Copying My Parents’ Handwriting (1997)

Archival book with writing samples, ink, and archival tape
8.5” x 5.75” x 1.5”

Copying My Parents’ Handwriting is a book containing samples that I cut out of my parents’ letters and lists. A separate word or phrase is taped to the top of each page of the book, and copies of the word fill the space beneath. The style mimics the elementary school exercise of copying letters in the attempt to perfect handwriting, or repeating “I will not...” phrases as punishment. The words are at first innocuous: items to get from the grocery store, clothes to bring on a trip, the weather, or advice. Through editing and recontextualizing the words, a new narrative is formed. “Clean sheets — our bed,” for example, ceases to be merely a chore when following a messily written “bedrooms,” “fox” scratched out in red pen, and “whipping cream” with an elongated tail. It becomes a suggestion of the child’s curiosity of the adult world, the incomprehensibility of the locked door to the parents’ bedroom. Or more: the inevitability of the child becoming the adult, becoming like the parent. The exercise of copying becomes both the effort to perfect, to live up to expectations, but also to mock, to copy the mistakes and to subvert the words by rewriting them into the new context. The recontextualization is compounded by the ambiguous mixing of both parents in the book with no effort to name “father” or “mother,” questioning what role gender has in forming identity, questioning the individual’s identity in relationship to the couple. The book is a search for knowing: knowing one’s parents and knowing one’s self; the self, in particular, in relation to the parents.