the words and become darkened (more a problem for lefties). It is a more visceral experience.

We may have an eraser or, hah!, Wite-Out–as though any writer on a roll wants to wait for Wite-Out to dry in the heat of the moment. But there’s nothing even approaching the text-manipulation deity tricks possible between the keyboard and screen.  It is much more permanent, even if you throw it in the fire later.

I’ll pick this up tomorrow with some totally unfounded opinions regarding what our handwriting says about to us.

(P.S. As we consider handwriting “vs.” typing, isn’t the strikethrough a clever idea?)


“You just read that in a book somewhere!”

“Langdon smiled. ‘You must be a teacher too.’

‘No, but I learned from a master. My father could argue two sides of a Möbius Strip.’

Langdon laughed, picturing the artful crafting of a Möbius Strip, a twisted ring of paper, which technically possessed only one side. Langdon had first seen the single-sided shape in the artwork of M.C. Escher.”

-Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

The point of this post isn’t to stir up another picnic cooler of Dan Brown haterade, but to consider how to explain complicated technical things in a piece of “lay” writing, especially fiction.

And just try full-throttling through a Dan Brown book without realizing the difficulty of this. We’ve got Robert Langdon, this Harvard man who knows a lot about a lot, and he keeps the company of Europeans who, bien sûr, know even more.

References to things like Möbius Strips zing around like fat black flies when Langdon is talking (or listening, in which case he usually catches the bugs easily in his sleek intellectual chopsticks). Quickie histories of sects, subsects, sex subsects, they’re always there when you need them.

And you do need them. Dan Brown’s stories rely on the reader knowing certain factoids–often arcane ones–to make the next scene work. Nothing is more important than communicating them, even if it forces Langdon to woodenly “remember” things he’s learned in his tenure-track studies.

At its worst moments, these briefings are so incongruous with the way people’s interior and exterior monologues play (I know that sounds presumptuous, but just read any chapter of A & D and tell me I’m wrong), that it throws a splash of cold water on that great dream he’s put us in.

Again, the point of this post isn’t to dump manure on Dan Brown, who does plenty of things well in his books.

I wonder if there is a right way to get this sort of info into the story while maintaining the flesh and blood of the characters? I am just now recalling some real howlers I wrote in college full of long Ayn Rand declamations about how music affects the brain, how the oil industry started in Saudi Arabia, and other things loosely adapted from Wikipedia. I bet Dan Brown’s sources were better.

The point of this post is actually to ask you to check out my other weblog where I’m posting some short fiction that has caused me to think hard about this lately.

The perils of connecting “Rock” to “Roll”

  1. “Rock n’ Roll”
  2. “Rock ‘n Roll”
  3. “Rock ‘n’ Roll”

Oxford New American gives its blessing to #3, but Oh Sherrie, err, oh man, do I see #1 and #2 used with reckless abandon everywhere and anywhere. We can probably agree that “rock ? roll” is all about reckless abandon so there’s no reason to get excited about the ambiguity.

As a replacer of letters, the apostrophe dates back to the 1500s (1500’s?) per the ONA. Since then it has been our magic bullet when we want to make stodgy words dance like colloquialisms.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves Madame Lynne Truss draws the distinction between the way the apostrophe simply “indicates the omission of letters” and the way it “indicates strange non-standard English.”

So which is “Rock ‘n’ Roll”?  For that matter, which is “Pork ‘n’ Beans“?  An expedient omission or a piece of vernacular? Should we take the Oxfordians at their 24-carat word, or reinterpret the proper use every ten years like a true rock star?


Photo Friday

Does this seriously happen every 24 hours?  I hope your summer is off to a good start.

Wait, Which Friday Night?

Last  The last issue of The Economist implies its extinction; prefer last week’s or the latest issue.” 

The Economist Style Guide

Does it imply that? Oxford New American Dictionary concedes that “last” can mean “most recent in time; latest”. But that’s definition #2.  #1 is “coming after all others in time or order; final.”

No one would fault the preference for #1, but the Style Guide is speaking with a conspicuous lack of British restraint in trying to strike #2 from the lexicon.

The context would need to be nonexistent or at least very specific for any intelligent reader to think that “the last Bagehot column was a bloody disgraceful wankfest” means that the bloody disgraceful wankfest was the final Bagehot column.

It seems here that the E is trying to impose order on a snowflake by pushing for a style rule on “last”. The system is policing itself, don’t tread on it.

Here’s a Link

I came across a great post today on another writing blog.  It’s better than the one I would have written here.  Far be it from me to add to the white noise of the internet.


“I need to bring up radio station KFKD, or K-Fucked, here. . .Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”

-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Please to forgive the long quote. It’s all there because it’s such an important thing to recognize. Its nail-through-the-heart correctness strikes at the root of every bad work habit writers have. And it’s wise enough to make one look past the irritating cords of neurosis that almost strangle Anne Lamott’s great book on the craft.

No matter what the writer is writing, his memories and fantasies are swirling around his brain along with the plasma from which he eventually pulls the next sentence. They can be valuable in supporting roles, but once they’re allowed to mug for the camera the show’s over. Go check Facebook and your e-mail and Twitter again. Come back and try again in an hour. . .  past the deadline.

If it’s been a while since you read Bird by Bird, dust it off.  It will put KFKD on hiatus for at least a moment.


O(h), O(h), O(h) It’s Magic, You Know

Is it “O Face” or “Oh Face”?

O, oh.  O is confined almost exclusively to religious and poetic contexts.  By convention it is always capitalized and never followed by punctuation.

-Bill Bryson, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words

James Joyce snuck it through, but good luck to anyone else using “O” in a way that isn’t all the worst kinds of self-aware. It’s kind of a shame, since “O” is appealing not just for its simplicity but also its utter symmetrical roundness. It looks like something Oddjob could throw and behead a stone statue.

So sometime in the middle 16th century “O” picked up an “h” on the end. The OED offers this in its “Oh” entry:

Etymology: Variant of O int., probably intended to express a longer or stronger sound.”

Longer and stronger sound. Ohhhhhhhhhh, I get it. Maybe. Still, why? What was wrong with “O”? Did someone decide something so elegant should be reserved for special occasions?

Thanks a lot! Even if it once did, the “h” no longer pulls its weight, perfectly illustrated here:

The “O” is carrying the honey, the grahams, the grains, everything… the lazy “h” is just along for the ride.

Although not quite the all-purpose Leatherman multi-tool that Yiddish has in “Nu”, O(h) is the most versatile morpheme available to us. Disappointment, surprise, enlightenment, Oh Face–you can have a whole day’s worth of agony and ecstasy with little else to express yourself. It’s an important word, and its aesthetically nicer version is off-limits in everyday writing.

Oh well.