About paper. The feel of paper, the use of paper, bookbinding, Origami, and other paper arts

Salt and Pepper

I don't follow too many traditions when it comes to holidays. Without strong family ties or kids, I don't celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving; and since I lack a religous foundation, I don't celebrate Easter or Christmas. However, I still make fried chicken and my three favorite cold salads on the Friday before Memorial weekend, ready to eat when anyone is hungry. Since the food is already made, there's no cooking, and few dishes. Tomorrow I'll pack some up in a cooler and take some of it with me on my explorations; the rest I'll leave for my roommate, to nosh on while I give him some private time in the house.

I love to cook, but I'm not a fancy cook. I seldom use more than one or two spices in any dish, and rarely use any that are considered 'hot'. I like the food to speak for itself, and my salads–potato, three bean, and antipasto–and chicken reflect this.

When I worked at Boeing in Seattle, I used to go with one of the groups I worked with to a Chinese restaurant not far from my house. I liked the place because the food was fresh and flavorful, and attractive; my workmates liked it because it served hot, hot Szechuan style of food. They'd sit eating the food and sweating from the spiciness as they good naturedly gave me a bad time for staying with the simple, lightly seasoned dishes.

I have no doubts, none, not one of them has a taste bud left, now.

No, I don't like heavily spiced meals. A little salt, a little pepper, maybe a little garlic and onion, and you have about the perfect enhancement for almost any dish. Well, except cookies. But then you can use both salt and pepper in cookies. And garlic in ice cream.

Among the stacks of books on bookbinding and various other topics picked up recently from my local libraries, I also found a cookbook titled, "Salt & Pepper". Among the intriguing recipes and beautiful photographs are stories about the history of both salt and pepper, in addition to a detailed discussion about the varieties in each.

I have used more esoteric salts and peppercorns in cooking, but this book introduced me to exotics such as fleur de sel, a french salt that forms as a thin layer on seaside ponds in France and prized for it's flavor, appearance, and texture; or pink Hawaiian sea salt. And the recipes!

There was salted tangerines with a black pepper dipping sauce, classic red sandwich, or deep fried lima beans. Salt and Pepper Candied Pecans. It even featured chocolate cookies spiced with pink peppercorns; all recipes light on spice except for salt and pepper, depending more on the other ingredients and the unusual and balanced combinations of foods to generate the flavor.

Salt and pepper. You might look down you nose at them as plain and simple, but lose them, and you might as well loose your joy in food.

A vegetarian friend of mine from long ago was also a gourmet cook and would have us over for these fantasic meals. She would add a pinch of this a dash of that until you could barely taste the ingredients of the dishes. Of course, tofu figured heavily, so I didn't mind.

She would laugh, though, about my stinginess when it came to using spices. After all, it was she who introduced me to cilantro and curries, and chilis and whatnot, only to have her lessons go for naught. One day on the way to work, I said that she'd be proud of me, I was finally starting to branch out in my use of spices. She asked what spice. I answered, "Pepper", and she laughed until I thought she was going to wreck the car.

But that's just it — I was exploring with pepper. Different kinds of pepper and using pepper in different ways. For instance, you might know about putting salt on watermelon, but how about pepper on a granita (slushy) made of the watermelon's juice? The same people that will add 23 different types of spices to a dish will look blankly at you when you talk about putting pepper on watermelon.

In celebration of salt and pepper, a haiku:

Greedy condiment!
Be content with simple salt.
I flavour better.

Be content with love.
Don't ask me for my soul, too.
I have no extra.

So it is true that
all condiments are the same.
Oh, well. Now I know.


The Art of Books: Perfect Folds

The work on the star tunnel books goes slowly as I gather the material to make the volumes. Before I can even consider starting them, though, I have to master the fold. If I can't master the fold, I won't be able to master the concertina fold, which is nothing more than long strips of stiffer paper, in perfect parallel folds. The star tunnel book I have in mind consists of several overlapping concertinas.

