Sunday, July 29, 2012

nonagenarian morning & afternoon

Nonagenarian #1 Today was my day to spend some time with my mother-in-law. E. is 94 years old and very frail. My sister's in-law have been on duty 24/7 for decades and I am finally able to contribute a bit. My husband cannot help because E. needs personal care that he cannot give.

E.'s body is not really cooperating with her plan to live out her days independently.  She has all her marbles.  So that is good. But some kind of Parkinson-ian condition makes it hard for E. to do much for herself. She needs help to move from her chair, where she needs a walker to assist her with more help to get into her wheel chair. Her legs are still working enough to stand and shuffle but E. wobbles in a scary way. At least, I find it scary. I am terrified that I might be the one to drop her. She will not bounce. I dread when E. needs the commode because it is necessary for me to wipe her. The act itself is fine; as the mother of  four I still wipe butts with aplomb.  But it is so scary when I need more wipes and I only have a light touch on E.'s back as I grope frantically behind me for the wipes, tissues, Vaseline or whatever I should have located before starting the process.  I can see how one slip caused by my carelessness might be the start of the bitter end of my mother-in-law's life. And that thought makes me seriously nervous.

It is ever clearer to me that our mortal lives are separated from death by a very flimsy and random premise, which is, simply; "Not yet."  Luckily, we are usually too distracted to notice how close we dance to our own demise.  Again, this is fine! It is paralyzing or worse to worry about one's life ending. As someone who has suffered from anxiety I know that no one needs this acute awareness from moment to moment. Especially while taking care of young people. Or in while in one's prime. You'd be miserable and the young in your care would never get to do or learn anything.  And anyway, what a waste of time to worry about something you have no control over.

However,  when I am with my mo-in-law I do think about the inevitable. I am pretty sure that she does too. I have a strong sense that there is something undone, some task she aims to accomplish. No one cares for themselves and eats with the appetite she does when they are resigned or have been consigned to 'shuffle off this mortal coil'. My guess is that she aims to live to be 100.  One deep loss after another was her lot for most of her life. She has borne it all with quiet pluck and stoic resolve.  I sense a determination in her that is like stainless steel; it's just that the package that holds her spirit is very worn down.

After spending  the morning and early afternoon with mo-in-law I was going to meet some friends at a free concert in Copley Square. But I ran errands first and was getting a later start than I planned and I could clearly see that I would ride my bike all the way to Copley Square only to miss the concert and get very wet on return. Storms were predicted and it was getting so dark street lights were turning on at 4:15PM.

Nonagenarian #2 As I was heading into to Boston, I took one more look at the sky and then turned on a dime and went instead to visit a neighbor who lives only a few blocks away. My friend's mom is 91 years old and her husband of 70 years just died the end of this January.  He was a lovely guy and as a couple they were always kind and had befriended to me as a teenager. The seemed to take interest in my life and always listened as if I had something worthwhile to say.   It meant a lot to me to have some sane adults in my life and they were the first people to ever buy a piece of art from me.  When I put together my portfolio for art school they wanted to see it and then bought and framed a dry point etching of mine. They said it reminded them of Kathe Kollwitz.  This was an act of extreme kindness and meant a lot to me.

Ever since the non observant shiva/reception they had in early February I had been meaning to stop by and say hello but had never found time.  Nowadays I live in the same town where I went to high school and S. was our next door neighbor then and is also the mother of a dear friend. Since I enjoy her company - it was not an avoidance thing. Actually I felt pretty bad about how much time had passed.

