By Hand

This is the first post I’ve written by hand since a thunderstorm took out our power last yeara tree limb fell on our house, nearly crashing through the dormer where my daughter sleeps. There are several reasons why I returned to the pen.


First, I did a funny thing yesterday. I paid for a coffee with one of those digital screen signature pads. I’ve gotten eerily adept at signing my name. When I had it signed yesterday, in perfect cursive, my index finger stayed on the “n” in “Goodson.” I had an overwhelming urge to screw it up, like an Edgar Allan Poe character who vexes his own soul by killing a pet. It may be a result of the realization I had recently that I could thumb characters on my phone without looking. My bulbous thumbs had honed the precision of a typewriter on a space smaller than an index card. Whatever the reason, I wanted to ruin the easy process, curse my digital John Hancock, destroy it like a bully would a classroom etch-a-sketch. 

I took one look at the barista, knowing she was about to make my pour-over coffee and I streaked my finger across my name, moving horizontally. She looked at it and said, “cool signature.”

I wrote this post because hands just can’t win in this world. It’s like our booming housing market, suffering from an unmet demand for construction workers. One reason I hand-wrote this post is to stick it to all the screens out there. Let them know who’s in charge. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony that I am a sellout for typing it up. But, I think you’ll forgive me. After all, getting into most any truth nowadays requires a tango with irony. How else do you turn an upside-down world right-side up?)


A second reason I wrote this by hand is that tomorrow is graduation at the school where I teach. It will be the first graduating class of Generation Y Americans. Millennials experienced the tech explosion; Ys were raised on screens. It shows. These Ys, my students, can’t write an essay for more than 30 minutes without their hands cramping. They have adopted a secret code of emojis. Don’t try to crack that code. For the love of everything holy, don’t try to communicate in it; you’ll only make a fool of yourself in the process, like trying to impress fluent french speakers with what you remember from your high school french experience.

Ys prefer Snapchat to Facebook. It comforts me to know that Facebook can’t wrap its tentacles around them. No one likes the choke hold Facebook holds us in. It gives me hope that Facebook won’t morph into a totalitarian state like in The Circle. (If you haven’t seen or read The Circle, I highly recommend you read the book by David Eggers)

These Ys don’t feel the defiance of the screen as I did ordering coffee the other day. You can’t defy without first knowing the alternative. Parents know the logic. If all your child knows is Kashi brand unsweetened wheat cereal, he or she can’t miss eating Frosted Flakes. If all they’ve known is screens, a pen to paper is not an act of defiance, only an antiquated and cumbersome waste of time. By their logic, if it’s not shared on a screen, what’s the point?

The point is that these emojis are modern hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics are cool because they were discovered. Electronics require a human to operate. Whatever comes after the 6th extinction—said to be the one that extinguishes humans—will only have what we produce on paper. That’s why print books are still cool.


The third reason for this hand-written post is I needed to do something light on the blog. Melanie pointed it out to me in her comment on my last post. I don’t like light; I prefer deep thoughts and big pictures. I despise reality TV shows, especially when they’re sprinkled with Michelob Ultra commercials featuring some hipster who is a racquetball player by day and a low-calorie beer sipper by night. But, Melanie was right, once in awhile I just need a falsetto note; I need Beach Boys’ Surfer Girl instead of Pet Sounds. Everything good comes to balance.


So, it was high time I use those conference notebooks, paper-bound giveaways, my wife’s disregarded orientation pad—thank you Sunrise Therapy! It was time for a return to that ancient form: the quill to parchment. It shows the hyper-speed at which we are travelling. I write about 4 times slower than I type, Which makes every word more deliberate and precise. And, in ways I can’t fully understand, writing on paper makes me feel drastically less self-important. Maybe it’s the silence of handwriting, compared to the hammering of a keyboard.


Some of my fondest memories have come in hand-written words: letters from friends in camp, or from my wife back when she was my long-distance girlfriend, or congratulatory notes with words of wisdom from parents and siblings. I wrote a novella I called I See You when I was in the ICU. My wedding gift to my wife was a handwritten book of poems. I’ve filled notebooks and journals with my rambling thoughts. I hand-wrote this post out of sheer nostalgia.