I thought I knew folding, having previously spent a life time of folding things, such as dolls, letters, hope, books, arms, and t-shirts; but all this past experience does is build bad habits; habits which must be broken to do a proper fold. Contrary to what we might think a fold doesn't just happen by luck. There is no natural perfect fold in nature, unlike the fractal. The fold must be precise, measured, and then firmly flattened using a bone folder, because your work is only as good as your fold.

As I study the art of book, I find that there is an esoteric element to folds, which adds a hint of spirtual mystery to that previously seen as commonplace . For instance, there are proper names describing how the fold is placed relative to the surface: if the fold is pointed up, then it's called a mountain fold; pointed down, a valley fold. Not difficult to remember and makes for rather impressive explanations of what you're doing if someone asks.

"I'm folding the end of this paper, here, until the tip meets the base of this mountain fold."

Or something to that effect. Those people who are experienced at this are probably snikering right now, saying to themselves, "It's not called a base, you amateur. It's the spine", or some such thing.

To practice my proper folding technique, I created a book called an Inserted Concertina, which is one concertina fold inserted into another, and looks rather nice for nothing more than two pieces of paper connected by slits.

First I had to make one 8-panel concertina, 6 inches high (sorry, if I try to keep up in metric, I'll be here all night); and then a second, 4 inches high. I cut off the two end panels from the shorter strip (which are being used to make a small Japanese stab binding book). The paper had to be long enough, so I glued two pieces together, which itself is rather a production.

Place scrap paper underneath the edge and use it to mask all but 1/2 inch of the edge of one strip; use the paintbrush to spread a thin layer…

Once the long strips were made, I folded the middle of the taller concertina to make a mountain fold, and then folded one half to make another mountain fold and so on, until the stretched out piece easily collapses, edge to edge, all space eliminated.

It was then a matter than of cutting out the insides of the larger to make space for the smaller, cutting slits in both to align with each other and then put the two pieces together (easier said then done, something about cutting through six pieces of paper). To measure the cuts, I used the pointed end on the bone folder to score the paper, to avoid using pencil or pen, which, in a way, again makes use of the fold to accomplish my task.

As a finishing touch, I added orchid print outs, just as a fun detail and a bit of color, because the true spirit of the art of book is improvisation, each piece then being subtly unique.

I'm not sure if the photos do the book justice; it was difficult to photograph. It's not perfect, and there are bends in the paper, and the photos warp the perspective, and I have made mistakes. Regardless, the amazing thing about it is how well the book collapses neatly and elegantly into its cover, and how stable the piece is, without using any clip or thread or glue to keep the concertinas together. It is a most cooperative work, as if the pieces decide to mesh for whatever reason even though there is no physical bond.

I can twist the work about and open and close it and pull it around to take photos, but the join holds and the piece remains steadfast despite the strain it undergoes. As you may guess by now, it is, of course, due to the compatibility of the folds; to the ends, really, because that's what a fold is–the alignment of two ends.

I have no allusions about the stability of my little book. Brutal shaking of the piece will most likely break it apart, perhaps permanently if the slits are damaged, or the folds crumpled and lost. It is not a work that can be tossed carelessly aside for convenience, or thrown across the room in anger; too easily sat on or thrown away for scrap if forgotten. I think that's why this style of book appeals to me: there is the very real possibility that it will not endure.

Since we can name these individual works, these book arts, I called this one My Virtual Friend.


The Art of Books: The Cut and What you can Afford to Lose

I use an exacto knife when cutting paper or dense cloth, but this won't work with thicker materials such as gray or book board. This board is very thick and dense for strength, and normally you would use a special paper cutter or have the art shop cut the board into pieces for you. However, both techniques require money, so I buy my board either as scrap or in whole sheets, and then attempt to cut it with a box cutter knife.

