I’m working on my seventh book. Every one has primarily been written and designed on a laptop. But until I print out pages——as I did for the first time for this new one tonight——they feel like pretend.
It’s strange to feel that way about a thing that is meant to be reproduced hundreds, possibly thousands of times. Why is it any more real on paper than on a screen? Part of it has to be my age. I’m programmed to think of writing belonging between two pieces of cardboard, sometimes covered in cloth, printed with ink on paper, bound with thread or glue. Does a fifteen or even a thirty year old have such requirements?
The other reason I need to make words a physical object is because I come from painting. There are people for whom painting is made up of ideas, theories, concepts, but for me, it’s made of paint, canvas, paper. It can exist in no other way. So, to me, my books are more or less prints with some words scattered around the pictures. Once I started thinking of them that way, it became much easier to conceive of how to go forward.
The thought of working on a thing that has no physical properties is kind of horrifying. It’s not unlike thinking of it having no beginning or end. I know that most artists/writers/whatever keep making the same thing. Trying to refine it, make it a little better, more precise than the time before. But without tangible results, I think I’d have given up long ago.
Limits are crucial. Whether imposed from outside or in, they create a set of rules which allow a thing to have a shape, a direction. I don’t know how you make anything without eliminating thousands of choices at every turn.
The knowledge that the ugly malformed thing in my hands will one day have a form allows me to keep going. Do people who work only on screens have that? How do they know when they’re done? How many pixels does it take to feel any sense of progress or accomplishment?
Write these thoughts out makes me feel old. Stuck in a time that’s passed. But I felt this same way thirty-two years ago when I got to art school. It was clear then that the track I was on was not one that would lead to recognition or success as they were then defined. That feeling of being out of step has never left me.
I don’t know any way except this one. I’ll take my folder full of pages——a third printed on graph paper because I ran out of the blank kind——and read through it, make corrections, improvements. Then I’ll send digital instructions off so someone else can print out hundreds of duplicates, bind them, attach covers, and send boxes of them back to me.
This is all I know to do.