At  91 and a few months,  S.  is very different from my mother-in-law. Much to her grown children's chagrin, S. smokes Marlboro's - actually she chain smokes them. My mother-in-law never smoked. And S. is quite capable of wiping her own butt.  S. is always very glad to see me and has a style of conversation that is part interrogation, part rant that I find very entertaining.  She loves to tell stories and is a good storyteller. She also is frail and has trouble getting up from any seat because of her 'weak knees'.  She told me a story about that,
"At the senior center I saw woman struggling like me. So I said this woman trying to get out of her chair, "I have the same problem. So I vocalize, It helps- I say 'O God,' and sometimes, I even say 'O, Jesus'.  "
S. is Jewish and she paused to give me a sharp look and then asked me if I was a religious person. When I say no she said,
"Oh, good! Because I thought I had offended this other woman with bad knees by being sacrilegious because she said to me 'I never say that!' And I said " You never say anything like that ?  And she said " Never ! I say Oy, sh*t!" 
Then S. launched onto a topic I had heard from her before, especially when her husband was dying.
"Although I am an atheist I spend a lot of time arguing with 'god' or whoever thought up this crazy system called life. We are all born under a sentence of death. It is not right! We never know when or how, we will die  just that it will be. It is unfair and wrong!" Then she sighed and said more philosophically " Well, that's life."
Ah, yes. She sees and names the inevitable. And she is not afraid to say she does not like it. Like my mo-in-law, S. intends to be here, on the planet, until she is 'evicted'. I find her feisty foibles charming.  Perhaps it is her New York City accent and the fact that she looks a bit like my own mother?  They were of the same generation.   Whatever it is, since I am not responsible for S.  I can simply enjoy her stories and accept her as she is. As is often the case, I was not nearly so kind to my own mother. 

After S. told me how she actually felt worse, missed her husband more and was more lonely after 6 months had passed, she shivered and then, literally shook off her sadness and got busy making tea.  We played Scrabble at her kitchen table and she won by 50 points. I am going back for a rematch. And more stories.

It was a good day for someone like me, so far from my nonage, to hang with nonagenarians. And S.'s quarrel with death reminded me of this story:

Tía Miseria, Aunt Misery

by Olga Loya
Momentos Mágicos, Magic Moments Arkansas, August House Publishers, Inc., I997

Once there was an old woman known only to the people as Tía Miseria, Aunt Misery. She lived outside a small village. Tía Miseria was poor but happy. She had a garden with large vegetables, two big chickens, and most of all, she had her pear tree. Oh, how she loved her pear tree! She would pick a pear and feel its smooth form. When she would bite into the pear, she’d sigh and say, “Ah, how delicious, how marvelous, how sweet!”
Tía Miseria was a proud woman who walked through the village with her back straight and her hair pulled back in a bun. Although she was very old, her skin was smooth except for a few wrinkles around her eyes. But Tía Miseria had a problem with the children in the neighborhood. These children were the great-grandchildren of the ones who had named her Tía Miseria. Indeed, her life had been miserable for a long time. The children would run right through her garden, step on all of her vegetables, and taunt, “Tía, Tía, Tía Miseria.” They would climb her tree, pick some pears, and bite into them. With the juice running down the sides of their mouths, they would say, “Tía, Tía, Tía Miseria.” Poor Tía would get very upset. She would go under the tree and say to them, “Come down from my tree right now!”

But the children would just look down at her and laugh: “Tía, Tía, Tía Miseria!”

Only when the children were good and ready would they climb down the tree. Then they would run through the gar­den calling out, “Tía, Tía, Tía Miseria!” Poor Tía! She had to replant her garden because the chil­dren had stepped on everything. Then she had to go look for the chickens in the bushes because the children frightened them so much. Worst of all, they were eating up her sweet, delicious pears.

One night as she was cooking supper, she heard a knock at the door. When she went to see who it was, there stood a short, thin man with friendly brown eyes. He wore a straw hat. “Can I please stay the night?” the man inquired. ‘‘It is so cold outside!”
“Of course,” said Tía Miseria. “Come in, come in.”
Tía served him a fine meal of rice, beans, and codfish. In the morning the man said, “Tía, I am a magician, and because you have been so generous, I will give you a wish.”

“A wish—let’s see, what can I do? Maybe I will wish for silver; no, maybe I will wish for gold.” Then she stopped and smiled a very big smile. “I know what I want. Once someone is up my tree, they can’t come down until I say the magical words.”

“Fine,” said the magician. He said goodbye and went walking down the road.

That day the children came to the house. As usual, they ran through the garden taunting, “Tía, Tía, Tía Miseria!” They climbed the tree and picked some pears. They bit into the pears and then threw the uneaten portions at the cats and chickens. They threw the pears all over the garden. But Tía did not react as she usually did. Instead of stand­ing under the tree and yelling at them, she went into the kitchen and brought out a cup of coffee. She stood on the porch and drank her coffee with a big smile on her face. The children knew something was very wrong. She never acted like this. So they did the one thing they knew would make her mad.
They said, “Tía, Tía, Tía Miseria!”
But she just smiled and sipped her coffee and said, “Children, come down from the tree.”

