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Revising the self, continued: Penmanship

It’s been a few months now, and my newly adopted real-life name has become much more natural. Our families and friends know me by it now, and it’s no longer something I have to remind myself of just to get it to sink in. I sense I’m quite a ways into the arbitrarily-designated third phase, incorporating it as a part of myself, but not quite at the point where it’s just as deeply and thoroughly entrenched as my previous name was. It’s still a notable thing in my mind, whereas a name that’s become natural to you is a non-thought.

Regular usage for a lengthy period, by myself and others, seems to be crucial to accepting it as actually being my name – there’s no way around that. Everyone changing my name to it on their phones, listing it as “parent 2″ in the contact information for our son’s school, signing it on his behavior sheet every day, registering a new Gmail account under it, generating a PGP keypair for it, filling it out on forms for my doctors, drawing up papers for a legal name change, all of these otherwise mundane instances are small pieces helping to bridge the gap between an old label and a new one. But there are also ways to nudge the process along.

It’s sometimes helped me to run through my very early memories and visualize them as being revised to include my new name. My mother asking me if I want to help mix the cookie batter. My kindergarten teacher calling on me when I raise my hand. My grandparents getting me a bicycle with training wheels and a custom “license plate”. Slowly typing my name into the crude word processor of ClarisWorks for Kids. And learning how to sign it.

That last one is significant. After spending a few days in the first grade, I was subjected to a battery of tests, and then placed in the third grade for the remainder of the year. One problem, among many others that would eventually manifest, was that we were supposed to learn cursive in second grade. Of course, they were used to making special accommodations by now, and I was given two weeks of individual instruction so that I could catch up. The teacher for the gifted students spent an hour with me every day as I scrawled words nearly half my height onto a chalkboard. For me, the result of learning cursive in two weeks was forever adopting a writing style that closely mimicked the look of the archetypal examples of all the letters, filtered through a slow and unsteady hand. I honestly have no idea how people like my partner can let the words flow from their fingers in such graceful, swooping, personalized, soulful arcs. My writing has scarcely improved since I was 6 years old – it’s still the same process of slowly and deliberately drawing out the loops and lines.

This is why I rarely bother writing by hand, except when it’s unavoidable. One such instance would be my signature. The concept of a signature was initially explained to me as nothing more than writing your full name in cursive, which is basically accurate but fails to capture its purpose as a personalized mark. My signature is no more special than anything else I write in cursive; nothing about it stands out, and it could just as easily be anyone else’s name that I’m writing. No barely legible split-second scribbles for me – it’s as drawn-out and deliberate as ever. Years of practice have not changed this, and cashiers probably imagine I’m sending coded messages to terrorists through the banking system or something. Of all the challenges that have accompanied taking a new name, learning to sign it hasn’t been one of them.

But there was one thing I found that, for a short time, made writing by hand almost fun: Gelly Roll pens. Sakura Gelly Roll gel pens were the thing to have when I was in the sixth grade. If you’re too young or old to have experienced these as a milestone of your upbringing, they were right at the apex of the hierarchy of needs when it came to pens. Yes, they wrote, and they wrote very smoothly – but they didn’t just write. They wrote in pale blue, chartreuse, pastel pink, deep purple, mint green, teal, gold, silver, and almost any color you could imagine. Colored pens? What’s the big deal? Well, these had glitter in the ink. I loved them, and so did everyone else.

Some people might interpret an intense interest in multicolored sparkly pens as an early sign of feminine identity on my part. But this wouldn’t really be indicative of anything like that, because we all had these pens, boys and girls alike. It wasn’t even about actually writing with them most of the time – sure, it was nice to have so many options, but the teachers strongly discouraged using glittery ink on our work. Instead, they were more of a status symbol, bridging the trend gap in our little town between Tamagotchis and Pokemon cards. The more Gelly Roll pens you had, the higher your social standing. These things take on an inordinate importance when you’re in sixth grade.

