The earliest I remember realizing what handwriting meant was in my kindergarten. Nursery was more about learning basic numbers, letters and a few simple words, so I had no idea what handwriting was, nevermind knowing the importance of it. By the time I was in the 1st grade however, my parents and my teachers would fret about my handwriting, regularly reminding me about how important having a good handwriting was. My brain by then had somewhat grasped the idea that nice handwriting meant being a good student.
However, there was one problem. Having a good handwriting meant a lot of effort. It was less about learning how to arrange the letters in a nicer way and more about regular practice. And the opportunity to do that, i.e. regular practice, would come almost every week in the form of homework. Whenever a teacher ran out of content, the homework would be the default “Write two pages of handwriting.” I still vividly remember some of these handwriting homework sessions under the supervision of my mom where I would feel genuinely tired after the chore.
After a point, it got to be too much for me. So I just started writing according to my will, trying my best to stay on the down low, hoping the teachers would not notice. But since I was in a classroom with a small group where everyone knew just about anyone, keeping a low profile was just a pipe dream. Soon, I was one of the top names in the hit-list of bad writings in my class.
One thing that made me feel better about the whole situation was that the ones who had good handwriting (which if I’m honest, was the majority of the class) would write way slower compared to us hit-listers. So, whenever we used to be reprimanded for our bad writing, I used to find solace in the fact that at least we were better at pace.
And that was how I fell into trap number 1.
Trap Number 1:
That is, coming up with your own reasons to make excuses for your deficiencies and even justify it.
And Trap Number 1 soon propelled me into trap number 2.
Trap Number 2:
Either you have a knack for some skill, or you don’t.
That is, regular practice won’t be of much help, and would rather be a waste of time.
Following the path of my own theories, I had kind of given up on trying to put extra effort into having good handwriting. I was rather happy with my ‘fast-paced bad handwriting’ than the ‘snail-paced neat handwriting’ (the exact term I used for slower paced writing). Thus, in a battle of pace vs aesthetics, I had chosen to go with the pace.
To be honest, it was not that I could not learn how to write well. I once finished in the top 3 position in an annual handwriting competition in my school, because the rules (or lack thereof) meant I could just focus on writing two neat pages of handwriting in two hours. The innocent 10-year-old me thought that maybe if I did good in the competition, my teachers would cut me some slack and get off of my back. But that actually made everything worse, as after that incident my teachers would just call me lazy, reminding me how I was able to write so well in the competition.
I even used this trick to save my face in front of the relatives or guests, as it was a given that at one point they would be interested in seeing your handwriting. “Show Uncle/Aunt your handwriting” was a predictable social norm (or predicament in my case) of the society I grew up in. And since I could not show them my real handwriting, I would often bring them an almost new notebook with just two first pages written in neat competition-mode handwriting.
Back in my school, I had gotten used to the word lazy being tagged to me. (Honestly, I was not at all bothered). Add to that, my senior siblings (sisters and cousins) would tell me how handwriting won’t be given much importance after the primary level. So, by the time I was in 5th grade, I was already counting the days before the supposed freedom from handwriting scrutiny.
And they were right, it was not just some tale they made up to comfort me. The secondary level in school actually turned out to be the judgement-free utopia that I had always dreamt of. Teachers cared more about Algebra and Science, and my knowledge in different matters; and less about neat handwriting. (Although I would still occasionally get to hear those magical words – “Improve your handwriting”).
Then came the biggest heartbreak of all.
Around the same time, I discovered something that was more heartbreaking than all the handwriting rebukes I had received in primary school. Some of my friends who earlier had snail-paced neat handwriting had actually morphed into some fast paced pen warriors, but with their same neat handwriting intact. They were somehow able to write as fast as I could (or even faster) without compromising their handwriting even by a bit (or letter in this case).
The realization had finally struck me. The teachers were right. I had missed the trick, big time.
Trap Number 2 had fallen apart. And finally, I learned my handwriting Lesson Number 1.
Lesson Number 1:
Learning usually takes time and it is completely okay to learn at your own pace. The key to any learning is putting consistent effort, and yes, practice.
