This writer can’t write or spell so well

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to write, but writing doesn’t like me. Let me explain.

I have always enjoyed finding out the details of situations, then telling other people about what I learned. I guess I was born with a nose for news.

Growing up in post-World War II suburbia, a neighbor lady affectionately called me “The Beacon Journal,” in honor of the Akron, Ohio newspaper. Her point was that I not only knew the latest neighborhood news, but my facts usually checked out, too. At least that’s what I always thought she meant.

Unfortunately, I had a problem when it came to actually writing down the information. I could remember details all right. It was just that my handwriting was so bad it was nigh impossible for people to decipher. This was especially true for school projects.

On top of that, I wasn’t the best speller either. The problem there was that I spelled phonetically, which in the English language won’t carry your written communications very far.

So here I was a young storyteller with atrocious handwriting and horrible spelling skills. I can’t tell you how many times I would seek out a teacher to ask how to spell a certain word. The answer was always the same, as if it were an educators’ conspiracy. “Go look it up,” was the universal response.

In junior high study hall, we had one huge dictionary that students queued to use. I wore a path in the checkered tile from my assigned seat to the lexicon lectern. With impatient peers waiting in line while I fumbled through trying to find a word that I had no idea how to spell, I would break out in a cold sweat.

Whenever I heard that hated phrase “go look it up,” I cringed. What was the logic in trying to find a word in a dictionary when I had no idea what letter the word even started with?

Notes I scribbled during a recent phone call.
Let’s just say that the answer to that was that I did a lot of erasing in my schooldays. I knew I was in trouble already in the first grade. Those big fat cigar-like red pencils they gave us to use to practice our letters were not only hard to hold they didn’t have any eraser on the top. I had to always borrow one from the teacher until she finally asked my parents to buy my own.

That led to another problem. The pencil lead was dark and gritty on that pale green writing paper with the two-toned blue lines that I never seemed to be able to follow. Out came the eraser, and pretty soon the paper was not only smudged, it often had at least one hole in it. Those lettering lessons would have made really neat abstract art.

That’s what happens when you start first grade at age five with no preschool or kindergarten experience. My fine motor skills have never caught up.

My handwriting is still horrible. So is my spelling. But thank goodness for computers and word processing software. I sit in awe sometimes when I run the spellchecker and the program can actually figure out the word I meant.

Typing has saved me from trying to decode my scraggly penmanship, unless of course I’ve done an interview with someone. I usually have to hustle home and quickly transcribe my scribbling so I can remember exactly what I wrote.

That’s how bad my handwriting was and still is. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Michael Dell saved my life, purely in a literary sense of course.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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