Indeed, they were so important that someone – still unknown all these years later – was compelled to steal them out of my starry cloth pencil pouch. It really did hurt. For all of their meaningless, artificial social value, they made it seem like my crude cursive squiggles were alright, like it didn’t matter how wobbly they were. They sparkled just the same. It wasn’t long before holographic Charizards were the new rage and everyone had moved on from those strange and frivolous pens. But they stayed with me. Their unmistakable translucent cases revealing the color inside, rounded glittery caps and bar codes on the side would be recognizable for life.

After the stores stopped selling them, I gave up hope of finding them again. What else can you do when you’re 9 years old and it’s 1998? Your world is pretty small, and your reach is even smaller. Where would you get them from? How would you know where to look? We didn’t even have the internet at home, not that finding something like that online would have been very easy at the turn of the century. People remember 9/11, but they sometimes forget how primitive the web was back then. (It was that long ago? Yep.) After enough time without seeing them anywhere, I accepted that they were nothing more than a memory now – and one that hardly anyone else seemed to cherish.

I rarely thought about them until earlier this year, when I took my new name. In an attempt to brute-force it into my identity, I would sign it over and over, filling sheets of paper with it, trying to get used to the feeling of it coming out of my hand. You can only write the same thing so many times before it starts to lose all meaning, but that wasn’t really a problem – it was supposed to become instinctual, something I didn’t have to think about. Still, something occurred to me as I watched my fingernails in motion, an iridescent blue against the dull, flat black of the ink. Didn’t there used to be some way I could feel like my handwriting was truly mine?

On a recent trip to Target, we stopped in the office supplies aisle to look for more of the composition notebooks my partner uses – when penmanship comes easy to you, filling hundreds of pages with artful cursive must be a joy. Then I caught a glimpse of something buried on the bottom shelf. Those rounded caps, sparkling: “Gel ink pens. Fashion and glitter pack. 10 assorted colors. Lovely lines.” No, not real Gelly Rolls, but the closest thing I’ve found in the past decade.

I couldn’t wait to try them out, and the lovely lines were just as incredible as I remembered.

The same old sparkle was still there – tacky, childish, and completely awesome. At last, it flowed right out of my fingertips and onto the page. This is how we rewrite history: in hot pink glitter.

Comments

  1. internetpal2012 says

    This article was a nice little change of pace from your usual subjects that you normaly cover here.I never knew how much someone’s name meant to them.I’ve known so many people in the past who had names I could barely pronounce.Some of them keep their birth names(they came from another country)and just used a american one as a nickname.I once worked with this guy from Iran who real name was Zakaram(I can’t rember the actual spelling),he just had people call him Mark instead.
    I’ve thought many times of changing my real name to something else,my real name means a lot of things to me but pride isn’t one of them.I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not but my real name seems to stand out from other names.It gave me the idea if I ever try to sell something(an ebook maybe)and I used my real name it might stand out and help it with sales?I know it takes more than a name,someone’s gotta have writing talent as well and a eyecatching ebook cover would also come in handy too.

  2. says

    Very interesting. I sometimes sit and think about my name (it is considered odd) until my name loses it’s meaning. I just consider how these two syllables came to signify to some people the person in my brain, but I don’t see that meaning for it myself. I’m just conditioned to react to it, but don’t regard my name the same way I do others, as a label to describe another entity.
    Doing the reverse, assigning name-like meaning to a new sound, is clearly a trial. My name is unique enough that I never miss it, and I’m even used to responding to mispronunciations. Learning to respond the same way to a new series of sounds doesn’t seem fun.
    I guess little steps like you describe probably help a lot, making it much more personal, much more internalized.

  3. Jenni says

    I should hunt down some of these pens, I use to love those things.
    Anyway, my writing is pretty personalized, to the point where only those close to me can read it without struggling, and getting a “new” signature was actually pretty hard, because my signature for my old name was so automatic and personalized that it looked the same every time, while only having two recognizable letters. Now that I switched to “Jennifer” full time, I still don’t have the same level of consistency with the new signature, and I still pause to think about it before I start to sign anything, to make sure I don’t use the wrong name.
    It’s a slow process for me, trying to adjust to a new signature. It helps that I usually need to sign things almost daily, though, so I have a lot of incidental practice.

