Sit in the middle of your chair! Both feet flat on the floor! Back straight! Turn the paper to the left at an angle! Align your forearm to the bottom of the paper at a right angle! Hold the pen loosely! Loosely, I said! I should be able to sneak up behind you and snatch the pen from your hand! The end of the pen should be pointed over your right shoulder! Your arm should only barely touch the desk! Now, ARM MOVEMENT! Make those ovals! I don’t want to see any wiggling fingers! ARM MOVEMENT!
And so it was, several times per week for me between second and sixth grade** (one decade after the invention of the wheel, as I recall) in penmanship class.
I remember at first thinking that penmanship class would be fun. After all, there were no historical dates to remember and no brain numbing multiplication tables to learn.
It didn’t take long before I realized that it was anything but fun. The only thing I can liken it to was being barked at by a drill sergeant in the Army. “Get those gottdamned feet at a forty-five degree angle! Line those thumbs up with the seams in your trousers, Goat!” Shit like that was penmanship class.
And, on top of everything else, it was really nuts. Even at a snotnosed seven year old I realized how goofy it was to move your entire arm to write letters that were something like 3/8th of an inch tall. Hell, if I have to write letters a foot tall, I’ll use my farookin’ arm.
Oh, and then there were the pens. When I went to grammar school, each student’s desk had in the upper right corner*** an inkwell. Yes, an inkwell. I told you all this happened a long time ago. Each of us was issued a black pen that looked not unlike a stiletto. We were also given a blotter. Yes, a goddamned blotter. None of those newfangled ballpoint pen stuff for the penmanship teacher. As a result, we would have to make a shitload of ovals, blot, then dip the pen back into the inkwell to make more ovals.
As each student’s penmanship became more proficient, he or she was awarded a new color plastic pen. The pens went from black (for beginners), to red, to blue, and to green. When you hit the big time, you were awarded a GOLD pen. By the third or fourth grade, most the girls had graduated up to blue pens. Some even proudly did their arm movement with green pens. The boys tended to come along slower. I think I was a black pen guy for a couple grades.
By the time we reached sixth grade, virtually all the girls and most of the boys were sporting gold pens. I believe that coming out of the fifth grade I was still stumbling along with a blue pen. I so wanted a gold pen. I believe the sixth grade the teacher felt sorry for me and awarded me a green pen at the beginning of the year. I think that I and the class juvenile delinquent (every class had one) were the only two without a gold pen.
Finally, a few days before the end of the year, I was to be awarded with a gold pen (a mercy award, methinks), but the teacher had run out of gold pens, so she apologized and wrapped a flag sticker around the tip of my green pen.
So, there I was finishing sixth grade with my dumbass flag-stickered green pen surrounded by a sea of golds. (The juvenile delinquent stayed back, as I recall). I knew damned well that the only time that I and everyone else in the damned class did the stupid “arm movement” thing was in penmanship class. Surely the teacher must have known that. Green pen with a flag sticker, my ass!
The good news is that, after all the years of Green Pen Humiliation, I’ll bet that I can type way faster than any of those gold pen, phony arm movement, rat bastards.
** In first grade, we didn’t learn penmanship. Rather we learned how to print using pencils that were roughly the diameter of bratwursts. Little hands and big, fat pencils. WTF?
*** Penmanship class was a special nightmare for the poor bastards who were lefties. Everything was backwards (the angle of the paper, the pointing of the pen over the left shoulder, etc.) and seemed to be an annoyance to the penmanship teacher.