Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Penmanship and Me: The REAL Story

Despite my disability, I did pretty much the same assignments all of the other students did: tests, quizzes, homework, projects, etc.  From fifth grade onward, though, there was one major difference in how I did it versus how the rest of my class did: Whereas they wrote everything unless specified, I typed everything.  Yes, I was given a device by the school system, because handwriting has never really been my strong suit.  I used to say, "I can't write!", but I've realized recently that's incorrect.  A more accurate statement is: In some cases, it's a better idea if I refrain from writing.  Of course, as usual, I'll delve into my history to discuss how the situation came to be what it is today.
In kindergarten, my handwriting was as bad as everyone else's; no joke.  Even though I could read like nobody's business from day one, I still had the typical backwards N's and general illegibility that most early-graders' writing had.  The problem became noticeable when my classmates' handwriting improved in ways that mine didn't.  I even noticed it; in first grade, I probably mortified my teacher by telling her that I couldn't do an assignment because I couldn't write...right in front of a tech person from the school system's administration.  I didn't mean to embarrass her; I just realized that my penmanship paled in comparison to the other kids', which meant that I had a problem, and therefore should refrain from writing.  It didn't get me out of anything, though, and I continued to do the same as the other kids for the next few years.
Though my poor handwriting caused problems in pretty much every grade, second grade was the absolute worst.  That year was bad for other reasons as well, such as my quack psychiatrist trying me on the absolute worst medication ever, but the handwriting was the main issue.  Why was it? At the start of that year, I was tried on a medication--not that aforementioned worst one ever--that, for some unknown reason, made my penmanship better than usual.  However, it also caused an adverse reaction--I think either stomachaches or headaches--and I was quickly taken off of it, which made my handwriting go back to where it had been before.  You'd think a second grade teacher would be understanding about such a situation, right? Well, mine was the exact opposite.  For some reason, this lady put zero stock in medication and medical professionals, and refused to believe the true cause; instead, she felt that I just wasn't trying, which made me really upset.  Shockingly enough, she got "Teacher of the Year" the next year, and went on to become a principal; I've always wondered how she managed to do that.
I started at a new elementary school in third grade, and, as soon as I did, there was talk of giving me a device to type my work on.  I didn't actually get one until fifth grade, but I'm glad I wasn't given one when they first began talking about it.  I say that because of something that almost happened later on: On the first day of eighth grade English class, the teacher went over elements of good handwriting, and, at first, I didn't take any note of it; a classmate said to me, "Aren't you going to write this down?" I ended up deciding that, even though such information was largely useless to me, it was best to do it just to avoid an altercation with the teacher; however, I wouldn't have had such a realization in third grade, where handwriting practice was part of the curriculum for everyone.
Still, I do think I could have used one in fourth grade; that year, my teacher forced me to do my work on the System 7 Mac in the classroom multiple times.  He later said that they "went back and forth about" getting me a device to do my work on, but I didn't actually get one until I started fifth grade.  That DreamWriter--that was the model name--had some nice features, but it tended to be buggy; it even had to initialize itself every so often to clear out all its issues.  (Did it take after the student to which it was assigned? One wonders.) Still, it served me relatively faithfully for most of the year.
Also around that same time was the "Magic School Bus writing" incident.  Long story short, I discovered that, if I tried to imitate the font used on MSB media, I could write legibly, even though it took longer.  My fourth grade teachers were fine with this; one of them even gave me a shorter assignment because of it.  However, it ended up getting cut short in fifth grade, when my math teacher told the student who was grading my timed math test--which I couldn't type--to mark a correct answer wrong; his reasoning was something to the effect of, "That's not the way you write a one."  I even had to write the problem and answer five times, even though I had the right answer to begin with; after that, I never used such writing on an assignment again.
Now, let me get into a story that illustrates why I needed such a device: It was obvious early on that my penmanship was poor, so, in a effort to improve it, my mom required me to practice it at least four days a week every week for at least two summers.  Sounds like it would help matters, right? Well, it didn't; at the start of every year after those summers, I got the same complaints: "I can't read this." "Please slow down." "This isn't legible." It was like I hadn't even practiced at all.  So, those of you who think I didn't need such a device: If practicing like I did didn't change anything, can you honestly think of anything that would? Didn't think so.
In sixth grade, I got my first AlphaSmart, which I used at the start of the year; however, something strange happened around the spring that I still can't explain.  Out of boredom, I was drawing a comic in the style of Pokémon Red, which was one of my favorite games at the time, and attempted to emulate the monospace font used within the game.  When I tried it, I was shocked at how good it looked, and even the AVID tutors were remarking at how much my handwriting had improved...but, as usual, it proceeded to go back to its usual poorness by the start of seventh grade year.
I used an AlphaSmart in seventh grade as well, and started out with one in eighth grade, but later got a CalcuScribe, though that thing was defective and caused me to lose quite a bit of my work.  It wasn't until tenth grade that I got a Dana.  No, despite my penchant for female names, I didn't give it that name; if I'd named it, it most likely would have been called Hilary, Lizzie, or Christy.  That femininely-named device was actually the best one I ever had; it combined the functionality of the DreamWriter and CalcuScribe with the reliability of the AlphaSmarts.  In fact, it ran on a Palm engine, though I never had the heart to try installing any apps on it.  Along with my Dana came my own personal printer, which meant I no longer had to leave class to print out my work, though I became known for having a rather large backpack.  My Dana was my schoolwork companion from the start of tenth grade until the end of high school; in fact, I literally kissed it goodbye on the last day of my senior year.  (Why did I do that? Simply because the pulchritudinous lady from the assistive tech center asked me to, and I couldn't refuse her request in front of a bunch of infatuated high school guys.  If you were in my shoes, you'd understand.)
After high school, I went to a technical college, were writing was largely not needed.  However, I did apply for plenty of jobs.  Did my poor penmanship cause problems then? To a degree, yes; still, it wasn't as bad as you might think.  At least half of the jobs, including all of the ones at libraries and most of the ones at bookstores, as well as right many others, required little, if any, writing to actually apply.  Most of them had an application that was entirely online, and some of the ones that didn't had a PDF application with blanks that you could fill out via Adobe Reader; after that, all you had to do was print it, sign it, and then deliver it in whatever method: fax, mail, by hand, scan and e-mail, etc.  In some ways, it was actually better that I had gotten used to typing instead of writing; as our world continues to go digital, that will likely be the case even more in the years to come.
Recently, some situations have required me to write by hand, but they've usually ended up working out for the better.  When I used to be a library volunteer, I was required to "double check" certain items, and to affix a sticky note with any messages that came up when I scanned them.  I wasn't sure if the librarian who asked me to do it could read my writing, but she actually could; it probably helped that I wrote in all caps, which I have found easier, despite what some of my critics say.  Even submitting written prayer requests during church services has turned out okay.  Though no one has asked me to write an entire paragraph by hand in quite a while, I've still had to write by hand at times, and people can usually get the meaning, even if they can't read every single word.
Frankly, I don't know what the future of my handwriting holds.  It may turn out that, at some point, I'll be able to write better; then again, there are plenty of people out there, especially guys, who have poor penmanship without any sort of disability.  With my condition, it seems that progression is something that literally just happens.  The celebrity obsession thing is perfect proof; I never took any steps to try to stop it, but it seems to have come to an end recently.  Could that happen with my handwriting? Maybe.
I will end by saying this: Most Christians have certain people in the Bible--other than Jesus, of course--who are their favorites for one reason or another.  Usually, when asked which Biblical individual is their favorite, people will say Old Testament characters such as Joseph, Moses, Elijah, or Samson.  My favorite, however, has always been the Apostle Paul.  Why? Well, he was a prolific writer--hey, he wrote over half of the New Testament!--and, from what I can tell, he didn't let poor penmanship stop him.  It has been supposed that his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7) was some sort of visual impairment, which is based on Galatians 6:11 ("See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!") and Romans 16:22 ("I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.")  However, I've always wondered if Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was actually some sort of hand-eye coordination problem, which would have made it quite difficult to write as prolifically as he did.  I've had people be my scribes, and I have always tended to write rather largely, so I share the same affliction as Paul.  While he had Tertius to help him make his thoughts known, I have Victoria Kerrie Reeves-Stevens, aka my flat-screen iMac, to do the same thing.  Is it any wonder that I look up to the Apostle Paul?
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