  4. says

    I still struggle with my handwriting, even though I actually write a few morning pages every day, just to get my jumbled thoughts out of my brain and onto the paper. For me, it’s a form of meditation.

    By the way, it seems Sakura Gelly Rolls are still available, via JetPens: http://www.jetpens.com/search?q=sakura+gelly+roll

    I ordered some japanese pens and other writing accoutrements from them a while ago, because those brands are not available in my country. Ordering japanese pens from a US online store, delivered via standard mail to Germany: Welcome to globalization!

  5. Rob Miller says

    I know what you mean about the hand writing being ridged and somewhat sloppy. I like your name, it fits you in looks and the limited personality I get from your videos and writings. I’m happy for you and your success with your ongoing transition and being who you are. I only wish I had the ability to just let go and be myself but unfortunately, being married with 3 kids, I feel the need to fight my dysphoria. Most of the time I feel I’d rather hurt myself than hurt the ones I love. Rachel, I wish you all the happiness in the world.

  6. says

    I fucking love this post. So personal, so touching, so adeptly juxtaposing the deeply personal against the seemingly frivolous. 360 air-jump high fives in your direction.

  7. says

    You can only write the same thing so many times before it starts
    to lose all meaning

    That is not the case with signatures, just the opposite: the more often you use it—for signing checks and official forms, for example, and most important: love letters—the more meaning the signature gains; it becomes more and more a part of being you.
    The physical form of the signature does not matter, it can be the well legible, finely calligraphed full name, a full name without the aforementioned qualifiers, just one or more initials of the full name (like my gravartar*) or even a picture. Some of the above might not qualify for all documenting purposes in every jurisdiction.

    Your paraph is, in these times of forms for all and nothing a nearly physical part of you. There is a saying here in Germany: “Von der Wiege bis zur Bahre: Formulare, Formulare!” (From the cradle to the grave: forms, forms, forms!) and for every such form the little handwritten sign at the lower right end of the document makes it official and valid.

    Sometimes more than one signature is needed, for example two, at least, for a contract and sometimes it gets really weird. I do not know if the following could have happened in Germany only but I’m quite sure nowhere else it could get even close, save in military.

    I once worked as a welder. The pay was good and the workload was acceptable. It meant to be away for about three quarters of the year and travel half of the world(no reason to be jealous: you rarely see more than the working place, the hotel and the hotel bar), but it was here in Germany, in a nuclear plant where it happened. It was long before 9/11, I think I have to add (A lot of keywords for the illustrious circle of the more nocuous audience, it seems ;-). I’ll spare you all the technical details but one of the jobs was to remove a pipe elbow to get to the join to be weld—yes, I admit, I am not one of the skinniest—which involved the unscrewing of eight screws. M16x1.5×80 UNS#N08926 if I remember correctly.

    You cannot do anything without proper documentation today, especially in a
    nuclear plant, admitted, but thirteen signatures on the permission form?
    And it didn’t stop there, of course. After the joint had been welded shut, visually inspected, x-rayed and ultrasonically tested, fully documented and nodded through, the still unconnected pipe elbow had to be put back into place. This required, as you might have guessed, to screw the eight screws back down which itself involved, I see the imperturbable believe in symmetry glowing darkly in your eyes, another thirteen signatures on the permit.
    BTW: being a welder adds another physical form of signature to the toolkit: an embossing stamp with your ID, A very crude form of ego vero illud feci ac libens** and way more painful to learn ;-)

    So: happy rewiring of your brain for the new signature!
    You might try more tools: pen, pencil, charcoal, lithographic crayon (mirror-inverted of course), a brush (one of my failures) or even a stylus (the needle used for etchings) and have fun with it, for it is a sign of the completeness of your life and shall not be a burden.

