Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Remember to breathe... slowly... slower

I went here and found this:

After watching that evasive scumbag on the 7.30 Report last night, this was just what I needed to calm me down. So thank you, person-called-therapy who made it. You rawk.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Better late than never

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Countess-Palatine Duckie the Tremulous of Giggleswick under Table
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

A bit of a slow Tuesday; been cruising the blogs I've been too busy to read, and found this at Pav's.

The touch of words

empty case

Every few years I get the chance to set a batch of poetry by hand to printing as letterpress. It's a different thing to my usual piecework setting individual lines for titles or colophons. It's also a completely different thing to typing anything on a computer.

Have you ever stopped to think how many words we can write on a daily basis without effort? With computers, word production is almost inexhaustible. Churn out the letters, wipe them out if they're not working, print them out as many times as you like.

Old-fashioned letterpress (as opposed to linotype or monotype) is set letter by letter, side by side, line by line. It is a slower process than handwriting, but they are closely connected in relation to keyboarding. The personal effort made when writing legibly by hand closely connects the writer to the page, to the words, to the intention behind the words. The process is slow enough to allow the writer to consider very carefully the next word, the next line. I don't think computer keyboarding allows this to the same extent, although as I'm not a professional writer I'm not really qualified to make such a generalisation. But look at how much superfluous text is being generated out there, if only in blogosphere!

When I set a poem by hand, I think about these things. I can't think with too much absorption, otherwise I will set the wrong word. It's a bit like driving a car across the Nullabor plain: you can see a truck coming for hours, but if you don't concentrate, you'll still hit the bugger head-on when it finally comes close, even though there's nothing else around for kilometres. You can know the line of text you're setting off by heart, but if your mind wanders, typos creep in. But... the mind always seems to wander.

More... In Australia, we have very few letterpress resources. There are no foundries anymore, casting fresh metal letters (or none that I know of, please tell me if you know of any); if you're keen enough, you can have fresh type shipped over from the US or the UK, but they sell it by weight, and it's heavy stuff. Consequently a lot of what is here is quite worn.

To set my book of poems (I'm working on a selection by Nan McDonald), I am using what was, when I started, a reasonably full case of Bodoni 12pt roman. Enough to print 14 poems, but only if I set four pages at once, then pull them apart and set the next four pages. My first page printed was a shock. This is a case of type that has been used by students and staff in an arts institution for many years, and at a technical college for years before that. Consequently many of the letters are very worn (giving them a 'thick' look when inked) or chipped. I started to make a box of this worn type as I substituted it for letters in better shape, and keeping it separate as I dissed the type back into the tray. I'm now almost halfway through the printing of the book's text, and each page looks better at the first pull.

Some letters wear faster than others. Anything with a serif on an ascender or descender is in danger: b, d, k, l, p. Pointy letters: w, m. Dotty letters: i, j. And the letter r is becoming particularly scarce. Some letters get recycled so often that they become friends. I have a particularly sharp r that I put aside as I diss to use in prominent words in each poem. And yet I have an overflowing compartment of the letter c, most of them new. The problem is, I can't use the new ones because they look strange next to all the worn letters. Luckily the thickness of the paper I'm using (280gsm) allows the different height of the worn type to be accommodated. I'm letting it bite ever so slightly into the paper, without 'show through' on the other side.

I don't want my pages to be perfect. I'm happy with the slightly uneven look I'm achieving, otherwise I might as well just print this book from an inkjet printer. However, when I say 'prominent' words I mean that. As you read a poem, there are times when a words leaps out at you, and in this case it's for all the wrong reasons. You want the type to be invisible in a way, to let the meaning of the words exist independently. If a word is leaping out at you because it's thick, dull and broken, it's unfair to the reader. But the warmth of a handprinted page is delightful, ranging from dark greys to a dense black. It's a small challenge for the spoilt eyes of a modern reader, to whom variety in print quality means the ink heads are a bit clogged, something to be fixed.It is the finite (and rapidly dwindling) number of letters that made me think about the preciousness of words set or written by hand. Poets are, by their nature, careful with words. It is a marvellous experience to get so intimate with a piece of writing. You may think your eyes and your mind caress a word as you read it, but imagine holding that word, piece by piece, and thinking about all its layers and nuances as you ease it into place (albeit upside down and back to front!).

