The ubiquitous gray of U.S. history’s early writers.

My favorite American.

My favorite American.

Lying beside a swimming pool, trying for a case of skin cancer while I sip over-priced, watered-down fancy drinks has never appealed to me. 

When I go on vacation, I want to learn about the areas I visit; how long they’ve been there, who started it up and what went on long before my feet touched this earth. 

I’ve just come from such a vacation; a 9-day bus tour of our nation’s capitol where we toured elegant national treasures like the Library of Congress, The Supreme Court, the Capitol, the splendid National Cathedral, Arlington National Cemetery and all of the symbolic war memorials. My head and heart are full of memories and thoughts that affected me bone deep. 

In the gift shops and bookstores I couldn’t resist browsing through and buying a few interesting little books like The Slave Narratives of Virginia, and George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, The Quotations of Abraham Lincoln, Narratives of Sojourner Truth, and a magnet that lists Thomas Jefferson’s Ten Rules. 

As I perused these at night in my hotel room, it was interesting to envision what I was reading against some of what I’d heard tour guides share throughout the day. Some of it was fun, and some of it was simply incredible for the inconsistencies in what some of our great early leaders wrote, as compared to how they lived. 

We’re only human, all of us, I realize, but the phrase “Do as I say and not as I do,” kept invading my thoughts. 

I have to admit I laughed out loud when I read Washington’s 2nd Rule of Civility: 

“When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.” 

I mean—how in blazes could the rap singers function if they couldn’t touch themselves “down there,” while performing these days? (Admit it; you are laughing right now.) Robin Williams’ comedy routines would have encountered their share of issues with this one as well. 

Or, how about this gem, his 7th Rule of Civility: 

 “Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out your chamber half dressed.” 

What a hoot! Ninety-seven percent of our high school and college students—and the majority of Hollywood would die if they tried to obey this one. You see more skin at the mall or in a movie, than you do in a hospital ward these days. 

35th Rule of Civility: “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.”       

        Ohhhhh, Congress? Are you listening? Do you understand the meaning of this one? 

38th Rule of Civility: “In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.” 

        Hmmm . . . Something tells me George wouldn’t approve of WebMD.com. 

I refuse to pick on Abe Lincoln. He’s my main man and always will be. 

But allow me to weigh in on Thomas Jefferson for a bit, since I’m feeling analytically ornery this week. 

I acquired this fridge magnet with Jefferson’s Ten Rules, which he compiled in 1811 as instructions in conduct to his twelve-year old granddaughter, Cornelia. 

  • Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
  • Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  • Never spend money before you have earned it.
  • Never buy what you don’t want because it is cheap.
  • Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  • We seldom repent of having eaten too little.
  • Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  • How much pain the evils cost us that never happened.
  • Take things always by the smooth handle.
  • When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, count a hundred. 

Pretty good rules for self-governing, I’d say. 

But—but!—did you know that Jefferson employed 130 slaves on his farm to do the work. So, to my way of thinking, that kinda’ negates the ol’ ‘Never trouble another for what you can do yourself,’ mantra, wouldn’t you agree? 

And that ‘Never spend money before you have earned it,’—wellll . . . allow me to inform you. Even though Thomas Jefferson was a marvelous book and record keeper, the man liked to spend the pesos the way our current government likes to print greenbacks. He left his family in debt by an estimated $100,000. They had to sell off holdings to make good on said debt after his death. 

All snarky joking aside, there was one aspect that I could not escape upon learning of the numbers of slaves that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did keep, and the question I would pose to both of them, were I given the chance would be this: 

How could you possibly justify your slave ownership against the following words? 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

This thought bugged me the whole of this vacation, and always will.

 

For female slaves on the estate of George Washington.

For female slaves on the estate of George Washington.

 

Does cursive writing deserve to be cursed?

I am certain of four things: 

Death and taxes will never go away, 

no tattoo artist will ever leave any inked artwork anywhere on my body, 

and, 

I never want to forget how to use a pen. 

I consider myself lucky to be a product of a childhood where cursive was required and taught daily up through the 6th grade, with deliberate attention and expectation by my teachers to put faithful effort into learning to master the letter formation/slant and appearance of my handwriting to the best of my ability. 

I equally consider myself to be a lucky adult who entered the world of computers and rapidly advancing technology during her office work life years. I love all this technology stuff and the way my computer and the Internet can whiz me around the globe and into resource materials and help me keep connected—or get reconnected—with former friends, relatives and co-workers. 

But I don’t want to be only one way or the other. I want and need my keyboard skills to remain at peak performance, but I also want my handwriting muscles to remember how to connect with my brain, maintain the eye-hand coordination and motor skill development that I’ve been developing ever since one of my teachers said: “Today we are going to begin cursive writing . . .” 

The other day I read an article about a local 10-year old girl who was named the Grand National Champion for the fourth-grade division of the Zaner-Bloser 21st Annual National Handwriting Contest. 

My heart went yippy-skippy at the very headline and the inference therein: OMG! There are still kids out there in this thumb-punching, electro-gadget society who actually like to write using a pen! 

The article was telling. The principal at this girl’s school commented in the article that she receives a lot of grief from her fellow administrators because she is allowing handwriting to be taught in her school yet! R-e-e-a-l-l-y . . .? 

But the next paragraph in the article presented a fine point, as the girl’s teacher pointed out how the class talks about the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at the beginning of their school year—and how these important American documents are written in cursive. “We tell the kids they can’t read these historical documents if they can’t read cursive handwriting.”

Contemplate the implications here . . . We do want our future lawyers, judges and general voting public and the like to be able to read these docs–don’t we? 

For sure we can’t, nor should we want to try to stem the flow of improving technology and communication methods, but to think we should abandon completely something as personal and fundamental as our individual handwriting scares me a bit, I guess. 

When you write your thoughts, ideas—or even just your signature–on paper, that is pure You, however good or bad it looks. That comes right out of your center of being. That is your ink-spot place on this planet, baby. Doesn’t that count for something? 

We are still warm-blooded and soft human beings; we aren’t robots who have a chip with a predesigned signature on it that can be produced at the punch of a couple of keys. That doesn’t require any invested human emotion—it just takes some technological programming. Big deal. It’s cold as ice—and there is no human connection behind it. 

I’ve been clocked at 90 words a minute typing—and that is with a pretty dang high accuracy, too. 

When I’ve taken part in the National Novel Writing marathons, I’ve had days where I keyboarded in as many as 6200 words in one day. My right hand shakes at the thought of trying to write that many words with a pen. But consider this: I have read interviews with Stephen King where he said he will still handwrite out some of his first drafts for his manuscripts. Wow. Whether you like his stuff or not, you have to give the guy credit for being able to longhand draft a manuscript. 

A keyboard lets you fly. True enough. But when you pick up a pen, your mind has to slow down because most of us can’t write as fast as our mind can take us. It is in that slowed down phase that we then can go deeper, interact more with our thought processes, our feelings, our ideas —  and we have a ton of wonderful inventions that keep us all cozy and comfy today because of people who worked this way. 

It is this untapped magic that I fear we will overlook, if we become content to only write with keyboards, and fail to allow the next generations their chance to experience writing with their own hand as they learn to navigate around cursive instruction and practice. 

And if that isn’t enough, consider what this latest 4th grader National Champion had to say about it: 

“It’s faster to write in cursive than to print. Most adults use cursive, so it’s good to be able to read what they write.”