The Designs of Humanity

Sometimes I think about who we are.

Underwood

So, for Christmas, my awesometastic brother hunted down an original Underwood typewriter for me. It took me a little while to get around to finding a new ribbon for it, but it’s a sweet coffee table piece now. I usually just leave paper in it for people to write stories on when killing time. It seems to have been a hit so far.

Evidently it’s the same model of typewriter that Jack Kerouac used, and that was featured in the movie Slacker being thrown off a bridge.

It’s a fun step back in time to have this around—to realize that this used to be the main way of typing professional documents. It’s so easy to make a mistake, or to let the carriage slip. I can only imagine what it would have been like to type a term paper.

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Filed under: living, printing, type

Things I’d like to do more often

1. Play Go
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2. Drink Coffee
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3. Read Classics
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4. Set Letterpress Type
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What would you do with more free time?

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Type & Letterpress

Movable Type

A few years back when attending graphics classes at Walla Walla University, I happened to notice an old divided drawer of movable metal type from the age of manual typesetting. The type had no doubt been there for years, and looked to have seen little use. As I’m a bit of an enthusiast, I took note of the novelty at the time.

Now, years later, I’m back at my Alma Mater teaching graphics and web classes on a contract basis. My wife, knowing my love for all things printed, decided to follow the 1st-year paper theme when selecting my anniversary/Christmas gift, and bought me an Adana Eight-Five letterpress, shipped all the way from England. Needless to say, I was ecstatic!

I set about ordering some appropriately rubber-based ink, and then started hunting for plates, cleaning supplies, paper, and type. Upon asking the chair of the Technology department I found that the drawer of type I remembered was unclaimed, and was even left relatively undisturbed! I asked if I could have the drawer—if no one had any particular objections, and a couple emails later I found myself rushing to the lab to see what I could find. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find not just a drawer of type, but a whole cabinet.

Movable Type Boxes

I thought it unwise (and impractical) to attempt to take several drawers of type home with me after class—especially since I only asked for one—so I looked through several of the drawers and found six smaller boxes of type, each containing 100 pieces. Figuring that this would be enough to keep me busy, I departed with a small handful of type rather than a truck load.

When I arrived home, my dear wife helped me painstakingly sort out two of the boxes that were in a very disorganized state. Now I have type ready for blocking to be used on my letterpress, and I can’t wait to make it happen. Stay tuned for more, as I’ll surely be writing about the results of my attempts.

Filed under: creativity, generosity, opportunity, printing, process, type, typesetting

The Last Bean

GrindingThis is how I make coffee. It’s a bit of a process, but I stand by my theory that humans need process for sanity. The first step is grinding. I take the Caffe Umbria Mezzanote blend beans (my personal favorite decaf), and pour about a half a cup to be ground via mortar and pestle. This particular mortar and pestle came from a little shop in Italy that my wife and I visited during our year learning Italian at Villa Aurora, Firenze. Oddly enough, we didn’t purchase this while there, but instead it was gifted to us by my mother, who ordered it overseas.

The Last Bean

The perfect grind is achieved when there is one last unbroken bean. I know this because no matter how hard I try there is always one last bean that taunts me by surfacing to the top of the grounds after I think I’m done. For some time my mind has struggled to accept how this bean inevitably escapes my grinding, but after several cups I’ve learned to accept it for the anomaly that it truly is and carry on. If you see two or three, keep grinding.

Into the PressNext the beans go into the press, and you pour the hot water in, ready to stir them so they don’t sit stagnantly. You can get your hot water from anywhere (Instahot is handy, but I use our tea kettle). Once in, stir the beans lightly, enough to allow each piece to get a good bath, but not so much that you kill the froth the beans’ odoriferous oils produces. SteepingI use a long silver spoon for this step, but you can use whatever you want. Just be gentle with the glass of your press. At this stage you have a decision to make about just how strong your coffee is. The length of time you let it steep is directly proportionate to the amount of chest hair you’ll grow, so just be aware. I let mine go for 3-5 minutes because, let’s face it, I could use some chest hair.

PouredNext, you push the plunger of the press down. This is a favorite step for me—perhaps because it means the coffee’s done, or maybe just because it’s fun to press it. After that, make sure the lid is open to pour, and fill up your favorite mug. Tree HuggerThe right mug can enhance the drinking experience. This time I chose one of my wife’s favorites, primarily because it was smaller, but also because I like the branding (sure, call me a brand-whore).

So that’s it. It’s a pretty simple process, but it’s one I’ve grown to love. I don’t even think I’d accept a lifetime supply of Starbucks VIA® Ready Brew (though I hear it’s quite good). I just couldn’t give up the appreciation this process instills.

Filed under: beans, coffee, drink, process

Left Out

left out

You know that awful, helpless feeling of knowing that everyone thought of you, but thought twice? These chaps probably spent their lives wishing they could be part of the “normal” crowd.

Now, not many of us have troubles as evident as these fellows, but in a dog-eat-dog world it’s pretty easy to find faults. It could be that you have a funny habit, that you need to comb your hair, or maybe that you’re (forbid the thought) unique.

So, what are you supposed to do when you’re the odd one out? You don’t want to be a tag-along, or a complainer, and the natural response is to seclude yourself and stew. But when it comes down to it, stewing only makes you less personable, stressing the problem.

