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Friday, December 20, 2013


Terry Shames currently lives in Berkeley, CA, but her imagination is always stirred by the strange mix that makes up the vast landscape and human drama of Texas, where she grew up. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Thanks once again to Lois Winston for hosting me on her blog. And happy holidays to everyone! This is not holiday-related, but it is something that seems to be on a lot of people’s minds:

Several school systems have decided not to teach cursive writing to children. Cursive? You know, the writing you use when you write a thank you note or the writing your grandmother or mother used when they sent you a letter. Apparently if your mother sends your daughter a note in the future written in her beautiful handwriting, your daughter won’t be able to read it. A lot of people are upset about this.

I, for one, won’t miss writing it. Oh, I love to read a note from someone with the ability to write perfect, elegant cursive. But that isn’t me. I’m too impatient. My cursive is a scrawl. If I really want someone to read what I write, I print. I’m not quite sure when this happened. I’m not a young person, but I did start early in the field of computers. When coding computer programs, I had to write block letters, so maybe that’s where it started. Or maybe it started when I began composing fiction on the computer.

Which brings me to the concept of change. In his novella “Chrysallis” the science fiction writer John Wyndam explores the excitement of change and how it must be embraced, because old ways harden and become rigid. I sometimes play a game with myself that I call, “What would George Washington think?” How would he respond to seeing someone walk up to a wall, push a button causing a slot in the wall to open to a little room, watching the person get into the room, and when the wall opens again, the person is gone? Or seeing someone walk up to a wall, punch in mysterious numbers and the wall spits out money?

We live in a time when change is accelerated. I have been meaning to learn more about Pinterest, but last week my son informed me that Pinterest is done—it’s all about Instagram now. And I read yesterday that young people are deserting Facebook for other, more intimate social sites. These are changes I can handle--but am I ready for driverless cars or houses that can be printed within hours from 3-D printers? Wait—maybe I can do driverless cars.

Our language changes constantly, too. The word of the year is “selfie,” a word no one even heard of a few years ago. Many things in common usage today drive me crazy—such as using “myself” when someone means “I” or “me.” Or the now-common language habit of putting oneself first in a sentence: “Myself and three friends went to town,” instead of  “Three friends and I went to town,” as I learned it. Ignoring the question of why this happened, my point is that the way we interact with language shifts and rearranges itself constantly. And writing changes with it.

A few years ago I attended the opera Manon Lescaut. The premise of the opera is that a French woman’s husband declared her an abandoned woman, and she was shipped off to the French colony of Louisiana. Apparently a French law in the 18th century declared that people could be shipped off to Louisiana for all manner of minor offenses—including a woman abandoned by her husband. The premise intrigued me, and I was determined to find out if that law really existed. In a law library I found the entire set of French written laws, and sure enough, there was the law written in 1720 and in effect for three years.

Next time I was in Paris, I went to the Police Museum to examine the lists of people shipped off under that law. The lists are handwritten in huge books that the library allowed me to read. Uh oh. Read is not exactly the word I would use. Of course it was in French, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the writing. It was not in cursive, but in printing that I could scarcely make out because the way letters were formed three hundred years ago was completely different. What looked like a capital S could be an F or a lower case s or even a g. By the time I was done pouring over it, people who had been working on their own projects were gathered around looking over my shoulder, fascinated at the amazing handwriting that we could barely decipher.

So I’m not worried about the loss of cursive any more than I am the loss of oddly shaped letters written in that French book of deportees. Three hundred years from now, cursive may simply be an oddity, along with a lot of other things we take for granted now.

The Last Death of Jack Harbin
Just before the outbreak of the Gulf War, two eighteen-year-old football starts and best friends from Jarrett Creek, Texas, signed up for the army. Woody Patterson was rejected and stayed home to marry the girl they both loved, while Jack Harbin came back from the war badly damaged. The men haven’t spoken since. They are about to reconcile when Jack is brutally murdered. With the chief of police out of commission, it’s up to trusted ex-chief Samuel Craddock to investigate. Against the backdrop of small-town loyalties and betrayals, Craddock discovers dark secrets of the past and present as he searches for Jack’s killer.

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Rose Anderson said...

Very interesting post, Terry. Best luck.

Victoria Adams said...

Great post. I'm like you - if I "write" something, I print.
The "myself and friends" thing - pendulums swing and in the current self-centered times - "I" matters most, but the pendulum will swing and it will return to - my friends and I/me.
Best of luck with your book.

E.Ayers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.Ayers said...

I love that they are teaching keyboarding and computing in kindergarten and first grade. But I think it's a huge mistake to remove cursive from the curriculum. We still use it. It's not dead yet! Plus, the children still need to know how to spell. The ability to communicate well, and in all forms, is important.

Embrace change? Yes! My grandmother was born before the first airplane ever flew and got to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. She saw lots of change. If she were still here, she'd own a smart phone!

Next time, I'll proof before I hit publish. LOL

Tracy Cooper-Posey said...

Very interesting! It's not something I've thought of before, as my kids are all done with schooling. While I'm not sure I agree with the loss of cursive writing, as I like the act of writing -- holding the pen, forming letters, etc., -- I do think that if they're going to teach kids keyboarding skills in primary school, then ten fingered typing should be mandatory. I learned touched typing at a very early age, and 70+ books later, I am SO glad I have that skill.

Kathleen Kaska said...

No wonder Louisiana has so many colorful folks. I've always wondered about the origin of my husband's family. This could explain a lot.
Thanks, Terry.

Terry Shames said...

Nice to know there are other "printers" out there. And, E. Ayers, I know it isn't dead yet. I think I was reacting to people who seem to think that not teaching cursive is the end of education. My question: Is it that hard to learn cursive? I can't remember. Anyone else?

Shelley said...

I don't know. Think of the anticipation of opening a letter, a thank you card, when it's actually a surprise or anticipated and not one of 100 daily emails you pretty much delete without reading.
It isn't about cursive or printing or typing, maybe it's a stop and smell the rose type thing, but then we don't really need roses do we?

Sara Hoskinson Frommer said...

Not knowing how to write in cursive wouldn't worry me. Any old way that works is fine.

But not teaching cursive writing is going to mean that American children will grown up unable to read Grandma's notes, or anything else written in cursive. I learned to read German fluently years ago, but the old German handwriting of just 100 years ago is so different from modern script, not to mention printing and printed books, even the old ones in which an s can look like an f, that modern Germans can't read it.

Already the post office is asking us to print in ALL CAPS for clarity. Soon it won't just be for their machines.

Angela Adams said...

Great post, Terry. Thanks!

DirtyMartini said...

I don't know...and yeah, I've been hearing this debate for a while now...but, if we stop teaching cursive, does that mean that the next generation won't be able to sign their name? Doesn't sound very encouraging to me...