I never was able to write cursive. Even to think of it, now, after all these years, makes my throat constrict and my heart race. The pencil was ordinarily my friend. I worked math with it: I was good at math. And I wrote with it: I was good at writing. Well, I was good at printing.
When you write a letter, in cursive, you need to hold the letter you are writing in your mind. But as you approach the end of that letter, you need to begin to hold the next letter in you mind as well, because you're going to transition from one to the other. The end of the first is going to have to become the beginning of the second. I could not hold both in my mind at once. I could not make that smooth, slow transition. Either I was writing 'm' or I was writing 'o': if I thought of 'o' too late, I would find myself ending my 'm' at the baseline, already too far forward, and having to laboriously backtrack to find the beginning of the 'o'; if I thought of the 'o' too early, I left off writing the 'm' too quickly, and went straight from its second arch to where the 'o' was to begin. I was left with a strange character, which looked rather like a Greek 'eta', but nothing at all like any letter in the English alphabet.
Under the stress of this impossible task, I leaned in to the paper, writing darker and darker, jerkier and jerkier. I'd go back and add the missing third leg of the 'm' by viciously scoring the paper. The task enraged me. Partly because it was so unnecessary -- the ligature between the two letters was purely ornamental, adding nothing to legibility -- but mostly because I could not do it. I was the worst in the class. To add insult to injury, my teachers concluded that, because my writing looked hasty and slapdash, the problem was that I wasn't concentrating. If I just slowed down and tried harder, I could do it.
No way to explain. If I had gone slower, bearing down as heavily as I did, I would have torn the paper to shreds. I took the coward's way out: I pretended to think the whole thing was beneath me. I had more important things to do than to learn cursive. I couldn't be bothered. A boy will take any available role -- clown, criminal, supercilious creep -- before he'll take "incapable" or "incompetent." The die was cast: I was The Boy Who Was Too Smart Too Bother With Details.
Well. I've paid, for taking that role: paid materially, paid spiritually. It's a little late in the day, at 57, but I am ready to abandon it now. I was not too smart. I simply couldn't do it. Whether it was some odd short-circuit in the motor center of my brain, or a crippling anxiety, or merely trying to learn the task in some way that didn't suit me: the simple truth is that I failed, and I was ashamed.