ASK Musings

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Daily Archive: 01/01/2019



January 2019



Script & Scribble by Kitty Burns Florey

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: Those who like trivia about everyday life – in this case, about handwriting. (For example, did you know that a typical pencil can draw a line thirty-five miles long?)

In a nutshell: Author Burns Florey takes the reader on a trip through the history of handwriting, from the very beginning, through those gorgeous (though illegible) tomes produced by monks in the middle ages, up to strict penmanship training in the early 1900s, and ending with contemplation of how handwriting fits into the digital age.

Worth quoting:
“In first grade she had to bring from home an official ‘letter of permission’ to the principal stating that no, it was not okay for her teacher to tie Eileen’s left hand down so that she’d learn to print the alphabet right-handed.”
“The truth is that millions of children are sent out into the world armed with lousy handwriting, great keyboarding skills — and no computer.”

Why I chose it:
I love to write (in journals and using my computer), and I love trivia. Seemed like a good fit.

Handwriting — specifically, cursive — is near and dear to author Burns Florey’s heart. In this well-researched and well-written (though poorly edited: the footnotes one of the six chapters are mis-numbered and hard to follow) book, she provides us with a history of handwriting, and includes some fascinating images and examples. She covers the tools used (including paper, pens, and pencils), the styles that came into and faded from heavy use, and even the teaching methods employed to improve handwriting. She also spends a good bit of time discussing what we can learn from handwriting, both by exploring handwriting analysis and by looking back at journals and diaries from those who came before us.

Some parts were more interesting than others; I always enjoy a good messy manuscript. Plus it’s a bit mind-boggling to look back at extraordinarily ornate books from the Gothic era and realize that they were meant to be read; I cannot make heads nor tails of many of these admittedly gorgeous scripts.

I found that the book sometimes spoke of two separate things as though they were the same, which convoluted the message. For Burns Florey, handwriting (specifically what people my age likely think of as cursive) is something to be valued and treasured, and she laments that people don’t have great script anymore. I get that — I have a friend who does hand lettering (she designed the logo for my website) and it is a joy to get one of her hand-addressed cards. However, Burns Florey also seems to be concerned that people type instead of write, and these are two very different things in my mind, yet get conflated in her writing.

I definitely appreciate the concern that people sending emails instead of letters written by hand means we won’t have these treasures in the future. But for me, it doesn’t matter if these letters are written in cursive or printed. I still send loads of hand-written notes, but none of them use cursive. I print basically everything. The fact that students today don’t learn cursive doesn’t, I think, mean that they won’t print things. Confusing? A bit, and I can see how easy it would be to intertwine these two concerns and end up with a book that treats them as the same issue. I think I would have appreciated the book more if Burns Florey had spent more time fleshing out the differences between the two.

One section that I think would have been interesting as a stand-alone article in a magazine explored why it is important to teach children handwriting (though, again, there seems to be some conflating of learning write cursive and learning to print). This book was published in early 2009, so computer and internet usage were certainly a big thing, and Burns Florey acknowledges this. But she does also point out that focusing on learning to type over learning to print or handwrite does put some people at a disadvantage: namely, those of lower incomes who are less likely to have a computer in their home. While 80% of children in the US have access to a computer at home, that number drops to 57% when looking at homes earning less than $15,000 / year. Additionally, non-Hispanic white children are more likely to have a computer in their home than Black or Hispanic children. If you can’t write legibly because you aren’t taught that in school, and you don’t have a computer to get your words out, your communication options can be limited. I hadn’t thought about the digital divide in that way before.

I started this book in mid-2018 but made it about 40% of the way through before it began collecting dust on my nightstand. As part of my 2019 reading goals, I’m hoping to either finish off those partially-read books of 2018 or accept that I’m just not that into it and move along. By choosing to just focus on this book this morning, I was able to finish it. That’s not the most ringing of endorsements, but it was an enjoyable and interest read just the same.

Keep it / Donate it / Toss it: Donate it.



