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Redoing First Grade

October 1, 2010

In my novel The Shame of What We Are, which follows a wimpy kid named Art Dennison from age 5 to 17, the 6-year-old version of Art grumbles about his first-grade teacher:

His new teacher’s rule was stupid, Art thought. Making him print when he had already begun using cursive last year in kindergarten. This was going backwards.

Though I refuse to specify how much of the novel is autobiographical, this part certainly is. Like Art, I learned cursive at a very young age, and I can proudly state that I maintained my expertise until recently.

In fact, despite years at a keyboard, I thought I was still adept at cursive until I started signing complimentary copies of Art’s story. Confronted with a pen instead of little black keys, I couldn’t manage to put all the letters in each word, couldn’t keep words from jamming into each other, couldn’t keep them in a facsimile of a straight line, and couldn’t compose a short paragraph without at least three scratch-outs.

This is a painful indignity, and it adds to my other problem, which is finding dedicatory words that don’t sound effusive or insincere to my oversensitive ears. I’m comfortable in being jokey or ironic but not in telling people how much they mean to me.

If any first-grade teacher is willing to coach an adult in cursive, and in writing nice, polite messages, please drop me a note—handwritten, please, to prove you can still do it.

Regards,  Sim sAn SAmm