The progress of love

The Turning Season, handmade, clothbound chapbook at Viridian Artists

Over the past month I’ve become obsessed with creating a set of handmade books. I’ve never done this before. I essentially took lessons from the wealth of information available on the web, including many videos, so whatever craftsmanship I’ve achieved has been earned through many setbacks, mistake, do-overs, workarounds, and overall general trial-and-error. In the end, as of today, my efforts have resulted five sets of two-volume paperback chapbooks to show for my effort, and five clothbound, hardback single-signature chapbooks—a limited first edition. It’s been a long journey, but far more gratifying than I suspected it would be. In an age when the rate of e-book rentals at public library is skyrocketing, I like sinking into the long, slow, deliberate building of a physical book with an inkjet printer, printmaking paper, thread, binder’s board, bone folders, awls, glue and cloth, in a way that can’t possibly make me the kind of money that would justify the amount of time and, yes, cash, I’ve invested in the process. It’s been a labor of deep love, on a book that expresses some of my most fundamental values, and after working so many years on a story that has yet to find its conclusive form, it’s gratifying to see this small, elliptical child of that larger, difficult parent finally become something I can hold in my hands. When I see the final book, I feel: This is me. As much as anything I’ve created in my life, this is me. This is what I wanted these pictures and haiku poems to be when I first created them a number of years ago.

I backed into these weeks of consuming passion as a response to the theme of the next group show at Viridian Artists thanks to Vernita N’Cognita: Yin and Yang, a Fusion of Opposites. The show highlights the way member artists have drawn from Eastern traditions for inspiration or technique or a sense of purpose in their work. A few days after I heard about the theme of the show, it occurred to me to resurrect this series of drawings and poems I created as an appendix for a novel I wrote over the past decade but have never published, nor satisfactorily finished. Viking/Penguin published my first novel in the late 90s and since then I’ve either been working on this one—in between periods of writer’s block that many people call making a living. The novel is called The Turning Season. So is the book I’ve just designed, printed, and bound by hand. (I would have made the paper as well, if I’d had the time—and, well, if I’d ever actually made my own paper. Maybe that can wait for a second edition . . .)

The ten drawings I did for the novel were created as the work of two fictional characters in the novel: Rob Hapworth and Jill Pickett. They meet on vacation, they are attracted to one another, but they pull apart out of an obligation to people they already love, and yet they sublimate their affection for one another through a set of poems and drawings: Rob writes the poems and Jill does the drawings to match them. In the process, she delves deeply into a number of traditions and imaginative works, from the Buddhist Ox-Herding Songs to the central structure of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth to The Wasteland as well as Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy. In other words she turns a set of simple haiku poems that chart the pull and push of her relationship with Rob into a reworking of an ancient mythic structure she detects at the heart of all these other sources: a universal spiritual journey toward fulfillment through loss. I spent more than a year writing the poems and taking the photographs to use as the basis for pastel drawings on watercolor paper, to accompany the poems. In other words, I did what Jill ostensibly does in the story. And then, when I put the novel aside, I hung the pictures on my wall and moved on to other things for the past few years. Until now.

Now I’m thinking I need to return to my manuscript and finally finish the novel.

2 Responses to “The progress of love”

  1. RIchard Harrington

    Bring the book to lunch. the handbound one.

  2. dave dorsey

    Will do. I’ll bring both.