I do okay with the larger pieces (they are covered, after all), but can't seem to get the small cuts down. For instance, the Japanese stab binding requires that you cut a thin strip 1/8 inch wide off of one of the pieces for the cover, to allow for the book fold (you don't fold the book at the spine with this type of binding). Cutting a strip 1/8 inch wide sounds easy–but it isn't. I've ruined four cuttings already this weekend, and have accomplished little other than creating some nice scrap for small case bound journals.

Among the lessons I've learned is that when cutting, commit to the cut. You can't stop every centimeter or so to check your progress when cutting thick board. If you do, instead of one straight line and two cleanly divided boards, you end up with several short, hesitant stabs and the resulting separation looks more like an act of luck than an act of precision.

In some ways, it's rather like posting your writing or poetry or photos–if you don't have confidence in your work before putting it online, you're not going to find it, incrementally, from your readers' reactions. Base your joy in your work on the approval of others, and your art will soon reflect the cut I just mentioned.

What a seemingly odd analogy, but it came to mind this morning during ruminations while I created yet another potential case book board. I realized that there is much of a sameness between the commonsense 'rules' of bookbinding and the commonsense 'rules' of our online efforts. Don't cut what you can't afford to lose can easily be rephrased to don't post what you can't afford to lose.

For instance, I don't go into the art supply place and grab any old board and just start hacking away because the boards aren't mine to hack. The same can be said of the personal lives of others, and you don't post about friends and family, especially their private lives, without their concurrance–not unless you're willing to lose them. I would think this goes without saying, and no one ever said free speech was free as in lunch or beer and not without cost.

This medium inspires a false intimacy, but you're not going to want to post about your deepest thoughts and fears, or your innermost secrets because once they're out there, everybody, and I mean everybody is going to know about them and probably even giggle about them over Big Macs at a WiFi enabled McDonald's somewhere. This world is about six degrees of separation and there are six degrees of separation between the importance you attach to your thoughts and what a reader attaches to your ramblings; you're cutting a single piece of board, they're cutting six at a time, and the results will vary.

You'll also want to be sparing with your rants, as well as cautious about posting your strongly held beliefs or opinions online–not unless you can afford to lose the right to change your mind. We all know that circumstances and experience can lead to growth and growth can lead to change, but reflect this change online and you'll be hit with a chorus of, "But you said…you said…you said…but you said…you said…you said…"

It reminds me of the glues I use when creating a book: PVA glue bonds quickly and permanently and is intolerant to change, while slow bonding organics such as wheat starch paste give you the flexibility of being able to reposition the papers or boards if you find you made a mistake.

Life may be wheat starch paste, but webloggers are PVA.

Glue and cuts. Ultimately, the quality of the book transcends the cut and the glue, and reflects the materials used. All things have a purpose, and you can't always use one thing as substitute for another not without risk. In bookbinding, you don't use spit for glue, tooth floss for thread, and gray board works great as a hardcover material for a book, but I wouldn't want to build a bridge of it.

Weblogging is the same; you can record your life in these pages, but you can't find it here.

Speaking of which, both life and book board beckon.


The Art of Books: Bookbinding and Disappointment

I had a call tonight. All the person said on the line was, 'You are nothing', and then hung up. Odd sort of call for a crank.

It came when I was in the middle of cutting more paper for another one of the books I'm making. Each of these books is a gift for someone who is important to me, someone I care for. I'll post a photo of all the books when finished, though the going is slow.

Some aspects of the bookbinding have been a surprise and delight for me. For instance, I've found that I'm quite good at cutting things out–even things that are complex and curvy. Though I had a slight accident when I was putting the exacto knife blade into it's piece of protective cardboard and pushed through it into my finger, I am, shall we say, to the knife born.

In addition, the primary component of one of the star tunnel books has also come out extraordinarily well; I can only hope the rest of the book falls in line. The Japanese stab binding books are extremely satisfying in their elegance and simplicity; with their colorful covers, intricate knots, and handmade papers.

A couple of the projects, though, have not gone as expected. It's not that they don't match my mental expectations; it's that when they are real, they aren't what I was hoping to achieve. Disappointing that, but I think that all good craft work results in disappointment from time to time.

