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Panache and National Handwriting Day

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!

Today, 23 January 2016, is John Hancock's 279th birthday. Remember him? Smuggler, merchant, Massachusetts governor, president of the Continental Congress? Guy whose ginormous signature on the United States Declaration of Independence is his major claim to fame today?

John Hancock's writing panache has inspired a day that is dedicated to remembering something he did. 23 January is National Handwriting Day.

I love the word "panache." It's a word that invites the senses to luxuriate in its panache-ness. Notice how it sounds in your brain before you say it. Notice how it feels in your mouth as you say it. It's elegant, it's silky, it's inviting, it's flowing, it's alive.

I have a very personal connection with writing. Writing was my reason for being for 35 years. I fell in love with making letters at age 10 after finding an old book on sign painting in my grandfather's book collection. His advanced macular degeneration kept him from teaching me sign painting, so I did what many calligraphers in training do; I outlined letters and filled them in.

I eventually found teachers who told me about a different kind of pen, a kind of pen that made different looking letters. I practiced, I took classes, I read books, I went to exhibits, I taught classes, and I eventually became good enough at making pretty letters with pens and brushes to be accepted to faculty at two international lettering arts conferences. I traveled across North America, giving lectures and teaching workshops for beautiful and dedicated people who wanted to learn more about making pretty letters. I loved writing, and I loved teaching. My greatest joy as a teacher was finding ways to help my students develop the panache needed for truly fine writing.

I was traveling on the first of three planes to Australia to present lectures and teach workshops when I became deathly ill. My luggage made it all the way to Melbourne. I didn't. I knew my beloved 35 years of studying the letter arts was done. I still enjoyed the occasional playtime with my gorgeous lettering brushes, but I now had different work to do, spiritual coaching work to do. And then, 14 years later, I had the disabling stroke, the stroke that took away so many of the abilities that had made me who I'd thought I was.

My italic handwriting, the beautiful handwriting that I'd developed over many decades, was gone. Holding a pen felt foreign. The letters that came out of the ballpoint pens I held to sign checks or write memos looked sick. I was sick, so the letters reflected my sickness back to me.

I'd lost my writing panache. I got it back, a little at a time over the next four years, by pretending I still had it. I made myself remember a time in which the letters flowed from my pen or brush with grace and exuberance. I made myself remember a time in which my brain and my motor skills were still intact. I made myself remember a time in which the act of writing made me feel good, whether or not the letters looked good.

I'd taken many lettering workshops over the years. The skill set needed to be a good teacher isn't always the same as the skill set needed to be a good penman. I remembered taking my first brush writing workshop with an internationally known artist. He didn't speak much English, and he walked around the classroom with his translator. I didn't need a translator to tell me what he meant each time he looked at my paper with despair, shaking his head as he left my desk.

The student sitting next to me, someone I barely knew, decided to become my angel, carefully looking at my writing and telling me, "You know, you're going to be really good at this. Please don't stop doing this because of him."

Michael Rawlins gave me the inspiration needed to go home and practice. Michael's encouragement gave me the injection of panache I needed. Wherever you now are, my friend, for as long as I have memory, I will never forget your kindness. You changed my life.

Seven years later, my brush-written logo was chosen to represent an international lettering arts conference. Did everyone like it? No. Was it one of my greatest triumphs? You bet it was.

Nearly four years after my disabling stroke, I once more have pretty decent handwriting. I can look at an envelope I've addressed and admire my work. The slant is uniform, the letters are consistently written and spaced, the flow is there. The panache is back. Is it perfect? No. Is it one of my greatest triumphs? You bet it is.

John Hancock's signature has panache. Is it perfect? No. Is it the thing for which he is remembered? You bet it is.

If my life hadn't radically changed so many years ago, I'd end this post by encouraging you to spend part of this day by writing something by hand. If you want to do that, go for it. Writing something by hand is a wonderful way to spend a Saturday in January.

Instead, I'm ending this post by encouraging you to remember a time when you lived with panache and then consciously bring it into your present. If you can't find your own panache, then ask someone who sees who you really are to connect you with it.

Live with panache. And if miracles begin showing up in your life....enjoy!

Copyright Sheryl Hirsch-Kramer 2016 All Rights Reserved