June 26, 2011
June 20, 2011
I feel like responding to a post by another WordPress blogger friend which I like a great deal, although I don’t agree with it in every particular. In Letter to All You Old People, soozling asks what’s so wrong with not growing up, when grownups are just as petty and insecure as high-schoolers, unhappy and condescending, and screw things up just as badly as kids.
I wonder why we have to define growing up to be such a terrible thing.
I’ve enjoyed growing up. I like being in control of my own life. I was led to believe as a child that growing up would mean accepting a life revolving around drudgery, conforming and submitting to other people’s arbitrary and stupid rules, and coping without complaint with a job that would probably make me miserable. And so at one point, I swore that I would never grow up. Adults as far as I could see were shallow, unreliable, untrustworthy control freaks, and I would never be one.
Thankfully, I figured out that it was a big lie. We do have a say in how we live, how we approach the world, and how we treat people, no matter what age we are. Thankfully, I know both old people and young people who are wise and compassionate (and both old and young people who are mean and incompetent). I do think that (most) people gain depth and insight with age. Adulthood does not consist of unquestioning submission to petty cruelty, daily humiliation, and the whim and insecurity of authority figures.
Growing up truly isn’t so bad. But we tell kids all the wrong things about it. When we tell them that their needs, desires and dreams don’t matter; that they just shouldn’t try because they won’t be allowed to succeed; that passion, creativity and joy are unrealistic; that they should expect and accept being made miserable by their job and constantly humiliated by other people, that sensitivity is weak, that hatred of injustice is immature…we actually don’t prepare them well for the real world, where there is nothing but possibility; change is the only constant; where there are not two or three academic tracks but a hundred thousand ways to succeed at life, and finding the right one for you is not a matter of passively following dictates or scoring the right way on some test, but of being honest with yourself…of thinking the way you think, not how someone else wants you to think; and where very often the people who win are the ones who just don’t ever give up.
There’s no reason why growing up needs to mean losing one’s sense of openness, wonder, and hope. I pity the people who choose to live as if it does.
Furthermore, the people who teach kids to disbelieve in themselves, that indifference and conformity are easier, that cruelty and humiliation of the vulnerable are normal, that other people’s prejudices count more than their own hearts, that this is what maturity means…these people are not disinterested or objective. They have a huge stake in keeping things the way they are. They are dangerous, we should not listen to them, and we should not teach children to listen to or respect them.
I don’t want to unfairly malign all old people, but I’ll say this: Dear everyone who tells my generation to “grow up…” If you didn’t make it look miserable, maybe we would. But we’re interested in a different kind of life and a different kind of world.
June 15, 2011
“Today we don’t remember kings and queens…but we remember our poets and we remember our musicians and artists.”
I could listen to that man talk forever. I really could.
Full interview with Tift Merritt here.
June 14, 2011
I got home from a short trip to Chicago last week to find this in one of my railing planters.
It’s my very first ripe strawberry of the season that the pigeons didn’t get. It had a much subtler sweet flavor than grocery store strawberries, a little watery, but with a sour note that I was fond of.
Hopefully many more to come!
June 4, 2011
While it may sound like an appeal to emotion and romanticism rather than practicality to protest at the decline of cursive that kids won’t be able to read their grandparents’ diaries, I can’t help but find it a compelling appeal. Recently, my dad, knowing that I’ve become interested in digging into and preserving family history, sent me a box of stuff that someone found in someone’s basement. Paperclipped inside a typed and 3-ring-bound collection of stories and autobiographies was this little envelope.
It’s a letter from my great-great-great-grandfather Albert Darius, who served as an army nurse and then hospital steward during the Civil War, to his son Edward. After the war, as he was finishing medical school, struggling to set up a practice, and being divorced by his wife, Albert Darius was unable ever to keep all of his children with him, and they were fostered out to various neighbors and friends. (Clarence, mentioned in the second paragraph, was my great-great grandfather.)
I would scan it in its entirety and make you all try to read it, but my scanner is broken, so I transcribe it here….
May 27th 1869
My Dear Son,
I have been so very anxiously awaiting a letter from you for some time; at last Mr. Wilson wrote me that you had gone to live in Shelbyville with Mr. O. A. Andrews so now I can know where to write you and I hope you will write me as soon as you get this.
I want to know how you like living in the country–what you do–and all about the people you live with–how many in the family, and their names–and how far you live from the post office and which way. And all about your place there–and how you like it. Mr. Flowers writes that Miner has gone to live with Mr. Evans at Garden City. I hope you and Miner will write to each other and to me often. I expect Clarence will stay with me.
I hope Eddie you will not form bad habits, use no profane language. It is very foolish and wrong and no one will ever use in good society. Don’t use tobbaco (sic) in any form. Shun it as you would poison. And remember to be true and faithful. Ask advice of older persons on all subjects which you may be undecided upon. Strive to please, but act true to principles of right, whether it pleases or displeases, and you will be respected for it.
