“NO ONE IS SUGGESTING YOU CAN CONQUER GAUL BY DEADLIFTING 4 PLATES”

When travelling, there’s what objectively happens to you and there is how you feel about it. There’s the emotional travelogue. One day in Iceland I suddenly and without warning immediately and thoroughly understood at the deepest level why people defend the place to the death. New York is so familiar it isn’t fun anymore, a statement that even I find appalling. Australia, the inverse Canada. London, filled to the walls with ugly paupers and skinheads who make every trip along the high street an exercise in fear.

ATypI Brighton 2007, an expensive gambit in loneliness.

I don’t like to travel. I like having travelled. I’ve done enough of it to be able to hack all sorts of systems, from airplane seating to hotels to surviving as a veganist even in a country where they eat whales. I have no right to complain. But when I go away, my routine is disrupted. It is not a question of feeling homesick, but how much and when. Usually 1½ days into a trip is when it happens. On more than one occasion I’ve barely been able to concentrate, and sometimes that will mate up with an unusual or unique event, as during an open-captioned movie in London.

I missed my dog even though he’s my friend’s dog, not my dog. I missed my friend less. In fairness, the dog did not send a daily E-mail and was not on instant messaging.

I saw all sorts of acquaintances at ATypI, many of whom remembered me even from the distant past. I was staying with hospitable friends – although, based on the public record, all we managed to do was play Wii. I know Brighton, the Acceptable Face of England, well enough to walk around unaided. I know which bus to take. The upstairs of a double-decker isn’t novel or fun anymore.

Your vocabulary

At a type conference you are actually able to say out loud a range of vocabulary you usually only read or write. (Last time, “grots.” This time, “slabserif,” “terminals,” “humanistic,” “Fraktur.” You have a whole discussion about how to pronounce “Tiresias” in different dialects.)

You meet the designers of many of your favourite typefaces. You are the kind of person who has favourite typefaces. You meet, at long last, designers you’ve known for a decade online. You meet elite squadrons of Poles and Russians, guys in matching Linotype shirts, Adobéists, Monotypists. You find that some who present themselves online as borderline nasty pieces of work are gregarious and warm in person. One of them is Belgian. Another of them is you.

You get to present not once but twice. Maybe you matter.

You try to organize a Boys’ Night Out, but, because people either have no phone or a phone that doesn’t work or no computer on them or no wifi (intractibly difficult to connect to at this ill-organized event), you cannot reach them. You cannot herd the cats. Even after the man who published his first font at 14 and is just barely half your age decorously plays dumb and pretends he doesn’t know he’s only even there in the first place to receive the Prix Charles Peignot, you hold out hope that he, his homosexual lover unit, that famous newspaper designer, that birchbark-related type designer, and you can all maybe stand around the Bulldog and pretend to have a good time.

When that doesn’t happen, you go to the Bulldog anyway and discover it’s just like a video game you had put on pause. You walk in the door and they take it off pause and it’s exactly the way you left it. This is not the Wii we’re talking about, either. If it’s a video game, it is Ms Pac-Man. Something they didn’t bother to pause is the unrelenting ugliness.

You realize you have loved and cherished typography since you were a schoolboy, a fact explicitly contradicted in the gutter press, but have nothing to show for it save for a few mouldering articles and reviews. What have you done for typography lately?

You spend so much time picking away at the scab of that insult, still available after promises it would be expunged, that you set up plans to publicly take the author to task if he shows up. Then that snowballs to remembering your routine and what is really going on in your life (also typographically), and what is going on is next to nothing. You tell yourself you’ve got a few more leads for designers, and A-list leads at that, but you’ve had those before and have had the rug pulled out already. (And, in a case of the pot calling the kettle kerned, the excuse there was “cashflow.”)

Then it hits you that everyone else here who isn’t a corporate -ist of some kind is more or less in the same boat, though most of them have day jobs and at least make a living. But they don’t have the same kind of bite taken out of them.

You realize that it’s only a matter of time till we return to our atomized existences of being the only people we know personally, the only people in our entire respective cities, who love and cherish typography. A typography conference exposes the atomization and loneliness of the typographer.

You go back to having nobody to talk to about typography. You go back to having no venue where you can say typographic vocabulary out loud. You get your routine back, but what has it done for you lately?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.09.19 14:55. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2007/09/19/atomization/

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