Thursday, June 7, 2012

Accidental Lessons Learned -- Improving My Handwriting and Making My Own Fountain Pen Ink

My handwriting used to be bad. Really bad. In terms of legibility, it blew chow...big time. That's not all bad. If I had good handwriting, I probably wouldn't type at a rate of 120 words per minute. Seriously. I can type. People can read what I type.
   A couple of months ago I decided it was high time I improve my handwriting. My handwriting was so bad...doctors would look at it just to feel good about theirs.
   I decided to do something about it. I turned to my wife for advice. She's a teacher, a special education teacher, and she makes Job look impatient when it comes to teaching others. I believe her response was something along the lines of, "You're screwed." Yeah. I think she said 'screwed.' I might be projecting, but I don't think so. It was hard to understand her response because she was giggling through a spray of cola.
   I didn't say I was going to have good handwriting. I didn't say I wanted to learn calligraphy. I just wanted to be able to write something on a piece of paper and have people be able to read if after I wrote it. Shoot... Let's be honest. I wanted to be able to read it after I wrote it. I refer you to the bit that looked like a joke. I wrote a note to a doctor once, and he framed it next to his handwriting just to get his nurses off his back about his handwriting.

   I've done tougher things than improve my handwriting. If you've read many of my blog posts, you know what some of them are.

   Step one was to go online and gather whatever advice I could find. There wasn't much about improving handwriting. There were a few pointers -- like writing with a fountain pen. Fountain pen nibs move differently over a piece of paper than a ballpoint pen. I was already using a fountain pen because I learned a long time ago that those slick little balls in the average pen move of their own volition over a piece of paper and leave what I wish were words as a line with some squiggles in it.
   The one tip that was already helpful was simply: slow down! I needed to slow down my handwriting and form each letter one at a time, and deliberately. Small b's gave me trouble. My little k's looked like h's, and my w's looked like obese u's.

   I started writing slowly, carefully, and a lot. It didn't matter what words I was putting on the paper. I threw away each sheet as I filled it. Whenver I had a spare moment, I wrote stuff down on pieces of paper with my fountain pen. I started to see improvement after about 90 pages of random writing.
   Then I ran out of fountain pen ink. That didn't bother me. I decided that making my own ink, and the experimentation required for such a venture would make my wife stop laughing at the pile of paper in the bottom of the wastebasket--quickly filling the basket--was only part of a more insane quest: that of creating stuff other people sell by the bottle.
   I found a fountain pen ink recipe that called for using Mrs. Stewart's Laundry Bluing. I had no idea what laundry bluing was--but I do now, and I'm glad I know. Mrs. Stewart's Bluing is iron oxide, sold in the laundry aisle at the grocery store, and makes whites whiter by adding a wee bit of blue dye. 
   Cool! That's a different post for another day, but adding blue stuff to your whites makes the whites whiter by tricking the eye somehow. Seriously! My white shirts are really white now. Almost blindingly so.

   The ink recipe I found called for using 3 parts bluing and 1 part water. I mixed some up in an empty baby food jar and started writing with it. Writing a lot. Making each letter of each word slowly and deliberately. Know what?
   It wasn't good ink. I ended up with a bright blue that was the color of a highlighter. I used the bluing in the laundry and improved the white of my whites (Fruit o' the Looms like new!), and my handwriting was getting better. I tried using less water in the bluing, and finally tried to write with just the bluing. What I learned was that the bluing isn't dark enough to be fountain pen ink.
   It took me 50 pages of writing whatever came to mind, slowly and deliberately, with k's, b's, v's, and h's that were starting to look like they meant what they were supposed to mean. Did all that while wearing freakishly white shirts and underwear. I was so proud, I skipped pants for a while!
   Eventually, I added the little bit of black fountain pen ink I had to the bluing, and ended up with a midnight blue fountain pen ink that works great and looks great. My handwriting still isn't great, and probably never will be, but the complaints have stopped. People can read what I write, and each letter of the alphabet is starting to to resemble itself. My shirts are white (something about that blue tint makes white seem whiter), and the chapters I haven't  been writing while I've been practicing my handwriting, have been stewing in my head. Now I'm ready to continue Sexton Retribution (Sexton Chronicles V) with the confidence of a man who, when asked to autograph his books, won't leave the reader wondering what the hell he inscribed inside the front cover.

No comments: