Ok, so this is a total cheat. Today’s Font Friday is “font” as in “fountain”: in this case, a font created and guarded by faeries. I came across the poem when I was looking for font-related words that start with “f,” and I thought it was interesting.
Those of you who don’t keep up with Edinburgh’s literary world through Twitter may have missed the recent spate of mysterious paper sculptures appearing around the city. [Nicola’s note: This post is from 2011 but the story is still wonderful.]
One day in March, staff at the Scottish Poetry Library came across a wonderful creation, left anonymously on a table in the library. Carved from paper, mounted on a book and with a tag addressed to @byleaveswelive – the library’s Twitter account – reading:
It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree.… … We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.… This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)
For @natlibscot – A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. (& against their exit)
For @filmhouse – A gift in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. and all things *magic*
Amongst the audience is a figure with Ian Rankin’s face, clutching a Deuchar’s.
For @scotstorycenter – A gift in support of libraries, books, works, ideas….. Once upon a time there was a book and in the book was a nest and in the nest was an egg and in the egg was a dragon and in the dragon was a story…..
Having been on display in the Scottish Poetry Library for a few months, the poetree is now kept behind the counter for safety, but if you ask nicely I’m sure they would let you have a look.
The National Library’s gramophone is in a display case near the front door.
The Filmhouse’s cinematic diorama is currently not on display.
The Scottish Storytelling Centre’s dragon is probably going to estivate during the Festivals to avoid any possible manhandling by infant hordes but will surely make a return in the autumn.
UPDATE: The dragon has been moved out of harm’s way but is still visible to the public!
One, addressed to @edbookfest (the Book Festival), was left on one of the signing tables in the Bookshop.
To @edbookfest ‘A gift’ This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…… & festivals xx
It includes a teabag filled with cut out letters, on the tag of which are the words “by leaves we live”. The cup on the top has a swirl of words which read ” Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really good BOOK”, and on the ‘tray’ next to the cupcake it says “except maybe a cake as well”.
The other, addressed to @edincityoflit (UNESCO Edinburgh City of Literature), was secreted about their stand in the entrance tent.
To @edincityoflit ‘A gift’ LOST (albeit in a good book) This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…. “No infant has the power of deciding….. by what circumstances (they) shall be surrounded.. Robert Owen
Intriguingly, this is crafted from a copy of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinnerby James Hogg.
Once the latest additions to the family have found official homes I will update with further images and information…
Another has appeared in the Central Lending Library on George IV Bridge.
For Central Library ‘A Gift’ @Edinburgh_CC This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…. LIBRARIES ARE EXPANSIVE
The word “expensive” has had the E crossed out and replaced with an A. No question of the creator’s views on library cuts… The tag then notes, “Words on book – Edwin Morgan”. No talk of Rankin this time!
In the news:
A plastic cover has been placed on it and for the time being at least it is on display where it was left.
The ‘poetree’ is now on display in the reception area of the Scottish Poetry Library.
The Edinburgh Evening News claims to have discovered the identity of the sculptor. The general view is that We Don’t Want To Know…
“Hopefully next time I’ll be able to linger longer – I’ve left a
little something for you near Women’s Anthologies X. In support of
Libraries, Books, Words and Ideas….”
A quick dash into the library led to the discovery of another gift.
THE GIFTS “Gloves of bee’s ful,
cap of the Wren’s Wings…….”
…. maybe sometimes impossible things…
In support of LIbraries, Books, Words
And with the suspicious addition in the corner reading 10/10.
“It’s important that a story is not too long ……does not become tedious …….
‘You need to know when to end a story,’ she thought.
Often a good story ends where it begins. This would mean a return to the
Poetry Library. The very place where she had left the first of the ten.
Back to those who had loved that little tree, and so encouraged her to try
again …….and again.
Some had wondered who it was, leaving these small strange objects. Some
even thought it was a ‘he’! ……. As if!
Others looked among Book Artists, rather good ones actually…….
But they would never find her there. For though she does make things, this
was the first time she had dissected books and had used them simply be-
cause they seemed fitting….
Most however chose not to know….. which was the point really.
The gift, the place to sit, to look, to wonder, to dream….. of the impossible
A tiny gesture in support of the special places…..
So, here, she will end this story, in a special place … A Poetry Library …..
where they are well used to ‘anon.’
