I’ve always noticed that my writing looks better in pencil than in pen. And I know I’m not alone in noticing this. Didn’t most of us, after all, learn to write using pencils?

The fact that my own writing looks better in pencil is probably from eight years of handwriting classes at Catholic school. I remember using some jumbo black pencils with thick lead to write with in the first grade. Our pencils had no erasers, and they were just…unpleasant to hold, let alone write with. And there was that thin newsprint-like writing paper that Sister Theresa Mary insisted we use, since it had huge lines to write on, with the centers being dotted lines — all in pale blue on puke-tan colored paper. It performed like compressed toilet paper and would instantly tear if you tried to erase anything you had written on it, especially since the eraser-free pencils required six year olds to attempt to wield something like a Pink Pearl to erase an accidentally-crossed L or some such. And no one wanted to deal with a nun who had a temper but was recently no longer allowed to spank us when they ripped a page. So we learned to write perfectly in pencil in fear of Sister Theresa Mary’s considerably loud yelling.

By the second grade, when we learned cursive writing, we were allowed to use whatever wooden #2 pencils we wanted to. I honestly can’t remember what brand I had, since my mother would have provided me with ample pencils that I would never have even seen in the box (probably G.I. Joe pencils or something like that). But I remember that we all had to learn to write perfectly and uniformly and according to those charts and the perfectly scripted two-feet-high letters our teacher put on the chalkboard. I remember that my handwriting went downhill in the third or fourth grade (don’t remember which) when we were allowed to use the shoddy mechanical pencils available in the 80s. And I remember that it went further downhill in the fifth grade when we were allowed to use ballpoint pens.

I kept up with my handwriting a little, however, since our sadistic (don’t ask) principal in middle school required even all middle schoolers to take handwriting lessons when she felt that the school’s penmanship was being neglected. These lessons, of course, required yellow #2 pencils and pink erasers.

While no longer in fear of ill-tempered nuns (the only two mean ones I ever had taught me to write), my handwriting still looks best and most uniform in pencil. Whenever I ditch the gel pens and the markers and the keyboard, my own natural penmanship comes out in wooden pencil, freely and fearlessly. Or is it just Charlie and I?

7 thoughts on “Handwriting.”

  1. There is a lot less fear in writing with a pencil. Mistakes are easier to correct and there are never ink-flow issues. I can let my guard down with pencils and my handwriting is much more relaxed. It’s similar to going on a date in a dress (pen) and going to the market with a friend in jeans (pencil). I’m not going to be fussy about my jeans, I’m just going to relax in them. Pencils are comfortable, they keep us real.

  2. I know a woman who teaches in the Philadelphia, PA (USA) public schools. Apparently, they do not teach cursive writing anymore. “The children will pick it up themselves.”

    My daughter came home with that practically dissolving paper when she was learning how to write. It instantly brought back memories of how we only got one shot at erasing it, otherwise there was nothing left to write on. I’ve never gone to Catholic school but your description fits right in with what I’ve heard. Pity the left-handed people!

  3. This is awesome, John — my Catholic grade school experience was very much the same: thick, eraserless, navy- blue pencil, thin, triple-blue-lined paper, and a Pink Pearl eraser.

    Speaking of those pencils, do you have any recollection of what kind of pencil it was? I was going to look for one to add to my collection, since it comprised so much of my life.

    I always figured my handwriting anxiety stemmed from my being left-handed. Like your nuns not being able to hit you anymore, my nuns were not allowed to force-correct my handwriting, so I always felt like they were exerting undue pressure on me to write left-handed “correctly.” If I still kept in contact with the only other left-hander in my grade, I would ask her what her experience was, looking back.

    1. The ones we used didn’t have any markings at all. They just had a bad, semi-gloss black finish. If I could find them, I’d like two. One for memories, one for fire! I imagined Sr. Teresa Mary making them herself, out of pure evil. :)

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