January 28, 2009

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I AUTO sign my AUTOGRAPH Posted by Lorraine (L.L.) Bartlett and her nom de plume Lorna Barrett A couple of years ago, I signed a birthday card for my niece. I wrote: Happy Birthday, Amanda! Love Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Frank. When she opened the card, she frowned and said, "What does this say? I can't read cursive." I was stunned to learn that they no longer teach children to write--my niece, now age 17, still prints like she did in grade school. According to an article in USA Today, schools don't have time to teach or worry about cursive writing. What are these children going to do when it comes time to open a checking account, buy a car, or sign a lease? It boggles my mind. Not only that, but will the fact that I use cursive date me? Boy, do I use cursive. With a new book on the cusp of publication, I've been signing hundreds of bookmarks and postcards that are going out to readers, libraries, and bookstores. Sometimes I get hypnotized by writing the same thing over and over again and end up writing the wrong name. Or a combination of my names: L.L. Barrett and Lorna Bartlett. I recently got a thank you note from an organization that had solicited some of these bookmarks. It was written in cursive and looked like the handwriting many of my ex-schoolmates. How come mine doesn't look like that? The letters were big and clear, and I could read every word. (And how come the boys never wrote like that, either?) My mother and two of her sisters have very similar handwriting. In fact, every English woman I've ever run into has virtually the same handwriting. They must have been taught by the same system. The truth is ... my "cursive" stinks. When I start editing a manuscript, I make a LOT of notes and changes. The problem is, I often can't read what I've written. Laziness? Or do I write so fast so as not to lose my train of thought? Usually the words are written in teeny-tiny (messy) letters so I have to haul out my Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass and squint a lot to figure out what it says. But getting back to these kids who can only print: will they one day take continuing education classes to learn the fine art of penmanship? Will they pick up a fountain pen, with peacock blue ink, some fine parchment, and put their words down for the ages? Nah, I don't think so, either.
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What's in a Name? Posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken I am having some sort of identity crisis. Who am I, really? I have always been called Jeanne (or Jeannie, and I did have light brown hair before a lot of it finked out and turned gray). My legal name is Myra Jeanne Bracken, so that's what I have to put on all my checks and the like. Myra was my grandmother's name, Jeanne for an aunt I never knew who died in childhood. When I got married, I did the non-lib thing and took my husband's name. Right about there Gore Vidal had written Myra Breckenridge, a book I disliked, and I was glad nobody connected my Myra with my Bracken (separated as they were by that Jeanne). When I started writing, I didn't give much thought to my "byline" until I realized that there is another Jeanne Bracken out there, writing (or was in the 70s anyway). She is a librarian and a feminist and writes for children. All things I am and do. I added my maiden name to my writing persona, becoming Jeanne Munn Bracken. I had an ulterior motive. When I was a kid, I was sort of invisible, I think, or at least I felt invisible much of the time--not fitting in with my classes or the "in" crowds or whatever. Some of my teachers liked me (and vice versa) but some loathed me and let me know it early and often. It was for them that I insisted on the Munn inclusion, in the (probably vain) hope that they would see some of my work and realize that, their predictions aside, I had really amounted to something after all. But it does get a little weird. In directories I'm listed as "(Myra) Jeanne Munn Bracken". On official documents like tax forms, I'm "Myra Jeanne Bracken". For a while I was "M. Jeanne Munn" and subsequently "M. Jeanne Bracken" until someone pointed out that the "M." suggested I might be a French man, and the Gallic spelling of my name added to the confusion.One of my friends, a woman in a traditionally male field, solved the problem by having her name changed legally to "M. Lastname." Since my husband is retired military, I deal with bureaucracy a lot, which is why I am known throughout our medical system as "MyraJeanne". They don't use nicknames, those military dudes. Which brings me to another point. "Jean" is okay, "Gene" is not. I am accustomed to having my name spelled the more common "Jean" (even by relatives who knew better but wanted to push my buttons--no names, but you know who you are, sister!) The masculine "Gene", however, is not allowed. Even though coworkers pun me by referring phone calls to "You, Gene." It must be several decades ago that I met a guy named Gene Munn, a patron at another library in another lifetime. We were both amused by the coincidence, even though I was Jeanne Bracken by then. We referred to ourselves as "the other Gene/Jeanne Munn." A while ago I received a nice award from a local bank (as a community mover and shaker, not as a well-heeled customer, alas), and the silver Revere bowl was engraved with my name, spelled wrong. Luckily, they were able to get it fixed before they sank from sight in one of the big bank mergers. One of the most exciting events of my life was the time that the Library of Congress called me, trying to distinguish between the other Jeanne Bracken and me. They do this by using my birth year, which I was happy to give them. I kept their message on our voice mail for weeks. This is all well and fine, and for the most part I know who I am, but really! Some of my fellow bloggers are all twisted with names. My library colleagues have different names from their husbands and kids, but my blogbuddies have different names from themselves. I mean, Lorna, LL, Lorraine, Sheila, Sarah--like the CSI theme song says, "Who are you? I really wanna know!"

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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