No sooner had I realized the trap I had woven for myself, I unknowingly fell into the trap number 3.
Trap Number 3:
That it was too late to improve my handwriting now.
After all, new concepts like Trigonometry and Vectors were coming in thick and fast, and none one of the teachers gave that “Write two pages of handwriting” homework anymore. Therefore, I decided to focus more on learning those new concepts rather than dwell on what I had missed out on. I also had to work extra hard in my studies to make up for the ‘lost points’, thanks to my not so good handwriting, as it was a well established theory (or conspiracy?) that the ones with bad handwriting would be penalized in exams just because of their lacking penmanship.
Every time I would move up a grade in school, newer (and more complex) concepts would pop up faster than ever, and every time I would look back at the previous year and ponder with a tinge of regret, – “Ah, I had more time last year.”
It was always too late to improve my handwriting in the present and never too late in hindsight. And thus Trap Number 3 had come apart as well. And handwriting Lesson Number 2 learned in the process.
Lesson Number 2:
It is never too late to improve on something.
By this point in my life, I had taken for granted that my not-so-good handwriting (being extremely generous with the adjective here) would haunt me through out my professional life. Then came a breakthrough – in the form of ultimate omnipresent omnipotent saviour – to pull me out of my handwriting misery.
Computers had made their way into almost any profession.
And I was saved big time, for almost every professional today barely has to use their handwriting and the ones who still have to write for their work occasionally have their handwriting just as bad as mine (*remembers his doctor friends*).
Looking back, my handwriting journey always brings a smile to my face. Every time I stumble on my old handwriting notes, I take a pause to reminisce those happy early school days.
I know I had to face a lot of rebuke and judgement because of it, but it also symbolises some of the best years of my life – a bittersweet (mostly sweet) memory, simply put. But more importantly, it also reminds me of the insidious traps I had/have fallen into and the powerful lessons it has taught me.
Whenever I try to learn anything new now and absolutely suck at the beginning, I remind myself of those ‘snail-paced’ writers who were able to improve their pace eventually. And whenever I think it is too late to learn something, I remind myself of my 14-year-old self who would every year think it was too late to improve his handwriting and regret about it a year later.
Of course, I haven’t used these lessons to improve my handwriting still (I’m sure you’re not surprised). And again (not surprisingly), I have come up with a new explanation for my action, or rather an excuse to be precise – that I don’t need neat handwriting in today’s computer-driven world. That’s right folks, Trap Number 1 is still going strong! (as you might have also noticed from the counting, hence 3 traps and only 2 lessons)
The mere fact that I am typing now on my laptop and not using my handwriting makes me feel less guilty about my excuse. But you never know, maybe someday I will get out of Trap Number 1 too. (* I wouldn’t hold my breath though.*)
I, however, have started applying my handwriting lessons (at least of late) in other small spheres of my life – especially in battling Trap Number 2 and 3.
I started reading quite late into my life, and now it has become a part of me. I even started learning Spanish a year ago again (after giving up learning it in Spain of all places) and I am currently on a 405 days streak on Duolingo. I recently also started a streak of running at least some distance everyday, which lasted a good few months before coming into an indefinite halt again (*just uttered the word sorry 3 times to my ‘future’ fit-self*).
But the relaxing part is that I feel more relaxed now in starting something new. I know I am not in race with anyone now, and that my snail-paced skill will one day become second nature to me. So, I have decided to use my handwriting lessons to improve my writing skill now. (*See, at least the second part (writing) I am trying to improve right away. Maybe the first part (hand) will also come into the picture someday*).
I also hope to revisit this piece someday, and complete it with one more lesson to counter the imbalance in number – that is make it ‘3 Traps and 3 Lessons’ by overcoming the still ongoing Trap Number 1 from above. And my quest for overcoming that remaining trap (and finding that missing lesson) will be driven by my two other lessons – that it is never too late, and slow regular practice will surely get me there one day.
Lastly, I would like to end my article with a popular Chinese proverb that happens to be not only my favourite proverb, but also kind of dovetails with my handwriting lessons.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.”