Working on the books provides something I've been missing in my life–a tactile contact that I don't have with other activities. What I particularly like about working on the books is that I can attach part of my mind to the task at hand, but the rest is free to roam, to think on other things. I can't do this when I'm working on the computer, nor when I'm on most of the trails I hike, either (that's a good way to end up with a broken ankle).

Today while working, I found myself thinking, oddly enough, about the weblogger known only as Invisible Adjunct. She's been on my mind ever since I read her decision to not only quit her weblog, but also the profession she had been working towards for a long time–a tenure track position at a university. I thought about her disappointment, which must be acute; but I was also taken by the grace she exhibited when she wrote about her decisions:

A few months ago, I made a vow to myself that this would be my last semester as an invisible adjunct. Since I've failed to secure a full-time position in my final attempt at the academic job market, what this means, of course, is that I made a vow to leave the academy. Six more weeks of teaching, and I head for the nearest exit.

Though I must inevitably feel a sense of loss and sadness, it's thanks to this blog and its readers that I don't feel the kind of life-twisting bitterness that I might otherwise have experienced. I'll take with me, among other things, a knowledge of XHTML (which I never thought I could learn!), an undiminished passion for the Scottish Enlightenment, and a heightened sense of life's possibilities.

In the meantime, I've decided to give up the blog.

Simple words expressing a profound message. It was the nature of her writing that made her words that much more piquant and feeling and even though I've never been a reader of hers, I felt a deep and personal connection with her–all through her elegant acceptance of her disappointment.

I know some may not agree with me–Invisible Adjunct's words are seen as a cry to arms, to kindle anger at the academic establishment that fosters the heartbreak of so many. I can also imagine the loss that IA is experiencing, having myself lost a career built up over 20 years. But Invisible Adjunct showed that there is a beauty in disappointment; that it can be a way of stripping away one more layer of the wants and needs we wrap about ourselves; leaving the core essence of what we are, separate from what we want to be. Or, as she eloquently put it, what remains is …a heightened sense of life's possibilities.

This afternoon, out walking on a familiar trail where I can safely let my mind wander, I thought more about disappointment, and how it can be shallow and slight, such as the minor disappointments we suffer growing up; or it can be deeply altering, such as that which Invisible Adjunct embraced.

The shallow disappointments, the present not received, the trip not taken, the treat denied, are minor and trite and soon forgotten unless we ourselves bring them up in a burst of pettiness. You know what I mean–the anger at spouse or parent when you regress to that young inner child and pettishly say, "But you didn't get me that doll", or, "But you didn't get me that coat I wanted." Getting caught up in these slight acts makes us as small as the act, and the wise person quickly purges them from memory so as not to waste time in an infantile state.

"You promised!" You promised! You promised!

The larger disappointments, though, they're different. Having to leave a beloved career, as Invisible Adjunct did; discovering that a long held hope will not be realized; being deeply in love with someone who is attracted to another; a wished for pregnancy that turns out to be a false alarm–these are emotionally significant disappointments, and they shape us in small ways and large, though we may not know it when the event occurs, and may not cherish it until later. Much later.

Disappointment is not grief, though grief can also have its own beauty, a darker beauty like watching the moonlight reflect on the wings of a moth in the darkest hour of the night. Unlike disappointment, grief never ends. It may become less real over time and the sharp edges dull, and we may become better because of it–but it never leaves.

No, living through a profound disappoint is like being sick, for a very long time, and then gradually getting well again. The experience isn't pleasant, and may even be frightening because you wonder if you will recover; but then there's that moment when you wake and you feel better. You rise, and take your first steps away from your bed, lightheaded, as if you're not quite anchored to earth.

I have this mental image of a person who has suffered through a profound disappointment. I see them as a figure wearing a cloak of soft, sad grey; gradually, over time, they drop the heavy cloak and underneath is …


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