Amor Sacro e Amor Profano

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I’ve designed a Christmas card for as long as I can remember. I usually do two-one with a Christian theme, another more worldly-and funny. For the last ten years, our cards have featured our pal Jack the Corgi. We’ve been running out of Bible verses that mention dogs, (Dogs don’t get very good press in either the Old or New Testament-odd, as no creature epitomizes selfless love like a dog.). This year, the verse was definitely taken out of context. I hope nobody looks it up!

Merry Christmas to all you stalwart readers! I look forward to swapping ideas in 2015.

I’ve got mono.

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Monospaced typewriter fonts, that is. I love typewriters-especially IBM Selectrics. The soft, reassuring whir of the motor, the subtle whiff of ozone that permeates the air, and that substantial clunk of a mechanical keyboard firing an impact on paper is soothing and makes writing a physical act and a pure joy. It’s like pulling a trigger, and I’ve found that many folks who enjoy firearms also love typewriters.

Computers live in dog years, but 40 year old Selectrics-those fifty pound overbuilt monsters with stainless steel guts-still soldier on. You can still walk into most office supply stores and buy ribbons. When was the last time you saw floppy discs in a store?

I have six Selectrics, but my pride and joy is a gem rebuilt by Chuck Furrer. When IBM wanted units refurbished for their exhibits, they called Chuck. This rare, late model red machine runs factory fresh-which, given Chuck’s magic touch, it fundamentally is.

Does a typewriter make me a better writer? Unfortunately no, as my blog posts attest. But it does make me a happier writer.

The light that never goes out.

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As Black Friday approaches, I’m thankful that our family has never bought into the whole consumer shit-show.

Our Christmas has never revolved around gift giving-with one exception.

Our Christmas tradition is to pick a worthy charity every year, and pool our money to make a one-time donation. The receiver varies from year to year, and it is fun to look at all the opportunities.

This year, we’re contemplating buying a water buffalo for a needy family in India. What gift under a tree would not pale before something that cool? “New iPod? Nice, but check this big, snorting monster out!”

In the past, we’ve fixed kid’s cleft palates, bought groceries for an AIDs orphanage, paid for wells and helped missionaries bring supplies to remote villages.

Posting this does sound “holier than thou”. But I work part-time in a running shoe store in a mall, and am always saddened to see how stressed and unhappy folks are this time of year, frantically buying garbage that is meaningless.

A charity gift frees you from all this insanity. You never know who these gifts help-or how. But nothing warms your heart like a gift that ripples out and keeps on giving.

Lovesong (sic)

A busy day of book and poster design ahead, and a multitude of Iron and Wine tracks cued up in iTunes. Sam Beam is a wonderful writer – “Lovesong of the Buzzard” is the finest poem I’ve read that addresses the conflicting layers and polar directions of spousal abuse.

What an emotive image this is:
“Springtime and the promise of an open fist
A tattoo of a flower on a broken wrist.”

This is a clip from the 2007 tour, which I was fortunate to catch in Montreal. A lovely evening with my kids. Going to shows is fun, but going to shows with your happy adult children is magical!

 

Tweaked Trola

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Jordi Embodas’ “Trola” left me cold-odd as I usually eat up his fonts. But the tweaked “Trola Text” is stunning. What a wonderful book setting it will be. (The small caps strike me as a tad lifeless, but the italics vibrate, and I’ll have to discipline myself not to over-use these squirrels!)

Greasy Gris-Gris

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I arrived home from a long bike ride yesterday, frozen to the bone. A package from Amazon was waiting for me, and I quickly fired up the tube amp and cracked the plastic shrink wrap on the superb “High Priest of Psychedelic Voodoo” by Dr. John the Night Tripper. Three LPs worth of greasy gris-gris that quickly warmed my heart and soul.

The late David Gancher said it best in 1970; “If you dig jive, pure jive; if you dig dreaming, if you dig Wolfman Jack, if you ever order barbecue at 4 AM; if you get stoned to watch TV commercials while eating Colonel Sanders fried chicken and drinking warm Ripple — then you are weird enough for Dr. John.”

Prune Polish

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Like many academics, I do not write well, wallowing in jargon and bombast. But, unlike most academics, I know I do not write well.

This rare flash of self-awareness is why I’m enjoying Polishing Your Prose by the Cahn brothers. Published by Columbia University Press, the book presents no new tricks. The premise is less is more. Nothing new here – Strunk and White admonished us to “Omit needless words” in the 1950′s. (Though I struggle to omit that needless comma in the 2010s.)

But the trick is in targeting the dross, and here the Cahn book is worthy of any arsenal. The authors are great writers, and engage the reader in the painful process of polishing. Points are well organized, and provide a checklist to better self editing.

The book could have been more accurately titled Prune Your Prose. It is well worth the $15 entry fee. When I finish Polishing Your Prose, I will come back and polish this prattle!

Digital nicotine

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The internet, that brush-fire-quick source of rumours and gossip, is mumbling that Apple is stopping iPod development. I still recall my excitement at being able to hold 256K of music in my hand, and tended to overlook how badly everything sounded. My love affair with the iPod was short-lived, as I’ve never felt comfortable running or wandering the streets without the DEW line protection of my ears. On one run in particular, I’d have been mowed down by a drunk driver if I’d been running along listening to Miles Davis. The changing sound of tires going from pavement to gravel gave me time to jump in a ditch.

I find it ironic that turntables have outlived both the CD and the iPod.

And I’m sure record companies are salivating at the idea of being able to sell us fragile and difficult to copy music formats.

I’m not a vinyl snob. While I do think we are hard-wired for analog sound, my main joy in vinyl is the rituals involved. Holding that big slab of artwork in my mitts can’t be matched. And the prep work-cleaning, demagnetizing etc.-is akin to prepping your favourite Peterson pipe for a bowl of some obscure oily hand-cut tobacco. A rare treat good enough for my hero C.S. Lewis and certainly good enough for me. Digital music is a cigarette-instant and easy-but dumbed down.