But before exiting …a few mentions. There could be more, because we
have all colluded to make this work……. Just a few though.
– the twitter community who in some strange way gave rise to the idea in
the first place
–@chrisdonia who gave the story a place, a shape and some great pictures
– and not least @Beathhigh whose books and reputation have been shame-
lessly utilised in the making of a mystery ……..
…… But hold on. Someone’s left behind a pair of gloves and a cap……….?
Cheers Edinburgh It’s been fun!X
A wonderful end to a wonderful story and a lovely mention for a humble photographer! But talk of ten sculptures had everyone a-flutter. There were only eight we knew of, what of the remaining two? Could they have been lost? stolen? or worse, thrown away by someone who didn’t realise what they had found?
Mercifully the answer was forthcoming the next day. The National Museum of Scotland had received a gift, found on the plinth under a skeletal stag. A consciencious member of staff had found it and passed it to his supervisor, thinking it might be something more than average lost property. It soon made its way up the chain of command until it came to rest in the Director’s office for safety.
Meanwhile the museum staff were abuzz with the imminent arrival of their millionth visitor since reopening (which was a surprise as that wasn’t really expected until about August 2012) so they didn’t have time to tell the world about it until that had died down.
And so another is unveiled!
“For @NtlMuseumsScot A Gift
Your friends at @edbookfest
suggested you might like this.
…. In support of libraries,
books, words, ideas and those
places that house our treasures……”
And in the corner, 9/10.
Hidden amidst the tattered leaves of the book are tiny men with weapons that probably wouldn’t do much damage to the beast, as its bloodstained jaw seems to prove.
The museum hope to exhibit this as part of the 26 Treasures series.
And what of the last?
Yesterday afternoon staff at the Writer’s Museum found something atop the donations box in the Robert Louis Stevenson room.
“@CuratorEMG A Gift
“The stories are in the
stones” Ian Rankin
In support of Libraries, Books,
Words, Ideas …… and
And the 8/10 in the corner, confirming that we’ve found them all!
So this seems to be the end of the story. There is talk of organising some sort of exhibition but so far it’s just an idea. Some of the ‘gifts’ are viewable anyway – those in the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Central Library (the gramophone in the National Library seems to have been temporarily displaced). The rest will hopefully find a place in the public eye and I’ll keep an eye on them as I have grown rather attached.
Many thanks to whoever has been crafting and distributing these magical objects, and thanks on behalf of the creator to those who have followed their discovery with such infectious delight.
Saturday 17th December
A mysterious new Twitter account called “a book for xmas” has appeared and is tweeting @ various recipients of sculptures and others involved.
The tweets read “In support of libraries, books, words, ideas and wishing you a magical xmas” and link to a video on Vimeo:
One of the best things about the paper sculptures is that everyone who sees them, even online, gets excited and wants to share the joy.
And so last week the BBC were in town for a day, visiting the Scottish Storytelling Centre, National Museum of Scotland and Writers’ Museum to make a short piece on them. Since they didn’t have time to get around every venue the rest are represented by some of the pictures seen here.
You can see it here.
This quickly took up residence in their Most Popular section, in the top 5 for ‘Shared’ and ‘Video/Audio’. Because everyone loves them!
Small note though, I’m not sure who the journalist featured has been talking to but since we’re fairly certain the anonymous artist is a woman I suspect they’ve got it wrong…
We were all so excited about the final sculptures that the bonus one rather slipped by…
On 25 November 2011 Ian Rankin got in touch with the Edinburgh Bookshop and said that he was expecting a parcel to be delivered and asked if they could let him know when it arrived.
When the parcel arrived the writing on it seemed familiar. A quick text later and Ian arrived to open it. Sure enough, there was another fabulous papery delight, marked 11/10!
The tag reads:
For @Beathhigh A Gift
“…. something in us never dies” (R. Burns 1790)
In support of those who turn ideas
into words, words into books ……
& of course books into libraries.”
The world reveals itself in a certain manner to the Japanese writer, and in quite another to the one who writes in Finnish.
When you become a writer, you don’t do so in abstract, but in relation to a certain language. To practice writing is to grow roots into that language; the better writer you become, the deeper the roots. Literary virtuosity almost always betrays a sense of deep, comfortable immersion into a familiar soil. As such, if for any reason the writer has to change languages, the experience is nothing short of life-threatening. Not only do you have to start everything again from scratch, but you also have to undo what you have been doing for almost as long as you have been around. Changing languages is not for the fainthearted, nor for the impatient.
