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Discipline is sacred; sloppiness is shameful

January 25, 2010

handwriting

Have you ever wondered what happened to the discipline of handwriting?

Since I was young, I noticed that whenever my dad writes, he seems to really press the pen into the paper. (OK, that’s not too weird, is it?) So, after he has written, the writing is etched into the very surface of the paper, and can be felt, kinda like braille (except…uhh…not raised dots. I guess that makes it not like braille at all). Such “grooves” or “engravings” persist for months and months, or even years, so that his signature is still textured on documents that are as old as I am (original birth certificates, for example.)

I have often thumbed through these writings in quiet awe. He doesn’t particularly spend time putting such pressure, but in his effortless writing, nevertheless, he has a conscientious, disciplined script.

So too is it neat, tidy, and legible (notwithstanding his signature, that does not look like his name). I have had an appreciation for the aesthetics of handwriting for a long time (at least since 4th grade, when things got competitive with another guy over who would be the official class calligrapher for some project. He won, and ever since then, I’ve wanted to improve my script.)

I bought a graphics tablet a few years back, mostly because I wanted to be cool and stop using a mouse, and in lieu of drawing things with it (since I’m a terrible artist), I’ve written things for people. I wouldn’t say that it is terribly tough to write something with which the other person is pleased — after all, I think I have the advantage in choosing the brush setting, pressure, and so forth, and a lot of people are just used to incredibly poor handwriting to begin with — but people were impressed. I realize I’m no professional though.

I am astounded to realize that the Declaration of Independence was handwritten (in fact, you can see a couple of places in our iconic Declaration (warning: big picture) where Timothy Matlock made typographic mistakes and inserted the corrections above or around. Heck, even Jefferson’s less-than-pressworthy composition draft is pretty impressive.)

But I am aware and humbled that this isn’t how things always are. For example, in my classes, in order to keep up with the teacher, I more often have to use a sloppy shorthand…that’s really sloppy. (You can actually see a more disciplined example of my shorthand as my twitter background @GASpriggs). My notes, quite simply stated, embarrass me. They are not elegant. They are not pretty. Even when I don’t use shorthand (or especially when I don’t), the sloppiness probably culminates to the average person concluding I have poor handwriting. Even outside of class, I’m more likely than not to be sloppy.

I feel this impacts my work. Sloppiness changes my mood. It makes me less attentive, less able to learn and retain information. I find that when I do math problems with sloppy handwriting (which happens often), I’m not completely at my game (and trust me, I need all the game I can get for math). So, when I’m at my wit’s end with a problem, I erase everything, and start over.

But this time, I start with discipline and conscientiousness. I make sure I press the pen (or pencil) down to paper. I make efficient, effective numbers or letters. I line things up. I engrave the texture into the paper as well as I can.

I can’t make it as effortless as my father makes it, and generally, even after I do it, if I thumb of the page, the page is as smooth as it was before. But such discipline can attune my mind in so many other ways and help me to understand the concepts with which I once was frustrated. I am big on writing because of this. I extensively write and rewrite class notes and chapters from textbooks when I truly care about preparing for exams because reading alone doesn’t get me to pay attention to every detail.

Recently, I have employed this strategy elsewhere. Not necessarily the handwriting, but the focus on discipline and conscientiousness. I have no doubt that my fencing is still terrible, but I try to be aware.

And recently, I have applied this conscientiousness to even more mundane things. My parents, for example, always advised me not to “inhale” my food. What does that mean? What difference can the method of eating have?

As I’ve become aware of my limited resources, I’ve been more willing to entertain this. After all, I’ve heard that if we eat slowly, then we also will become aware that we are full earlier. I don’t know how much of that is psychosomatic or wishful thinking, but even if “full”ness is in my head, that’s OK with me.

And so I’ve chewed food. Slowly. I’ve made eating into a triumph. I don’t know if it’s really doing anything substantial, but the other day, I did remark that I had really ordered way too much ice cream. At the movies (where I’m already aware of the outrageous snack prices), I was acutely aware that no one but no one needs a large drink (although I began to suspect that maybe we are getting what we pay for).

The additional tragedy was that I’ve so often felt I had to eat everything in one sitting that I understand that whether I order three scoops or two, a large drink or a small, I will be likely to make all portions fit the same limited meal time.

I understand that there’s still more to go. Everything can be done in discipline or sloppiness — it is an attitudinal adjustment. Everything can be a triumph! I understand that in the past, I once was much more disciplined in my speech, but over time, I have foolishly become sloppier. How foolish have I been to speak in acerbic ways as opposed to speaking in well-considered (and considerate) ways? How foolish have I been to speak at all as opposed to listening?

I feel it’s a working goal. I can yet reform myself.

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2 Comments
  1. Sophrosyne permalink

    I love this. I just started a blog to help me focus on discipline and moderation. At work, I’ve noticed that my work is much sloppier than most everyone else’s, and I’d like to change that.

  2. Cool, I read your first blog post from a link at BYU Agnostic’s blog. I really liked the Greek background to the idea of sophrosyne.

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