July 19, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 9:37 pm


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.


  1. I always flunked penmanship. I can block print like no one’s business, but cursive?

    Part of it stems from being a southpaw. You can’t write without dragging your left hand through the lead and/or ink.

    But, yeah, I think I can type circles around them, too. And to think of all the crap I took for taking word processing my junior year. (Evidently, I was the only one to figure out that I would be the only guy in the class.)

    Comment by Craig — July 19, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

  2. I used to be able to write beautifully. Now my penmanship is really awful after the first line. *sigh* I can type though – not tremendously fast and I use the backspace key quite a lot – but I’m not bad.

    My son can’t write worth a damn – when he was in basic it took me 2 hours to figure out each page and a half letter he wrote home every week. My daughter has nice handwriting, but she’s sloppy most times, my husband is a printer like Craig even though he’s right handed – I think it’s the engineer in him. *grin*

    Comment by Teresa — July 19, 2007 @ 10:13 pm

  3. I’ve never even heard of penmanship classes. BUT, like Craig, I too am a southpaw (I do everything with my right hand, but write with my left, which, I think, might make me ambidextrous) and can print beautifully, although I have to contort my arm, and turn the long side of the page parallel to the edge of the desk.

    My cursive, nots’good, but my print–which I write in almost exclusively–looks like the bubble captions in comic books, I’ve been told.

    Don’t tell me you were one of those guys who dipped little girls’ pigtails in bottles of ink.

    Comment by Erica — July 20, 2007 @ 12:44 am

  4. I am also a southpaw and in college I needed an art credit for one of my “requireds” so I thought calligraphy would be an easy class. Boy was I wrong. It was actually physically painful trying do all those loop de loops with the quill style calligraphy pens and not drag my hand and arm through the mess I had just created.

    At another point in time, one of my college instructors told me I have beautiful handwriting. I just looked at her and replied, “but all I do is print?” She looked at my penmanship a second time and then declared she wasn’t all that impressed anymore.

    If I would only learn to shut up while I’m ahead.

    Comment by Randy Heinz, SFO — July 20, 2007 @ 1:11 am

  5. Jimbo,
    My mother was a retired school teacher and was a nut about penmanship (hers was excellent). Half of us kids ended up with good penmanship. The rest took after Dad and look like they stuck the pen in their teeth to write. I recall getting a $1 in third grade for having good penmanship. Mom, to this day, still says I don’t hold my pen correctly. I’m 47, Mom; let it go!

    My brother-in-law is a chemistry teacher. He told my Mom that penmanship wasn’t important anymore. I thought her head was gonna explode!

    We didn’t have penmanship classes by the time I went to school, but there was still shorthand. It sounds really awful!

    Comment by Jerry — July 20, 2007 @ 1:12 am

  6. My handwriting is horrific, but I can write pretty fast in my own brand of joined-up capital letters, which are just about readable by other people. But I can type WAAAAAY faster than I can write using a pen and paper – which may be one of the reasons I failed my shorthand exams at university.

    Comment by Mark — July 20, 2007 @ 5:50 am

  7. Years ago, when my mother was cleaning out the attic, she brought down my spiral notebooks from nursing school. They were filled with page after page of of the most consistently beautiful handwriting. It was my own and I could hardly recognize it. Since that time, my resolution each January is to improve my cursive handwriting from the illegible scribble it has become. I make that resolution every year because I only last about 5 weeks before things degenerate again.

    So now you have the comfort of knowing that not only do you have the typing skills all over the good handwriting set, but that they have very likely lost their penmanship skills long ago, just as I have.

    Comment by Suzette — July 20, 2007 @ 8:30 am

  8. I am a lefty & in my formative years, the penmenship instructor/language teacher who was a fugitive Nazi decided it was mandatory to convert me to being right-handed. Fortunately my parents did not see it this way & made a trip to the house of incarceration “School” & let Frau Nazi know she was to let the genetics which decided my propensity to be lefthanded alone.

    Anyway, I probably would have made a great doctor as I have the chicken scratch scrawl down pat…..just did not have the time, money or inclination to attend Med school.

    Comment by dudley1 — July 20, 2007 @ 8:40 am

  9. dang, look at all your southpaw readers! it’s like a convention in the comments!

    you crack me up. an ink well? sheesh. 5 years of penmanship? unheardof. but then again, most my teachers were solidly drunk by 10 am. viva la public school!

    Comment by shoe — July 20, 2007 @ 9:05 am

  10. I think if Dave Merriman and Bill from Florida come out and announce that they, too, are lefties (left-handed = sinestra = sinister in Latin; duh, you’re a JD, I don’t have to tell you this), that would completely stupefy me. For reasons I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate on.

    Comment by Erica — July 20, 2007 @ 10:42 am

  11. I too am left-handed. I had a teacher in Oregon named Kanasto who insisted I be right-handed. I heard a logging truck ran over her. I can’t help but smile now, as I scribble my left-handed signature at the checkout of HomeDepot for some more lumber. No, I’m not building a new home or redwood deck…I just want to keep those loggin trucks on the road.

    Comment by JihadGene — July 20, 2007 @ 11:34 am

  12. Erica, you are prescient about the sinister bit, but as far as being a JD, you will not be stupefied. My former career was the care and feeding of computers (1967-2003.)
    I am sort of ambidextrous, due to broken bones in my left arm (first grade)and learned to write right handed. Like Jimbo, we did penmanship exercises (inkwells and all) and my teacher, Sister Ironruler, was a stern taskmaster. She would swoop down like a stealth fighter and let go the knuckle buster ruler of war at the merest transgression.

    Bill in Florida

    p.s. How did you guess–the backward slant of the letters on my comments? 🙂

    Comment by Bill — July 20, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  13. I remeber the penmanship classes but I don’t remeber those colored pens..I just remeber ink stains on every gotdam thing and yeah, I wuz one who would dip a pigtail if I got the chance. I also remember the first ball point pen I ever bought..can you believe I was already 18 years old? Damn..has Parker been around that long?

    Comment by GUYK — July 20, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  14. My mother was a leftie, so I am sympathetic to the plight of lefties living in a right-handed world.

    Oh, and those who attended Catholic school (mine was a public school) tended to have excellent penmanship probably because, as Bill points out above, the nuns would patrol the aisles poised to smack the poor bastard with a ruler who wasn’t using proper arm movement. Of course, after the penmanship lesson, everyone had to say three “Hail Marys”.


    Comment by Jim — July 20, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

  15. It actually PAINS me to have to handwrite something. And it’s not arthritis; it’s years of typing on computer keyboards being so much more efficient. The handwriting has just atrophied. Not that it was ever beautiful or graceful. It was illegible and changed every five minutes. Like Craig, though, I can block print to beat all, even though I find the process tediously annoying.

    Comment by dogette — July 21, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  16. Never have been able to write well.

    Comment by Dick — July 21, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  17. Did you dip the little girl’s pig tails in the ink wells? I had to ask!

    They still use those big fat pencils in first grade. When your printing looks good enough, you get to graduate to a ‘skinny’ pencil. My 2nd son, when feeling particularly ornery, loves to tell his other brothers, “Oh yeah, well I moved to the skinny pencil halfway through first grade!” the other two were in 2nd grade when the entire class gets skinny pencils… ready or not.

    No gold ones though. Or flags. 🙂

    Comment by Bou — July 21, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

  18. i have beautiful penmanship when i need it. a result o elementry catholic school with strict nuns. i am grateful

    Comment by eileen — July 26, 2010 @ 1:03 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress