where the writers are
Two messy phrases, one lingering bout of nostalgia

Early on, I learned that my illegible handwriting would set me apart.  I first found this out when I was sent to a remedial penmanship class a few times a week in elementary school.  My poor print might have been acceptable for someone who’d only learned to make letters a few years before, but my cursive was apparently an abomination.  It wasn’t intentional: I still remember struggling to duplicate the pretty forms the instructor made.  

I finally graduated from the handwriting group…I guess.  It may have been a matter of not keeping anyone there beyond the second grade, or they may have needed to make way for a new student.  Either way, my handwriting was still far from perfect.

It might have made me self-conscious. But somewhere along the line, I got used to it.  For one thing, while teachers hated having to waste time deciphering my handwritten essays, it was incredibly easy for me to take notes in their classes; my handwriting lets me just dash along…although I have to admit that I can’t always read every single word later….    In middle school, I think, I read an article claiming that messy handwriting is a sign of genius. The proof, according to the author, can be seen in everyday life: doctors always have messy handwriting, don’t they?  I was always wary of generalities, but for some reason, this one I totally embraced. I’m not dysfunctional, with questionable motor skills, I’d think proudly – I’m a genius!

Alas, whatever genius sentiments I had on my first trip to Europe could not be conveyed by the illegible postcards I sent to my family.

I could – and can – write somewhat neatly, but it just takes so muchtime.  It’s excruciating for me to slow down and precisely form each letter. I used to look on at those prim, pretty girls back at my elementary school and wonder why on earth they bothered making such darling heart-dotted i‘s and such perfect looping double l’s, or why they’d take an extra couple of seconds to make a flawless, curling, “2”-shaped cursive Q.  

I came to think of my handwriting as a part of me. I could see so many of my personality traits in it: the constant rush and speed, the passion of wanting to express myself above all other things (strangely enough, this would later help me communicate in French – I never got blocked over not knowing a correct gender or conjugation, but just forged forward, intent on my overall message). Wondering if everyone’s handwriting was a sort of biography, I became an amateur (very amateur) graphologist at the age of thirteen.  This pursuit was nipped in the bud by the time I was fourteen, though, when I read a book that claimed you could tell if someone had a disease or might get one, based on his or her handwriting.  Hypochondriac me could not take that.

Without hesitation I’ll tell you that my handwriting is ugly.  But it is fairly unique.  Which made for a very jarring moment the other day.  Taking a break from some work, I clicked on a link to an article called “6 new contenders for the single most entertaining note ever written by a roommate”, on a site called Happyplace.com.  I was scrolling through the list when suddenly I came upon a photo that made me gasp and stare. It was a message someone’s roommate had written on a dry erase board, and the handwriting looked exactly like mine!  And two versions of it, at that: first, a phrase with mixed upper- and lower- case letters, and then one written in sloppy all-caps! I was in shock.


  (image source)

I started wondering if this was something I’d written.  Once upon a time, I was living in a college dorm in New York with three of my closest friends, plus our “fifth roommate”, whom we snuck in every night.  We had that same black-framed dry-erase board on the fridge, and always wrote snarky messages.  As the resident neat freak (weirdly enough, only my handwriting is messy), I absolutely could have written what I saw in the picture: “Things we need:  TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO CLEAN UP AFTER OURSELVES” – and one of my roommates absolutely would have added what someone else had jotted onto the bottom of the dry-erase board in response: “…and milk”.  

Suddenly, I found myself transported back to another life, one I was living more than a decade ago.  I thought of the wonderful times we had in that apartment, and the bad times, as well. I thought about how much I missed my former roommates, and how glad I am that we’re still in touch.  How incredibly glad.  I wanted to write them right then and there, and send them the picture and ask if one of them had taken this photo from the old days and posted it somewhere, and now it was on a funny list website.  But then I stopped. 

It’s very unlikely anyone would have taken a picture of that, I reasoned.  Not in the days before smartphones made picture-taking a reflex.  And maybe our dry erase board was a little bigger.  I was probably just being crazy.  

Is this something people with more reasonable handwriting go through sometimes?  If so, I’m kind of jealous: it’s really cool.  Lately, my life has been busy and full of changes.  Things are briskly transitioning and I can’t do anything about it.  That unexpected trip to the past was a perfect sort of micro-vacation. 

I have the photo saved on my computer.  Sometimes I click on it and stare, wondering, still, if it really could have been me who wrote it years ago, and thinking about those other days.  I travel to the past in a moment.  I’m back in New York, laughing with my roommates. 

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I love this story! For

I love this story! For several reasons, but first: a remedial penmanship class?!?! That kind of slayed me right there. And at that point I thought the piece would be about how kids these days don't even learn how to write in script. It's not part of the grade school curriculum anymore.

The second reason I loved it was because it reminded me of a story I just read in the NYTimes about a guy who "remembers" a middle-school classmate (Olivia Wilde) having a crush on him. You must read it, here it is: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/magazine/my-crush-with-celebrity.html?smid=tw-share

And finally, because my first novel, The Memory Box, which hopefully will be released soon, is about a woman who Googles herself and discovers things about her own life that she has no recollection of. I had several inspirations for the subject matter, but one of them was the fact that I have "police paranoia." When I'm driving and see a police in my rearview mirror, I become paranoid that he is after me and is about to arrest me for something I did long ago that I don't remember. Now that's screwed up!

You must send the photo to your roommates so you can all share that stroll down memory lane together.