Poets are also fond of alliteration, and patterns within their text. This time bend your brain to the frustration of knowing that you're about to run out of 'r's and 'k's and meeting this line:

Dark its death-shining where the rocks rise black,

Gah! That's when I take my tweezers and pull a few letters out of another set poem, hoping to hell that I don't damage the top of the type with the tweezers as I ease it out.

And then I start setting again, and invariably my mind wanders. These are some of the things I've found myself thinking:

-- Many people think that newspaper compositors in small country towns over the last couple of centuries would have been rough working men. In fact, they were probably the most educated men in the region. They had to be able to spell, set, edit and proof, and print. They were the hub of the community. I've been enjoying dipping into Elizabeth Morrison's Engines of Influence over the past couple of years and finding out things like this.

-- Someone commented to me the other day that the colonial notion of relying on a 'mother country' like we used to with the UK has sort of come full circle with letterpress and other outdated technologies. When Australia was first established, we had to drag printing presses across the world, and type and everything else, and getting replacement bits was time consuming and expensive. (Did you know that the First Fleet contained a printing press, but no-one who knew how to use it, so it sat around Port Jackson for about 20 years?) Then we caught up with technology, and were pretty self-contained. Then we fell behind, because all the fancy new offset stuff was progressing in the US and Europe. So Australians ditched all the old things and fully embraced the new; we are now forerunners in cutting-edge print technology. This is bad news for anyone wanting to resurrect the old stuff (like me, and anyone into photo-etching), because as a nation we've chucked it all, or melted it down into scrap, or turned it into wall plaques. Gah!

-- Imagine being the compositor for Gertrude Stein's books! Or James Joyce! All set by hand! eek! If anyone made a mistake, who would notice! Did the authors notice? Or do you think they would have been delighted with the accidental shift in their phrasing?

-- Leonard Woolf thought setting and dissing type would be good for Virginia's nerves, which is one of the reasons why they started a press. It probably was, for a while, but I noticed when reading both of their biographies that after about 5 years they contracted out the setting to a professional compositor, then printed the set text themselves. Wise man, that Woolf.

-- I'm obviously playing the right music, all the students have taken their ipod earplugs out to listen.

-- Gee this type makes my fingers dirty.

drrrrty fingrrs

Ahem. Of course, once set, the text can be printed out numerous times, thus making it more accessible than handwritten text, but not as quickly as computer printed text. And digital printing is faster again. But that's the history of typesetting in a nutshell, isn't it? And somehow the slowness of the production, the time taken to make this text appear, is something that works for me. I get to ingest the words, letter by letter. It brings the poems to life.

Whether it does so for the reader at the other end is another story altogether.

Cross-posted (with better links) at Sarsaparilla and Slow Making

Friday, October 19, 2007

Popping in

Oh, and I had a visit yesterday from Poppy Letterpress. Hooray! Canberra bursts with leady goodness! We'll be able to hold a wayzgoose soon!

Fading away

I've been thinking about age recently. Partly because I turned 40 -- and thanks for all the well wishes -- but also because I've been spending time around a very elderly person who is descending a very slippery slope; not into dementia, but into her own overwhelming sense of anxiety and loss of control that must come with getting frail and helpless. As well, a colleague lost a parent, very suddenly, leaving a partner who can't fend for himself. And tonight I saw Away From Her, the first movie about the ageing of the babyboomer generation that I've enjoyed, because it's not hubric about that particular generation, just honest, and extremely poignant.

Dementia haunts my (immediate) family. My grandfather has it in spades, and currently lives in a far South Coast facility that specialises in his condition. He doesn't know any of us, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren. He has been reduced to a very basic model of himself, his core personality. He still loves children, music, painting and walking. He still tries to escape; they call him the one-man escape committee, but he's always had an urge to escape, wherever he was. He just wanted to walk, to be, to exist without trappings. When he first retired, he was a hippy farmer, wandering happily around his property on the edge of Lake George in a kaftan with nothing underneath. Mmm, fresh air and sunshine.

All the theories about avoiding dementia are, in my opinion, phooey. Crosswords? Brain puzzles? He did them every day, because he loved them. Creativity? He drew, painted, cast, threw pots, and all beautifully. Eat healthy foods? He was a vegetarian who drank wheat grass juice every day before anyone else had heard of it. Exercise? He walked for miles.

