I woke up this morning with a heavy head and a scratchy feeling in my throat. This often heralds illness and I was not happy when the sinking feeling that I was about to go a few rounds with the 'flu proved to be correct.
After lunch today, which Sabs and I had with Chris at Starbuck's -- a nice, quiet little Starbucks with yummy sandwiches and cozy chairs -- I really started to feel it: the prickling in my face, the lassitude, the burning behind my eyes.
Sabs insisted that I should go home and rest and while I protested weakly that I had a lot of work to do, I knew he was right, because it's always better to cut these things off at the pass and rest/drink them out as soon as possible.
We drove back to my office for my stuff and I told my boss I was going home to sleep this out. Sabs decided to take a half-day too, to take care of me.
When we got in, I sent him off to buy milk, juice and some other supplies and promptly tore off my clothes, tossed on my nightie, popped two Dayquil and curled up in bed.
Pearl was more than happy to keep me company, when I woke up hours later, she was curled up on my arm, licking my wrist and purring like a steam train.
During my hours in bed, I contemplated what to write here tonight and decided to write a little about the history of my handwriting. This seems rather apt actually, because while I have enough strength to lift my fingers up and down to type, I lack the fine coordination to hold a pen right now. I've got fever shakes and my fingers feel thick and ungainly.
The pages of my childhood journal are a study of my struggle to master the art of writing -- not spelling, not putting words together to form sentences, but of creating pleasing shapes out of the letters.
I actually learned to write at an early age. My mother taught me to write my name when I was two and change and the alphabet followed shortly thereafter. I could write short sentences, sign my name and read short books by the time I was four.
However, once I got to school, learning to write properly became a whole other challenge.
In the U.S.A. elementary schools teach children to write capital printed letters first, then lower-case in pencil. Cursive does not enter the picture until much later.
In Belgium and other Francophone European countries, children start to write cursive right away, also in pencil at first, but then swiftly followed by pen. Not ball-point pen, but cartridge ink-pen.
Many children master this art fairly quickly, most of them probably have better hand-eye coordination than I did. But smart as I was, I was something of a klutz as a child -- this is probably why I liked ballet so much, the movements required grace and poise and when I was doing ballet, even badly, I felt graceful and poised like a princess -- so writing was somewhat difficult.
Over the years, my report cards were almost uniformly excellent, except in one area: neatness. The pages of my exercise books are all marked with the dreaded red Soin! meaning "Take care for neatness," or rather "This is a mess!"
Most of this had to do with re-written words, words scrawling in an ungainly fashion across the page or pictures, pasted into reports with jagged edges because I had trouble using scissors.
But it was my handwriting which caused me the most sorrow. I longed to write beautifully, the way my mother did. My mother has lovely handwriting, slanted slightly to the right, each letter perfectly formed and her printing ... it looks almost type-written instead of handwritten.
The cursive alphabet that is taught in Belgian schools is far different from the one taught in the U.S. as well. In America, I think that the Palmer method is still in use. The letters are made slanted to the right, the way my mother writes and not very rounded. In Belgium, everything is written straight up and down and very rounded. I have no idea what this alphabet is called, but it looks very pretty, especially when written well.
By the time I was ten, I still struggled to write well. I envied my friend Tania, whose letters were spot-on perfect and whose script flowed like water across the page, while mine lurched and stumbled, occasionally falling off the lines of my notebook.
My journal suffers the same fate, the letters are hopelessly large, unsteady and often a jumble of cursive and printed letters, as if I weren't sure which alphabet was easier to write in.
The funny part was that some of the kids at school envied me because I knew how to print! I don't know when this is taught, because printing was never something we covered at my school, at least not before I left at the end of fifth grade.
When I was ten, I made a secret pact with myself to try to make my handwriting as beautiful as possible, no matter ow long it took. My mother was taking calligraphy classes, and this is when my interest in calligraphy began.
I borrowed her pens from time to time to try it out myself, we'd sit side by side and she'd let me write a few characters at a time, then go back to doing her exercises while I watched. My letters still looked terrible compared to hers, but this inspired me to illuminate things when I drew, to make prettier captions in my notebooks.
Over time, the steadiness that I'd longed for in grade school finally arrived. It wasn't until I was fourteen, four full years later that my handwriting finally began to take on the familiar shape that it has now ... a shape that I recognize from countless notes written to me by my mother and grandmother.
I now write in a slightly eclectic form of Palmer. It is rounder and less tilted, but it flows like water, from one side of the page to the next. I have received compliments on my handwriting and on my signature, which people call "elegant" and "old-fashioned" and even "beautiful."
In fact, I get a small thrill out of looking through the pages of my most recent paper-journal, because there's nothing quite like the beauty of pages and pages of beautifully written script. It's an arrogant indulgence, of course, but I do love to look at my own handwriting from time to time and just enjoy the fact that I've created something beautiful at last.
No more Soin! on the pages ... no more inky fingerprints of frustration ... just smooth letters marching neatly across the page.