Sunday, September 25, 2011

A day in good company

I spent this morning at the Word on the Street literacy festival in downtown Vancouver, where I picked up a free book with a label pasted on the inside cover proclaiming that this was a Travelling Book.  I can enter its ID number at to see where it's been, and I can follow where it goes after I read and release it.

I love the idea of travelling books.  In fact I just plain love books and everything about them.  I love books about books, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I also love movies about books, like 84 Charing Cross Road, which started life as a book and is based on a true story. Tonight I finally saw this movie in its entirety, from start to finish, and I enjoyed it very much. 

It's a movie about the beauty and wisdom to be found in books - especially old books - if we have the patience to look for them.  But it's also about the power of the written word to bring people together, forge friendships, cross cultures, bridge oceans, span time, and make the world smaller.

No spoilers here, just a few lines quoted in the movie that I found particularly moving.

The first, a poem by W. B. Yeats.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. 

And the second, an exerpt from one of John Dunne's Meditations.

"..all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another."

Good night, sleep well - tread softly - and happy reading.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

About inspiration

Three weeks into school, I've learned a few important principles from my design teacher.  One is, "Design doesn't start on the computer - it starts in your head," with the help of good old-fashioned pencil and paper.

Another is that in order to figure out your own design style, it's worthwhile to look at others' work. What are you drawn to and why?  It's not about imitation - it's about inspiration.

For those of you who are as interested in etymology as I am, the word inspiration comes from the Latin roots in + spirare ("to breathe").  Inspiration, then, has a lot to do with life - a sort of reminder, I like to think, that we are beings with souls, capable of appreciating beauty and of making beautiful things.

Looking at a lovely thing can be daunting, it's true.  There's the temptation to think, "I could never do that."  But wasn't it Thomas Aquinas who said that a difficult task becomes easy when you see someone else do it?  It's a call for experts to be generous and share their wisdom.  But it's also a reminder that we should ask questions, be attentive, and never stop learning.  Because inspiration, ultimately, leads to perfection.

Here are a few man-made objects that inspire me.

Taken with my camera phone on a recent field trip to Chapters to judge books by their covers.  I realized that I'm drawn to textured surfaces, simple colour chemes, and luxurious details like embossing and foil stamped letters. And, of course, intriguing titles.

"Time, sun-baked time, time that keeps on slipping, slipping, elusive time, time like the stone Romanesque eyes peering from behind a clump of leaves, the startled pagan looking toward a transformed future. Art historians refer to this recurrent motif of the face in the leaves as 'the green man.'" ~ Frances Mayes, A Year in the World


Sunday, September 11, 2011

You can't step into the same river twice. Or can you?

My nephew, now seven years old, just started Grade Two at a new school.

My sister tells us that for the first week or two he was like a little lost soul, hanging friendlessly around the edges of things - a vision that had the rest of us scrambling to set up a family phone conference, so we could give him a pep talk.

Don't wait for them to talk to you, we advised him.  Say hello first.  They're probably just as shy as you.

And then it was my turn to go back to school - somewhere I haven't been for longer than I care to admit here.

I found myself sitting on a bench, under a tree, on a leafy, green campus, and I thought to myself, "I've been here before."

Maybe it wasn't the same physical place, but it was definitely the same head-space...the itch to open the shiny new textbook in the bag beside me, the fluttery feeling - half eager, half scared - at the thought of finally taking the plunge and learning exactly how much I still don't know.

It's the same heart-space, too. The hesitant smiles between new classmates (oops, colleagues, as they'd like us to refer to each other in this program). Shy offerings of glimpses into past lives. And then your first shared laughter, and the relief of knowing that you're probably going to get along just fine.

With apologies to Heraclitus, there's a blessed sameness in life.  What you think is a new experience is just the same one you had when you were seven, then again at seventeen, and on and on - for as long as we keep learning.

And so this week I learned that going back to school is just as scary and exciting for a grown-up as it is for a kid.

And I learned that a new box of pencil crayons can still make me smile big.

I learned to stop moaning that I can't draw, to just put pencil to paper - and surprise myself.

And I learned that a bench under a tree at school is still a great place to make a new friend.

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