An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Location: Philippines

Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

28 August 2007

The letterpress

I relax my stance on embedding videos onto my blog just this once, so that I can pay tribute to the dying art of this wonderful way of putting words to paper. This is a very short but very well-made feature by Chuck Kraemer, and shows John Kristensen, the proprietor of Firefly Press in Massachusets, in his fantastic work area "not far from the fifteenth century." The video is heartfelt, moving, simply beautiful.

In this digital age, everything is "virtual," almost existing, always just on the verge of being real, here-but-not-quite-here. They are able to get here, I suppose, but there is always some sort of breach, an alienation, an other-ness, a there-ness rather than a here-ness. With letterpress, words are here, already arrived and always present, leaving no doubt that they exist. You see them on the page, gripping the paper, owning it. These are imprints that cannot and should not be taken lightly. By their looks alone, they are inviolate.

Here are some of my favorite lines from the feature:

"You are dealing with physical stuff. Letters are things, not pictures of things, and when you assemble metal type you are obliged to acknowledge -- accept -- that."

"Engineers of that day thought in organic metaphors. You see the jaws and you see the knees and the elbows. There is a human-ness to these mechanical devices."

"Real production press men could be doing this in 2,000 impressions an hour. But we've never been in that much of a hurry."

"The nicest thing that anyone has ever said about my work is it's always so suitable to the purpose. Yes, make it attractive, but make it be what the text needs it to be."

"The old guys got it remarkably right. There was an intuitive understanding of what constituted readable text. And so you can be at home with letterpress."

"It will die eventually, because people will no longer remember how to do it... It's okay; I'm only responsible for my watch. I'm thankful of the day that I get to do this."

And then, after a while, we may have yet another beautiful thing lost to time.

Post Script: I have just received a note from John Kristensen, his reply to my email informing him about this blog entry. Mr. Kristensen says:

"Thank you for your note about putting the Chuck Kraemer video on Firefly Press into your blog. I'm glad you enjoyed it; we certainly enjoyed making it better than six years ago now. (One of the nice things about letterpress is that the technology stands still for you.) Chuck Kraemer did a whole series of such videos for Boston's WGBH Public Television station, and our episode won for him an Edward R. Murrow Award and an Emmy Award. We still get fan mail from places like Karachi and Leipzig."

With appreciation and recognition like that, we in the digital age just might be able to hold on to the letterpress yet.

23 August 2007

Cat vision

Things have been horribly hectic at work, because I have been finishing a draft for a twelve-chapter book on the history of the PNP-Special Action Force, and this has to be turned over to the Boss by the middle of October so the big boys can pore over the material prior to final polishing and publication.

It’s been such a whirlwind! On one hand I have the bibliography and the citations to render iron-clad, with the help of a very capable academic, on the other hand I have the transcriptions of the interviews with different levels of confidentiality, and so I have three different levels of transcribers to manage. And then I have the constant daily poring over various current ephemera regarding the subject, a task which seems frivolous and unimportant, yet I have found some amazing leads this way. On top of that, there is the writing. And if the writing is not good, all the rest is just not worth it.

So here I am, caught up in the frenzy of a book I have deemed close to finished. The subject itself will never find closure, but the book, for all intents and purposes, should have a reasonable enough scope. What to include? And more importantly, what to leave out? What to imply, and what to just state out loud and in no uncertain terms? What to give color to and what to render black-and-white? The story is formed, the world of the story has been and is being examined, but I, the writer, am being examined by the story as well. Where do I stand? What do I hold important? And, when all evidence fails, what does my own body tell me? What does my heart believe?

Decisions, decisions! When in quandary, I write a negotiation with myself. When in doubt, I write a re-orientation for myself. When confused, I write a lecture for myself. During the course of this book, I have written over a thousand pages worth of diary entries, just to ground myself, just to keep myself clear-headed enough for the constant barrage of details that do not always make sense. It’s like being constantly in the half-light, always at the point of either dawn or dusk, but never in the full explosion of the light of day. I admit that after a while, I have gotten used to it. Like a cat, who can see best in the dark, I have learned that sometimes, things are indeed clearer and make more sense in the dark. Put them out in broad daylight and they lose all color and depth and substance.

Until recently, I have been working on the writing of this book in “solo-flight” mode, as we say here in the Philippines. I might have other people working to help me, and the boys to support me, and the Boss and the big boys to guide me, but at the point of writing, of putting words to paper, there is only just me, writing, and in the process, being written myself. In writing, I have also been written. In thinking of this book, I have also been thought. Many years later, perhaps in an old library somewhere, some student will find me hidden deep under the words of this book, a slightly bewildered girl who lacks sleep, her legs tangled in with blankets and drafts, hair dishevelled and unwashed, a pimple growing on her chin. Yes, there will be me there in the book, deep among the words, years and years later, for anyone who would care to look. However, that is not as important as the story that has been written, in the darkness, in solitude.

