Practice Writing – Circles…15 minutes

Mr. Joplin’s black-board writings were works of art. He formed beautiful rows of elegant cursive script, letters perfectly spaced, the runnels between horizontal rows spaced just so, to permit ascenders and descenders from becoming cramped. But it was the peculiar way in which he dotted his “i” that lent special distinction to his written hand. He placed accurate round circles above the lower case Is. In a blackboard full of notes we, in class, were to copy into our notebooks, what was written had the appearance and elegance of sacred text. I laboured over transcribing these notes and emulated the slowness and care with which Mr. Joplin scribed on the black-board. I strove to make the meaning of wisdom he imparted have beautiful form. My notebooks were labours of love. I felt reverent toward the information. And, I learned to slow down my writing and when a word containing an “i” was complete, would patiently hover over the “i” and with great deliberation form the circle above it. The act of doing this caused me to savour the writerly gesture, the making of a mark, to not take it for granted. The circle marks slowed me down to an almost trance-like state.

When I learned calligraphy, making circles and rounded elements became easy for me, due partly to this slowing down of making a mark of a circle from Mr. Joplin. It seems funny to think back on this now and realize that what someone does in demonstrating a way of doing something has consequences for developing skills related but not being taught at a particular time. Or, was Mr. Joplin unaware of the unintended consequences for students of his circling his Is instead of dotting them casually, swiftly without thought?

This Writing Practice topic was suggested by the folks at They provide constant stimulus for me for developing my writing. Thank you Quoinmonkey and Ybonesy!

6 Responses to “Practice Writing – Circles…15 minutes”

  1. Deborah Barlow Says:

    I resonate with this vignette. Thanks G.

  2. ybonesy Says:

    A few things that strike me. First, that you know the terminoloy of “runnels” and “ascenders” and “descenders.” I wonder if your vocabulary has something to do with your native language and learning a second one — I know that my own command of English improved when I learned Spanish. But still, I wish I had your vocabulary!

    But more than that, I loved the detail of the dotting of the i’s, the hovering of the hand over that dot. And the love of the lines and curves and hand-writing itself. I, too, loved (and still love) handwriting, the incorporation of handwriting into painting, and calligraphy. It does make you wonder if Mr. Joplin was conscious of his effect.

  3. suburbanlife Says:

    Deborah – just think what simple actions taken by our teachers while learning from them become so instrumental in paving the way for easier learning of both how to do and how not to? G

    ybonesy – ‘runnels’ is not an accurate technical term for the channels between lines of type, but it was the word that fit for me at that particular time of writing, go figure. Both ‘ascender ‘ and ‘descender’ are words I learned from my calligraphy and typography teacher to describe stems that rise above and below the main body of lower case forms. I took Latin in high school for four years and it’s amazing how it stimulated me to play a game with figuring out the roots of words in English. I’m still fooling around with this, it’s fun. Yes, I suspect Mr. Joplin may have been conscious of his effect, he was a very wise man, I think, and the perfect mentor and model for me in those years. He influenced many students to find a life in the arts, visual and otherwise.
    Wouldn’t it be fun to have a handwritten writing prompt that we could all upload to show “our hands”? G

  4. mariacristina Says:

    I had to look up runnels – I always learn new words from you, G. Your vocabulary of the natural world inspires. I like lots of specific words to form precise images.

    This scene paints a strong image, and it takes me further afield, showing the unintended results our actions can have. Although you plant a seed that perhaps your teacher did mean to have you slow down, to meditate on his words.

    I wish all my students had been like you were in his classroom, loving the notebook and the act of taking down the information, turning the process into an experience of joy.

  5. canadada Says:

    Curious, must be ‘January’, was spinning a similiar idea recently – see short story – The Storyteller’s Apprentice … Ideas/images/actions ‘reverberate’ through/in/over and under ‘TIME’ – tried for some of that in my last effort – ‘Words for Higher’…. Cheers, c

  6. TIV: the individual voice Says:

    It’s funny that his writing on the blackboard was a piece of performance art, and that not only did he place those circles above the i but hypnotized the entire class to do the same. I suspect everyone was well behaved in his class, due to his clever psychomotor hypnotic induction.

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