I’ve bought some dumb stuff in my life, but one item, superlatively dumb, is also rather wonderful. It’s a printing plate of Goethe’s handwriting. What makes it dumb is 1) I can’t read German very well, 2) it’s in cursive, and 3) the handwriting is backwards.

But it’s Goethe’s handwriting! And through the miracle of modern science, I could flip it around.

There are relics, artifacts, greeting cards, inscriptions in books and letters I’ve semi-unconsciously stowed away in random places so I could be surprised by them during erratic sprees of cleaning and sorting. My Grandma Beall’s dedication in the front of the pocket-sized new testament. There’s a letter from my Grandfather Beall to his nephews expressing his condolences and giving his thoughts on the death of their father, his brother. My dad’s scrawling barely legible message on the flyleaf of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam he gave me the last Christmas he was alive.


Sometimes I stumble upon the handwriting of my Grandmother Kennedy who wrote me letters even though she was essentially blind. There are all of  my Aunt Jo’s little notes with their humor and always the message, “We still like you.” There are the letters sent by my brother, full of news and humor, lettered rather than “written”  (he was a cartoonist) — ending up asking for money (always).


There has been so much debate in recent years about whether cursive handwriting should still be taught to children in this, the age of digital electronics. Of course, I believe it SHOULD be taught if only because it’s a skill that helps kids develop the small muscles in their hands and could make them better painters, scientists and, un, coders. But I also think that handwriting, as it evolves in a person’s lifetime, is a sign of life, a memento slightly less ephemeral than breath.

26 thoughts on “Cursive

  1. Even if you understand and can read German, German writing is not always the same. They seem to have various styles. One was Spitzschrift, another Kurrentschrift. When I began to read the german classics Mr. Swiss gave me Der Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse to read as he thought it would be a good idea. It was a good idea I was leaning about german classics. I had already got through Buddenbrooks so I was all set. Unfortunately Hesse included a very large capital in the old print where the “f” was actually an “s” I think, or perhaps the other way around. I did it, I read it but it was not easy. It was like something from the German Newspapers of the war years. I am sure that Goethe did not make it easy for us to decipher what he wrote.

  2. You have some lovely mementos. I don’t have anything like that. Just some old farm tools and implements that belonged to my granddad and my dad and some of my mother’s kitchen utensils and dishes and a few pieces of furniture that are of the 30’s and 40’s. But these are things to be treasured no matter the worth. All the things that we have kept mean something.

    And yes, everybody should learn how to write. I think it is ridiculous to not know how to write. It is not anything difficult.

    • Toward the end of my teaching career, I had several students who could not read what I wrote on the board in cursive. They demanded that I print for them. Another nail in the coffin… 😉

      • Another nail in the coffin is exactly right! If we need to teach students to write cursive, then we also need to teach them make eye contact when someone speaks to them. Martha, this is my age showing, but I don’t see progress just because a pre-K student knows how to operate a computer. What about the basics? Ugh, sad, sad, sad.

        • Well, since they’ll live in a computer world, using a computer is probably one of the basics now. But I agree with you; there’s more going on in education than just subject matter — there are skills, social skills among them.

      • Oh my goodness. I am reeling in shock. I thought everybody new how to read and write cursive.

        Apparently I am not with the times. I feel for young folks. Most don’t know squat about geography either- at least some that I have spoken with.

  3. Our handwriting, as it changes, really shows how life has affected us. I used to study it a little bit. Not to the left of expert, but enough to get a sense of the person whose writing I was looking at. In Israel, you had to submit a handwriting sample with your resume. They believed.

  4. Well, it’s not really about cursive, as such, but…you are such a cool writer, I had to put you on the list–even though you probably have been nominated many times.

    Dear Blogger:
    I am recently nominated for The Liebster Award. I have chosen to accept the award and to do what is required. One requirement is to “pay it forward”: to nominate other bloggers. So I have chosen to nominate you for this award whose purpose is “mainly a fun way for bloggers to encourage each other, and partake in the fun of blogging,” says the WP Support Staff.

    I do hope you will consider participating in the project. Thanks. If you want to read my project completion, look at my recent blog posting: “‘And the Award Goes to…’: My Liebster Award”

    Here is the information you will need to complete your tasks if you decide to accept. Good luck. (I have also included a link to a blogger’s page that helped me better understand the formalities; it came from the WP Support Staff: “The Liebster award is not managed by, but here’s a post from a blogger describing how you can take part in that.”):

    The “Official” Rules of the Liebster Award

    If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you:
    1. thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
    2. display the award on your blog–by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget.” (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
    3. answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
    4. provide 11 random facts about yourself.
    5. nominate 5-11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)
    6. create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
    7. list these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
    8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (They might not have ever heard of it!) [You’ll see that there have been variations on these.]

    So: Have at it: Here are your questions from me for you to answer (which you will also find on my blog posting):

    Who is the most important person in your life today? Have you seen a good movie lately? What made it good? Did your schooling connect to your life? What makes you angry? For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
    For a person you loved deeply, would you be willing to move to a distant country knowing there would be little chance of seeing your friends or family again? What is your most treasured memory?
    Which sex do you think has it easier in your culture?
    What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
    Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as your dinner guest?
    What do you like best about your life?


    You do know, of course, that I read many more–and I do not know whether you have been nominated before and have declined. But the idea is to look at those sites you might not know.

    This was a project. I needed some help, but it did get me in touch with other bloggers and did make me do some personal inventory that was all right.

    Sincerely, JAMES F. O’NEIL

    • James, thank you but after doing a couple of awards, I realized they’re just not my thing. I truly appreciate the compliment, though!

  5. I think it is disgraceful that schools are/will not be teaching cursive anymore, after all, the Declaration of Independence was not typed, how will historic documents be read if no one knows how to read cursive, much less write it. Bravo Martha! Great post!

  6. I would think even if unreadable it’s still quite col to be able to said ‘I’ve got a printing plate of Goethe’s handwriting’ .. pretty awesome in fact 🙂

  7. Lovely post Martha! I agree that we should continue to write using a pen or pencil.
    It’s lovely seeing a child develop these skills. Thank you for your follow! xx

    • I “unfollowed” nearly everyone when I was trying to figure out how to set up my page for my novels. Now I get the pleasure of rediscovering people! 🙂

  8. I have ‘unfollowed’ many too, mainly to limit my time, and unclog the incoming emails! Though Reader doesn’t really cover all of my previous bloggers….. 😦

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