I Spent Independence Day Copying the Constitution By Hand

Here’s what I learned

Yi Shun Lai

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House w white picket fence. Both are festooned w American flags. Big red, white, and blue painted dinosaur in front of house.
Best Fourth of July setup ever. Don’t @me.

Here are some things I did very badly in my teens:

  • Math
  • Boyfriends
  • Parental relations
  • Personal style
  • Government class

This last would not ordinarily rankle so much — after all, we have all have things that we gravitate to more naturally. Except, not only was I terrible student in Mr. Palmer’s government class in high school, I was also a terrible student in Dr. R’s government class in college. It was a nightmare. I really could not be bothered with any of it. I hated the Federalist Papers. I distinctly remember being bored out of my wits in government classes in high school, and I tell you what, when you can distinctly remember being bored out of your wits, there’s something going on.

In college, I was so bad at understanding government that an absolute jerkface classmate told me that people like me were the reason America was going to pot. (I just couldn’t remember what the GAO* stood for, that’s all.)

Anyway. We are more or less beyond that now (more or less; it still stings to recall), and I have learned a lot about our government and the way it works since then, but I still have never read the Constitution through end to end, even though I have had a pocket copy of it for years and would read through portions of it if I had a loose minute waiting in line for something or waiting for a friend to show up for lunch or whatever.**

Book cover: U.S. flag background w big yellow block: The U.S. Constitution/And Fascinating Facts About It. Yellow binder clip

I’ve also learned a lot about my own writing practice since then, and one of the things I’m always interested in is how much I get out of something if I have to re-type or re-write it for myself. In other words, when I come across a phrase I like in a book, or an interesting fact, or something, I get yet another dimension out of it by seeing it in my own handwriting, or on a fresh page by itself.

It’s called copywork, literally the act of copying something straight from the original source in your own handwriting. Back in the 1800s it was used as…

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Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!