In Defense of My Terrible Handwriting

*Note: If Filipino words are used, they are translated below

If someone says to you that you have good handwriting, would you burst out laughing?

I would.

Imagine someone who can’t stop herself from writing during an earthquake. Imagine the pages that she wrote. Congratulations! You have visualized what my handwriting looks like. It’s wobbly, pointy, screwy, and ugly. My relatives often refer to it as kahig ng manok or chicken scratch.Is there really a way to defend these ugly scrawls? Let me try.

The Childhood Scrawls

Desperate to correct my chicken scratches, my mother bought little Ja handwriting practice books, but they bored me. I didn’t get the point of tracing the letter A over and over again. How did the other kids do it? Did they enjoy these writing practices? Were they more patient than I was? Maybe they were simply born with beautiful handwriting. Should I listen to Lady Gaga’s advice and just sing, I was born this way?

Even though I didn’t like my handwriting, I still loved to write. I was eleven years old when I started keeping a diary. Sometimes, I’d want to write about my day even if I wasn’t within the privacy of my bedroom. I would be riding the bus, squished between sweaty kids, or in a crowded classroom, one hand holding a pen, the other hand covering the notebook. One kid asked, Why are you covering your notebook? I said, I’m writing in my diary. She rolled her eyes and said, Ja, you don’t have to cover it. No one can read your handwriting anyway. My eyes lit up. That was the first time I realized that having terrible handwriting can be a good thing. Kids started calling my handwriting The Ja Code, and like any code it hid my secrets well. Thanks to my handwriting I didn’t have to worry about somebody reading my secrets. I could write in peace.

The Ja Code proved its effectiveness when one of my classmates snatched my diary from my hands. I tried to get it back, but since she was taller than I was, she kept it out of my reach. She opened my diary, and I was screaming, Give it back! Give it back! She looked at the diary, held it close to her face, and said, Wow ang dami kong nabasa. She tossed the diary away with a sigh. She really wanted to read my diary.

Cost Benefit Analysis

My handwriting got me into trouble sometimes. I was reviewing for a test, and I couldn’t read some of my notes. Minus one for question number one, and more minuses after that made me realize that I had to do something about my handwriting. I decided to make a handwriting resolution. This lasted for a couple of weeks. Fast talking teachers made it impossible to write neatly. So I just borrowed my classmates’ notes if I couldn’t read mine.

Some tests have essay parts, and one teacher said that she marked me low because she couldn’t understand my handwriting. Again, I tried to write more neatly, but when I did this, I got lower marks. Why? If I try to make my handwriting neat, I’d have to write slowly. Slowing down my scribbles makes me forget the ideas that have popped into my head. If I forget these ideas, all I have left are the mediocre ones, and they are the ones that get inked on the page and graded by the teacher. I had to make a decision. I began to weigh the costs of my bad handwriting verses the benefits of jotting down interesting ideas. I realized that I’d rather run the risk of not being understood for the possibility of saying something brilliant.

The Doctor Myth

Not everyone reacts negatively to my atrocious scrawls. Some would even squeal with delight saying, Ang panget ng handwriting mo, puwede ka na mag-doctor! Many doctors share my seismographic handwriting. I wonder, does the medical community attract people with bad handwriting, or are doctors simply busy bees who are always in a rush to scribble down prescriptions? I have no proof for the former, and the latter can’t always hold true. Some doctors have all the time in the world, sitting in their offices, chatting with their patients, joking with their assistants, still they manage to come up with nothing but the worst of black ink.

Maybe this link between bad handwriting and doctors is just a coincidence. It is possible that doctors have come under unfair scrutiny because their profession entails that they perpetually dispense samples of their handwriting? If lawyers wrote down prescriptions, would the terrible handwriting myth pertain to them instead? Probably some doctors have really beautiful and neat handwriting. Who will get to prove that they exist?

Maybe the link lies in genius. Doctors are smart. They wouldn’t survive medical school and cure their patients if they weren’t. Could it be that people with bad handwriting are people who think so fast that their handwriting can’t catch up with their quick-working brains? Could it be that bad handwriting is a reflection of one’s mind, the kind that moves at the speedy pace of a badly written note? Could it be that I have bad handwriting because I’m smart? I can’t prove this theory, but I like it.

Scrawl for Art

Schools try to discipline our hands and make us write the right way, but what is the right way? Is good handwriting nothing but gilded expression—like something wrapped in gold, beautiful but lifeless, unable to move. Is there a right to be unruly, and does that extend to one’s handwriting? If we focus too much on writing beautifully, do we stem expression? Do we slow down for beauty and sacrifice the heat of the moment, the passion of scribbling at the speed of thought, unstoppable, pure, complete freedom, complete expression?

Should we let our handwriting become ugly once in a while? Should we let our hands move with a fervor, unguided by the lines on the page, unguided by all the rules of the right way to write an A, instead guided by thought, heart, love, fear, freedom? Is it the artist in me that refuses to be what people think is proper, but instead express, no matter what, no matter if one is understood or not, no matter if one understands oneself or not, that makes my handwriting so unlike the correct handwriting that I’m expected to have? Maybe it is artist in me that permits me to become imperfect, and bold enough to say, hey, I might write this way, but I will write anyway.


[1] Not being able to read my handwriting is a rare occurrence but nonetheless it happens every now and then.

[2] Wow ang dami kong nabasa= Wow, I can read everything (sarcastic tone).

[3] Ang panget ng handwriting mo, puwede ka na mag-doctor!=Your handwriting is so ugly; you can be a doctor!

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of My Terrible Handwriting

  1. dont worry tho, the “chicken scratch” is not the worst comment about handwriting. i had a classmate before, my teacher likened his penmanship to that of a mouse’s! no kidding! lol XD

    Like

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