“Cut it out with the OCD,” my teacher said, in front of my entire class. “Just write.”
I can’t. I can’t just write. It has to be perfect.
“This is the neatest penmanship I have ever seen.”
I know. Throughout the past decade, I’ve heard that phrase too many times, maybe even more than “I love you.” If I got a dollar for every time someone commented on my handwriting, well… you get it. To many, it’s considered perfect; to me, it’ll never be good enough. While most viewers find beauty in the pages of my notebooks, I find pain. Frustration. Obsession.
“How did you learn to write like that?”
I really don’t know. My writing has always been decent, but it didn’t become a spectacle until middle school. You might be wondering why. So am I, in a way. All I can say is that I was ridiculously competitive. That annoying kid who acted like gym class was the Olympics? Yeah, sorry about that. Jenn, my 6th grade best friend, had it all going for her and evidently I needed something to get the upper hand. Why not use a random, irrelevant handwriting talent to do so?
Suddenly, teachers were praising me simply for how I put a pencil to my paper. As a young tween seeking perfection, I suppose that I discovered a way in. I paid more attention to it, and gained more attention for it; all eyes were on me to never make a mistake. The crosses on my T’s and dots above my I’s had to be flawless – and I didn’t even think about leaving an uppercase H asymmetrical.
To tell you the truth, it’s fear. If my pen bleeds, or I spell something wrong, or I simply don’t align my capital letters, it leads to something worse. My fists will clench, my teeth will grind, and tears will immediately well up in my eyes. Someone will see me and the whole school will realize that I’m not who I seem. Think about a guy dating a girl like that – wedding bells won’t ever chime for me. I’ll age, lonely and anxious, living in obsession. Maybe I’ll end up on a reality show with millions of viewers, laughing at my compulsions and vowing to avoid the illnesses that I couldn’t.
“Does it take you a long time to write? Do you write really slowly?”
Maybe? It depends on what your definition of slow is, but probably. I take time to write; never too much, but never too little. Sometimes, I can’t tell if people are questioning me out of admiration, or criticism. During high school, I spent much class time with a red face – a combination of embarrassment and anger – as teachers called me out for sighing in frustration as they clicked through PowerPoint slides at an unreasonable pace, or never finishing my in-class essays. My Statistics teacher, perhaps my worst critic, never even called me by name; just The Human Typewriter.
If my notes looked remotely messy, I would dramatically crumple my paper and tear a new sheet out of my notebook. Other students picked up on this quirk, and loved to torment me. The small pen marks drawn by immature classmates on my beautiful paper were sometimes worse than bold slashes; so subtle, and all the more frustrating. I’m still traumatized by the time Mark from 9th grade Geometry stuck a piece of scotch tape on my notes and ripped it off. If I recall correctly, I actually cried.
“It looks typed. Did you really write this? You should have your own font.”
Yes, I really wrote it – and hey, let me know if you have any connections with Microsoft. I’ve even heard that my handwriting is neater than a computer, which is the compliment of all compliments. I strive for that, even though I turn up with nothing in the end. Actually, my handwriting has led me to constant requests and favors. Taking notes on carbon paper for absent students (even though I write slowly… doesn’t make any sense); drawing on posters for every project that ever required one; and writing envelopes for doctor’s offices, Christmas cards, and a myriad of other things. It causes me stress and wastes my time, but I always remind myself of the praise that I’ll get when it’s done.
“Do you write like this all of the time?”
That’s my little secret. Why waste the time with my journals and to-do lists when I’m the only one whose eyes are on it? But God forbid anyone gets a flash of the real me – the sloppy S’s, the uneven variations of D’s – it’s all over. My hard work, my only talent, it doesn’t make a difference. I rarely let people see that side of me, because frankly, it sucks. Why show your insecurities when you could show perfection?
Over the years I’ve become less rigid, not by overcoming my obsession but rather by just accepting it. I’ve gotten comfortable making a few mistakes here and there, mainly due to exhaustion and overcompensating in other areas (don’t get me started on my obsessions with ironing clothes and disinfecting my room). It may not even matter one day, though; typewriters are obsolete. My handwriting will soon become a dated artifact, garnering as much attention as the cassette tape and paper road map. And it scares me, because I’ll be obsolete, too.
It’s nice to be praised for your outside when your inside is so broken. I’ll always wonder if my handwriting led me to my illness, or the other way around; I don’t really want to know, regardless. Maybe some admirers overlook the reality of my writing, but I try to ignore the fact that others see right through me. There’s no way a girl who writes like that could be normal.
“It’s so perfect. I wish I could write like that.”
Trust me. You don’t.
Gina graduated from Emmanuel College with a B.A. in Writing and Literature. She enjoys writing non-fiction memoir as well as children’s literature. She will be pursuing a Master’s Degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and hopes to publish a book for English language learners. Her work has also been featured in Reverb Magazine.