Writing out of the Box

After many months away, I am somewhat ambivalently trying to reenter the blog world. I feel sure I am not the only one who asks the question, “Is there anything I need, or even particularly want to say?” This is my excuse or rationale for posting so infrequently. On the other hand, I have thought it might be somewhat enjoyable for me and perhaps for the person who happens to land here, to post some visual stuff, with a little commentary. Blocks of black type on the computer put me to sleep–reading them or writing them. If our blogs were lifted out of those visually r e p e t i t i v e and m o n o t o n o u s boxes, illuminated (decorated? brought into the light), written in COLORS in a variety of fonts and sizes, I believe it would be a different and much more interesting/compelling/engaging story.

One of the ways I have found to break out of the box is writing, drawing, and illuminating text with multi-colored threads. Having worked at memorizing scripture, including the Psalms, most of my life, I have a distinct sense that they are physically imbedded in my body. So in my way of thinking, it makes sense to render that inner reality in some visible, tangible form. The embroidery below is one of several of Psalm texts with which I have engaged in my hobby–exploring historical traditions in embroidery while recasting them according to my personal artistic ability and sensibility. The Book of Psalms has become my designated arena. I hope that this give and take between the craft, the text, and my personal experience of them may perhaps serve others to bring the Psalms into a form that more truly conveys their timeless spiritual gifts than what is possible through the undifferentiated blocks of black and white in just about any Bible available post-Gutenberg.

This piece is done on an open-weave linen using drawn and pulled thread embroidery with cotton stranded floss, with cross stitch letters varying somewhat in tonality to emphasize certain words. My alphabets are usually, of necessity, my own design, or modifications of the nearest thing I can find to fit the constraints of the thread count and length of the quotation. I nearly always end up liking my version better. Designing the letters and arranging the text in the space is usually the biggest technical challenge in these pieces.

I have recently uncovered a fascinating, engaging and beautiful book that has given a sort of authenticated coherence to an assortment of my practices and inclinations that I had only vaguely sensed were not purely random and and idiocentric. The writer/designer of Goodbye Gutenberg is Valerie Kirschenbaum, a teacher in an inner-city New York high school. Her bold postulations–considered by critics alternately regressive or outrageous–somehow lend validity to my own precious compulsion to transcribe large excerpts from what I read through my own hand into journals–a way of owning and incarnating the text. I have at times, used different colors of ink to differentiate various aspects of the text according to a variety of criteria. This may change based on such factors as running out of a color or starting a new journal. It often happens, in this process, that the unbidden resonances stirred up in the juxtaposition of various “unrelated” texts I am reading shows them to be, after all, profoundly related to each other, and to what is going on in my life at the moment. I don’t consider this experience unique to me, but still, always a source of great wonder. When I feel more playful, I enjoy transcribing the words into shapes (other than rectangles of consecutive horizontal lines) to find and show relationships that are not necessarily apparent in the printed text. The process of transcription is above all one of discovery.

And another thing Kirschenbaum’s eye-opening treatise has helped me articulate is the underlying impetus for my unrelenting desire to draw, paint (watercolor) and stitch these Psalms, in a way that reflects their incarnational nature and purpose and helps make it possible to stand in that reality. I believe and firmly hold that understanding/knowing the Psalms is increasingly possible when we experience the word in the most palpable physical way–with our senses, hearing them, seeing them–breathing their incense, tasting their “finest of the wheat”, which reading black and white text alone can never provide.

If you get hold of Ms. Kirschenbaum’s book (see at Amazon.com), you will be treated to an amazing sampler of pre-Gutenberg delights–including illuminated manuscripts from all over the world and history. You may even, as I am, begin imagining where the colors might be in what you read, and wondering why, in a time when color printing is no longer technologically complicated or prohibitively expensive, we continue to settle for the default and endless black and white rectangles of type, which hold sovereign sway on our bookshelves and in our consciousness.

I just bought my own copy of Goodbye Gutenberg, Global Renaissance Society, LLC, New York 2005, for $.01 + shipping. It is hardcover, 400+ pages, mostly in unabashed COLOR.

Speaking of which, Please forgive these very black and white rectangles, which I am not blog-savvy or financially able to circumvent at this time. If I continue to write here on a regular basis I may invest in some program which will give me more sovereignty over the shape and color of my posts. In the meantime, I’m determined to learn the available techniques for making my blog more visually engaging with photos, drawing, etc. If you like it, let me know. If you have any help to offer, please do.

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