A book is a book is a book. An entire world is inside of it; a constellation of events have brought life to it. It writes what it wants. It demands the kind of vision that it wants. It reshapes its writer accordingly, and renders her as blind or as clear-sighted as it wants. This book has given me cat's eyes, and now I can see things differently.

16 August 2007

Moving onwards

Like I always do. And finding happiness in good books and good company and writing and love.

I was born in the Year of the Rabbit, under the sign of Leo, five minutes before high noon, in a small village by the sea neither in Bicol nor in Manila. If these constellation of details had been given power over me, then I would not be where I am now.

Yet here I am. Well, a happy birthday to me!

14 August 2007

I have been reviewed again

And it’s by far the most sensible review of all. It’s by The Weblog Review, and is written by two different people.

I like that they actually read my entire blog before classifying it and pronouncing judgment on it. I’m glad that the reviewers had seen that Sensibilities is not a reading blog, and that I am doing so many other productive different things in my life, and that the entries are beautifully written, which is, of course, most important to me.

I got a rating of 4 out of 5, and the only things they did not like about my blog are that the archives buttons are close to the top of the page -- which I also hate -- and that I have way too many links in my sidebar -- which I have already explained previously.

Not to dampen the fun that I have had being reviewed by the others, of course. The review by the World Blog Council is just hilarious, as the members of that august council are constantly in different degrees of inebriation, and take the longest lunches ever. Hilarious, too, are the two reviews by So Many Blogs, So Little Time, although in a very different manner, worlds apart from the erudite humor of the gentlemen and one lone lady at the WBC. My friend and multi Palanca-awarded writer Ian has a rebuttal, and Mark has had a very "interesting" dialogue with the reviewers. Indeed, my blog is not for people with short attention spans, as I have already mentioned before as well. The review by Berate My Blog is an okay enough short review, although it was not able to get past the “reading blog” aura of the most recent posts at that time

Thanks to everyone who reviewed my blog. And now to get back to work.

05 August 2007

Myopia, genetics, and the joys of being kikay

I started wearing eyeglasses when I was thirteen, with a very light prescription to correct slight astigmatism. The approach did not work, as I, decades after, am now saddled with a diopter of -6.00 in my right eye and a little bit more for my left, both eyes with a far higher grade for astigmatism than when I started, and with an even higher grade for nearsightedness to boot. Take off my glasses and I am almost blind; all I can see are colors, but not boundaries between colors, and everything looks like an undulating blob to me. Without my glasses, I look at my sister twenty feet away and I mistake her for either a very tall plant or a strange floor lamp. She, on the other hand, equally blind, must mistake me for either a doorpost or some thin piece of furniture.

Just to give you an idea of what we have to deal with, blur the rightmost image three more times, and that's what we see at a twenty-foot distance. Compare that with the normal vision shown by the leftmost image.

It's annoying at best, and exasperating at worst. Also, it's not very convenient to need glasses when I am watching TV while lying down, or when I have to stand outside under an umbrella or an awning while the wind is driving rain into my face and spattering my glasses with water. The worst is when I'm carrying heavy things with both hands while it's hot and my glasses are sliding down my sweating nose and I can't push them back up with my hand so I have to walk the rest of the way with my entire head turned up, my glasses tottering on the tip of my nose.

It runs in the family, this cursed, inconvenient blindness. Da started wearing glasses in grade school, I at thirteen, my brother at ten, my sister at eight, and my other brother at thirteen. Ma, who has been having splitting headaches since time immemorial has always declared that her eyes must need prescription glasses of "one thousand," yet she is the most clear-sighted of us all. When I used to go to Sunday mass with all of them, we would sit side by side on a single pew, a row of tall, thin, quiet, bespectacled, somber-looking people who stood up and sat down and kneeled like robots, plus one plump, non-blind woman who sang and prayed and mumbled and cried in turns who stood up and sat down and knelt with a passion. Bad vision must have made stoics out of us. There must be something in church we could not see and thus could not move us.

For a time, we wore contact lenses -- Da when he was in the United States, I when I was twenty-three, and my sister for about a year, just recently. Da has had LASIK surgery since then, and is now living the life of a normal person. The rest of us are back to wearing glasses. I am not qualified for LASIK because of my high cylinder, I have gotten allergic to contact lenses, and thus I have no choice but to wear glasses. I am pretty much resigned to my lot. I may be blind, but I get by. But it doesn't mean that I have to have the same kind of glasses as everyone else.

Thus I emerge with a new collection: vintage "cat's eyes" eyeglasses.

Such spectacular spectacles! Can you blame me if I have been buying them like crazy?

They don't make them like these anymore. Finally I can stop looking so generic. And finally there is something I can collect -- besides books and fountain pens and fountain pen ink -- that will actually show on my face. Shopaholic meets kikay. (Or is that redundant?) Life is fun and pretty, thanks to fabulous well-kept eyeglasses from the fifties, and an Ebay seller with equally fabulous taste!

More posts as my new glasses begin to arrive, a few at a time. And I just found out something very interesting which is now making me appreciate my fledgeling collection even more. There is history in the wings, and a story here somewhere. Do you see it?