When I was a kid I learned a trick that helped me to stay positive: I thought about my most loyal friend. While it was natural to say “I don’t have a friend in the world”, this thought allowed me to add an “except…” to the sentence. Even though that friend was seldom around when I felt down, just remembering that there was someone who was still my friend made me feel better—still not great—but better.

Filed under: friendship, independence, interaction, loneliness, strength

Encounters

Have you ever thought about how much you’re influenced by those you meet? It’s easy to see in someone else, when they pick up common phrases their friends use. While we see it in those around us, we often don’t realize that we’re just the same way. However, it’s not just as simple as what phrases we pick up, or even what bigger habits we form. It’s a behind-the-scenes life-changing matter.

Imagine for a minute that you’re a drop of rain rolling down a window pane (pardon the thought that we are mostly water). The window is already covered in droplets, some moving faster than others, and some not bothering to move an inch an hour. As you pass a small droplet, you join with it (minds out of the rain gutter, please). You receive something from it, and you leave a little bit of yourself with it when you go. You’re also diverted at least a little bit. This is how it works with the people we meet.

Now take a step back from the window. As you watch the drop find its way down the window it’s fairly easy to see that the path it takes is far from a straight line. In fact, it’s downright crazy. It could start on one side of the window and end up on the other—or make it half way there and decide to come back. My point is, we can’t just shrug off the things we glean from encounters. One way or another, they make us who we are.

Filed under: droplets, friendship, influence, interaction, metaphor, rain, water, window

Ready to Lose

Shock—we’ve all experienced it in one form or another. It could be that you lost someone dear to you unexpectedly, or maybe that you failed at reaching a personal goal you were convinced you could achieve. Whatever the case, you’ve had to deal with the rectification between your expectations and reality.

It really is a crazy thing. Our brains are designed to experience a little time-out session when we first realize this difference exists. Time enters a no passing zone, and there we are, aware of the world around us, yet so far removed. We all know that this state only lasts a short while—if only we could lengthen it.

When it leaves we’re bombarded with fear, anger, sorrow and a whole slew of emotions that we’re never ready for. Of course, with time, we work through these emotions and return to (a version of) normalcy.

So, it’s a natural thing to ask, “why aren’t we always prepared—like boyscouts?” The answer: sometimes we are.

Have you ever caught yourself talking to the imaginary police officer? You know, the one you make up so that you can reason out just how you’ll talk your way out of the ticket you deserve (maybe it’s just me)? If you’ve ever prepped for such a phantom event, you’ll know just what I mean. You and your bag of reasons will have already thought of every excuse and witty retort before you even get pulled over.

You’ve done it. Automatically, you’ve responded to the dilemma at hand, even though, usually, there isn’t one. Face it, your brain is smarter than you—so much so that it’s prepared you to deal with not just scenarios you’ll likely encounter, but many others as well.

So what happens when they really do happen? Well, if you’re like me, you answer the officer’s questions with clear yesses and nos, and when he tickets you you thank him.

When you needed those convincing and witty lines, they were gone. It might seem the preparation has failed. But, now, just wait for it. After it’s over the reasons will all come back. When they do, you’ll feel the overwhelming urge to share them with the nearest captive audience available (pity the passenger).

While it may seem like your brain set up an elaborate defense system, it was really just preparing you for the emotional onslaught that is losing. You thought you were ready for anything—at least you were ready to lose.

Filed under: coping, hypothetical, losing, ready, trauma

Comfortable

What things in your life make you feel comfortable? Take a moment to think about them. If you’re at all like me, you probably just envisioned a loaded turkey sandwich, your favorite after-a-long-day chair, and a fresh-ground French press steaming in your favorite mug—or at least something similar. Well, whatever it is, I hope you’re experiencing it right now, because it may be the last time you ever do so with a clear conscience.

No, I’m not going to lay a guilt trip on you about how other people are utterly without our luxuries, as true as that is. Instead, I’d like to share my latest epiphany: being comfortable is bad for you.

Aside from the worldly attachments we develop when visiting our “comfort caves”, being comfortable is detrimental in another way. When we feel comfortable, we close our eyes to growth.

By deciding that we’re comfortable with our own levels of competence in our respective fields (be they professional or inspired), we stunt ourselves of the drive to exceed our previous performances. For example, my previously mentioned comfort-vices keep me from discovering new types of sandwiches, gaining new perspective from other seats, and finding out how much I really would enjoy kumquat tea (?). While these things are fairly inconsequential, you can see where applying the same principle on a larger scale might reveal one of human-kind’s greatest weaknesses: the lack of drive to improve.

Now, what were those things that make you feel comfortable? Think about them.

Filed under: comfort, ease, growth, influence, learning, strength

Losing is Such a Lovely Thing Indeed

Losing is lovely because when you lose, you’re tested. For example, playing golf is more a challenge of temper for me than of athleticism (though I do stink at the latter). Losing at golf means a poor scorecard, but a tried and controlled temper is much more valuable than any scorecard. When in competitive games like chess, losing means seeing someone else win, which, with study, can improve your game much more than playing an easy opponent and winning.

Filed under: conditioning, coping, growth, irony, learning, losing, strength, temper

Anger

Why is it that, so often, the things we lose our tempers about are those which ultimately matter the least?

Filed under: anger, importance, priorities, temper