I had just finished a talk about my book at a local park district. You can learn more about my book or, hopefully, buy a copy by clicking here. I’ll wait until you get back.
I autographed a copy for a woman from the audience and watched her shake her head as she walked away. During the rest of the signings (both of them) I glanced up occasionally to see her staring intently at my inscription, shaking her head even more. When the last copy was signed, she stormed back to the table and said, “Mr. Riley, your handwriting is atrocious.”
Instantly, I was drawn back to Sister Marcos’s class in fifth grade. She had told me exactly the same thing except she didn’t call me mister. The good sister took it upon herself to single-handedly turn my chicken scratches into elegant script.
@#$% You, Austin Palmer
Her chosen form of torture was the Palmer Method which was used from the 1880’s to the 1950’s to force every school child in America to turn out script like Thomas Jefferson’s. If only I’d been born a few years later. By the next day Sister Marcos had rummaged through the school’s attic and presented me with a writing workbook that looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day since Hoover was President. It would be my ball and chain until the end of the semester.
I was subjected to staying after school making countless loops, wearing pencil after pencil down to the nubbins, and wasting reams of specially-lined yellow paper (both sides) in a futile attempt to make the perfect loop. I actually got pretty good at it but it was nothing like the unattainable flawlessness displayed in the workbook.
Tens of thousands of loops later, my penmanship still looked like the product of a deranged chicken with a pencil for a beak. The beatings the good sister unleashed upon my hand with a ruler (on edge) didn’t seem to help either. In fact, I think they permanently consigned my cursive to that of a ten-year old.
The word “cursive” probably comes directly from those of us held prisoner in an empty classroom endlessly making loops while our friends happily went home. Even with the obligatory Catholic school crucifix hanging over my head, I cursed Mr. Palmer with every loop.
Yes, I agree with the woman and Sister Marcos. My handwriting is indeed atrocious.
Then she said, “I’m a handwriting analyst and…” Oh God, I didn’t want to hear the rest. I knew this day would come and what it would bring. After all, more than half of analyst is “anal.” It almost made me long for another round with Sr. Marcos’ ruler.
“…your loops, look at them,” she said as she thrust the inside cover page inches from my face, bringing me back from my fifth-grade reverie. “The L and the E slant in different directions. That tells me you’re a slovenly person.”
Slovenly? There’s a word I hadn’t heard since grade school. I thought only nuns used it. Of course I’m slovenly. I’m a writer. I work in my pajamas or a ratty bathrobe. I go days without shaving. My office is a spare bedroom and I submit all my work via email. I never see an editor and rarely leave the house. If I’m shaving, showering, and washing what’s left of my hair, I’m not churning out scintillating pages of brilliant prose, like this one.
“The tittles over the i’s,” she continued, seemingly without taking a breath, “they’re not directly above the letter. You care nothing about symmetry.”
Lord, have mercy. My tittles aren’t symmetrical. My dots probably aren’t either. Look, I’m not designing an airplane or erecting a building. I take ideas and turn them into ones and zeroes in my computer which I hope will turn into ones and zeroes in my checking account. Symmetry, schmimmetry. I put words on paper, straight left side, ragged right. You want symmetry? Go find an architect.
Then she went on about the J in my first name, “You’re too loopy.”
I’m too loopy?
“And the Y in your last name. The bottom loop isn’t complete. You have problems finishing what you start.”
Listen, lady, I’m finished with this conversation and I’m starting to hate you. Try this crap on Steven King. I’m sure he’ll love it, and so will his security people.
Then she started on the sexual ramifications of poor penmanship. I wanted to tell her about the sexual ramifications of being a nit-picking old harridan but felt she was probably well aware. The giveaway was her attending an evening event like this all by herself. I wondered if she had a cat or seven waiting at home.
I packed up my gear and never did another book signing. But in the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking about just what the sexual ramifications of poor penmanship might be.
Now where did I put that Palmer Method workbook?