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Suddenly You Can't Write?

Updated on December 15, 2019

Write: ‘to form letters and words with a pen, pencil or other implement on a surface. From the Old English ‘writan,’ original meaning ‘to scratch; Old Norse ‘rita.’ Chambers English Dictionary.

You lose your writing ability in late December - 2017.

Uncomprehending, you stare at the pen nib. Then you scrutinize your fingers, hand and wrist. Your pen is in your right hand and as far as you can remember, you are right handed. The normal way of holding a pen is between forefinger and thumb. You have always held pens between fore & middle finger and thumb. Although this ‘awkward’ method of holding writing instruments has raised lots of criticisms, it has made no difference to your writing ability. You flex your fore and middle fingers; could this ‘awkwardness’ now be causing digital seizure? You flex your thumb and wince at the ache.

You realize that it isn’t your creative writing skill you’ve lost; that would be devastating, like losing your imagination and memory. It is the physical act of moving the pen across paper and making legible markings that you’ve lost. Does this mean you are now illiterate? What’s happening? Your eyes moist over as the possibility of a future without being able to write slithers into your consciousness. Oh God, surely not! At school you’d always been first in writing, art and geography, but that was a very long time ago.

Did this mean you would lose your sketching skills as well, and be unable to read a map or a globe? You stare at your appendage, completely mystified. Maybe the pen had run out of ink? Phew! You sigh, all that inner turmoil just because your pen had run out of ink? You chastise yourself as the ache in your neck lessens and you remember the first ball point pen you’d ever owned. Your uncle Robert, a tank driver during WW ll, had presented you with a Biro when you were eleven.

For all of ten minutes you were the class hero because of that Biro – until you used it. Then you found out that the ball-point’s greatest attribute wasn’t in writing, but in blotting and clotting. It made a gooey mess on the paper, and back then just after the war, writing paper was scarce. Big Aggie, our teacher, didn’t just ban the Biro’s use, she confiscated it.

That’s what it would be, you decide as you lean forward to pull another piece of paper towards you. The pen will be out of ink; it was just so unusual. It used to be that Biros ran out of ink often, but nowadays it didn’t seem to happen, a bit like punctures in car tyres. Long ago, it was accepted that you carried a puncture repair outfit and tyre levers on any journey, as you never knew when the inner tube would be pierced and you’d have to do a roadside repair. Now, drivers call the Automobile Association. As you bemoan the death of the old days, you secretly revel in the reliability of the new.

You pull another scrap piece of paper towards you and put pen to paper – firmly. Damn it, the pen has ink - copious amounts of it.

What else can it be? You squirm as you look down at the pile of Christmas cards you still have to write. It’s an unfortunate time to become illiterate. You try the pen again, practically ploughing the pen through the paper in your attempt to convince the pen that it was ink-less. It makes no difference; the ink lines are obvious – and deep. So deep, that you have to check your desk for furrows.

You catch your breath as you remember a second cousin who literally could not write. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t write because of some physical disability. The part of his brain that transcribed and translated thoughts into the written word was as scrambled as his scratching on paper. He could read the written word; he could even read music and play musical instruments, but he could not, when it came to pens and paper, communicate anything except squiggles. You were so shocked at the sample that he showed you, that you were speechless. Everybody can write, can’t they?

Could this be a genetic thing? Were you going to revert to the scribbling of an infant? Was Auld Timers giving you a not-so-gentle nudge? This thought angers you; not in your lifetime you don’t.

Being a stubborn Scot, and knowing now that the pen has ink, you take a deep breath and try to write again. YES! Even clenching the pen in a death grip, you can still write. You take a deep breath before sitting back in relief. Wait a minute! You sit up straighter. That isn’t writing as in cursive, joined-up writing, it is printing; one letter at a time! You console yourself; at least you still know the alphabet. You try again, but the writing is still printing.

You recall your advice to the second cousin, ‘Relax! You don’t need to know how to write nowadays. Everything is done on computer and as long as you can work a keyboard, cell-phone or tablet, you have no need to worry. The only time you will need to actually write will be when you have to sign your name on an official document.’ Quite separate from your advice, his school doled out a laptop to him with the proviso that he wasn’t working hard enough to overcome his problem; he needed to practice more.

Recollecting those facts, you sign your name on the sheet of paper. It is your normal illegible signature, and the letters are joined-up. You ponder the schools ‘needed to practice more,’ statement and contemplate the foot high pile of Christmas cards. The last time you wrote anything with a pen was the previous Christmas. Could it be as simple as that; lack of practice?

You search through the cards you’ve received, and the yearly updates that have come with them. All of them are written, as in cursive. You look at the yearly MacNab Update that you are going to insert in every card; every one was printed on an HP Desk Jet. Even the address labels were done by Avery.

Unbelievable! How could you let things get to this stage? You know that you need to practice every skill. You remember after your motorbike accident, how, after 6 months in hospital, you needed help to put one foot in front of the other. And, in order to ride the Bonneville again, your friends had to hold it up and kick start it for you. The stupid part, where you put the wrong leg down to steady the bike at the first stop sign, and ended up back in hospital, you blur from your memory and would love to erase it completely.

And that is what has happened to your writing skill; you’ve blurred it from you memory. You put the pen down and get ready to go into town. You need to buy a notebook - with lines on it – and practice cursive writing again. Before you go, you scrabble in the miscellaneous drawer for your old Parker fountain pen. With a fountain pen you have to write properly.

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    • John MacNab profile imageAUTHOR

      John MacNab 

      9 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      Same here, Feline Prophet. Even when I'm taking notes for an article I find that I print them, which takes an age. But if I tried to write them they would be illegible. I hadn't thought of using a pencil, thank you for that idea and for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      9 years ago

      Glad to hear there are others like me! Over the years I've found it more and more difficult to write - with a pen at any rate. For some reason, I can do a reasonably good job with a pencil. Technology has a lot to answer for - my writing skills have gone downhill ever since I first began using a typewriter back in those days!

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