What Handwriting, Signatures, Writing Cards, and Cramping Hands All Mean

What do they all have in common? Well, I suffer from one, do one and have two.

In case you didn’t know, I’m a letter writer. I write actual letters, long lettered emails, and my personal favorite, the long text messages (a.k.a. the pseudo letter).

The problem is that I never seem to have time to write my notes, letters, jots, anything written these days. I don’t have much time to write in general – even my journal entries are suffering, even though I carry a journal every day.

This afternoon, I sat down to write out a thank you note and a birthday card and realized that not only was my hand cramping, but my handwriting, which I’ve loved since I learned to write cursive, has changed. It’s sloppy. Sometimes I don’t completely spell out the words that I’m writing. The other devastation is that it shakes. You can see how my hand shakes as I write. I don’t want you to think that I have Parkinson’s because I don’t. I just don’t write often enough in length to keep a steady hand.

Why is this such a big deal?  

I’m losing my ability to write!

How can I, as a stationer, lose my ability to write?  

If I’m losing my ability to write, I wonder about children growing up on electronics only. They must not even know how to write! Infuse this with articles I’ve read and direct reports (I have a cousin who is a public school teacher) I’ve heard about cursive writing being removed from school’s curriculum and not only dumbfounded, but concerned.

I remember the days when we’d practice our cursive. I LOVED those days! I remember my paper with the rows and dotted lines helping to steer my cursive in the correct direction. I remember not learning how to hold my pencil properly (I still don’t).  Rather than hold the pen between my thumb, fore and middle fingers, I nestle the pen back into my entire hand (maybe that’s why I have cramps?).  I’m old enough to know that I hold the pen incorrectly and I try to hold it correctly for a bit, but then always end up reverting to the wrong way. A sign of my rebellious streak? I think so!

I also remember loving to write in cursive. Really loving it.

When I was younger, practicing my signature in cursive (and that of my mother’s as well – I was a bit of a forger as a teenager, I admit),  gave me great joy! I always said that I was practicing it for when I became famous, or married someone famous.

It paid off because a few weeks ago while in NY Central Art Supply, I signed my receipt and the guy who helped me said, “Wow, that’s a strong signature!”.  I don’t have to tell you how happy that made me.

My signature is as much a piece and reflection of me as my hair, or the glasses I choose to wear. I think I learned something about signatures from my Dad. His signature is the best I’ve ever seen.  His signature was a brand statement. An original logo. I’m not kidding you! It’s clean, it’s got a graphic to it and it’s completely unrepeatable.  I have never been able to copy my dad’s signature and I doubt that anyone can.  This is why signatures are so important. They mean so much and if children in the future lose their ability to write something as simple as a signature, they lose a bit of themselves.

I know, you’re thinking, I’m crazy, but I’m not. Signatures and handwriting tell a lot about a person (see this article, it’s hardly scientific, but I agree with what it says).  When I took Calligraphy earlier this year, our instructor told us time and time again, “calligraphy and handwriting are two different things, don’t forget that!” She’s right. Calligraphy requires an attention to shape and patience; it is an art. Yet, handwriting is an art too if cultivated correctly. Not only does it say a lot about a person’s personality, but it can be a beautiful thing, or a horribly messy and illegible thing. You know what I’m talking about.  When you read someone’s sloppy handwriting, you don’t want to look at it again, but when you read someone’s handwriting that is controlled, clean and pretty, you have a pleasant experience and look forward to continuing to read the person’s work.

I’ve always had a cursive, but quick handwriting. It’s always lacked control, meaning the words and letters are a bit more open, but has never been sloppy; it has always been presentable and legible. I’ve also always taken the time to use grammar and dot the i’s and cross the t’s so to say. What does this say about me- well, I’m fast paced, have no patience, but still do pay attention to the details. Of course, this is not a scientific analysis of my handwriting, it’s just my thoughts on what my handwriting reflects, but even so, I’ve always had a strong command of my handwriting. Until now.

Lately, I’ve noticed that I tend to wait to write out all of my notes in one go. No bueno. Especially since my hand cramps after a mere five minutes of writing. Once this happens, I end up having to stop every few minutes to flex and rotate my right hand. Anyone watching me at a coffee shop, or where ever, I happen to be sitting and writing, probably thinks I am nuts. It also means that as I write more and more my words lose shape almost completely. I seem to never finish writing a full word, it just sort of trails into a line and then I start the next word. Sigh and cry!