Painful as it can be at a strictly human level, the experience can also be philosophically fascinating. Rarely do we get the chance to observe a more dramatic re-making of oneself. For a writer’s language, far from being a mere means of expression, is above all a mode of subjective existence and a way of experiencing the world. She needs the language not just to describe things, but to see them. The world reveals itself in a certain manner to the Japanese writer, and in quite another to the one who writes in Finnish. A writer’s language is not just something she uses, but a constitutive part of what she is. This is why to abandon your native tongue and to adopt another is to dismantle yourself, piece by piece, and then to put yourself together again, in a different form.
To begin with, when changing languages you descend to a zero-point of your existence. There must be even a moment, however brief, when you cease to be. You’ve just quit the old language and the new one hasn’t received you yet; you are now in limbo, between worlds, hanging over the abyss. A change of language usually happens when the writer is exiled or self-exiled. Yet the physical exile is doubled in such cases by an ontological one — an exile on the margins of being. It is as though, for a moment, as she passes through the void – the narrow crack between languages, where there are no words to hold on to and nothing can be named – the self of the writer is not any more. Weil’s comparison to the religious conversion is indeed apt because, just like in the case of the convert, the writer who changes languages undergoes a death-and-rebirth experience. In an important way, that person dies and then comes back as another. “When I changed my language, I annihilated my past. I changed my entire life,” says Cioran.
When she starts writing in the new language the world is born anew to the writer. Yet the most spectacular rebirth is her own. For this is a project of total reconstruction of the self, where no stone is left unturned and nothing will look the same again. Your native language – what you were before – appears as less and less familiar to you. But that doesn’t bother you at all; in fact, you look forward to a moment when you will use it as just another foreign language. Not long after adopting French, Samuel Beckett, an Irishman, complained of his native English: “Horrible language, which I still know too well.” The ontological promise of complete renewal that comes with the new language is nothing short of intoxicating.
When you are re-born in this manner it is as if all the possibilities are open; you are given a chance to re-fashion yourself into whatever shape you choose. You are your own demiurge: out of nothing, as it were, you can become everything. Asked, in 1954, why he chose to change languages, Beckett answered: out of a “need to be ill equipped”. His response is exceedingly sly because, if you listen more attentively, its boastful tone is deafening. For in French the need “to be ill equipped” (d’être mal armé) doesn’t sound very different from the need to be (another) Mallarmé (d’être Mallarmé). Anything less than a Mallarmé status would not have been enough for a Beckett on his quest for the new self. Eventually, he didn’t become Mallarmé, but Samuel Beckett, the French author of “Molloy,” “Malone Dies,” or “Waiting for Godot,” which is probably just as good. And as if there was not enough alienation in his adoption of a new language, he alienated himself one more time by translating his French work into English. Elsewhere Beckett claimed that he preferred French because it allowed him to write “without style.” Yet writing “without style” is one of the writing styles most difficult to accomplish; you really need to be well equipped to do it.
There is something “natural” in one’s becoming a writer in one’s native language. Having reached self-consciousness into that language, having assimilated it along with the mother’s milk, so to speak, such a writer finds himself in a somewhat privileged position: he only has to bring to perfection whatever he has received. Granted, rigorous training, self-discipline and constant practice are necessary; after all, art is the opposite of nature. Yet no matter how you look at it, there is a distinct sense of continuity and organic growing in this writer’s trajectory.
Becoming a writer in a language that is not yours by birth, though, goes against nature; there is nothing organic in this process, only artifice. There are no linguistic “instincts” to guide you on the path and the language’s guardian angels rarely whisper into your ear; you are truly on your own. Says Cioran: “When I wrote in Romanian, words were not independent of me. As soon as I began to write in French I consciously chose each word. I had them before me, outside of me, each in its place. And I chose them: now I’ll take you, then you.”
Many who shift to writing in a second language develop an unusually acute linguistic awareness. In an interview he gave in 1979, some seven years after he moved to the United States from his native Russia, Joseph Brodsky speaks of his ongoing “love affair with the English language.” Language is such an overwhelming presence for these people that it comes to structure their new biographies. “English is the only interesting thing that’s left in my life,” says Brodsky. The need to find le mot juste starts out as a concern, turns into an obsession, and ends up as a way of life. These writers excel at the art of making virtue of necessity: out of a need to understand how the new language works, they turn into linguistic maniacs; out of a concern for correctness, they become compulsive grammarians.