O Eddie I am very sorry we cannot all be together in our own home. It is almost killing me to think of you and Miner and Clarence and little Eva being scattered so but I know sometime we will be together, if we live, but where I know not. Oh how much I think of you every day and every night. And wish the good angels to watch over you and help you always, and I know they will if you are true and good.
I want you to keep all my letters. You will want them sometime.
I send you Harpers Monthly and in this I send you one dollar, to buy stamps and paper or anything you may need, and I do wish Eddie you would write me when you need money, and I can send you some, a little most any time but remember it is for yourself and no one else–write me if the folks will get you some clothes for summer, and all about everything–write a long letter a whole sheet-full anyway–and then I will be so happy.
From Your Affectionate
Father, A. D. Ballou
Yes, the Constitution has been propagated endlessly in print and online, but stuff like this has not. Our own emotional and personal history, not just the stuff that’s in textbooks, is written in cursive, and risks being lost by a generation who is simply incapable of reading it.
June 2, 2011
I got busy and haven’t had much time for writing lately, though I was following with interest the debate that broke out over the course of a couple weeks, across internet news sources, about, of all things, writing. Specifically, on the value of cursive. Whether we should still be teaching it, what its value is, whether it’s effectively a dead language, an art form but with little practical utility in the age of ubiquitous keyboards, a waste of teaching time or whether it’s still a necessary skill.
Dozens of commenters attempted the argument that we shouldn’t waste time on cursive anymore because they never have to use it in their work. But that would be like me saying that because I don’t use calculus on a day to day basis, we should stop teaching it. I don’t use calculus; that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who need to use calculus.
And I need to write by hand on a nearly daily basis: Aside from this blog, I still keep a personal journal. At rehearsals, while I mostly type notes immediately into my laptop, I can’t always have it with me, and the ability to write notes quickly and understandably is indispensable. In college, I never took class notes on my laptop, even though I can type faster than writing, not only to avoid carrying a computer around all day but because somehow the physical act of writing makes me visually absorb and retain the information better than typing it does. I still keep a paper planner for the same reason despite the easy and free availability of a number of computerized options. If I haven’t written it, I haven’t actually remembered it quite the same way. I write to my grandparents–both of my grandmothers have gorgeous cursive handwriting–and also to friends. A Facebook message, fantastic as I think Facebook is, can’t beat the time and attention inherent in a real letter for some kinds of personal communication. I love the idea of something being physically carried between two people, an artifact of affection. There’s note-taking in circumstances where it would be rude to whip out a computer, but I can do so discretely and quietly with a notebook.
But more importantly that all of that for me, none of which is totally insurmountable without cursive, is this. Most of this debate has been conducted as if the content or quality of writing or communication exists independently of its format or medium, and I don’t think that’s true. I think that the physical process by which we communicate deeply affects the quality of the communication. Not only do I write much differently than I speak, but there are things that I actually cannot speak, that I can only write. Someone once described the phenomenon very succinctly when she wrote of her own daughter, “It’s like her hands know a language her mouth doesn’t.” (Laura, this happened somewhere on your blog, but I cannot for the life of me find the post or the comment to link to it.) Most people apparently can talk through their problems and uncertainties; I can’t. Speaking is too much work for me to engage in problem-solving at the same time. It requires a level of translation that writing somehow doesn’t. I can’t problem-solve by speaking, but I can problem-solve by writing.
And within the realm of writing, I not only write very differently when I’m typing as opposed to writing by hand, but there are things that I cannot articulate by typing, only by handwriting, and vice versa. There are thoughts that I can only will into existence with pen and paper. Almost any creative, emotional or personal writing, I must do by hand. When I write poetry (which I still do very occasionally), I can only do a first draft by hand. I literally can’t type it; the words and the meter won’t come. And something about the quality of thinking that requires complex or deep reflection matches the speed of writing in cursive for me. Printing is far too slow to be useful for much of anything to me. Typing is too fast; my fingers can get ahead of my brain to the point that what I type is meaningless. Writing in cursive matches up to the speed of my train of thought.
It’s like how in Harry Potter’s universe, wizards require a wand to do magic. Children can express a kind of vague and disorganized magic by will alone, but a real wizard has to use a wand for any purposeful, articulated magic. For some kinds of writing and some kinds of thinking, my hand needs a pen the way a wizard needs a wand.
(But for other kinds of writing, typing is much better than writing by hand: anything fairly factual and straightforward, requiring the transcription of a large amount of information or detail, or when I basically already know what I want to say and only need to fine-tune it, such as when I have a longer paper or essay already extensively outlined.)
For me, the ability to write in cursive isn’t just a technical one, a compromise in speed between printing and typing, or an artistic one. Cursive is a key to my own mind and my own creativity that’s granted by nothing else. For me, saying that we shouldn’t teach or use cursive anymore is like saying that an entire mode of thought, practically an entire language, and one I think we can ill-afford to lose, should be eliminated. And I think that’s something worth resisting, for more than aesthetic or romantic reasons.