It's either bad luck or genetics. I vote genetics, in this case. He has a number of siblings (at least 4, one of whom died in WW2) and they all, except one, got it. My mother is terrified of getting it, she makes note on everything, but she is hopeful about the theory that it skips generations. Which puts me firmly in the firing line.

I, too, am terrified of developing it, and pin my hopes on my brother having received the genes. That would be sweet. And then I figure that if I get it, I won't know about it, so what's the problem?

The problem is, as you all know, those left behind. The ones around who are faced with leaving you somewhere, finding someone to look after you, who are left with a basic personality and no shared memories. My poor Nana is not quite a widow, and all her hopes of growing old with the man she loves/d are dashed. Luckily she's a very self-sufficient person, and one of the personal bonuses of getting really old is the shrinkage of your life down to your own concerns. Nana lives in jolly Nana world, and as long as her dog and her garden are near by, all's right with the world.

Oh, where am I going with this? I think this is another one of those posts where I'm not quite sure where I'm going, I just want to tap away at the keyboard until my wurties go away.

It is a very good movie, and raises some excellent issues once you mentally cut through the neat tying up of themes. I guess it made me sad for my grandfather. It made me wistful for the future. And scared. And hopeful that if I do go quietly blank, that someone will be close to me who can deal with it. And if I keep my faculties, but just get very elderly, that my young toyboy of a husband (see? aren't I clever) will still be there. And if I die young, let it be swift, and reasonably painless.

I guess that's all any of us can hope for, eh?

beach walking

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

DrawMo, Australians!

Does anyone feel like joining in on DrawMo?

A bit more achievable than writing a book in a month, and much more achievable than Movember, for the females amongst us at least.

You don't have to produce high art, just aim to do a sketch a day and blog it. I don't have time to do more than a squiggle, but one a day is a good habit I've fallen out of, and it might linger on if I get used to it.

So I'm up for it. Any takers?

[snaps to India Ink]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dot Pointy Day

I checked into Bloglines tonight and realised how little time I've made for blog grazing/ingesting. My Go Fug Yourself link had 166 unread posts! A year ago, a day wouldn't be complete without some high quality fashion snark. But then, I do find time for around 13 daily Scrabble moves, so I should just shut up and get on with it, shouldn't I?

Right. It's a dot point kinda day. Let's go.

-- Yesterday I got an email inviting me to participate in Movember. I know the obvious response is 'I'm a woman, so go jump', but then I started thinking -- how did they know that part of my entire daily beauty regime consists of washing my face, ruffling my hair and then tweezing my face? Not so much the mo, more the chin and neck, something which either naturally comes with increasing age, or indicates that I have a serious hormone imbalance and should not look forward to an easy menopause. Maybe I should join Movember! If I let it all go I'd probably be able to manage something like a Fu Manchu moustache coming out from my chin. Actually, no. Don't offer to sponsor me. Erk. But feel free to sponsor some other poor bastard like Dean. He manages a pretty good effort. Last year I offered to pay him double if he grew a Hitler moustache, but he didn't take me up on it. :(

-- I just want to register here my complete disapproval of the instant bribery of tax cuts rolled out by the Coalition within seconds of announcing the election. Classic appeal to the greedy cnuts who have elected them all the other times. I have no problem paying taxes even though they hurt, because (read my lips) TAXES = SERVICES. Am I wrong? Even if they get used for weaponry, at least the money is there to be protested over. Take away the taxes, then they have a perfect excuse to demolish things like Medicare and public schools. Meh. I'm certainly no economist but I know what I hate, and at the moment it's JH.
BRING IT ON. And buy one of my posters (on the sidebar).

-- In other news, I had a bit of a birthday party with a few chums at the Old Ducks Farm. We descended upon Lady and Colonel Duck, set up a temporary campsite in their orchard, and then descended like locusts upon a lamb spit roast and a shitload of alcohol whilst sitting around a fire. I'm not a crowd lover, and I got a bit anxious beforehand about whether the disparate group of characters (at least the ones that I invited/could make it) that I so love one-on-one (or family by family) would like each other, but it went swimmingly, with many new connections made. There was a huge gang of kids, and they went at each other with light sabres (of course), a billy cart and general running around until we shoved them in front of a DVD to flake out. We even had a posse of participants who got up at dawn's crack with Colonel Duck to watch the Rugby!

