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Jim Murray tries not to look at his own handwriting.

“I can often tell if I’m having a problem from looking at my writing before I even know about it,” Murray said.

For more than 30 years, Murray has been analyzing handwriting in his Forest Park Review column. As such, interpreting the slant, size and speed of his script is somewhat unavoidable.

His last column, published Feb. 4, marked the end of an era for the Review and for the readers who submitted their writing to Murray over the years. From their handwriting, Murray has revealed peoples’ strengths and weaknesses, their confidences and their concerns. Always, he said, the focus was to highlight the good in others.

That handwriting analysis can be used to help others is obvious to Murray because, he said, people unknowingly project their emotions when they write. In our day to day, he said, people learn to hide things that they do not want seen. But when people write, they cannot help but translate at least a glimpse of their inner selves.

“I have found that most people are very hard on themselves. They are very aware of their negative qualities and take their positive qualities for granted,” Murray said.

Handwriting analysis, said Murray, is but a part – albeit an important part – of his work as an educator, therapist and social worker. He regards his study of writing as an indispensable tool.

Murray got his first exposure to handwriting analysis when he was a teacher at St. Mel High School in Chicago. During a senior retreat to LaSalle Manor, a brother there offered to analyze Murray’s writing. When the man told Murray things about himself he couldn’t possibly know otherwise, Murray was “knocked off his feet.” Realizing that he could utilize this skill to better understand and help his students, he enrolled in the International Graphoanalysis Institute in downtown Chicago (the school has since closed) and, three years later, received his certification.

Since then, Murray has injected the skill into his mission of helping people in need. He regards it as extremely valuable for people in the helping professions – teachers, counselors and clergy – though he acknowledged it is not widely used.

Murray has also attained a master’s in social work from Loyola University, as well as a doctorate in education from the University of Florida.

“Since the advent of computers, people don’t write anymore,” Murray said, pointing to the prevalence of electronic communication, which he agreed is much faster and more convenient. “As a result of that, handwriting has become sort of a lost art.”

Because he tried to focus on good characteristics, Murray said the most frequent criticism he received is that he is too nice. While he assures that his readings have always been accurate, he admitted that he does leave some things, negative things, out. He just doesn’t see the point of shining a spotlight on the negatives of which many people are already hyperaware.

Focusing on the good and leaving out some bad, he said, has not inhibited his work in any way. Sitting at his dining room table, Murray spoke confidently of his work.

“In all this time, I have had very few people tell me that I was wrong in my analysis,” Murray said. “The few times where a person said that I was just drastically wrong, to be perfectly honest, I’ve known absolutely that I was right.”