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Calligraphy Class

By Nitai Cook, Teacher

My relationship to handwriting has drastically shifted and evolved over the course of my life. I may be one of the last generations of public school students who were taught the “necessity” of cursive handwriting. The grave voices of my former teachers still haunt me. “Only cursive essays will be accepted when you go to college,” was a misinformed lie ignorant of the coming change the computer age would usher into the classroom.

Also, “Your character will be judged by your penmanship,” sounded like a lead weight of pedagogical paranoia passed down onto my teachers’ psyche and then hefted to me.

Although I have always loved to draw, fear, compulsion, and repetition killed any early interest in writing for me. I did not take notice of penmanship until outside the authority of adults. For instance, one day when I was in junior high school, I looked over the shoulder of the class rabble-rouser. I was shocked to see him writing a love letter in meticulous and “effeminate” hand. Through him and many other pee wee thugs and lotharios, I learned that style is sometimes just as important as content.

Also, I learned that people were still wooed with love letters.

The statute of limitations now permits me to write more freely of how I fell deeply in love with the art of constructing words and letters. A decade of unabashed vandalism finally synthesized discipline and passion for me. Burning through miles of black-books, walls, and bridges somehow gave me a belated appreciation for the daunting vocabulary lessons of childhood. The size and scale of graffiti are easily relatable to our body, and pose corporeal challenges. “What are the tallest letters I can make whilst reaching on me tip-toes?” or “How can I match the immense scale and uniqueness of this surface (freight train)?” Felonious mischief was a 24 hour game I played, nothing less than creative warfare on society was my engine for self-actualization.

Now I am a teacher. In cruel jest, my experience seems to circle itself into a vortex of questions I ask myself daily. What is the importance of discipline and repetition in learning the mechanics of an ancient art form? How do I help students breakthrough learning barriers and creative blockage? Lastly, how do I convey my passion and interest in longhand? As a child, I wish I had a teacher who was enthralled by hand writing. I wish I had a teacher that was less interested in pointing out my mistakes and instead willing to show me how people break and make the rules of language. In the end each of my students will have to find out what writing longhand will mean in their life’s journey. The children that cultivate what it is for themselves in the deepest and most intimate way will be the adults that innovate and evolve the art form into a digital future. For now, at Play Mountain Place, I will keep the flames alive and the quills inked.

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