Handwriting for the Brain this New Year

Pam Linn

It’s that time of year when those of us who use computers try to clean things up a bit. That means deleting hundreds of e-mails and unsubscribing to hundreds more that acquired my email address and have been choking my inbox with election stuff and bids for donations. 

The biggest problem is that even after deleting the offenders, I have 55 or more letters stored that are personal and shouldn’t be tossed. If only they had been handwritten, perhaps on cards, I might find room for them somewhere. 

I remember when I was packing books and photographs to bring to Montana, I discovered a stack of letters sent to me from France; personal, handwritten notes on that very thin paper still used in Europe with Par Avion printed on the envelopes. Untying the blue ribbon, sitting on the floor, reading those very tender thoughts; how lovely and satisfying that was compared to the printed texts clogging my computer. 

What have we given up in the name of speed, ease and technology? Hit the reply button, type a few not-so-well-chosen words, press the send key and voilà! Done in a few seconds without much thought and precious little feeling. 

When I gave up my businesses many years ago, I decided I no longer needed to send out Christmas cards, only “Thank You” notes, and those dwindled to a few over time. Now, according to a segment on CBS This Morning, handwriting is coming back into vogue as a means of retaining one’s aging brain function. Like learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, putting pen to paper creates new neurons, scientists have learned. 

Once called longhand, taught in schools and praised for its beauty and legibility, handwriting was thought to be a measure of character. Both of my sisters had lovely penmanship, while mine was considered messy and indicative of dubious personality flaws. Dexterity and speed weren’t prized although later in life they made note-taking infinitely easier. 

Since the coming year will mark a certain birthday that my parents and grandparents never reached, I should be paying attention to these scientists. When I moved to my current digs, and for several years thereafter, I averaged walking two miles per day. But the past year the hip that was surgically repaired a bit more than 10 years ago often protests at mile marker one. 

Our fitness guru performed the annual agility placement test for us this month and while I had gained a bit on mobility, thanks to yoga classes, an equal amount was lost on balance. There may be some residual deficit from a nasty bout with vertigo but what about the brain? I read, do crossword puzzles, practice the piano, play Jeopardy and try to match up everyone’s name with a face. But apparently this may not be enough for the neurons to flourish. 

Therefore, having put pen to paper, my friends will receive holiday greetings and thanks via snail mail. And at 49 cents each, the U.S. Postal Service may return to profitability. 

Wouldn’t that be special? 

Anyhow, the Bose radio is spewing Christmas music, the home is decorated with way too many glittering lights and just for good measure, it has started snowing. More of the white stuff is predicted for Wednesday and Thursday and I’ve been invited to my daughter’s house for Christmas dinner. Sadly, like many families, ours is all over the map. Some are in France, some in Texas, and most of the family is in California. They’ve called and said the brown hillsides have turned green, courtesy of El Niño (and it’s His birthday we celebrate). There’s some consolation in that, even irony. To Cubans: Feliz Navidad. To Parisians, Joyeux Noel, and to all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

Pam Linn is a former editor of The Malibu Times.