    *It is not the original, just a font out of The Gimp (“Steve Italic”), but it comes quite close to my real signature.
    ** “I did it, and with all my heart I did it”, from “Confessiones” by Aurelius Augustinus,398,http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/textstrans.html ripped out of context by me. Don’t even try to read it if you don’t have a very important reason to do so. It will make you cringe.

  8. says

    When I recently had an administrative assistant job where I didn’t have anything to do (almost at all), I got it into my head that I wanted to invent my OWN handwriting. I was figuring that since no one really writes stuff out by hand now, there’s not really much of a need for a kind of standardized penmanship — assuming that there ever was — and so the act of writing something out by hand is now a personal expression of identity, so why not have all the letters ALSO be a personal expression of identity?

    I burned through about a million post-it notes and some fancy Pilot Gel Rollers. Now my handwriting looks like a bunch of dead spiders doing aerobics.

    It’s awesome.

  9. mildlymagnificent says

    Funny about the name though. I thought I was AOK. Simple name, simple spelling. And then.

    A science magazine I often buy had an article by … who, me? Gave me quite a shock the first time. My name, in bright blue print to make it stand out from the rest of the blurb at the top of the page. My name.

    And it’s impossible to get used to because she’s a freelance and ‘her’ name appears only occasionally, so months can go by when I’ve not seen it. And then I turn to a featured article because I’ve bought the thing this week and – there I am again.

    Feels strange. (It also means I’d never in any number of blue moons use my real name in forums like this. I feel as though I’d have to walk on eggshells for fear of saying something in a way that might affect her reputation, and her income, just because of one bad day.)

  10. embertine says

    OMG yes. I don’t think they were exactly the same, but my college sold a UK equivalent of these and I swear they got me through college. I used to allocate a colour to each module of study, and then had all my notes and stationery in that colour. God I’m such a nerd!

    P.S. Rachel is my favourite ever ladyname.

  11. Aliasalpha says

    I’ve occasionally wondered how people who change their name adapt when writing. I always imagined it was kind of like when you’re still writing 2011 halfway into January 2012 only it’s been 2011 all your life.

    I remember those pens though, as a left hander I seem to recall they weren’t that suitable because it took too long to dry and I’d end up with sparkly smudges all over the place.

  12. says

    After reaching the comfortable point (many years along) where my signature had stopped being obvious cursive handwriting and had mutated into a quickly scribbled but recognisable mark, now I have to try to work out a new signature that fits as easily as though it were second nature. Nice to have a new name, a real pain getting it to feel properly ‘lived in’.

  13. Zoe says

    I recently undertook a handwriting revision of my own (mostly focused around the quill pen) and ran across a situation that made me long for the Gelly Roll pens. I was looking through a pile of notebooks and diaries I have and ran across several with black paper.

    Those notebooks were made for Gelly Roll pens!

    All of the modern gell pens I have found depend on white paper, but the Gelly Rolls had a thick pigment that shone on its own. I’ll have to look for some, so I can fill those books finally.

    On a separate note, I changed my name 5 years ago, and still occassionally use my birth name in internal monologue. It surprises me every time, and can be fairly jarring. Its amazing how integral names are to identity, and how persistant the association is (although I’m probably an outlier in regard to how long its persisted, however weakly).

  14. badgersdaughter says

    I haven’t gone by my birth name, a very unusual first and last name, in 20 years. I took a language class in a college where I talked to nobody, was close to nobody, but the others in my class. So we called each other the ethnic names the teacher used for us for our spoken exercises, and half forgot we ever had other names.

    Then I got married, and took his last name, which was fine, I had done enough role-playing-gaming to slide seamlessly into an identity that was and yet wasn’t my own. In fact, since he was adopted and I was ethnically similar to his adoptive family, we used to joke, a bit cruelly, that I had more right to the name than he did. I kept it after the divorce because after all the hassle he put me through, the further hassle of taking my old name back was just too, too exhausting.

