Not In Cursf, Please

I’ve read several articles lately on the debate over teaching cursive writing in schools or tossing it out. Those in favor of ditching it argue that with texting, tablets and computer keyboards, there’s no need for cluttering up the curriculum with a skill whose time has passed.

On the other hand, advocates of teaching “longhand” point to studies that show students retain more when they take notes in cursive, because cursive writing engages more areas of the brain. In addition, people who don’t learn to write cursive have a hard time reading it. That means personal family journals and letters, as well as historical documents, could be indecipherable to future generations without assistance.

The last argument resonates with me because of something that happened years ago, when my children were young. I was frantically trying to finish a writing project with a firm deadline. As the due date approached and true panic set in, I figuratively barricaded myself in my office – as much to keep me in, as to keep others out. I gave instructions to my daughters, then 7 and 11, along the following lines.

“Do NOT come into the office. Do not knock on the door. Do not shout through the door. Do not even approach the door unless someone is bleeding, or the house is on fire.”

“But what if—?”

“No what ifs. I have to get this done. Today. If you hear me open the door, you can talk to me then. Otherwise, I don’t exist. I mean it.”

Being resourceful, independent, and insightful enough to detect when their mother was on the edge of a nervous break down, they took my words to heart and left me to my work. Occasionally, a thud, door slam, cry of outrage or shout of laughter penetrated my fortress of solitude, but I heard nothing that sounded like an in-person intervention was warranted.

After about four hours I had made real progress. As I leaned back in my chair for a good stretch, I heard the sound of hushed debate coming from the hallway. I was about to investigate, when a sheet of lined paper fluttered in under the door and across my office floor.

I stooped to pick it up, and this is the message I read, written by my seven-year-old.

Sorry to buther you. Alex [our dog] has a sore spot on his back. It is bleding. We think it is bad. Sara says, should we call the vet? Please answer.

P.S. Not in cursf

It made me laugh and feel guilty at the same time — both responses my children remain skilled at invoking. I felt bad that I had been so forceful in my demand for peace that they only dared breach it with a note. Though in my defense, I did specify ‘bleding’ as a reason to knock on the door. And I laughed because my daughter feared that even if her negligent mother responded, she might do so in the indecipherable code of cursive writing.

I understand that technology may make cursive writing seem obsolete, but I’ll always favor it, because the thrill of mastering the secret language of ‘cursf’ seems like a rite of passage to me. And yes, pun intended.

Some readers may notice this post has appeared before – in September 2014, to be specific. But a recent conversation brought it to mind again, and as I’m truly, madly, deeply involved in trying to make the publication deadline for my fourth Leah Nash book, Dangerous Secrets, I turned to the archives for today’s blog.  

The lightning or the lightning bug

Grandma Jenny

Grandma Jenny

I’m at the 2/3 mark in writing my 4th as yet unnamed Leah Nash Mystery. To keep the momentum going, instead of pausing to write a new post today, I’m offering a reader favorite from 2015. The focus is on my husband Gary’s unique approach to using his words. 

 I like words, some just for the way they sound, rolling off your tongue. I like others for the nuances and delicate layers of meaning they convey. And I love to hunt for just the right word to convey what I mean in writing and in speaking. 

So, it’s one of those little jokes of the universe that I fell in love with a man who not only doesn’t search for the right word, he blithely makes up his own in order to get his sentences out as quickly as he can. At least that is the only reason I can find for the unintentionally hilarious way he pulls words out of thin air.

Sometimes the word he chooses is a close approximation of the actual one he needs. For example, we attended a Kirtan practice — which is a kind of Hindu devotional singing with chant and response. It wasn’t exactly in Gary’s wheelhouse, but he went because our daughter invited us. The next day he said, “I don’t really think croutons are my thing.” Some might have thought he was saying he didn’t like toasted bread cubes. I knew immediately he meant Kirtan.

Just recently when I was struggling with the ending of the book I’m working on, he offered these encouraging words. “Don’t worry. I know a Tiffany will come, and it will all work out.” I waited all day, and Tiffany did not show up to help me. Neither did an epiphany.

Occasionally, the word he chooses is vaguely related to the one a regular person would choose, but it takes some puzzle solving skills to get it.  Awhile ago we were watching a horse race on television, and I asked him who owned the winner. He said he wasn’t sure, it might be a combine. I told him I was pretty sure a combine was a large piece of farm equipment and then proceeded to try to unravel his meaning. It took a few minutes, but I finally realized he meant syndicate — which is a group of individuals or organizations who combine for some purpose. Hence combine, and then it made sense — in a Gary kind of way.

One of my favorite Garyisms fell from his lips years ago, when a friend said he was going to Las Vegas and wanted to see some shows. “Oh, you should see Sigmund & Freud, they’re really good.” Yes, that’s right. He meant Siegfried and Roy.

He presented a tougher word challenge when he told me about a TV show featuring high-end automobiles, and how expensive and amazing they were. He was most impressed by the Grandma Jenny. I said, “Gary, stop it. There can’t be a sports car called a Grandma Jenny.” He insisted it was that, or something very close, and then it hit me. A Lamborghini. When I offered that as a possibility, he readily agreed and didn’t really see how what he’d said was that far off.

One of my editors from my newspaper days frequently shared this Mark Twain quote, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

But honestly, if he were always on top of the right word, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to talk to him. And a conversation with Gary is always entertaining.