“There is something at the same time both embarrassing and heartwarming about seeing your handwriting from when you were fifteen.”
–Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
If I’m remembering correctly, we’ve featured Mr. Gaiman on this blog before. However, given his brilliance as a writer, I think it doesn’t hurt to visit another of his works. Gaiman’s Trigger Warning is a rich collection of humor and terror and profundity. There’s everything from poetry to flash fiction to an introduction that’s actually worth the read. And if that’s not enough to interest you, there’s a Doctor Who story. I’ll just step aside for a moment and let the fandom stampede by.
Okay, now that my fellow Whovians are in the process of purchasing, borrowing, or otherwise obtaining a copy of Gaiman’s collection, I’ll get back to the quote.
To be honest, this quip about our younger selves struck me on its own merit, completely without regard to the context of the story. That doesn’t make the story not important and good, of course. But it got me thinking about when I was fifteen.
Do you remember what your handwriting looked like then? Freshman or sophomore year of high school. Maybe you were in the cool crowd, going to parties or whatever cool people do for fun. I wouldn’t know. I’m a nerd. So maybe you were more like me, studying like crazy, knowing that AP classes were right around the corner. Making jokes that only the top 10-15% of your class would get. Okay, not really. But it’s nice to dream that my humor was that high-quality.
My handwriting started evolving around the time I was 15. See, at some point during my sophomore year, I learned about handwriting analysis. And, like every teenager who discovers handwriting analysis (which is a surprisingly high number, or was when I was 15), I experimented. If my handwriting really said something about my personality, could I manipulate it? Could I make myself a better person just by altering the way I write? Of course, it doesn’t work that way at all. But when you’re fifteen, character development sure seems easier if it’s as simple as changing the way you make your letters.
So my fifteen-year-old self’s handwriting is erratic. Some of my I’s have serifs. Others don’t. I tried curly tails on my q’s. Then straight ones. Then little tiny hooks. I fiddled with the final strokes of my m’s and n’s. I considered myriad ways to dot my i’s and cross my t’s–and I’m not kidding! What does my handwriting say about me? It was an all-consuming question for a few months. I loved it.
I still tweak my handwriting on occasion. It’s fun to see words in different ways. There’s an art to it. But when I look back on my handwriting experiments, I am a bit embarrassed at the naive person I was then (and still am, to some extent). I’m also reassured by my younger self’s hope, her faith in the world. Sure, she had seen some darkness and experienced some disappointments. Those things were huge then. They were big enough problems for fifteen-year-old me. Some of them seem small to an older me. Others are just as big to me now. My world is growing and changing.
I think that’s what Gaiman means by heartwarming. We can look back at our younger selves and regret what we did or who we are. But it would be a shame if we didn’t see the beauty in each step along the way. Sometimes we think we can escape who we were. But who we were makes us who we are. And I’ve got notebooks filled with my evolving handwriting to prove it.