“No, we are not ready,” they replied. Finally the children were ready to come down from the pear tree. But as they tried to climb down, they found they couldn’t. The magic spell was working.

“Tía, Tía, please, let us down,” the children cried out to her. “It is very late.”
  Tía sipped her coffee, looked at the children, smiled, and said, “No!”

“Please!” they called out to her again. “Let us down! It is getting late!”
Tía was enjoying this very much. She looked at the chil­dren, took a sip of her coffee, smiled, and said, “No!” Oh, the children cried, begged, and pleaded. Finally Tía went under the tree and said, “If I let you out of that tree, will you promise me never to come back?”

The children responded immediately, “Sí, yes.”
So she said her magic words, “Come down, come down, come down from my tree.”
The children came down the tree as fast as they could. They ran around the garden instead of through it, and they did not return. Now Tía was very happy. Her garden was quiet, her chickens were safe, and now she had her precious pear tree to herself.

One afternoon, when she was cooking supper and think­ing about what had happened, she heard a knock at the door. She thought, Oh, my friend has returned. She went to the door. A man stood there, but he was not her friend. He was a tall, thin man, and when he looked into her eyes, she felt as though she were falling into a deep, dark hole. She felt a shiver come over her body and she stepped back. The man moved toward her. He looked her in the eyes and said, “I am Death, and I have come for you!”

Tía Miseria thought quickly. “Well,” she sighed, “I knew you were going to come. Before we go, though, can we pick some pears to take with us?”
“No, no,” said Death. “I have a long list of people I have to get tonight. I don’t have time!”

But Tía continued to talk about her pears, how wonderful and delicious they were to eat. Finally Death could see he wasn’t ever going to get out of there unless he yielded. “Go and pick some pears,” he said. “I want to leave.”

“Me?” Tía said. “I am a little old lady. Look at you. You are tall and young—and besides, you look like you could use a pear or two.”

Death was so exasperated that he said, “Fine. I will pick some pears.” So he climbed the tree and picked some pears. He picked a few here and a few there, and then he was ready to climb down. But he could not go anywhere. He was caught in the magician’s spell! Oh, he called her the most terrible things you have ever heard—and probably some other things you have never heard.

“Old lady, let me down now!” But she did not obey. She just said to him, “Throw me a pear, please.”
She left him in the tree for a day, a week, a month, a year! Finally the village priest came to her. “Please let him down,” he pled. “No one is coming to church because they know they are not going to die!” Tía just shrugged her shoulders. Then the undertaker came by. “Please let him down,” he said. “I have no work and my children are hungry.” Tía looked at the undertaker and said, “Get a new job!"

Finally, her very oldest friend came and spoke in a slow, halting voice. “Please ... let him down. I am very tired and I want to go ... Everything hurts me. Please ... I want to die.” Tía could not refuse the request of her oldest friend. She went under the tree and said to Death, “If I let you down, will you promise never to return for me?”

Yes, yes,” Death replied. He was tired of being in that pear tree. She said the magic words, “Come down, come down, come down from my tree.”

Death came down, leaned over her old friend, gently, swooped her up in his arms, and went running down the road. Death did keep his promise. So Tía lives on and on. And that’s why some say that as long as Death keeps his promise, there will be misery in this world.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Graphic design - old school

colophon | noun   a publisher's emblem or imprint, esp. one on the title page or spine of a book.
• historical a statement at the end of a book, typically with a printer's emblem, giving information about its authorship and printing.
letterpress | noun  printing from a hard, raised image under pressure, using viscous ink.

Graphic design - old school
by Norah Dooley
I guess you could call this post - "Why I Love My Mac". My memories of the "bad old days' of inhaling toxic Nazdar fumes while sweating into silk screens and running out of letters and needing just one more "s" thereby having to buy a whole sheet of Letrapress when it cost the equivalent of a dinner out have not made me miss old school graphics. But letterpress printing? Ah! Those memories make me swim in nostalgia!

