I remember a time when I knew my best friends’ phone numbers.* My father remembers shooting home movies on Super 8 film, then waiting weeks for the reels to be developed. My late grandfather remembered when the Wright brothers introduced mankind to the first airplane.
In the last 100 years, our lifestyle has changed so much as to be almost completely unrecognizable, and the pace doesn’t seem to be slowing. No wonder, then, that the old ways induce a certain reverence in my iOS-addled brain. Don’t get me wrong, I love how quickly my science fiction movies are becoming reality. But making a physical object by a time-tested method will always make me feel a little more like a useful human being. Nothing beats working with your hands— what makes you happier than planting some kale** in your backyard, building your own IKEA furniture, or stuffing your mouth with Bagel Bites?
So with dreams of pastoral street cred, Laurel and I signed up for a letterpress workshop at Typecase Industries in DC. We would each get to set a favorite quote in wood type, and print 10 [ish] posters by hand.
I had a quote in mind by John Muir—
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
You may notice the problem that immediately shut me down. While this line isn’t terribly long, it’s way more than 4 words, which is roughly the length that I was capable of, this being my first day and all. Also, fun fact: when you run out of H’s, there are no more H’s. At that point, you go looking for another font that has all the letters you need. Or, in my case, you pick a much shorter quote.
“Houston, uh, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”
I didn’t use the first part, just the last 4 words, and I think my poster was better for it. This is the second big benefit of doing things the old way. Yes, it feels good to work with your hands, but more importantly, working within constraints can make the final product better.
I’m glad that I work on a computer. It’s miraculous what I’m able to do in a single day, but I always have to remind myself that just because I can do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
* I’ve only recently started to remember my wife’s number without having to get my phone out.
**Just so we’re clear, kale is gross.