Modern Hieroglyphics

Last week we were in Limburg, Holland’s most southern piece of land, a tiny sliver squished between Germany and Belgium, for one of W’s exhibitions. We spent some time in Maastricht, and hopped off the train in Valkenburg to have a quick look on the way back. Ruins of a 17th century castle overlook the town and if you head up the main entrance way, you get stuck on a terrace at the base of the ruins. The ruins were closed because it was a Saturday in the middle of January, so we skirted around the souvenir shops, walked along an uninteresting, busy road for a bit and found ourselves at the back of the escarpment that the ruins were built on. There was a path between the sandstone escarpment and a sandstone wall, and carved into the path were the names of thousands of people.

It was graffiti, just locals or tourists who’d discovered the same path and couldn’t resist marking their territory, but I also couldn’t help thinking that these were modern hieroglyphics. They were so beautiful – some etched an inch deep into the soft, yellow rock, and most illegible because they’d deteriorated in the wind, sun and rain. I could imagine an archaeologist stumbling across this a few hundred years from now and the letters having faded to pictures, much the way the legibility of our handwriting has fizzled with the advent of the computer.

I’ve heard a few times in recent years that some schools in North America are deciding to no longer teach cursive writing, presumably because there’s no use for it anymore. And let’s be honest. When was the last time you used a cursive hand? When you write, do you write, or do you print?

I print. I have since the 11th grade, which was oh, more than 25 years ago. And I print quite a bit – I write all of my stories in longhand before transcribing them to the computer, this one included.

But I have noticed that, like everyone else, my penmanship has really gone downhill in the last 5 years. And I wonder if that’s because we’re simply surrounded by less handwriting than before. No handwritten letters, no forms filled out… even the writing out of a shopping list has gone the way of the note pad on one’s iPhone.

L’s starting to write out the alphabet now. He’s getting an early start. (In fact, his interpretation of letters is sometimes so wonderful that I’ve been thinking of making a type specimen book of them.)

But I wonder if the attention paid to his penmanship will depend on the age of his teachers. Or the determination of his parents.  Or will, by the time he’s my age, printed letters look like the hieroglyphics on that sandstone wall?