Using a job stick to set type at Baka Pres, in the basement at Washington Street - Caslon was my fave.  circa 1982

I love type and typefaces and all things graphic. The advent of the computer and word processing is a time I remember well. Because back in the bad old days? Way way back? In the days of Letra-set by the sheet? Back then when I wanted to create a poster or flyer I had to work with some interesting and archaic tools.  I  was a visual artist then and helped run a collective gallery and school. We had a very low budget and we needed lots of beautiful promotional pieces. We had to use sheets of dry transferable lettering to create masters for printing.  This technique was used for all kinds of lettering and we combined it with offset printing, xeroxing of flyers and sometimes silkscreen too. It was widespread for lettering and other elements before the advent of the computer techniques of word processing and desktop publishing.
Bad luck to run out of a letter

When artwork was prepared by hand, Letraset sheets were available with letters in a large range of typefaces, styles, sizes, symbols, and other graphic elements. The letters could be transferred one by one to artwork being prepared. This was always a tedious job, but the alternative, to do the lettering by hand, was also tedious and required graphic artist skills. Frustration with the cost and so-so results and other long forgotten reasons helped us decide that what we needed to do was buy and run a letterpress. This was just one of many of my not so remunerative "income generating" notions I had as I struggled to find "right livelihood" and support my work as an artist.

My partner in this venture was one Carl Mueller. He was an artist who did scientific illustration for a living. He also was a writer, philosopher, perfectionist and one heck of a hard worker. Husband Robert was a huge help as he had studied this kind of printing while going to trade classes at his middle school where he set type and printed all kinds of side jobs for his teachers.

We had minimal tools when we bought the our first tabletop platen press and started the Baka Press,  still we fell in love with the process and printed three books for private clients as well as business cards, broadsides and wedding invitations.  We bought a press like this (left) that would now be 140 years old. When we bought it our  press was stored in a chicken coop in Taunton MA on a farm where a man had been collecting this equipment for decades. He had acres of old machinery; presses, bindery machines, linotypes all leaning at wild angles, sometimes outlines by bind weed, partially obscured by flowers as they sank deeper each year into the ground. And we sank deeper and deeper into the process we found more of the arcane tools and supplies one needed to be productive. Our press had the same little motor as pictured above but the belt was made of leather and no longer functioned. I found the exact belt needed on Main Street, near MIT in Cambridge. Before that, Robert would put running shoes on his hands and be a "gerbil on treadmill" for me.  I was really delighted by all the little mechanical doo-dads I actually needed to use on a daily basis. Below is a description of the things we used from this web site.

Ah, the bad old days... how I wish we still had the press and type so that I could pass on this truly arcane skill to some starry-eyed youngster with time on their hands.

Job or composing stick
Type (at the very minimum, you'll need at least one small font of type, about 2-4 pounds in weight, although you'll no doubt soon find yourself forced out of your home by your ever-increasing collection), a Type Case (a partitioned box to separate and hold the individual letters of type, one for each font), a Composing Stick  (the hand-held metal tray in which you assemble the pieces of type), some Leads & Slugs (pronounced "leds", thin strips of metal, lower than the height of the type, which go between lines to add white space), an Imposing Surface (a fancy name for a perfectly flat place on which to assemble the form you are going to print), a Chase (an iron frame, made to fit your specific press, that holds the type from which you will print), some Furniture (no, not tables and chairs; rather, pieces of wood or metal in varying sizes, all lower than type high, that fill up the area in your chase around the type),   Quoins (pronounced "coins", metal wedges that employ friction to hold the type and furniture in the chase), a Quoin Key (a special tool used to tighten the quoins), some Tympan Paper (oiled sheets of hard paper that cover the platen, the area on which you put the sheet of paper to be printed), Gauge Pins (adjustable clips that you attach to or stick into the tympan on a platen press to position the paper so that image prints where you want it), Ink (printing ink, either oil- or rubber-based, in the color(s) of your choice), a Brayer (a hand roller used to smooth out ink and sometimes ink type by hand), an Ink Plate (on which to mix and roll out the ink; an 8" square piece of glass or plexiglass will do for starters), Rollers (for your specific press, made of either rubber or a special printers' "composition" of glue and glycerin), Typewash (one of several solvents used to clean up ink from the press and type, ranging from the organically benign and FDA-approved, such as Canola oil; through mineral spirits, which are cheap, readily available and work well; to the seriously lethal and flammable), Oil (to lubricate every moving part on your press every time you use it), Rags (to use with the typewash to clean the press), a steel or plastic Type Gauge (a ruler that measures inches on one side and printers' points and picas on the other, often called a 'pica pole') and a Galley or two (a metal tray used to store type after you've set it but before you've put it back in the case).
Quoin and quoin key squeezing chase

