One of the longest, oldest romances is between the eye and the hand
Jake Weidman, Master Penman
When learning Arabic in the early seventies, it was my second language here in Kuwait. Attending the public schools all subjects in the curriculum were in Arabic excluding the English session which of course I excelled at. The first three months, was a type of daily, hourly and minute to minute purgatory as my mother and father tutored me to learn a language and grasp subjects to enable me to think in a new and alien language. I would sit in class as my colleagues would elegantly and effortlessly memorize old Jaheli poetry, recite with such adroit capacity of verses upon verses of the Holy Quran as I sat in awe of their abilities. Rather than admit this was such a heroic feat, I would retort to my teachers that back in my school in Bloomington, Indiana my teachers taught me how to write poetry not merely recite.
However, there was one subject that was offered two to three times a week and in Arabic it is called “Khat” which can mean line, calligraphy or writing. Beyond the daily English class, which was my only real redemption as a student to prove I was smart enough.
The “Khat” class for me was a way to get into forms of abstraction, lines, curves, shapes and new connections between the letters. I would immerse and lose my self in those 30 to 45 minutes of the stilling of time. It turns out I excelled in these classes, things started to happen, like understanding the spirit or the essence of a letter form, how it changes depending on where it was located within a word. I began to learn how to speak and write Arabic and to love the language. My teachers were so surprised that despite not knowing how to speak, my penmanship was pretty impressive and was one of the top. I discovered the inky, messy and beautiful fountain pen and it saved me.
My family lived and was immersed with music in our daily lives, my father; Saif introduced us to so many different genres and we always had some type of new music or a recording to listen to. At that time he introduced me to Um Kalthoum which took a while for me to appreciate, I could not understand at the time why, it took her so long on the stage to get started, why could she not just start singing from the beginning? But it was another songstress, another contemporary artist that left an indelible imprint when he first played the recording for me in our apartment one afternoon and that was Fayrouz. Her voice was so lyrical and she transported me physically to the places, the streets and hidden alleyways of nostalgic memories and I was hooked.
Every day after school, after our lunch at home during our siesta I would rush to the Stereo and play her music on tapes, breaking down the syllables, the words and then began to write them both in English and then because I could write in Arabic as well, began to relearn the language by trying to decipher the letters and to write them so I could eventually sing along. It took time, hours, days. But then all real good things do.
The eye hand eye connection is even more important now than ever and Jake Weidman, one of the youngest Master Penman describes and reiterates this in the next few minutes. I am hoping that more and more young people have access to lettering and penmanship it will have a long range effect of us as individuals and societies and is a key pillar in our cultural literacy flourishing.
Jake Wiedman Master Penman