The weather was beautiful and the garden was glorious. Here's a glimpse of life in paradise:

Tents amongst the blossom in the orchard.

This is a beautiful historical replica tent; a simple A-frame canvas tent belonging to two friends who get into historical reenactment shenanigans. On the morning after, a Channelbill Cuckoo perched on the top of the tent and gave out the most raucous calls, scaring both this friend and myself. Apparently they migrate from the Philippines to the Bega Valley every year.

facestuffing 1
Lamb on a spit brings out the carnivore in the gentlest of people...

facestuffing 2
... and the cavemen out in others :)

This is how Zoe and Jethro spent most of the evening. That baby is in post-meat-frenzy. Truly.

brekkie group
I didn't get a lot of photos because I was in the thick of things most of the time. This is a group of post-rugby breakfasters, chilling out the sense of disappointment (which I don't understand, cause neither team was Australia).

lightsabres ho
Lightsabre battles were the bomb, until Colonel Duck upped the ante...

and took all the kids for a few laps of the garden on the back of his vintage Massey-Ferguson (lovingly named 'Chikka'). For some mechanically-minded kids, this was the best part of the weekend.

As usual, the cats came with us. Padge hated every moment. Can't you tell?

-- The poetry is going well.

Gosh, there's so much more I want to say but my eyelids won't stay open. Best Beloved is away for most of the week,* so there's a good chance I'll get to blog again while bedtime curfew is lifted. I just need to get a good dose of sleep tonight, I haven't caught up from the weekend yet...

* on a 'business trip'. He's gone to the Sunshine Coast, and I noticed that he did pack a beach towel and his juggling balls... gee, life's tough for him, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Printy frenzy


At least 18 months after I blogged about starting the planning process, I've FINALLY started print production on my poetry books, and it's all I can think about right now. I can guarantee that my blog presence will get more erratic than usual over the next few months. Apologies in advance!

Luckily Bumblebee is with his dad for this week of the school holidays, so I can wake, eat breakfast, jump out of bed, shrug on some clothes fresh from the floordrobe and run out the door onto my pushbike. This week (starting from Sunday) I've been at the Book Studio by 8am, and I don't leave until 5.30 or later. A quick lunch that includes catching up on my scrabble, and I get a hell of a lot done in a day.

It's so much fun to be producing something for myself! I love the element of problem-solving that letterpress provides at every stage, and within every stage. Especially with the resources I've got, including type which seemed plentiful when I started, but turns out to be quite worn and irregular, so that at least two hours of the day is spent proofing and substituting letters before I can edition.

I'm completely obsessed. If I look the way I feel, I look saggy tired around the edges, with a core of wild-eyed excitement. All wound up, and impatient at distractions and delays. I'm going to my parents' farm this weekend with a gang of mates, and I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing that I'll be forced to leave the press. Good for the social time, bad for my sense of urgency and energy! Healthy, is what Best Beloved says. He's feeling a bit lost at the moment as I wizz around him in ever increasing circles.

I'm going to document my print production as I go at flickr. If you're interested, you can find the flickr set here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Digging through the layers

Bumblebee is sick. Best Beloved is too. He thought he was better today and went to work, but has just come back looking a bit green around the gills. Because I thought he was well, I cancelled today's plans and stayed home, and because I have this unexpected day off, I have been cleaning up rearranging all the shite in my home office. It's more of a pit, really, with a well-worn track (softened by cat hair) between the door and the computer, and piles of books, obsolete bits of computer and paper/files/drafts of things on every side, as high as they can be without wobbling.

I'm finding all sorts of things. Some fun, some not. Some are positively scary. I have already put a lot in the paper recycling bin. Others I can't bear to chuck, but what to do with old postcards/exhibition invites/funny little shopping lists? Make books, I always swear to myself, and I start yet another archive box full of Materials for Future Books that Never Get Made. Sigh.

I found these funny little collages, made when I was an impressionable new (I won't say young) art school student and under the thrall of The Humument, a stage every book arts student should go through and then get over.

