When was the last time you handwrote something?
"It's a lost art," said Donna Lou Martin, 89, of Southington. "And we're allowing it to happen."
Martin has gained a reputation as far west as Colorado for her beautiful handwriting. Each year, she orders potica, a kind of Croatian nut roll, from a company in Colorado. Martin said the man who received her order saved the envelope she sent it in because he admired her writing.
"I have always liked writing," she said. "I have a small sense of pride in it."
Martin does a lot of handwriting, including letters, Christmas and Valentine greetings, and a daily log.
"I think people appreciate it without realizing it," she said of handwritten letters and greetings.
On the other hand, Grant Walter, 19, of North Jackson, has such bad handwriting that he's been using a laptop in class since the eighth grade. Walter initially made the suggestion to his mother as a joke, but she thought it was a good idea. A few permission forms later, Walter was using a laptop in class. "I just sat in the back of the classroom, near an outlet," he said.
As a child, Walter's teachers often couldn't read his class work or homework. He would either rewrite the assignment or simply not turn it in.
"It was really discouraging," Walter said.
In third grade, Walter began hand-copying a book, hoping his handwriting would get better.
"I tried to improve it," Walter said of his unsuccessful efforts.
How does Walter's bad handwriting hinder him?
"Job applications," he said. "If I have an hour to fill out a job application, it will be legible. But if I don't have much time, they won't be able to read it. I can't print fast enough."
Poor handwriting can affect our lives in other ways, too, such as finances. Cathy Carrick, 49, of Girard, works at Key Bank in Canfield as an operations supervisor and sometimes has to deal with illegible checks.
"We always go by the written-out amount over the number amount," Carrick said.
In cases where both amounts are illegible, a bank employee must either call the maker of the check or give the check back to the customer without processing it. However, many banks are switching to electronic systems.
"Everything is electronic," Carrick said. "There are no deposit tickets anymore. A scanner scans the checks, but sometimes even the scanner can't read the amount. That's when we run into trouble."
Good penmanship does more than just facilitate health care and banking, though. Rand Nelson of Peterson Directed Handwriting in Greensburg, Pa., said that handwriting is an important part of the skills involved in language learning.
"Kids that are able to produce letters at a rate of 30 to 40 letters per minute are ahead in reading and are up a grade level," Nelson said.
According to Nelson, when we handwrite something, two processes occur simultaneously. We must translate language into written symbols, a process called transcription, and we have to translate ideas into words, a process called text generation.
"Lack of ability to generate forms interferes with text generation," Nelson said. "It makes composition a hugely frustrating task."
According to Nelson, there is a quick and simple way to test your handwriting skills. Write a short, legible sentence on a piece of paper. Then, close your eyes and rewrite the same sentence below the first. The more alike the two sentences look, the more fluent your handwriting is.
Penmanship doesn't receive as much attention now as it used to because the world around us is becoming increasingly digitized. Many of us use computers every day at school, work and home. But that's no excuse to neglect our handwriting.
Patricia Larkins, 59, of Warren, who confesses to having bad handwriting, has a possible answer.
"If there was a penmanship class, I would take one," she said.