Saturday, February 27, 2010

letter forms

“It's all making me ready.
It's all doing what you gonna do.
I know "A"
I see my life come shine.”

~ Jeff Lynne, King of the Universe, from On the Third Day

This time of the year has come to be my busiest. Although late winter is conducive to recollection, my routines have been gratefully diversified with travels, playing music, and being among friends along the way. Part and parcel of the pilgrim path is note-taking and photography. Here is a chance to catch up. On a recent sojourn in Paris, an elegant subway poster drew my steps to an enthralling exhibit about the history of written letter forms at the Musée de la Poste (the postal history museum). The venue is familiar to me, but this show was extraordinary in presentation and depth of collections- the galleries filled with artifacts, printed and handwritten works, connected by narrative installations. It was easy to take dozens and dozens of photos, thinking of my fellow writers who might at least enjoy an edited version.

When we are writing, we join with a vast and boundless continuum of thoughts expressed in lettered articulation. Words constructed of typographic elements are shaped into our communication, description- even unspoken narrative. Further, understanding often hinges upon clarity of letter and language. Arrays of individual letter characters, with which thoughts are framed, present their unique graphic balance. The very letters I handwrite- and even type at this very moment- are inheritors of evolved typographic architecture. This museum exhibit reminded me very much of our working legacy of form and function. Indeed, an already existing affinity for the practices of graphic arts and calligraphy kept me in the Musée de la Poste for hours! Yet, all the more after exiting, my appreciation extended further as I noticed letter forms on buildings, in print, and in the city’s adornments. Then I chose a corner café to continue journaling.

Between wall panels displaying very large translucent parchment-like A-to-Z letter murals (as in the top photo) and illuminated manuscript pages, were these books. Just above, in Persian, and below from Ethiopia and China. The Asian displays included collections of ink-grinding tools and lettering brushes.

Moving through history, the galleries turned to displays of writing tools using ink and paper. These French-made materials were also beautifully advertised, reflecting the styles of their times. Note the pen-stands, and glass-pointed pens. There were display cases filled with the tiny boxes in which copper pen-points were packaged and sold.

The sections of a glass-reservoir Waterman fountain pen just below. These pens are still made in France. Fountain pens began to replace dip-pens and inkwells.

Among the impressive variety of inkwells displayed (one resembling a chariot, another in the shape of a coal stove) are these, just below. At right is Voltaire's inkwell and pen stand. Imagine what had been written with these tools!

Indeed, a fine showing of graphite writing tools not to be missed. Sennelier and Caran d'Ache are two brands that are still popular today. Pencils have hardly changed in the past century. Note the crank sharpeners on the right.

Just below is a portion of a large Bic ballpoint display. Some of the memorabilia advertising Bic, also a French company, was loaned by the Musée Carnavalet (the museum of Paris city history).

Though the focus of this history of writing exhibit concentrated on handwritten letters, the concluding gallery displayed letter-press printed pages, a 19th century cast-iron printing press (made in Boston!), and an Underwood typewriter. And, yes, a nod to word-processing. Being the national museum of postal history, there was a great display of antique postcards, and an area for children to write letters. During my visit, a tour guide was teaching a school group the basics of calligraphy.

Resuming my steps along side streets and broad avenues, typographic forms abounded. A large and familiar letter A appropriately met my path.
Just below, miles away from the museum, a calligraphic display in the Sennelier store along the Seine.

Spring is almost here.
Bonne écriture !

Sunday, February 14, 2010

typing and being

“Breathing in,
I know
that I am breathing in.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

fleurs bleues

“Pourtant ne soyons pas tristes
Pour fleur bleue
J’en ai là toute une liste
C’est bien mieux
Amourettes passagères
Joies peines de coeur légères
Oui fleurs bleues.”

