I set a number of goals for myself in the past 12 months. Some were boring jobs around the house. Others were challenging, such as performing a Bach cello suite, or learning to circular breathe on the flute (more on that soon!). The most profound exercise turned out to be something that had a practical purpose, and very unexpected results.
As a professor, I sometimes have to write a lot. I'm a lefty, and my hand gets tired. I had often considered how helpful it would be to be able to write with my right hand, so that I could switch back and forth. Early attempts were illegible and frustrating, so I had basically given up. At the end of May, I decided that it was time to get serious.
|Repurposed cigar box and cursive template|
So, I decided to learn a new-to-me style of cursive with my right hand. I went back to the old penmanship charts that grade school children use, but I didn't really like the way some of those letters looked. I figured that, if I was going to do this, I should develop a font that I really like. I was starting from scratch anyway, so why not really go for it. In short order, I found myself looking at all sorts of calligraphy. I've never been a big fan of gothic writing. I much prefer the less formal handwriting of the 18th century. Soon, I found myself with a flex nib fountain pen, trying to copy handwriting samples of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and even John Hancock's eponymous "John Hancock." I also ended up looking at an 18th century manual for the self-taught gentleman, George Fisher's The Instructor.
|A modified "Italian Hand" based on The Instructor|
After several months of daily practice, I'm thrilled with the results. I'm not sure how practical it will be to write comment sheets in 18th century calligraphy, but I've developed a skill that is also a hobby. I've also felt some neurological and physical benefits from this practice. On the saxophone, I have always struggled with the weakness of my right hand, at least when compared to my left. The work with handwriting has given me noticeable increases in strength and dexterity with my non-dominant hand. This was totally unexpected, but a very welcome side effect!