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Jack Zaleski, Published February 16 2013

Zaleski: The magic of mind, eye and hand

I still write letters. Sometimes I put pen to paper or relearn typing on my ancient L.C. Smith manual. But more often these days, I use a computer keyboard, print the results and mail letters in the traditional way.

Writing seriously and personally should not be rushed. Email, as useful and effective as it can be, is a medium far removed from the necessarily slower, and therefore more thoughtful, process of writing either with pen and paper or keyboard-to-paper. Email, simply because of the purposes for which it is used, and its faux urgency (write, send!), cannot possibly be bothered with the care and caution demanded by deliberate handwriting, especially cursive script.

I realize this has the taint of a Luddite nostalgia trip. But think about it. Handwriting requires remarkable coordination of mind, eye and hand. Converting thought to readable symbols on paper via a (now) primitive instrument such as a pen is miraculous. Individual penmanship is as unique as DNA, yet the building blocks of written language – letters and words – are universally understood.

Those who’ve been seduced by technology insist the processes of learning are the same, only the tools are different. Maybe that’s true for young people who never properly learned cursive writing. They can’t know what they’ve lost. They might never experience, in the same way, the lifelong challenges (and satisfaction) of honing proficiency in the written word by embracing the integral magic of mind, eye and hand.

I’m right about this. I’m reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” which is about Abraham Lincoln and the great men he gathered around him. Their handwritten letters and diaries are among the most important source materials that give the book life and truth.

Last week, Forum reporter Patrick Springer wrote a feature about a World War II-era love affair that was discovered in a stash of letters in an old house in rural North Dakota. The letters are amazingly literate and lovingly handwritten. They reveal a relationship that was sustained over time and distance by letters flowing with passion and longing. Had they never been written, a love story both beautiful and poignant would never have been told.

Today’s ephemeral technologies pretty much guarantee that so many stories of who we are and who we were will never be told. Because so few of us write letters.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.