Other things that will stand you in very good stead are a Printer's Apron to protect your clothes, Hand Cleaner formulated to remove printer's ink (although most mechanic's hand cleaners will do well), a Safety Can to hold your type wash and an Oily Waste Safety Container to hold your solvent-filled rags before you clean them, Tying String to keep the type you've set from falling apart during storage, a pair of surgical Tweezers to help [carefully!] manipulate small pieces of type, a Magnifying Glass or Linen Tester to closely examine your printed sheets, a Type High Gauge (not to be confused with the pica pole mentioned above) for confirming the correct height of type and engravings, a Paper Cutter for dealing with the stacks of paper you will print, and a pair of Scissors and a Craft Knife for all sorts of things, including the ever-imperative makeready.
California Job case - we memorized the positions of all letters and minded our ps and qs and ds and bs

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's a 'vision thing'

Lizi Brown, Jannelle Codianni, Josh Whiton and Jackson Gillman at the Semi-finals in JP
I thought I was just helping someone out and getting a some content for our blog...but personally,  Lizi Brown's 'article' couldn't have come at a better time. I was feeling pretty worn out by the grueling work of the past 6 months and her statement was a much needed affirmation.

Disclaimer: This article below was a solicited declaration. I had asked Lizi to write something about her experience ( she wanted a massmouth,inc. T-shirt so I suggested she write something for our blog  this as a barter) and here it is...

    This February a friend treated me to my first evening of massmouth,inc. storytelling at Doyle’s. She knows I listen to The Moth, and wanted to turn me on to what‘s happening locally. When we got there they were asking audience members to consider telling a story on a particular theme. I had one that matched the topic and told it to my friends at the table while we were waiting for things to get going. Though I didn’t think it was worth the mic time, they encouraged me to get up and tell it. I was reluctant because I’m just not a performer. I hadn’t had any time to figure out how to tell it right, and I was also just plain chicken. Even though I knew my experience was interesting, I couldn’t imagine that I could put it out there very well. But the crowd seemed friendly, and I decided to give it a try.

       What followed was a few quick minutes sharing my life in a way that seemed to work surprisingly well. I had decided to ‘just be me’, and stick to the bare bones of a series of life events that it turned out people liked hearing. It was more fun than I can possibly explain, probably largely because I was relaxed and unprepared. I won the audience vote, got some excellent coaching, and went on to the semi finals. At this point I felt way over my head, but the other tellers were supportive and really nice, and we all had a great time that night. Miraculously, I went on to the finals.

       I’m not a performer in any sense, and yet I was able to tell my experience, partly because of the short time limit that made it less scary (how much trouble can you get into in 4 minutes? wait – that could be a future theme...), and partly because the night was so welcoming and fun. Each event required shortening and fine-tuning. As I rewrote the story I learned more about it, and why I was telling it, but I stuck to my original gut feeling to just be me. When I told it the last time I did the best. I was surrounded by great people with wonderful, human stories, and I felt very good about my contribution to the evening. I can’t believe I did it! Participating in these events was very empowering, it helped me find my voice in many ways.

       It also feels really good to contribute to the high school storytelling project that benefits from the funds raised at these evenings. They are teaching kids to find creative ways to express what is happening in their lives, incredibly important work. Thank you massmouth.
- Lizi Brown

Thanks, Lizi - this is precisely our vision for story slams  -  a kind of storytelling 'of the people, by the people and for the people'.   Creating experiences like yours are the greater part of what we worked so hard to make happen. Promoting the art of storytelling is the rest of the gig.

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