~ Charles Trenet, Fleur Bleue

If you don’t like how you’re feeling, change what you’re doing. That’s a fine gem of wisdom that got me through a perilously lean stretch about six years ago. Now, in times that threaten dead ends in so many directions, I am brought to remember the spirit of those words. While scavenging for hints of treasures in tired territories, I’ve noticed myself turning to trusted mentors. By the end of last week, I realized how I’d been unexpectedly visited by a variety of friends from different spheres of my life- in a nice incidental reciprocity. This made for some surprising lunch company to spice the days. Many tell me how ideally suited I am for what I do. This only contributes to my sense of unsettle, but I can at least take stock in listening to how my friends describe what they see. Indeed, simply attending to sincere perceptions helps me to interpret my context. There is always something to be derived from outside the old teapot tempests. If there are limits to my doing, there needn’t be such hindrances to my listening.

Apparently, turns in the road reveal continued desert stretches. These are without measure, and there will need to be plenty of energy to keep the pace. But, as I wrote last time, recommencing by considering blessings helps provide for a running start. From there, my thoughts have been occupied with the idea of “reprieve mindset.” Being spared a crisis leads to a catharsis of both reprieve and of a liberty to choose other points of attention. How refreshing to be able to look beyond self survival! With the grace to do so, the same old can be viewed anew. Explorations that can leap the dead-end barriers can be reading and observing with renewed vision; tasting and listening with amended senses. Beneath fixed givens, there are variables I can change. Perhaps in such reevaluation is the badge of reprieve.

Discovering the good and constructive amidst cynical and impoverished times is an altering of local colors. Actual in the sense that a fuller spectrum of color is a reminder of vastness. Figurative in the sense that the soul must not dwell long in drab grimness. There must be references beyond genre shades, and perhaps that makes an immersion into dazzling colors something rather daring. Make note of what nourishes above and beyond times of consumptive cynicism. Though gloom and defeat, find unfettered graces. When I cannot remember God’s presence, that surely doesn’t mean I’ve been forgotten. Indeed, finding encouragement in despair is hard enough- yet I don’t give up trying to be the encouragement I seek. In this way, I can help effect my own renewal as well as be an ingredient in that of others. To bloom in the desert is to be able to vary one’s vistas, to see the flowers grow through the ruins. Locate the bright prospects- or listen for them.

So much is made of endurance, that it becomes an end rather than a means toward something greater. Distinguishing between means and ends reveals the purpose of perseverance. It’s easy to be swept into popular perceptions of “survival” as an entire self-enclosed competition. “Hanging on” is often made into a goal. But surely the soul’s destiny is greater than any refinement of coping skills. There are higher aspirations than the sake of movement. But it seems our progress is measured by motion and amassments. I’d rather think of my journals as ships’ ledgers instead. These are testaments of perseverance, reminding me that the times demanding endurance are steps toward a sure yet unseen glory. Abilities to abide and pursue continue to hold great value- both as offerings of support and as ways to help appreciate the present.

For me, to resolutely continue mustn’t be of the gritted teeth variety, but with expectant hope. There is a fine splitting-off between reluctant tolerance and making the best of things. Again, means and ends are distinct. Neither should be exclusive of the other, and both are necessary reminders for each other. Contemplative prayer seems to be both, and it causes me to wonder at praying for guidance (asking for means), given the limited aspects of distance vision. Yet I wouldn’t dream of ceasing to do so.

The indefinite soul and the finite earthbound self interlock as mysterious counterparts. It is necessarily so. Duns Scotus boldly differed from Aquinas when he asserted that soul and body are united for the sake of the soul’s highest aspirations. Creativity is manifested in the composite being. We gaze heavenward, with feet on the ground. The long road does have its consolations and treasures- with diligent navigation, these are continually revealed. This week’s humble example joined two small finds to the sum of an inward grin: an old Boston Globe that was used to interleave some ancient volumes opened to an ad for “Blue Band” pencils. Then, in a later, unrelated circumstance I found a box of these- which must have been made close to the 1929 date of the newspaper fragment. Artifacts from the Great Depression era, yet so scrupulously produced. Small treasures to remind me of my conduits. Inevitably if the ends are as yet imperceptible, perhaps the means can be enjoyable. In a similar sense, I don’t journal with a final entry in mind.