Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Saving the World

"I Love Typography" by Zachary
courtesy of http://ilovetypography.com/love/
Every month, I receive an email that asks nothing of me but rather brings me a very quiet, intellectual kind of joy. As those who know me well can attest, I love words and all the things that make them sing – not just poetry and elegant prose, but also punctuation, grammar, spelling, and that most subtle yet necessary of arts, typography. So when I receive my monthly reminder to visit the Chicago Manual of Style’s Q&A page, I eagerly anticipate a pleasant quarter hour reading the pithy, witty, informative replies to questions addressed to the manuscript editing department at the University of Chicago Press.

About a year ago, CMOS Online added a new feature called Shop Talk, which features interviews with copy editors, translators, indexers, and other people whose love of language helps the rest of us learn to be better writers. Yesterday, Shop Talk introduced Sara Bader, whose website Quotenik not only provides memorable quotations on a variety of subjects, but verifies their provenance. I wish I had known about Quotenik when I was writing my book. It would have saved me hours of sleuthing!

Today, however, Quotenik gave me something even more precious than accurate attributions. It gave me a poem that I can hug to my heart whenever I doubt that art is a worthy calling. Many artists, myself included, secretly fear that the hours we spend in the studio, rehearsal hall, or writing desk are a selfish indulgence, that the time we spend honing our craft and exploring our visions should instead be given to volunteering at a shelter for homeless people or marching in rallies for or against some political cause. In addition to worrying whether whatever we are making is any good, we often are beset with the fear that we are wasting time and resources that would be better spent doing something more obviously useful.

So it was with relief that I read Steven Heighton’s poem, “Some Other Just Ones”, subtitled “a footnote to Borges” as the March 23 entry on the Quotenik blog. I want to respect the author’s copyright, so I will not repost the entire poem. Instead, I will simply thank him, as well as Sara Bader, for this reminder of the delight that rises in my body like hope whenever I, like the poet, see “precious obscurios—pomegranate spoons, conductors batons, harpsichord tuning hammers, War of 1812 re-enactors’ ramrods, hand-cranks for hurdy-gurdies” or hear someone play the banjo with skill and heart. In Heighton’s evocative listing of the small moments that make life worth living, each carefully-chosen word sings the praises of those whose willingness to give themselves fully to the task at hand are, without knowing it, saving the world.

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