Thinking About CMT and My Handwriting

Thinking About CMT and My Handwriting
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A few years ago at a previous job, a co-worker confessed to me that she used to think I was a bit gross because she thought I had frequent nosebleeds and didn’t immediately throw my used tissues away. She had seen tissues stained a blood-red color strewn on my desk. 

It was a fair assumption. And I thought the misunderstanding was a little funny. However, the truth was that I was enthusiastic about my fountain pen collecting hobby. And at the time, I was particularly fond of an ink called “oxblood,” which has a brownish-red color that can look like dried blood under a certain light. 

I would write with my fountain pens quite often and frequently run out of ink. As anyone who works with fountain pens knows, refilling them is rarely a mess-free affair.

I still write with fountain pens, and for more than five years, I’ve kept a journal. But I’ve never thought deeply about the practice of handwriting itself and how it can communicate and record so much about a person, their personality, and their story. For me, it’s a story that in some small way will always include the effects of Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease.

My train of thought about the significance of handwriting began when I stumbled across an article about a new typeface called “Shake.” It was developed by Morten Halvorsen, the associate creative director and art director at the ride-sharing company Lyft

The typeface isn’t the most legible nor is it elegant. The lines are squiggly and irregular, and some parts of certain letters are wider than others. And the lowercase “w” seems to be dancing to a song its fellow letters can’t hear. 

In fact, the typeface is so incredibly atypical that I can’t think of a single situation in my professional life where I would use it. Nonetheless, I find it appealing because it’s one of the most personal I’ve ever come across. And that’s because “Shake” is based on the handwriting of Halvorsen’s mother.

The origins of “Shake” come from a visit with his mother during the Thanksgiving holiday. She has lived for eight years with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive condition affecting the brain that results in loss of coordination among other symptoms. Halvorsen asked her to write down the alphabet on a sheet of paper. Each letter of the typeface is an image of how his mother wrote that specific letter on that day.

Even though his mother’s handwriting breaks most, if not all, rules for “good” typeface design, Halvorsen still deemed it worthy of a typeface. It preserves her writing, and for those who know her personally, I’m sure it reminds them of her personality and spirit. Because that’s what handwriting can do. By its nature, handwriting is unique and deeply personal and that’s what makes it special.

So far, most days CMT doesn’t seem to affect my hands too much as long as I don’t strain myself. Although my handwriting has improved greatly over the past few years, I have at times been a bit self-conscious about it. Though I like how my cursive looks, my print lettering has a “school-boyish” appearance.

I think this self-conscious feeling is familiar to many in the fountain pen community. Many of us celebrate the penmanship and follow the social accounts of the fountain pen celebrities, all of whom have gorgeous penmanship. However, I think it’s important for hobbyists to celebrate the idiosyncrasies and the flaws that make us who we are.

“Shake” reminded me of this fact.

I plan to enjoy handwriting for as long as my body will allow me. And I hope that even if — or perhaps inevitably when — CMT starts to significantly affect my handwriting, I can still appreciate and celebrate how my handwriting is my own, flaws and all.

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Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.

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3 comments

  1. Gary Loethen says:

    Thank you for this article. I used to have fairly good handwriting, but accelerated loss of strength in my fingers over the past several years now make even just signing my name almost impossible. It feels like a loss of identity. I now primarily print in block letters, and even that is difficult. Your story about the “Shake” typeface helps put a positive spin on this additional,and very personal, change of life caused by CMT.

  2. Cyndi says:

    I too used to have beautiful handwriting and printing, and now can’t sign my name most days. Just another everyday skill that we take for granted until it’s gone. Continue to enjoy yours!

  3. Rhonda says:

    As a young person I was complemented for my handwriting. Now it looks like different people write one sentence on a page then another simply because my fingers and arm gets tired so quickly. I try to laugh about it when I lose my grip and the pen may go flying out of my hand!

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