Tuesday, October 7, 2008

thoughts on travel

To fly is the opposite of traveling: you cross a gap in space, you vanish into a void, you accept not being in any place for a duration that is itself a kind of void in time; then you reappear, in a place and in a moment with no relation to the where and the when in which you vanished.  Meanwhile, what do you do? How do you occupy this absence of yourself from the world and the world from you?  You read; you do not raise your eyes from the book between one airport and the other, because beyond the page there is a void, the anonymity of stopovers, of the metallic uterus that nourishes you, of the passing crowd always different and the same.  You might as well stick with this other abstraction of travel, accomplished here by the anonymous uniformity of typographical characters: here, too, it is the evocative power of names that persuades you that you are flying over something and not nothingness.
from Italo Calvino's  If on a winter's night a traveler
Have you ever felt that daze that comes from airport traveling?  It's an interesting experience, checking bags, and then letting yourself go into long hallways, and eventually onto the plane, where you set aside personal comfort zones and try not to go to the bathroom.  It is accepting passivity, to be directed rather than to direct yourself.  Big signs tell you where to go, guards tell you to take off your shoes, and you have to go along passively.  
Calvino (one of my favorite authors) relates the act of reading to the passivity of air travel.  We let ourselves go, we suspend our critical thinking; we let the text, or the author, be the guiding authority.  I think this is what makes reading great:  it is a break from our normal routine, of telling ourselves what to do.  Getting "wrapped up in a book" seems to be the preferred description.  
Also, the times that I flew to/ from Honduras, there was this shift in time.  Going to Honduras, I would arrive after midnight.  Once I got in at 4 am!  There would be very few people in the airport, and no lights on in the city.  Almost like I was going into the unknown, to wait for people I didn't know to pick me up, to take me to a school that I had no experience with.  It's kind of crazy to assume that all of these different links in the chain are going to connect. 
Coming home from Honduras was almost the opposite:  I would leave late at night, with all the lights in the city gone out, and strangers in the airport, and flying into the states where it would be morning again, and my parents would be waiting.   It's a shift in the emotional experience of time, I think.  Calvino says at the end that we are flying over nothingness, and that a book, like travel, is just a set of conventions that we accept.  Maybe they both are only means to transfer us to someplace different in our lives.  Fiction isn't real, but it can show us something real beyond itself.  And we land somewhere different than we expected, to find a world that is more varied and complex  than we understood before.  
Maybe this is why travel and a good book complement each other... they both carry us somewhere, change our minds, and connect us with other people.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


First journals sold!

here's the coptic stitch:

rebound books
the logo says "inscribe"... it'll do for now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Crop of Books

Let's see... first off, here are some books that have been re-bound.  I've taken old books with catchy covers, cut out the old block of pages, and sewn in new, blank ones.  Vintage books have 
sweet impressions, like this one: 
The maroon book is an old geography handbook... I added the new block of pages, then put maps into the inner-covers for a bit of color.

Also, I learned a new binding method that allows for more pages, and can be used in more complicated bindings, like using the vintage covers... it is called the coptic stitch, and you can see it by looking down the spine of the book... it is composed of multiple signatures (pages folded together), sewn together along the folds.  The Coptic church invented this binding in the 4th century, which is seriously vintage!

Here is a journal, using the coptic stitch ( look at the left side).  On the cover is a screen print of scaffolding.  I think it works well with the bare-bones construction.  (Actually, the original picture that the print comes from is on my photography blog...

Screen printing is really involved, since I don't have a darkroom.  I use a photo-sensitive paint on the screen, and then "burn" an image into it with a powerful bulb.  The results are awesome, 
and one screen will make as many prints as you want.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Recent Books and Prints

a journal with a logo from my school

screen print on a t-shirt, taken from a photo from Chattanooga

journal made from cardboard... I didn't have a lot of supplies!

black and white always go well, and I wanted the splatters to look like they were seeping out, or that they were supposed to be contained.  

travel journal from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico... made with vellum and old national geographic photos...

Also from the same book- vellum does wonders for photos by reducing them to shapes and colors.

glass monoprint


block print of Honduras

another journal...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New Photos!

Here are some links to new photo albums:


1.) Travels: a fraction of the photos I took on the road, starting in Honduras and finishing in Mexico D.F.

2.) Artstuffs: See what I've been doing (while not teaching) over the past year.

3.) Bottom Drawer Photos: Some photos from my last 2 years in Boone, NC.

4.) Exteriors: Buildings like Dinosaurs. Shots from Chattanooga... before some of the old industrial buildings are turned into offices or restaurants.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

End of School Travels

After 4 weeks of travel, I'm back home and feeling a bit disoriented, maybe slightly out of place. It's strange to squeeze my life back into my small bedroom. It's only temporary, but I'll be at home through the end of summer.

I had mixed feelings leaving Siguatepeque after some really nice sendoffs and goodbyes. On the bus out, I felt sentimental about everything that had happened, but ready (and relieved!) to move on to new places. My trip went from Honduras to Mexico D.F., a series of bus rides connecting the dots between Mayan ruins, colonial cities, and volcanoes. I could give a full summary of my month's trip like a swollen journal, but instead I'll prune it down to some of the highlights.

