Found reason for sloppy writing

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel by Steve Estes

Most of my life I have been extremely proud of my really, really crappy handwriting.

When I was but a youngster in grade school and the teachers would give me consistent grades of D or below on handwriting skills, I wore that grade as a badge of honor.

It was part of my personality that no one could have handwriting as bad as mine.

I figured, as long as the teacher could read it, and more importantly, as long as I could read it, what was the harm?

As I got older and decided that being a reporter/writer was what I wanted to do with my life, I tried to clean up my handwriting, but the cause was lost. I had spent too many years being proud of sloppy penmanship to make much of a difference at that late date.

Of course, I made that decision when I was still in high school.

So I began to invent reasons why my handwriting was so bad. I told people I was supposed to be left handed but got switched at birth. Actually I’m nearly completely ambidextrous. I can write with both hands, although my right is my primary. I swing a bat from both sides of the plate, I use a tennis racket with either hand, I eat with either hand. The one thing I’ve discovered that I cannot do left handed is swing a golf club. Don’t know why. Odd thing that.

When I reached college and my penmanship had to be legible enough for the professors to read (or flunk out) I began to establish a rapid-fire printing style that looked like cursive but was really just standard block printing done at a greatly accelerated pace.

The speed with which I wrote my entire life probably had a lot to do with my lousy penmanship. My brain worked faster than my hand and it ticked me off so I sped up to try and keep pace.

I managed to make it through my college years because they would let me type my stuff and even I couldn’t screw up a typewriter letter.

Then I graduated and entered the world of professional journalism. During the early 1980s when Vietnam was still fresh in everyone’s mind. And journalists still believed in holding elected official’s feet to the fire and uncovering wrong where right should have been.

We still believe that, but we spend more time explaining the crap bloggers put on the internet than we do enterprise reporting.

And I discovered a reason for my crappy handwriting.

I entered the field before portable word processors, lap tops, tablets and even cell phones. When we talked to people we had to write down what they said, often with the benefit of a taped backup, but often not.

And since it was when it was, many government officials didn’t particularly like the press (as if that’s changed any) and especially didn’t like the protections we got from the first amendment.

Hardly a year went by when some politico somewhere wasn’t trying to subpoena my notes because they didn’t like a story. It wasn’t that they doubted the truth, they were just pissed that I had it and wanted to know where it came from. Since they couldn’t force me to divulge a source, they tried to find the information through my notes.

At first I simply kept my notebooks in a large box, in no order, in no system. When the local sheriff came to the office with a useless subpoena, I didn’t even fight it. I just showed them the box and they had to find the exact notebook they were looking for right there. Never happened.

After that, I ran out of storage space, so I made my handwriting even messier. Once I actually gave the local district attorney the notebook he requested. His staff spent six weeks trying to decipher what the notebook contained. He brought it back to me. It was useless.

And what appears now under my pen is a holdover from that paranoid era before politicians voted themselves exemptions from public scrutiny.

I would gladly hand over a notebook today to anyone who asks for it. But I do ask that they bet me $20 bucks it contains nothing of value to them. I don’t get many takers, but when they ask me why, I tell them that the handwriting inside that notebook is legible to only one person in the world…and I don’t recall exactly who that is at the moment.

Therefore, it is of no value to them.

I used to make them give me a receipt for the notebook, that I would fill out with my left hand so it was legible and sign with my right, so it wasn’t.

But now, in the days of computers that will even transcribe what you say fairly accurately, the notebook is about to drift off into history.

My shield is eroding.

It doesn’t matter whether I type with my left or right hand. It turns out the same on the screen.

I guess I’ll have to find a way to hide notes that doesn’t involve being a smart ass.

No Comments »

Leave a Reply