My version of the Humument was called 'Amazon Throne', a book about a family of obscure royals in South America about 150 years ago. It seemed to have lots of juicy material to play with, and a name to die for. Anyway, I only did about ten of these pages, dunno how Tom Philips keeps it up. These are three of my favorites:

For those who can't read it, the featured text says, During that same year Dom Joao had been commissioned to keep a sharp eye out for marriageable princesses of exalted lineage, political prestige, adequate financial backing, and not too revolting a face. The text on the man's face says, I could be looking at it 12 hours a day. So I want a big, bright, sharp image. And a square, flat screen. And total control over colour settings. And zero flicker. And crisp focus, even in the corners. And low emissions. And compatibility with my system. Heh.

This one speaks for itself, methinks.

This one is my favorite, probably because I love the way the rose works (it's a picture of meat from an 'eat more meat' ad of the time). The featured text says He justified himself glibly.

Just thought I'd share :)

Back to the sorting & sifting...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Aussie Gnomefest

As promised, here are a selection of gnomes from the Aussie Icons-themed Floriade. Gnome decorating is one of the best things about our annual flower show thingy, and the first thing we head for when we go through the gates.

There were a lot of gnomes with sunscreen and sunglasses on, lots of corked hats, a few Gold Logies (just painted all gold), and a number of classics, such as

Bagnomas in Pyjamas
The Banomas in Pyjamas

Ned Gnomy
Gnome Kelly (there were a few of these. This was my favorite)

Ednome Everage & Steve the First
Gnoma Everage (there were a lot of these) and Steve Gnomin. Steve was also a great favorite, and I captured a couple of variations...

Steve the Second
Another Steve. I like his hair.

Bindy and Bob
And an absence of Steve. Without labels, I suspect these are Bob and Bindi.

Then there were the more special Aussie Icons:

kath n kim
Kath n Kim

Johnny gnome
Johnny Howard, looking spectacularly normal

I love the gnome life
Either trying to be a lizard or something from Priscilla. I suspect the latter.

The 3 Gnome Siblings
The Three Siblings...

The gnome that ate Canberra
... and The Gnome that ate Canberra

And then there were the extra special gnomes,

ken gnome
Ken Gnome

magic pudding or meat pie?
At the time we thought this was the Magic Pudding, but now I think it's a meat pie.

Mr Squiggley gnome
Marvellous Mr Squiggle

and my absolute favorite,

Florence Broadnome
Florence Broadnome (or is that Florence Gnomehurst?)

One day I will enter this competition. I hereby make it one of my life goals.



This morning I found my cat's name in my scrabulous rack. Almost as much fun as winning Bazlotto.

BTW, I was recommended a new blog the other day, and now I recommend it to you, especially to you mothers of children and anyone within or post-PhD. It's called Lost in a Reverie. Enjoy. Be warned -- there are heart-wrenching bits, especially if you follow her link to her partner's writing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hippo barfday again


This is me at around 4, I think. A lot cuter than I am at forty. I've learnt a lot since then. These days I know the sight of me with a mop would be sweet, but I'm buggered if anyone can catch me willingly holding one.

Thanks for the well wishes, peoples. I'm having a ripper of a birthday. I was given the DVDs of Red Dwarf (series 1) and Life on Mars, and for books I got Life Class by Pat Barker and Lirael by Garth Nix (advertising your wants on Facebook really works!).

Colonel Duck fulfilled my wish to get power tools for my birthday by giving me a Dremel with lots of attachments. Yay! And Lady Duck gave me nice bottlebrush bushes to plant in the garden, which pleases me no end because I've made friends with the feisty wattlebird who visits every year when the current bottlebrush blooms and is not scared of the cats at all.

And there have been other nice gifts, some of which I'm wearing. Best Beloved is taking me jewellery shopping in the next week or so, as he wants to buy me something meaningful that I'll wear lots, and he feels it would be a more successful gift if I pick it out for myself! I hate to say it, but he's probably right. He's lovely, but taste is not his strong point. On our first date he was wearing nice black shiny shoes and a black t-shirt with tie-dyed pink and white jeans. Ahem. I got rid of those (and a few other iridescent nasties in his wardrobe) quite quickly.

We had a nice time at Floriade today, although missed the kangaroos, sadly. I did take some beaut shots of this year's gnome-painting competition, and I'll put them up soon. Right now I feel a bit sunstruck, so I think it's time for a bit of a bex and a lie-down. Must be all those years creeping up on me... (older friends guffaw NOW.)