Mark Ballard

Even in e-mail age, personal note still write stuff

In elementary school, I learned how to form lines and curves into letterforms. I was then shown how to use those letters in order to make words. As I continued my education, I was taught how to write in cursive.

@MA BodyRR:This flowing form of writing allowed me to connect letters to make words without stopping or picking up my pencil. Everyone in my class was encouraged to practice penmanship.

In fact, high above the chalkboard were charts to show us the “perfect” way to write.

I took the art of writing to a whole new level. I think it was with a pencil in my hand in that classroom learning to write that my obsessive compulsiveness sprouted.

For some reason, I thought it was critical for my handwriting to not only resemble the charts, but to look exactly like them. In order to achieve my goal, I had to practice.

In my mind, every paper I turned in simply had to be void of any cross-outs. If I was three-quarters of the way down the page and misspelled a word, then a new piece of paper was retrieved and I began again.

I don’t know why I put that extra pressure on myself, but way back then to me a messy paper seemed like the end of the world – or at least a cause for major disapproval.

I got really good at writing the sentence “I will not talk in class.” It seemed as though I had to write it hundreds of times.

Besides wanting to have perfect penmanship, I also loved talking during class. I know that doesn’t surprise those of you who know me.

However, it is ironic to me that I make a living these days both writing and talking.

We all learn to communicate in a variety of ways early on. If we needed an important message sent to someone during class, we simply wrote a note on a small piece of paper, tightly folded it up and wrote the recipient’s name on the front. We then inconspicuously passed it to the person behind us who in turn continued to pass it along until hopefully it reached its destination.

It was like our very own express mail system, even though it wasn’t without flaws. Sometimes the note was intercepted by a force out of our control: the teacher.

As I turned into a teenager, I began to handwrite more and more notes.

But when I learned how to type on a manual typewriter, it became much faster and easier to just “type” a note instead of handwriting one.

When the prehistoric typewriters graciously moved aside for electric typewriters and then for sleek personal computers, things really began to change at record speed.

We were now able to send all kinds of notes and messages without picking up a pen, addressing an envelope or licking a stamp.

You do remember when you still had to lick stamps, don’t you?

It seems like each and every day, new and innovative ways of communicating are bombarding us. Recently, I must confess, I succumbed to the tempting allure of Facebook.

Just like having to write perfectly back in grade school, I now have this overwhelming desire to get as many friends as possible. Don’t ask me why. I guess it’s the same reason I couldn’t tolerate a cross-out. The pull of perfection in everything is always there.

With just the touch of a “send” button, we can communicate with the world in seconds.

Why then in these fast-paced days should we take the time to handwrite anything? I’ll tell you why.

Remember the feeling you got when you went to your mailbox and saw a letter hand-addressed in cursive to you? You couldn’t wait to open it.

There is just something very personal about putting a pen to paper and writing a note to someone else.

Just last week, I sat down to write two notes I had been putting off because of time restraints.

One was a sympathy note and the other one was a thank-you note.

As I stared at the blank paper, I almost didn’t know how to begin, but it came back really easily and I felt good as I signed my name at the end. I must confess, I did miss spell check.

I think handwritten thank-you notes have suffered the most in our technology filled world. Like the dinosaurs, they are becoming extinct.

As my mother always told me, it is just plain good manners to write a thank-you note to someone who gives you a gift or performs a special deed.

No ifs, ands or buts about it.

It should be hand-written, very personal and say more than just thank you for the gift.

It should always mention exactly what the gift was, how you intend to use it and why you like it so much. It doesn’t have to be long — just a few well thought out sentences in your own handwriting.

I must admit, I sometimes take the easy way out and e-mail my thanks.

I’m going to try and do better because I know how special it makes me feel when I receive a handwritten note. I want to take this opportunity to also encourage you to put some of your creative energy into writing a handwritten note to someone this week.

You will not only make someone else’s day special, you will also get to practice your penmanship, something you probably haven’t done in a while.

If you need some additional help, “The Art of the Handwritten Note” by Margaret Shepherd is a wonderful little book.

Happy writing!

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208 or fax them to (478) 474-4930 or call (478) 757-6877.

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