The Sixtieth Letter: Handwriting Is My Jam


Dear Daughters,

I have, as long as I can remember, loved to write longhand on paper.

I have also, as long as I can remember, practiced my handwriting.

I don’t know what that makes me, but certainly some level of nerd. I remember in my teens when I started shifting my lowercase ‘a’ intentionally to look more like a typeset ‘a’ because I had noticed it in someone else’s handwriting and thought it was cool.

This means I have always been aware of letters and how they look on the page.

And I guess this means that I have been a typography nerd before I even knew what the word “typography” was.

Fonts matter a lot to me. And by that I mean they matter a lot more than they should. To me, fonts have personalities and they send underlying messages. So when an email or a sign or a book or magazine uses a font that sends a different message than the words themselves, I feel the same tension as when there are actual typographical errors on the page.

Yes, I’m that kind of nerd.

I remember practicing to write with my left hand in elementary school on the off chance I would break my right arm. I suppose I’m still able to do that, to write with my left hand, but I haven’t tried in a long time. I did try this evening to write backwards in cursive, as I used to in middle school. I remember exchanging notes with my friend Jess Kisner in backwards script back in eighth grade, holding the pages up to the light to read them easily as the backwards script reversed when read through the page. Why did we do this? Surely we knew anyone who obtained the secret note would be able to do the same thing. But at least, I suppose, nobody could read over our shoulders as we wrote those notes to each other.

When I was in high school, I began experimenting with what I would now call hand-lettering. I remember taking quotes and trying to make each letter of each word an artistic image or creative design. I remember, especially, writing out “every man’s death diminishes me” during one of our state government school programs at the capitol building. Clearly I was paying attention to the program. Clearly I’ve always been left-leaning in my convictions.

As I was an academically minded nerd, I didn’t take many art classes, even though they were offered by my large public high school. We actually had a great art program. But I spent my days enrolled in AP classes to get the weighted GPA, even then with the goal of valedictorian, which is only mysteriously important to me now as I look back on it.

As an adult in my twenties, I discovered an Austin-based graphic designer & typographer. I was looking around at his website and I had an epiphany. If I had known that people did this sort of thing for a living–that people studied and developed fonts and letter-based designs–the whole trajectory of my life may have been different. Isn’t that strange? I remember emailing your Uncle Stephen a link to the guy’s website and saying, “DID YOU KNOW PEOPLE DID THIS AS A JOB?

Seriously, if I had it all to do again, I would have taken more art, and I probably would have learned some graphic design along the way.

Because letters are so my jam.

I’m fortunate that as a mom of wee ones in my thirties, I have managed to carve out an art life. The “fortunate” part is that I’m part of a community that loves art, and I have artsy friends who are also squeezing art into their lives, who are organized enough to get together for weekly meetings to work through The Artists Way or Walking in the World, workbooks on creativity and calling and vocation and art.

I have a writing group made up of writers who also make art. These women commission me to paint for them. They are my biggest cheerleaders. Well, apart from your dad, who is by far the best encourager there is. He tells me I’m awesome all the time, and he believes it. Your Grandma Troutman also tells me I’m pretty great, pretty much every time I post a new letter. And your Uncle Stephen jokes about being the president of my fan club. So I’m definitely fortunate to have people who cheer me on when it comes to art.

But seriously, let me get back to this handwriting thing.

I love handwriting. I love to write. I love to copy down quotes. I love to hand-letter them into artsy designs just because. I like to make lists, as I’ve mentioned once or twice in these letters. I love to send real letters, with stamps and everything. I don’t know what it would be like to just sign my name to a generic card because I am kind of compulsive about writing out long messages to people. It’s like I just hiccup and suddenly there is a paragraph on the page.

I do love my handwriting. I’m such a nerd. I like to practice writing. I like to read about lettering. I like to read about fonts. I like to practice fonts.

And I love that you are learning to write your letters. I’m so excited to teach you cursive. I love how you sit beside me and watch me letter in my notebooks. “That’s so pretty, Momma,” you say, over and over and over again, as I write and doodle or paint my letters and sayings and verses.

“That’s so beautiful, Momma.”

“Good job, Momma.”

“You’re a good artist, Momma.”

You’re the sweetest little encouragers.

I have been impressed already with the way you seem to have an eye for design and image and beauty and style. Not because you like my art, but because you care about how things are. You take note of beauty in nature, and you notice when things are different. You comment on colors and designs. You love catalogs because of the repeated patterns, and you especially get a kick out of the fashion designs in my Vogue.

Sometimes I think I might be imagining it, but your dad has noticed, too.

It gives me hope that you, too, love design and art and beauty.

It gives me hope that you like letters and colors and layout.

It gives me hope that you might be a nerd just like me.


Your Momma