Sharing Mana‘o

With the exception of this weekly column, most of my writing is intended to be heard rather than read. Storytelling and speechmaking are the usual objectives. Recently, though, I have received a varied spate of writing assignments, from adapting a classic fairytale into a children’s play, to CD liner notes for musician friends, and even a magazine review of a luxury spa treatment. I know, tough job, right?

Lately, between my desktop and laptop computers, e-tablet, and smartphone, it seems like all my time is spent hunched over keyboards of various sizes. While it’s faster and more efficient to type my words, I miss the low-tech process of writing by hand.

I always enjoyed writing assignments in school. Though my penmanship left a lot to be desired, I usually got As and Bs for content. Only once did I receive a bad grade on an essay. I don’t even recall the subject, but I remember it was a two-page dissertation. I wrote it with my pretty new purple pen and was shocked when it was returned to me with a big red “F” at the top of the page. Under the “F,” Mrs. Davis had written, “I REFUSE to read anything written in purple ink!”

Ink color is probably not an issue anymore, nor is penmanship. I’ve read that cursive handwriting is no longer taught in most schools. Maybe I’m hopelessly old-fashioned, but I don’t see that as progress. Putting pen to paper engages my brain in a way that tapping keys does not.

Thirty-five years ago, I got an inkling of what was to come, when my son came home from kindergarten and described his introduction to technology. “See, Mommy, my head is like a computer! The data goes in here, in my ears, and it gets processed in my brain, and then the output comes from my mouth.”

Computers in classrooms were not yet the standard, and I was pleased that his teacher had each child start the school day with a journal entry. The children were encouraged to write the words in their own way. Spelling and penmanship didn’t count; after all, they were kindergartners. Each Friday, Jimmy brought home his journal to share. Most entries made me chuckle (“Today I am hapy bcos Mommy tok me to McDonols”) but a few were rather sobering (“Today I am sad cus Mommy yell at me”).

Thanks to that daily exercise, Jimmy continued to use writing as a means of expression. I always carried pencils and a reporter’s notebook so that he could amuse himself while accompanying me on errands and outings. I still have a few of those pages, tucked into the trunk which also holds his kindergarten journal and letters to Santa.

One is a two-part missive, written when he was still a kindergartner. I was newly single and had taken Jimmy along on a lunch date with an old friend. Drew and I had dated before my first marriage and were seeing each other for the first time since then. Unsure about this new face and protective of his mom, Jimmy announced that he would write a special message in our notebook. A few minutes later, grinning mischievously, he showed us the note: “Drew is a dodohead.” I’m sure he didn’t mean the bird. Again, spelling didn’t count.

Mortified, I told Jimmy that it was not nice to write mean things about people, and that surely he could think of something more positive to write. “Okay, then,” he huffed, “I’m going to make a birthday card.”

He turned over the page and spent a good amount of time and effort to draw a big birthday cake with plenty of sprinkles and candles. At the top, he wrote in painstakingly neat capital letters, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY DREW.” He finished the card with a border of tiny letters around all four edges: “dodododododo…”

It’s my favorite among all of Jimmy’s writings.

Jimmy: brain=computer, kindergarten journal, Drew is dodo

* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is