1.) Mayan ruins: I saw ruins in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. They were fantastic, but after seeing my second and third sites, they lost their initial charm. I saw Copan Ruinas in Honduras, which have retained the original engravings. Guided tours give more insight into the history and symbolism, because at first glance, they're just stacked rocks.
Tikal in northern Guatemala has the really tall pyramids, and from the top you can look over the thick jungle and watch howler monkeys.

2.) Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala: a lake ringed by seven small villages, and scattered volcanoes, it was the most stunning spot that I visited. I rented a little kayak and paddled around with another traveler named Peter.

3) Antigua, Guatemala: tourists everywhere, from everywhere. There were lots of Europeans, Asians, Australians, South Americans, etc. It was vaguely reminiscent of smaller towns in Spain, with arches, heavy wooden doors, and terrace cafes. It's hard to tell from the picture, but there is a giant volcano behind the arch. Antigua is a dramatic place: there are active volcanoes, and earthquakes have left the city in heaps several times. Here, there are ruins of a different sort. Colonial churches and convents from the 1600's and 1700's were destroyed by earthquakes except for the main walls, and I loved exploring the mazes of split arches and crumbling waves of brick and mortar. The statues of saints are missing heads and hands.

I stayed in Antigua for a whole week, more than any other city. I took classes for a week to polish my Spanish a bit, but I needed that much time to see the city and surrounding area.

4)Taller Leñateros, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico:

I found a Mayan papermaking/ bookbinding/ artist cooperative in San Cristobal, called The Woodlander's Workshop. They publish local Mayan poets and make some incredible prints of local artists. It's quality stuff. They make an annual magazine called La Jicara, and they're hard to find, but the ones on the shelves go for $60-80. Take that, McSweeneys. Even better, they make most of their own paper using local fibers and flowers (along with recycled white paper). In the picture, my friend Senan is holding some of the more colorful varieties. In the big photo, we are on a tour with Victoria, left. On the wall are some of their projects. If you're interested, click Taller Leñateros above to see their website.

I loved this place because of its emphasis on local arts. Through their books, they are keeping the Mayan language and narrative alive, which is a rare trend. It is literally a grassroots movement, because, well, they use grass to make the books.

5) Oaxaca, Mexico:

This was one of my final stops in Mexico, along with the capital and a few others. Notably, Oaxaca is considered the gastronomic capital of Mexico, and though there's good food throughout the country, Oaxaca wins with its eccentricities. First of all, there's the chocolate. Chocolate is a large bean, and they grind it into a sludge with cinnamon, almonds, and sugar. I had my first 100% cacao and it is an acquired taste. Chocolate comes in all forms, in bars, nuggets, hot cocoa, chocolate milk, mole sauce (chocolate sauce + 30 some spices... also an acquired taste). In the market, big chunks of chocolate pile up like unrefined coal.

Then there are the grasshoppers. Hardly ten minutes goes by without someone trying to sell grasshoppers cooked in chile and lime. Worth a try!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

concerning the morning sky

Shapes push into the horizon, forms separating themselves from the charcoal dusk. The mornings are the nicest time of the day here. The end of the year has come, and I notice a full-circle effect a bit more every day: the rainy season is here again, turning the streets into tacky mud each night, and they will dry up again the following day. It reminds me of when i came in august, when the rain flooded the streets and knocked the electricty out.
New teachers are coming, old teachers are going. I am going. I am going. I am going.
There is a sweetness hanging over our conversations: We made it!
And there is anxiety: How do we leave just as life begins to settle? And what will come next?
How did another year just happen? Surely it should've been longer; I should've given up at some point.
Summer leads into a new summer, a full circle. It's time for something new.
And yet there's something incredibly unsatisfying about the 'full circle', about life arcing from point a to point a. there is so much gained and too much lost, and I'm not sure where the starting point is anymore. A better metaphor would be falling leaves: they don't go in circles; they dive back and forth like wide, invisible, cursive L's.

I've been waiting for the 3 big mango trees in my yard to announce the end of the year with armloads of fruit. I've had my eyes on the trees for a while now, at least since Christmas, waiting for something to happen. But the branches are still empty and disappointed like the cub scout that never earns any gold arrowhead patches. The neighbors have mangos in their yards, so it doesn't make sense that on the other side of the brick wall, I have none. Where's the completion in the turn of summer? -and similarly- Where's the fruit to show for the time I've been here at school? I've dreamt so long about finishing this school year with a great finale, like a brilliant sun-rise (you know, the kind that Sigur Rós is always mewing about). Instead, the end of school comes like any other day: exceedingly normal. In fact, I have plenty of boring grading to fill up my last week.

It's like waiting for the sunrise; you don't necessarily see it happen, because houses or hills block the east, but gradually you see it everywhere. The sky turns from ash to blue, undramatically, but it's nice to be feel it happen.

It's unrealistic (and generally unsatisfying) to have high-resolution endings. Things just end, heavy and unresolved. Maybe it's our task to create the meaning, to piece together disparaging and contradictory aspects of our life. Our experiences are like white dots on black paper, and like constellations, we have to decide where and how to draw the lines.

The act of waiting defines us more profoundly than the object of our waiting. It has been more meaningful to me to wait for mangos that never come, or to wait for an ending without trumpets and fireworks... and still more meaningful are the people that i have experienced this year with, other teachers and friends: waiting, keeping our eyes up and interested, concerned with the morning sky.

Photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2142511&l=59826&id=29705820