When he moved to France at the age of twenty-six, Cioran’s command of French was barely decent, yet he ended up as one of the greatest stylists of that language. Similarly, Joseph Conrad learned English relatively late in life – which did not prevent him from coming to be one of its most sophisticated representatives. Vladimir Nabokov is doubtlessly another such representative, even though he started learning English at an early age. The same pattern again and again: everything out of nothing, from halting ignorance to a mode of expression of the first order.
Towards the end of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” the reader comes across something whose significance exceeds the confines of the story. It is the scene where Montague meets the “book people.” In a world where printed texts are banned, they have dedicated their lives to preserving the “great books” of the humankind; each commits a book to memory and spends the whole life reciting it. They are living texts, these people, language incarnated. Apart from the masterpieces that inhabit them, they don’t mean much. Their bodies matter as little as the paper on which a book is printed. In a way, a writer who has changed languages is not very different from these people. In the long run, because of their compulsive preoccupation with linguistic precision and stylistic perfection, a colonization of sorts takes place: language penetrates all the details of that writer’s life, it informs and re-shapes it, it proclaims its dominion over her – it takes over. The writer’s self is now under the occupation of an invading power: her own writing in the new language.
In a certain sense, then, it could be said that in the end you don’t really change languages; the language changes you. At a deeper, more personal level, writing literature in another language has a distinctly performative dimension: as you do it something happens to you, the language acts upon you. The book you are writing ends up writing you in turn. The result is a “ghostification” of sorts. For to change languages as a writer is to undergo a process of dematerialization: before you know it, you are language more than anything else. One day, suddenly, a certain intuition starts visiting you, namely that you are not made primarily out of flesh anymore, but out of lines and rhymes, of rhetorical strategies and narrative patterns. Just like the “book people,” you don’t mean much apart the texts that inhabit you. More than a man or a woman of flesh and blood, you are now rather a fleshing out of the language itself, a literary project, very much like the books you write. The writer who has changed languages is truly a ghost writer – the only one worthy of the name.
Having done all this, having gone through the pain of changing languages and undergone the death-and-rebirth initiation, you are sometimes given – as a reward, as it were – access to a metaphysical insight of an odd, savage beauty. It is the notion that the world may be nothing other than a story in the making and that we, who inhabit it, may be nothing more than characters. Characters in search of an author, that is.
Writing Makes Me A Better Designer
About a month ago, I decided to start a new discipline: write a short piece about design every day using Day One, which has a useful daily reminder. My goal was to become a better designer. It worked. I started to obsess more over my design process and made many fascinating case studies. I had no idea that by sharing my design decisions and techniques to the world, it would help thousands of designers improve their own. During that one month period, over 70 thousand unique visitors came to my blog seeking information about Sketch, Android design and Solving The Back Button. Many came back. Designers would ask me questions directly on Twitter, to which I happily replied. With this article, I’d like to share with you what I learned through this humbling journey.
I used to bottle all my thoughts inside my head and never write anything lengthy down on paper. Yes, it was expressed through my design, but is that enough? Can I become a better designer by writing? The answer is yes. The thousands of thoughts my in head were chaotic. Writing was a way to organize them and clarify them in the simplest form of expression: words. I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but are those words cleanly organized? That’s what I wanted to improve. A designer should be able to concisely explain his product decisions. People can recognize good design if you’re able to tell them why and show them how.
“Good design makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.” – Dieter Rams
Iterate & Respond To Feedback
Feedback is gold. Your blog is essentially a topic open for discussion, whether the feedback exists on your site or on networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Designer News or Hacker News. I also iterated my blog based on some comments:
- Added News Feed, so that people can subscribe on their RSS apps.
- 18% of my readers are on mobile, so I made the blog friendly for iPhone, iPad and Android. I also added an icon for the home screen on iOS.
- Added Markdown support for WordPress so that I can paste efficiently the posts that I wrote on Day One, which also uses Markdown.
- Write follow-ups based on feedback: Photoshop Users: How To Switch To Sketch was written because I was asked to write a “Get Started” article for Sketch. Photoshop vs Fireworks was written because many felt that Fireworks was a good alternative to Photoshop. I had to compare it to Sketch.