July 12, 2017–I always thought it was called cursive because I cursed it when my 4th-grade teacher gave me a C in Penmanship.
Even my immature brain wondered why we started school painfully learning how to print letters, then had to unlearn it and switch to making loopy swirls that all touch each other. Can anyone remember how to make a cursive “Q?” And why does it look like the number 2?
So it was with skepticism that I spoke with Haley Ping, “calligrapher.” Apparently “writing beautifully” has become such a rare thing that she makes a living at it. For the Hye resident, cursive is the art of writing.
“I find beauty in the form of words rather than their sound and meaning,” she said. “I feel written words can express the meanings of words sometimes even better than someone saying them. You can write them in different ways–maybe a Celtic poem that you write in uncial style–because it fits the poem better.”
She is also what some would call an evangelist for handwriting. I understand the more personal “feel” when writing with a gel pen on 25% rag paper, versus poking at a keyboard or, ugh, texting on a smart pad. But Ping believes that learning cursive yields positive effects in the brain, the body, and behavior.
1) Improving Memory
“When you are writing things by hand, you are going to remember them more,” she said. “With the longhand method of taking notes, you are thinking of how can I shorten this? You are using your brain to formulate long lectures and distill them down into notes you are going to remember.”
2) Building Fine Motor Skills
“The computer will never teach fine motor skills,” she said. “And fine motor skills are needed to do lot of work that is fussy. If kids learn only gross motor skills, they can only run and throw a ball but not do delicate things. What if you wanted to decorate a cake?”
3) Creating Discipline
Writing well takes a lot of practice and dedication to be readable.
“That’s good discipline for yourself to learn anything,” she said. Ping has witnessed the power of penmanship to address attention issues. “When we adopted our son, he was considered ADHD. I did cursive with him. It forced him to slow down. If you can calm yourself for 20 minutes, you can go longer and longer, and other attention troubles can be managed better.”
4) Understanding History
“Our Declaration of Independence is written in cursive–how are we going to read primary documents without relying on other people?” Ping asked. “Then we would always be dependent rather than independent. Independence is a skill not often taught or learned.”
I can think of a few other areas where knowing cursive has real world advantages for kids. Like hand writing thank you notes to grandparents to keep the birthday money flowing, or knowing how to sign autographs when they grow up and become famous ball players or rock stars like we all did.
Ping–who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing/Printmaking from Washington University in St. Louis’ School of Art and a Minor in Music–is studying to become a Master Penman. She takes commissions for frame-worthy poems, wedding certificates, and quotes. Another rich area for her skills is creating the nameplates for artists that hang in galleries next to their original works. Like a medieval monk, Ping has even made a book by hand. It was a eulogy for the grandfather that the family wanted put in book form for their grandmother. Ping not only wrote out 2000 words, she drew all the illustrations and did the bookbinding.
Why not just use a color printer and the 475 fancy fonts that come with Word?
“Because a computer cannot do what I can do,” she said. “They are not mistakes; but they are variations that make it interesting. Every letter is not exactly the same. Some letters share a ligature, spacing will look better. Because I am human, I can do that. It would take lot of fussing on a computer to do the same thing.”
Since cursive writing is no longer taught in many public schools, people have asked Ping to consider offering classes. So now that her own children are older, she is prepared to try it. She will offer sessions starting this summer, for ages 8 to adult.
It’s a way to share her appreciation of the beauty of cursive.
“Even if you never become a calligrapher, it is important to learn it and practice it, so you know what is beautiful about it.”
Writing, like dance or violin, is best learned from a teacher.
“You can learn a lot from a book, but the teacher helps train your eye,” she said. “It’s like music. If you’ve never heard it being played, how would you know it was a good sound?”
Haley Ping will teach the first of her handwriting classes in Fredericksburg on Thursdays starting Aug 17. For details and to sign up, visit haleypingarts.com, call 314-578-1351, or email email@example.com.