Best of all, the exercise has been a good reminder that my hands no longer shake from withdrawal; my thoughts are no longer feverish from delirium; and my heart rate no longer needs monitoring.

Sometimes, the miracle of the mundane is as simple as a steady hand and a calm heart.

27 Responses to “By Hand

  • Every time I have to sign on one of those digital pads, I deliberately don’t sign my name. I just put a squiggle of some kind on it. It’s my own little defiant stand against technology, which is ironic given that my entire livelihood has been based on technology. But there’s something about capturing my signature that I’ve never liked.

    • Damien: I do the same thing!

    • Wow, yeah. There’s a lot that I don’t trust with what’s going on. I share things very deliberately, knowing I will always choose to keep some things private. I try to keep using technology, you know, not have tech use me. It’s a fine line and I’ve been on both sides of it. Don’t know what came over me when buying that coffee. I ride those strange impulses sometimes. Just not the self-destructive, pick up a drink ones…

    • Burst out laughing at this Daniel – because I was just about to comment the same thing. I scribble nonsense. Not in an act of defiance, though… just pure laziness on my part. Too funny.

  • Yes, I am sure that subsequent generations will have a decreased level of written literacy. It is so very sad!

  • What an interesting post today Mark. I have recently been thinking about what life would be like if I deleted my FB account, stopped blogging, and withdrew from my online connections….what kind of solitude would I experience? What would I be able to get done each day? Ive thought of going back to writing notes and cards and mailing them to people….”like in the old days.” Lol That feels like a gift today, very personal and not just a hastily written off email or text. I dont know….maybe a break is in order. But probably not until after baby boy arrives, because I want to be able to show his sweet face (how could it be anything other.) lol Maybe I just need to step back from my online world for a bit and live in my real world, totally present, for awhile.

    • Annette- that sounds like a good idea. I have real difficulty taking breaks. But it does me good when I take them. I took a week off from everything last year and there were definitely benefits. The crazy part is this stuff is like 24/7 for me. Vacation time? What? I’m always thinking about the blog, the writing, the posts etc. because it is my passion.

      What’s more important though is that boy entering your life, grandma! Whether you’re posting bout it or not, it will be a miracle, I pray! Very happy for you.

  • Sometimes when I can’t seem to think of anything to write about for my blog. I take to pen and paper and just do a free-flow thing that typically starts out something like, “Man, I can’t think of a thing to write about, having a total brain fart, when I want my mind to be blank I can’t stop the crazy thoughts but when I want to write I go blank…” 😉 I think different mediums engage different parts of the brain. No harm done, right? <3
    Diana xo

    ps. I used to be able to comment thru my WordPress and now I have to enter an email. Did you change something?

    • I think that’s it exactly. Typing provides one type of stimulation, and writing another. I do think the writing is a more peaceful stimulation though. Like, I have to make so much noise just to reply to anything. Clacking around these keys!

      I never know what my WordPress is doing! I update whenever it asks me to. I switch plug in around when it crashes. Sorry you had to jump through an extra hoop, but I’m glad you did, Diana. Always good to hear from you. Have a good weekend!


  • As one of the old-timers (that is in age, not wisdom) in this blogging community, I can attest to the joy of pencil-to-paper that is lost on the Y Generation. The energy exuded in writing has benefits that are beyond anecdotal, yet still categorized anecdotal. Many of my clients still look mystified when I tell them they will need to purchase a journal to work with me. My personal journals have proven priceless to my growth. Glad I was born in the 60s.

    I am also happy to share that I’ve managed to navigate social media with a grain of salt these days (or an avalanche of ignorance, depending on the lens).

    Always enlightening Mark. Enjoy your last day of school with the kids. You are a teacher to us all.

