When I was in eleventh grade, I took about a month to devise a new handwriting, with special attention to capital letters. I was always trying something to change myself, from a different spelling of my name (that no one could pronounce) to shampoo guaranteed to attract a cloud of boys and butterflies every time I left the house (that left my hair a stringy mess). My New Year’s resolutions were pages long. The handwriting thing was partly because teachers often complained about my penmanship and partly because it was something under my control. My handwriting was careful, but not pretty. Everything I wrote looked as though it had been penned by a third grader who was still figuring out this cursive thing.
I devised what I figured was a pretty stylish hand and practiced it obsessively. My new set of capitals added swirls in place of serifs. My new A, for example, looked a bit like a claw-footed Victorian end table. My Z had loops and a nifty pair of European-style crosshatches bisecting the diagonal.
No letter did I take more time with than my capital cursive J. I hated the way my name looked when I wrote it, the J ungainly and off balance with its two left-sided loops. My new J was the tallest letter of them all. I started it with a vertical stroke that then curved up high, looped around itself, swooped down and down into the tail, then rose in an insouciant line that pointed towards the next letter. Writing it almost propelled my hand off the paper like a pianist finishing a big chord.
It took forever to write using my new, “cool” handwriting. Some of my teachers complimented me on my nifty script. But writing more neatly didn’t seem to carry over to anything else. It didn’t make it easier to talk to boys, or make the inside of my head more interesting. So, as with a lot of my attempts at self-transformation, I found myself reverting. I started making capital “A”s that required three quick, careless slashes of the pen rather than slow, careful curlicues. My ornate capitals were abandoned after a few weeks; they just didn’t seem worth the effort.
Except–I kept the J (and its cousin, I, which was like the J but without the extravagant tail). The J invigorated my signature. I use that style of J today, decades later. It reminds me to stand a little taller and take up as much space as I care to. And it’s not exactly like anybody else’s J.
I’ve made a few resolutions this year. Not pages’ worth, just two or three. I’ll probably bust most of them by the end of January. Since a lot of my ideas for improving my life are pretty unrealistic, or downright terrible, it’s not so frustrating now when that happens. Every year I have the possibility of finding that good thing that will still be with me in a decade’s time.