January 2019



Calm the F**k Down by Sarah Knight

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone with anxiety, anyone who tends to worry a bunch, and/or anyone who can find themselves unsure of where to start when something bad happens.

In a nutshell: Author Sarah Knight offers a way to think about the things that keep us up at night so they don’t take over our lives. She is not a doctor, and isn’t suggesting that people with mental health issues that amplify their tendency to worry simply need to calm the fuck down; this book is for those of us who wouldn’t have a diagnosis but still worry way more than we’d like to.

Worth quoting: “Worrying is wasteful. It costs you time, energy, and/or money and gives you nothing useful in return.”

Why I chose it: 2019. New Year! New You! Just kidding. I’m exactly the same today as I was yesterday. But one of my goals for this year is to reduce my anxiety. While traveling recently, I was distracted by the following worries: whether the tiny bump on my cat’s lip was something horrible or just an injury from wrestling with his brother; whether our flight was going to be delayed to the point of missing our connection; if our cat sitter was going to lock herself out of the house, leading our cats to die of hunger or thirst; whether the car reservation at our destination was properly confirmed. Looking over that list, you’ll see that approximately 0% of that was within my control at that moment, yet it was causing my shoulders to rise closer and closer to my ears. Then I saw this book and thought “yeah, I probably should calm the fuck down.”

Review:I’ve read Ms. Knight’s other books, and while they weren’t always what I was looking for, I do like her style and tone. This is definitely my favorite of hers that I’ve read, and I think her approach is one that could really work for me. I’m going to share the basics below (mostly for my own information), but she doesn’t such a great job of illustrating her points — the tarantula story is especially clever — that you should definitely not take the below as a substitute for the real thing.Okay? Let’s go.

The overarching theme is that we should try to get to a point where we can address our worries from a point of logic, not emotion. Hard to do, obviously. But here are the three big points:

  • Acknowledge what has happened
  • Accept what you cannot control
  • Address what you can control

Ms. Knight suggests there are four main faces your worry might take: anxiety, sadness, anger, or denial (she’s calls it ostriching). I have definitely seen my worry turn to anxiety and anger (with the occasional sadness thrown in); I’m not much for completely ignoring problems, but I can see how that might be appealing. This part is helpful if you’re not aware of how you tend to act in moments, but it’s not the most … necessary part of the book.

That comes next, with her repetition around the “one question to rule them all”: Can I Control It? And can I control it within reason. Like, I can control never being the passenger in a plane crash by never flying, but that’s not an option for me. So, once I’m in the plane, can I control whether the plane gets there? Nope.

This point is so key, and possibly so obvious to people who don’t find themselves staring at the ceiling at 3 AM because of something they said at work two weeks ago that literally no one cared about or noticed. But for the rest of us, it helps to be reminded.

The second part of the book really focuses on treating worries logically. She asks us to take a worry and put it on a scale:

  • Highly Unlikely
  • Possible But Not Likely
  • Likely
  • Highly Likely
  • Inevitable

And then, determine the timing: is it outlying, imminent, or already happening? And then, can I control it?

From there, she offers some tips on how to let go of the things that we can’t control. One option is PHEW (productive, helpful, and effective worrying), which is essentially taking action about certain things you can control. For example, with my cat’s lip, once I thought about how we could, if necessary, have a vet come to the home while the cat sitter is there and we’re on vacation, I stopped being so concerned (he’s fine, by the way).

I have generally been fairly good at coming up with solutions to my anxieties, but letting go of the ones I can’t control has been challenging. I think a big part has been treating every worry as equally likely and imminent, which is just absurd. And this book has helped me recognize that.

That said, I can always use some good tips for managing the shitstorms (her word) in my life, and part three of the book offers some. Her principles of dealing with shit include taking stock, identifying my realistic ideal outcome, and then triaging what needs to be done first, second, etc. She illustrates this section with loads of examples, which I enjoyed a lot.

The final part is a choose your own adventure bit, meant to solidify all the concepts, but I didn’t find it to be as helpful. But others might enjoy it!

Keep it / Donate it / Toss it: Keep it. Definitely.