    • Those are really kind words, Lisa. Thank you. I hope everything with Sober Identity is going well for you. I’m definitely in that transition generation, but I feel the need to extend the legacy of what the hand-written word can do for you. I prefer typing, though. Much faster…

      Grain of salt sounds right. I’d much rather sprinkle some social media on my life like salt than drown in it like an avalanche. Although, I’ve experienced both.


  • Hi Mark!
    I just saw a cute sign on FB about how one day old people will write in cursive as our secret code!
    I used to only write on paper, but times they are a changing.
    The good thing is, you can write on both!!

    • That’s right! Both is better than one or the other, right?

      It’s wild, the cursive thing. Why do we still sign our names in cursive? The signatures of the future are going to become real ugly. Let’s just push forward with the retina scan already.

  • Mark, hopefully this summer you will meet my wife, Pam. Just as our relationship was getting serious (35 years ago!) I left for Munich for a year. Obviously, this was pre-technology and we wrote each other letters. Every day. Imagine writing a letter and getting the response 2 weeks later! Anyway, we fell in love through those letters. We talked about once every 2 months and did not see each other for 9 months. I am convinced we would not be together but for that experience. I’m not knocking the current age of skype, FaceTime, and text: but I know what I experienced! Like you acknowledged the other day, you are an old soul. I love it!!

    • HD! A lot of similarities with how me and Miranda got together. The first 6 months of our relationship was long distance. I met her here, had one date, then she moved to TX for half a year and we wrote letters! Well, we also talked on the phone a lot too. But, I think you’re right, something about starting a relationship in that way is helpful for the long run, I hope. I pray! I think we got some good ones.

  • Brilliant, man! Just got around to reading. I agree with HD, your soul is wise beyond your years! Glad I know you, friend.

    PS: Our Wal-Mart book is going to make a million.

    • I knew my years spent as a trashy romance reader would pay off eventually. ! Danno, you cracked me up with that. Thanks for not allowing ourselves to be taken too seriously! May that never happen because what would the fun be then?

  • I can see more in a person’s handwriting than I can in a cleanly typed out screen. So many contradictions in our lives. We love this ability to write and share, but we love the hand written ability to capture our moods, thoughts, and personalities.

    • Isn’t it wild to break things down to basics, insofar as we humans can write something down on paper, and other humans can look and understand what it means?

  • I do not miss the shakes! That was the sign that I couldn’t hide it anymore, shaking every morning, not being able to drink my coffee. Pure hell.

    • Pure hell. I relate. I got so bad I couldn’t read. They gave me a prayer to read in rehab and all the letters sort of floated around.

      So glad to be on the other side of this thing, right? Gripping that coffee with a steady hand.

  • I journal almost every morning longhand in pen. And I said to someone this week that the newer generation doesn’t know what it was like before iPhones and iPads, so they feel less conflict about it but maybe not less overload and havoc. I remember and feel a nostalgic pull to pre-phone life that is hard to follow through on consistently, but it feels right too.

    • I relate to you exactly. I am constantly pulled there, but then I’m pulled more heavy-handedly back to my phone. I have to imagine that eventually humans will return to some semblance of “primitive living”. Either that or we’ll go out in a blaze of glory. I hope for the first. Always great to hear from you Kristen. Hope your summer is starting well.

  • Loved it my brother and that was FUN!!

  • Perfect read for my re entry into the online world of blogging, social media, etc. Mark! I love journaling, but problem is I can never read my own handwriting after. I have been known to take hours (okay no minutes…) trying to crack the code…I have no excuse because I didn’t learn on the screen. I could probably use some OT expertise from your wife! Okay onto the next, you may be hearing from me quite a bit this week…I see you have been busy writing, I’m getting busy reading. Until next typed comment…

    • This is on point for me to read.

      I just heard an interview with David Foster Wallace (one of my idols in the craft) and he said he prefers to hand-write stuff because it slows him down. I think at the end of the day, I’ll always be a typer. When I’m writing, I don’t want anything to slow me down. That may change. This post was needed for me though. I was in a ‘must slow down’ place in my life and in my writing.

      Welcome back, Marahu. I hope your break was a much needed reprieve. God knows we need it. This social media stuff can be hazardous to your health.

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