I find that I don’t have that much time and the time that I do have often requires me using a computer. Not only is it a brain kill for focusing, but it’s a hand skill killer. Yep! I mean, it’s great that I can type super fast these days, but it really sucks that I can not write the way I once did.

Add to that, the feeling that I get as if I’ve won a gold medal after I have completed writing all of my cards/notes/letters. If I’m writing a large bunch of notes, like say 11, even better!  I’m serious. My write-a-thons often find me in coffee shops or any place where I can sit for a few minutes, more like a few hours, and write.  I’m not sitting there for hours due to not knowing what to write, it’s more of my hands not having the same level of tolerance that they once did.

My most recent write-a-thon (today’s two cards do not count as a write-a-thon) was actually held in the food court area of Grand Central Station four weekends ago. I had 11 thank you notes to send to friends who had donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for my latest marathon endeavor and I also had a few hours to kill waiting to meet up with friends.  I sat at a corner table in an extremely noisy and crowded environment and let my hand write away. I took breaks every few minutes to shake out my hand and then I’d go back to writing. All 11 cards got written (see pictures below) and I started to think about how I need to write more.

As someone who makes stationery and stresses the importance of writing, I need to walk the talk even more. Yes, I need to continue writing heartfelt notes to friends and family, but I also just need to practice my writing. 

I’ve always found a sense of calm and peace in writing a card to a friend or writing in my journal.  Even something as simple as writing down a date with a friend in my paper calendar book has been a way for me to find calm. Almost to the same degree as running, maybe even more so.

In the past, I would spend my Sunday mornings writing cards out while listening to classical music and sipping on tea. Those were my Virginia days. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss Virginia as much as I miss the people I left in Virginia but what I do find myself missing more and more these days is the slow pace that I practiced while living there. I was not nearly as fast paced as I am now, here in NY, and part of me misses that – actually longs for it. I am not saying that I want to return to Virginia or anything like that, I love NY and I love the life I live in NYC, but I am not afraid to admit that I also wouldn’t mind living somewhere where I can slow down a bit more.

Which is why starting in November (I have a few weeks, here) after my commitments end (marathon and CSA), I will designate an hour a week to writing out my cards/letters/notes. If I can add more, then I gladly will, but definitely an hour. Especially as Christmas gets closer and my cards need writing and mailing. I am notorious for sitting one night in the middle of December with my boxes of cards, glitter pens, regular pens, markers, address book, and stamps writing out cards while sipping hot chocolate and watching “Elf”.

I will also write at least an hour every day.How is this different from spending an hour a week writing?

Well, it’s different because this time I’m practicing writing. I’m acknowledging that I am losing a skill that is vital to me and my work and I’m going to dedicate time to work on it in the same way that someone would practice the flute or do speed workouts for better endurance.  I’m committing to writing anything, even if it’s just a post it note, but a full hours worth of writing a day.  I care about my handwriting. I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to suffer from cramps while writing and I most definitely don’t want to spend all of my time in front of the computer typing out words (don’t worry, I’ll still blog, though). 

I’m curious to know if anyone else has noticed this and what you’re doing to fix your handwriting and (maybe?) cramping hand problems? Are you working on it? Have you even noticed?  Do tell!

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

3 thoughts on “What Handwriting, Signatures, Writing Cards, and Cramping Hands All Mean”

  1. Hand cramps are usually brief, but they can be severe and painful, and sometimes accompany a tingling or burning sensation (paresthesia). This is a common in those with diabetes and others who have suffered damage to the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy, a disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord). Dehydration is a common cause for cramping due to low levels of calcium, magnesium, and fluids in the body. Heat exhaustion can lead to dehydration and cramping in the muscles of the hand and other extremities like your legs.^

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  2. It’s been over two years since this post–I empathize with many of the observations that you make here. I wonder what progress you’ve made and if you think that the exercises you assigned yourself were a success. I have wondered from time to time if I could correct the degradation of my handwriting with practice, or if something more neurological might be at play. Update?

    1. Hi Aaron,

      I think my handwriting has gotten worse in fact. It’s upsetting. I’ve noticed my letters aren’t very precise anymore. I make a habit to write regularly and I have been writing more cards and notes as of late. I don’t know that it’s neurological as much as it is practice.

      Speaking of practice, I picked up my calligraphy pen the other day and started practicing again. I’ve got a long way to go, but it just reminded me that calligraphy requires a completely different use of your hand and is not in fact like handwriting, no matter how many novice designers swirl their letters and call it calligraphy.

      You’ll have to keep me posted on how you’re doing and your own handwriting. Please?

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