“The hand is the tool of tools.”
Aristotle

This post is different. Last autumn I decided I want to retrain my hand. To write.

I had three reasons. First, my wife has always had beautiful handwriting, and it is simply so aesthetically pleasing. Second, I have read that ‘they’ are not teaching children cursive anymore. Somehow, I have to admit, it seemed that this is probably another one of those cases where the old-timers knew what they were doing, and now ‘they’ are going to lose it. So I’m being something of a contrarian.

Finally, years ago my wife spent some time in Japan, and she has told me a little about their traditional arts. For the Japanese, to form the habit of careful, ordered motions is a way of training the soul. Indeed, they say that you practice these arts–and one of them is calligraphy–not so much to perfect them, but rather because they perfect you. Such a practice also has roots in the West, even if these roots have been largely lost to sight.

So my wife got me a block of lined paper and some good pens for Christmas. I have been trying to spend ten minutes a day practicing, beginning with very simple hooks and other shapes, working up to letters. Now one month later I am already finding a certain peace and pleasure writing a few words in cursive, taking the time to form each letter in flowing, even while very imperfect strokes.

Just what this does for me, I cannot adequately articulate. I do know that the power of reason, like the hand, must learn to use tools, and to use them well for good ends, through much care and practice.

I am actually ‘writing’ this post–indeed my first ever–completely by hand in cursive. It certainly has taken longer than typing. And I must still type it. But right now I am very grateful to have a hand, and to be able actually to write out the thoughts in my mind.

Post-scipt: I have to admit that in typing this I revised the wording of a good number of the sentences I had penned. I wonder what it would take to re-establish the habit of composing by hand with some confidence and precision, without often going back, deleting and re-doing.

Image: the art of Japanese calligraphy is called shodo.

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