I’m an outlaw! A calligraphiend!

How often do you offhandedly mention something to friends only to be met with a resounding “wait, WHAT?” It could be something long forgotten to you, something you took for granted. Perhaps you just assumed that everyone had the same experience. Very quickly though, it becomes apparent it wasn’t common to sleep suspended in a birdcage hanging from your ceiling.

I’ll put it this way. Did you ever get your pen licence?

I casually threw out the words “pen licence” at a party last night and the room collectively lost its shit. “What do you mean, pen licence?” “what were the penalties for unlicenced pen usage? Probation? Incarceration?” “did they put it on your permanent record?” “did each new teacher check your documentation before entering the classroom?”

See, at primary back home we had a graduated handwriting system. Yes, now that I type those words I feel a little dumb. As a method of teaching good technique and adherence to form, we would follow certain restrictions. The end result was a bizarre tier system that made sense at the time, but now seems amazingly arbitrary. In essence, it was the summation of our entire system of teaching handwriting.

The default was to start with pencil, printing. We’d do lines and lines of the same letter and upon filling up a whole page, bring them up to the teacher to get marked. If it was deemed unsatisfactory, we’d have to stay back into recess until we’d improved. This sounds barbaric and felt so at the time, but really teachers aren’t idiots. They could see who wasn’t putting effort in and/or tried to blitz through to get it over with. My handwriting has always been borderline illegible (I once did a letter that looked neat and happened to be tiny, so from then on I wrote in miniature font. Took me years to cast off that terrible habit.

After a steady series of well done printing, you’d be ushered into the next tier. Cursive. I feel like the only reason I graduated to cursive was out of pity. See, my writing was disjointed enough that linking together letters made them look like new unknown characters. Those poor old teachers who had to deal with my sanskrit-esque scrawls. Thing was, all the other kids were doing it and the teachers felt bad for me. Is that the definition of selflessness? None of it was to their benefit, but it made me happy and I felt accomplished.

The weird part here is I feel like this graduated licensing spanned multiple year levels and I have no idea of how they kept track of each student’s progress. As an adult, the idea of auditing kids’ writing talent systematically seems really peculiar. If we moved from one teacher in one year level to another, what happened? Did they actually chart our skill? Or did they rely on honesty from the kids?

In any case, much like cursive, I never actually achieved my pen licence. Here I am, having spent years illegally and illegibly spreading my dastardly scribbles. You know what though? The mainstream adoption of typing was one of the best things to happen to me (and even then I don’t have regimented touch typing technique). Now I can put word after word on page with digital ink for the world to consume. Just think, if I actually got my pen licence, would I have ended up becoming this prolific? Or would my love of handwriting kept me in the paper age?

What a shame that would’ve been.


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