    15 years after that, I remarried. Less than a month ago. My new husband asked, “Do you want to keep your name?” What name was my name? Which name? The maiden names I hadn’t used in 20 years? The baby first name I used before college? The married name that belonged to the other guy and that was beginning to slough off of me like a bad sunburn now that I knew who I belonged with? No, I wanted a real name, a name for a family, a strong name with a history, a motto, a tartan, the same crunchy consonants and open, warm vowels as the first name given to me in class years ago. I wanted to be part of the clan. I wanted to look around and see my name written on trucks and oil companies and historical gardens. When he said to me, all drunk on a shared bottle of whisky one night, “No matter what happens to us, you’ll always be a [name]”, I knew it was true.

    For now, the new name is a role playing character and I’m a live action princess with a secret identity known only to the few. But even though I have to go by my old name for a while for paperwork reasons, inside I’ve already adopted my new identity. I just have to remember to let it out, not to fear losing it by too much handling.

  15. says

    Does anybody else find that their handwriting “typeface” changes when writing in a different language?

    When I write in French, it’s a lot more “cursive” than when I write in English (which is either individual letters with occasional joining strokes, or a roughly-horizontal broken line with undulations representing letters).

    The differences between my French and English fonts (which are subconscious) are also much more pronounced than the differences between my GirlMode and BoyMode English fonts (which are conscious; I have to force myself one way or the other. Think “gsave 1.4 1 scale” and “grestore”, respectively ….. Julie also forms her lower-case “e” radically differently from Simon).

  16. Alexis says

    I had very pretty hand writing until about fourth grade. As I started to realize how “different” I was from the other kids, and that magic wishes would not give me what I wanted, my writing became jagged and tense. There was also the great fear factor of possibly being outed, shunned, or worse that was so prevalent in he fifties. As I’ve finally begun to come to terms with myself and take actions to move on with my life, (all of fifty years later, boo hoo) my writing has started to take on a smoother and more rounded quality. Have any of you had a similar experience?

  17. estraven says

    I remember those pens, or something similar. I bought them as an adult while I was trying to break out of a writing/creativity block. I bought all kinds of pens, crayons, pastels, colored pencils, you name it. I can totes relate!

    • estraven says

      Okay, this came out all wrong. First, I didn’t have to re-realize my entire identity for the rest of the world. What I was relating to was the opportunity to recast one’s handwriting and one’s conceptualization of that wider world by trying out some otherwise unfamiliar ways of putting words on the paper. In my case I needed to break out of some very monolithic ways of doing things or even seeing things. I did not mean to trivialize what you, Zinnia, went through in practicing writing your new name or new identity. It came off that way, though, in my ill-conceived post above. So sorry.

  18. says

    Seconding what Crommunist said, superfluous “personal” and all.

    When I was a little kid my fine-motor coordination was shot to hell by spinal meningitis. In grade school I was constantly badgered to write in cursive. Every once in a while I would achieve a recognizable form, only to be told; “See!? You can do it if you’d only try!” I was, frankly, filled with rage and pain most of the time as a child for many reasons of which cursive was only one.

    Eventually my coordination recovered and I spent a summer working night shifts practicing calligraphy on my nights off. I went from being ashamed of my handwriting to liking it quite a bit. Then a teacher told my third-grade son that if he didn’t learn to write in cursive, he’d likely have a hard time getting a job. Some people might regret the things I said to her in response, but I do not. (The son in question is a software developer now, and still doesn’t write in cursive. And neither do I.)

    May you always be able to find the lovely, sparkly pens that bring you satisfaction when you write.

  19. totalretard says

    You’re writing really does look like those placards at the top of the blackboard. Mine has degenerated into a hideous scrawl.

  20. says

    HEY! I’ve found them! :)

    http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-metallic

    The one and only gelly roll pens! I remember writing notes, drawing pictures, and doodling on literally everything with these pens. It was a great time. Last night I remembered those glorious days writing in the metallic colors of the rainbow with my gelly rolls. After a few minutes of reminiscing I took to the internet and found the same exact pens that I had back in those days. I can’t wait until they get here!

    Sadly I found out that mead quit making the “nite writer” notebooks that went very well with these pens. The notebooks with all black lined pages.

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