I have a problem, and it took me a lifetime to realize I have a problem, at least since the fifth grade. It’s something that probably hampered my career. If things had gone differently, I could have been a contender, I could have been somebody — Warren Buffett, Jimmy Buffett, Jay-Z, George Clooney, Madonna or … Donald Trump.
When I was endorsing a check the other day, I realized my signature looks as if it came out of a computerized Microsoft program. It’s a homogenized collection of letters that’s too neat and orderly. There’s nothing distinctive or flamboyant that suggests, “Here is a man to be reckoned with – a man who will change the world for (take your pick) the better or the worse.
No savoir fare, no dash. Instead of looking like it was written by Captain Jack Sparrow with his rapier, my signature looks like it was written by Homer Simpson with a Bic ballpoint pen in one hand and a double cheeseburger in the other.
Even worse, it looks as if Sister Immaculata in her interminable quest for perfection, spiritual and otherwise, was standing over me, brandishing her 16-inch ruler in the tradition of Jack Sparrow, poised to strike my knuckles if I messed up the loops in my “l’s”.
Look at your signature. What does it say about you? Does it say you’re a lazy slug who doesn’t care about neat penmanship? Does it say you’re a potential sociopath? Does it say you’re destined for greatness? Does it say you have sexual problems? (If your script is too small, handwriting analysts suggest something is amiss in areas generally considered private.)
My signature, I suspect, says I’m uptight and anxiety-ridden. It says I learned cursive handwriting via the Palmer Method of penmanship in a Spartan classroom from instructors who pounced on me whenever I made a mistake or tried to be a nonconformist.
Instead, I want it to say, “Here’s a first-rate dude with fire in his belly, a guy who’s going places, who’s been places — maybe even distant planets. Maybe he came from a distant planet!”
One noted “thought leader” I met recently has a signature that looks like a lightning streak across the sky. I can’t read what it says, but it has distinction. Mine, on the other hand, is as inspirational as the label for Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.
At the office, the walls are adorned with autographs of great figures in modern history, everyone from Margaret Thatcher to Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali. Their signatures, which are meant to inspire us, speak volumes. Ali’s autograph has real punch, Thomas Edison’s is enormously inventive, Walter Cronkite’s has integrity, Rosa Parks’ displays strong character, and Ronald Reagan’s is purely presidential.
But every time I want to add a little flair, my hand freezes and makes the old familiar movements I’ve made since grade school, when Sister was scrutinizing my fountain pen’s tortured progress. (She could have been a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. If she were, we would have won the Vietnam War.)
Sadly, the neat handwriting the nuns strived to teach us is out of fashion today. There’s even a campaign to end cursive after it was dropped as a requirement from the Common Core Curriculum. With kids text-messaging and pecking away on their iPads, why waste time with traditional handwriting? Better to express yourself with emojis and insulting tweets.
Even though some educators declare cursive writing is irrelevant, there’s a resurgence in the classroom, and states like Louisiana, Arkansas, California, Florida and Virginia have enacted requirements for handwriting instruction because studies have shown it improves fine motor dexterity, helps with composition skills and engages the brain.
Opponents of cursive say young people don’t need a handwritten signature. They can use a personalized emoji instead. Can you imagine President Trump using that emoji that looks like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” to sign an immigration bill into law?
What will the autographs of famous men and women look like if they print their names? As a Louisiana state legislator said, “I think it’s really discouraging to get a note from a college graduate that’s printed like a second-grader.”
What will become of the great leaders of the future if they can’t handwrite their names? Will their 70-year-old secretaries sign historic documents for them? Will they have to use a rubber stamp?
As for me, I’m still striving for a flamboyant signature that looks like it was created by Picasso. But if I have to resort to an emoji, I want the fellow who’s blowing kisses.
To contact Joe Pisani, email firstname.lastname@example.org.