02 August 2007

I am what I read

A few months ago I joined the "Something About Me" Reading Challenge. This is what it's all about:

"This challenge will start on August 1st, 2007. To join, you will choose up to 5 books that represent you in some way...if you are a stay at home mom, maybe the main character does that, too. If you are a scientist, maybe the main character is one. Or maybe you live in New York City and it's such a part of who you are that you choose a book set in the city. In any case, you will choose some books that would help us get to know you.

"Then, on or by August 1st, you will choose a personal list of the books you want to read from everyone's lists of books. You could choose because the book sounds like a good choice for you, or because you want to get to know another blogger a little better. This blog will provide the forum for discussions about the books we are reading. Therefore, even if you don't choose a particular book, you might still follow the discussion about the book and get to know your fellow bloggers a bit that way, too!"

I had a hard time coming up with the five "about me" books. But then when I started to relax and decided to just have fun, choosing became easier. Here's my five:

1. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Because this is how I love, with a fiery passion that lasts and lasts and lasts. I've actually watched the movie before I was able to read the book, and when I finally got the book and was ready to read it, I hesitated. I wondered how I would react if the book would come across as very different from the movie. Indeed it was different, and I loved the book more than I loved the movie! Funny thing is, I don't know how to cook at all. This is one of the books that made me realize that the best cooks of all are the ones who cook with love.

2. The History Of The Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago. Because I'm working on a book of history at the moment, and I am also plagued by the issues that the main character was worried about. I'm hoping to triumph in the end, like he did! Women writers are said to view history differently, and ask different questions, no matter if they were trained the same way as the men. Right now I'm deep in the work, and although I am currently on a much-needed break, everyday I stop and wonder about all the books of history out there, and how our lives would have been different had they been written differently.

3. How To Walk In High Heels by Camilla Morton. Because I'm a single girl living alone in the big city. I also have a thing for shoes. This is really a how-to book, which I found so endearing, because it provides instructions for everything, including how to unwrap a cd, how to hire a plumber, and how to burp in public!

4. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Because when I was young I used to believe in vampires and ghosts. There was a period in my young life when, during summer, I'd pretend to fall asleep and then when everybody else was asleep, I'd get out of bed and peer out the window towards the lot of our next-door neighbor, about 300 kilometers away on the farm, and try to see those strange lights that old wives used to talk about. In the farm, where I grew up, everybody believed in ghosts and spirits and superstitions.

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Because I simply looove chocolate!

And here are the five that I will be reading:
1. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, from Rhinoa's list
2. On Writing by Stephen King, from Jill's list
3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, from Stephanie's list
4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck, from Vasilly's list
5. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, from
Lucca's list

And here's one more, in memory of Nattie, who is no longer with us: An Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.

As I finish reading each book, I'll be posting a mini-review in the reading challenge blog, in the context of the "Something About Me" Reading Challenge.

Happy reading to all who have taken the challenge!

[Thanks to Abelardo Morell for the fantastic book image.]

01 August 2007

Mid-year crisis

It's the middle of the year, and it's always a jolt to realize that there's only six more months left to accomplish the goals one has set for oneself for 2007. I, in the scramble to justify a January-to-June of not writing or reading as much as I planned, open all the Microsoft Word files of my works-in-progress, do a word count for all of them, and realize that it's not nearly enough.

Sometimes I wonder how I have gotten myself into living this kind of life. I used to be a fairly bland and boring New Accounts Clerk in the province, able to predict what will happen during my days at the bank. Now I’m a generally frantic woman in Makati -- and sometimes in Bicol -- who just tries to write as best and as much as she can and meet her deadlines, and far from able to predict how many words she can come up with in an hour (sometimes it’s forty, sometimes it’s two thousand three hundred and twelve), much less for the day.

When I worked at the bank, when I was ninteen and freshly graduated from college, the math didn't really matter. At the end of the day, it was the branch accountant who balanced my reports, because I could never really get them right. (The numbers were meaningless to me because they didn’t refer to my money.) Besides, I was bad in the kind of math that had wordless logic, and I needed words to understand anything. Econometrics, from college, was better, because there were words, statements and assumptions everywhere before the math, and right at the end of all that math there was either a decision or a judgment, based on the math.

Which is why I feel obliged to listen when the math has, all of a sudden, emerged from its dry and papery depths and gripped me by the throat, hissing things to me with its harsh, dry, dusty voice: "9,000 words for Chapter 8 or else." "Don't you dare kill off this thought at 3,000 words." "You have been revising this piece since 2006 and all you have changed are 14 words? Bah!" "426 words after 7 days of writing and you call yourself a writer." Judgement By Math. Possible Death Of A Career By Math. The grip tightens; I gasp for breath.

A writer measures time not so much with a watch as with the number of words written, drafts revised and books read, making time so much more dreadfully relative. And when time is that arbitrary, the math becomes a matter of utmost importance, though thankfully, still not as important as the quality of the words. And there lies my defense. In condensing the math, I have expanded the words.