July 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
Katie asked me to join her on a quest. I looked at a calendar. After three weeks of action (teaching and working), I’d get four days of rest, then another week and a half on the road. I consulted the calendar again, back to 1999 when my family moved to Lebanon and this calm, curious, dark-haired girl became my best friend. It’s been nearly five years since we’ve had so many days together. And after being surrounded by teenagers coming of age and finding their passions at the Missouri Scholars Academy, here was a chance to observe a woman I love and respect act that out in real life. Of course I said yes.
For most of the trip I played sidekick, at turns described as a “friend from highschool” or “travel buddy,” though personally I regard our friendship with holy reverence. Not that I desire such a lofty introduction. This was Katie’s trip. She wanted to imagine a possible future as a typographer or possibly even a punchcutter. As we traveled east to realize her dreams, I happily acted as cook, driver, navigator and historian. Every good expedition needs a crew, and this? This was a good expedition.
Katie’s goals were simple: 1.) Meet two of the only printers left in the country who still cut their own type and 2.) See some of said country while we’re at it. In a practical sense, the typographers will hopefully inform her grant application to study typographic punch-cutting. In a mystic sense, the characters are helping guide her toward a mysterious, anachronistic niche tradition and toward fully actualized personhood. Seriously!
Katie has loved letters as long as I’ve known her. In 5th grade, we were members of the Boswell Book Club. Throughout middle and high school, we modpodged magazine clips, ransom-note style, to anything that wouldn’t move. We co-edited the highschool newspaper and also created a literary magazine. I remember when our journalism teacher showed us DaFont, a website for downloading fonts. We clicked through pages after page of type, searching for the right font for the right application. It was my first time witnessing my friend fall in love.
Years later, after slamming through French and English degrees at MU and carrying a headstrong babychild into the world, Katie was sitting in a workshop in Lyon, France, where she lived for a year. As I understand it, she often went to art classes at a museum, and the work was crafty and pleasant. On this day though, typographers presented their craft, and that old fascination with the printed letter shuddered awake.
“To be there and see them taking it so seriously, it was very inspiring,” Katie told Julia Ferrari, of Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press, one of the printers we visited. Julia smiled and nodded knowingly. She had run Golgonooza side by side with her partner, Dan Carr, since they were 24-year-old poets forging an occupation with meaning — printing art books, down to the elemental level of cutting, casting and setting type — in an antique building hundreds of miles from home. Even then it was a daring, potentially irrational thing to do. And because of their courage, countless devastatingly beautiful books exist that would otherwise not be in this world. Dan died recently, but his spirit lives on as Julia openly grieves his absence and learns his half of the craft. She told us stories, read his poetry, and showed us their equipment. Seeing how seriously they took their roles was very inspiring, to me. So was this little block, pictured above. Funny how a few letters, carefully arranged, can awaken so many feelings.
I wish my dear friend all the best fortune as she goes forward and can’t yet express what good this trip did for pursuing my own dreams. Hopefully Katie will get her grant. And just as we had collaborated so often as teenagers, maybe we can work together again, say, on a magazine. After all, isn’t this what that’s all about?