Thinking About Steve Jobs

Small memorial at Apple Store, Georgetown DC

Like millions of other Americans, I heard that Apple founder Steve Jobs had died not from a TV or radio report but via an email received on my iPhone. In the days following his death, I learned a lot about this visionary and talented man, but the one thing that caught my attention was his study of calligraphy at Reed College in Oregon. A decade later when he was designing the first Macintosh computer, he made sure to incorporate good typography into the product. It’s been an Apple staple since.

I understand his fascination with calligraphy and the art of writing.  I mastered block letters then Palmer Method cursive at an early age.  While other elementary school kids gripped fat green and red pencils, yours truly was already using a slim yellow Ticonderoga.

At the encouragement of my maternal grandparents, I incorporated graceful lines and extended loops into my handwriting.  Good penmanship was the sign of a well-educated boy, and they felt it their duty to introduce me to the elegant Spencerian script from the golden age of American penmanship.  I actually practiced handwriting.  On purple paper, no less.

My paternal grandparents, on the other hand, preferred to put a football in my hands and take me to games at Florida Field. Throwing a perfect spiral was just as important a skill for a Southern boy to master.

I’m convinced the reason I got through law school was because my handwriting was neat and legible. It certainly wasn’t because I studied too much.

Law school was twenty-five years go.  About the only thing I write by hand today is my signature on a credit card slip.  And when I do have the occasion to write something longer, it pains me to see the result.   Like my ability to toss a perfect spiral, it seems my handwriting has gotten wobbly from lack of practice.

I compose text messages and emails rather than writing letters. Ideas and observations are no longer jotted down in a chartreuse leather bound notebook, but, rather, typed into one of Steve Jobs’ white tablet computers made of aluminum, plastic, and oleophobic-coated glass and then efficiently filed in folders and tagged with keywords so I can easily find them again later when I’m ready to work on a column or blog posting. No more illegible scribbles. No smudged Post-it notes. No more scrambling around for a pen that works.  No longer tethered to a computer at a desk, I can write while riding the crosstown D6 bus in Washington or sitting on Poodle Beach in Rehoboth.

Truman Capote said you weren’t a writer unless you wrote by longhand. He called Jack Kerouac a “typist” because he typed all his novels.  Then again, Capote claimed he couldn’t write unless in a supine position and fortified with cigarettes and coffee – sherry and martinis as the day wore on.

Some people say you’re a writer if you’re engaged in literary composition as a profession.  Others say you’re a writer if you’re published or if you’ve earned money from writing.  Look up “write” in the dictionary and you see definitions like “to form letters, words, or symbols on a surface such as paper with an instrument such as a pen” or “to form letters or words in cursive style.”

Am I a writer, then, if I don’t physically write?  If my once proud penmanship sucks?  I suppose it all depends on your definition.  All I know is that I write more than I ever have while writing less than I used to.  Thank you Steve Jobs. I think?

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