Written records have provided a wealth of information for my book, River of January. It’s rather interesting that I have carefully read and analyzed these letters composed in ink and soft lead, and they have taken me into vibrant lives, flowing with adventure and color. So much feeling lives in those envelopes–devotion, pain, fear, reassurance all scribed into hand written correspondence.
A character in the story, Elie Gelaki, a Belgian boy who pines for Helen, produced volumes of letters and postcards. Just picking up a handful of his letters are vivid proof of his perpetual love. Helen’s letters to her mother bear updates, stories, and news (and promises of money) filling 4 plastic containers. I can see that her mother was important to her, just by looking at her blizzard of correspondence. In the same vein, Chum’s letters to Helen, are steeped in longing, with loving language that reached her from across hemispheres, time zones and war zones, placing the reader directly into the deepest reaches of his heart.
The beauty of cursive writing, the artful style has disappeared. Take a look at the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution and notice the intricate flourishes that embellish the words. People made their living writing script, and the hands that penned these two documents were skilled for sure.
And another feature of handwriting is what it reveals about the writer. A former student became enthralled with handwriting analysis, fascinated by the personality traits exposed in cursive writing. I’m not sure I buy all that hocus pocus, but the change of Richard Nixon’s signature from his heyday to his resignation is remarkable. He signed his name at the end of his presidency in an almost straight line. Nixon’s signature looks pissed-off.
I would argue that a person’s handwriting is as unique as their fingerprints. It is a shame that most informal communication between any two people today is through cryptic, brief electronic texts. I won’t argue that electronic communication can reveal a story too. It certainly can. I think that was how Martha Stewart got caught violating SEC regulations and ended up in jail.
But in the realm of the heart, the messy, dramatic, embarrassing human heart, driven by love to hemorrhage passion on stationary has sadly become a casualty of neat, quick technology.