The last day of bookbinding class was a little grueling: I had two books to finish, or else . . . or else they just wouldn’t be finished. A copy of Candide that had been formatted for us, and the structure for a children’s book I wanted to make.

For the most part I loved bookbinding. I love precise measurement, nice paper cutters, linen tapes and sewing. I love designing book covers. Also, I love making something be as time-consuming as possible — it’s harder to making the spine round? Well then that’s what I’m doing! We can make endpapers out of acrylic paint, cellulose, sponges, extra paper and glue? Sign me up!

grey open
Grey Journal

Candide head
Silk Bookmark in Candide

But I hated glue.

I hated that it dried, whether I was ready for it or not, I hated that it got all over my hands and that as soon as it was all over my hands it was all over my book and once it was all over my book that was it, the book was ruined. You do a lot of prep work before any gluing happens, and the glue was always the stage at which I began cursing, losing bone folders, smearing things on my pants. Your covering paper is perfectly cut, and then you paint glue on it and it’s curling on itself, getting glue all over the table and then all over the book and then your book is ruined. Your hand-made endpapers are burnished and shiny, sparkling with gold paint and green forest leaves — then you paint glue on the back of them and they wrinkle, rip, warp.

Which is all to say, I am determined to tame you, glue. You will do as I say. It will be clean and tidy. Next workshop.

Full album with all five books here.

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Six Characters, Five Books, An Ending

The last day of bookbinding class, it was just me and the Odd Guy.

“I saw other students signed in, upstairs,” I offered to our teacher, who was tapping the corner of a metal ruler on her workbench with a perplexed look on her face. “At like, 8:10. They got here really early. And then they left, I guess?”

“Maybe they’re having a nice breakfast someplace. Oh well. We’ll get started without them.” She sighed. “So, go ahead and get to work, and just let me know if you have any questions.”

Our teacher reminds me of the friends I had when I did lights and sound for the plays in high school. We’d sit in the dusty booth in the back of the auditorium, in sweatshirts and tattered Chuck Taylors, chortling and gossiping about the actors on stage. My friend Katy was usually in charge, and I was consistently impressed with her tech vocabulary. “We’re going to need to order some new blue gels,” she’d say, brow furrowing. “Maybe lower the scrim for scene 2. And could you grab three fresnels from the crypt?”

The Odd Guy reminds me of no one I have ever seen.

He’s tall and hawk-nosed, with a gait like Frankenstein, a ring of wispy black and silver hair encircling his pale skull. Rumor has it, he’s taken years of bookbinding workshops. Any time he speaks it comes out like a forced moan, his dying words. “Could you . . . show us . . . how to use the sewing frames?” Hweeeeeeee. He wore plaid button-up shirts with sleeves that were just slightly too short, hovering above the wrist bone. Every day for lunch he brought back a sandwich wrapped in white paper, a large Pepsi. He would eat at his workbench staring straight ahead, chewing slowly, carefully, always grimly silent. I sat across from him, all chaos and attempted jokes. I used to like silence, too. What happened to that, anyway?

“Where is my bone folder?” I would cry, as glue dried below my frantic hands. “I can’t find my bone folder!”

“Did you throw it away?” our teacher would suggest.

“Well I certainly hope not, for Christ’s sake, I was only just using it and I’ve been very careful not to –”

“Here it is, in the trash. It was wrapped in your waste paper.”


The Sweet Librarian Girl Who Drank Coffee and Ate Almond Macaroons Every Lunch would titter, then smile and tell me it was looking really nice. The Nice Enough Dude With Tucked-In Shirts was all business, an occasional booming voice, Ha Ha, Am I Right? The Quiet Girl worked diligently, sleepily, snuggled into her hoodie. It was 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday, after all, and we worked in the basement, the dry warmth from the woodworking machines from the rooms next door floating in on waves. The Stylish Russian Woman was nearly always missing.

The Odd Guy would never look up, at any of us.

We all worked at different paces. But every time I looked at what he was doing — and the rest of us were looking around constantly, trying to gauge our progress, trying to figure out the next step — I could never make sense of what he was working on. It turned out, he was always a step ahead: we’d learn about what he was doing next Saturday.

“You know, I’m going to go look for them,” our teacher said. “I have an idea where they are. I’ll be right back.”

Where would that be? I wondered.

The Odd Guy and I shuffled about, wiped PVC straight glue off our hands with paper towels, boned down the super/crash/mull and pulled linen tapes through. Sapphire fabric, forest green, golden linen, magenta. I created a copy of Candide with handmade paper I’d found the week before, a silk ribbon to glue along the spine as a bookmark.

“I am clearly losing it,” our teacher would say fifteen minutes later. “I know I saw Allison walking around the North End this morning. But so far no luck. Can’t find anyone. ”

“She signed in,” I would reply. “At 8:10, fifteen minutes before me.”

“Where could she have gone? Where is everyone? This is nuts.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Well. As long as you two are the only students here, is there anything in particular you wanted to learn from this class? Some tutorial I could give today?”

“Could you . . . show us . . . how to use the sewing frames?” Hweeeeeeee.

“Sewing frames! Absolutely.” She ran off.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the Odd Guy in a sudden rush of emotion. Maybe we would become friends. Maybe I’d have someone to talk to for the next eight hours. Maybe I wouldn’t leave today with a creak in my spine and a twitch to my eye — Good Lord, if we could just listen to music or something, it could be anything, I just can’t take this much freaking silence — “I’m kind of a mess. I’ve taken over nearly this entire table. My God, I can’t find anything, you know?” I smiled tenuously.

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look up. What the heck was he doing over there, anyway, it looked crazy. We hunched over our text blocks, wiped glue off our hands, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

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Pah Rum Pumpum Pum

This Christmas I was (am) very poor. To be fair, I’m one of those annoying people who doesn’t have to be poor. I work part-time from home, and home obviously doesn’t have to be one of the most expensive cities to live in. Over half of my income goes to rent; a tenth of my income goes to my ritzy yoga studio membership. Legitimately-poor people don’t get yoga memberships. But if I can’t eat it or learn from it, I can’t justify going further into debt for it, and somehow I’ve never been happier.

I wrote to my family members in November, asking for help buying the ticket home.

As you’ve probably discerned I’m low on income this season/year/lifetime(?), so I was thinking about getting craftsy this Christmas in lieu of spendy. Is there anything in particular you’d like knit (mittens! socks! pom-pom hats!), written (odes! sonnets! college entrance essays! greeting-cards!), web-design’d (headers! blogger account set-ups! social-networking presences!), radio’d (radio!), baked (pumpkin bread! cookies!), or created in some other handy fashion?

If there’s one thing I have, it’s time. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s glitter glue.

The following two months were a little intense, with their share of 5am finishing touches. But also, super awesome. Suddenly I was off the internet, catching up on episodes of This American Life and The Moth, learning how to divide heels and add stitches. I was doing things with my hands. I guess I’d kind of forgotten I had hands.

Scarf for Jan (Larger and other view.)

Story for Dad (Larger and other view.)

Collage for Paige (Larger and other view.)

Socks for Mom (Larger and other view.)

The whole experience got me thinking. A friend of mine works at the North Bennet Street School of craftmanship, and in December they were having an open house. She invited me to stop by.

And now, suddenly, I work in their gallery once a week, selling student work and supplies: the tiniest saws you’ve ever seen and a million different chisels and awls and clamps and ninety-dollar chrome rulers. The majority of the supplies we sell I’ve never seen before, couldn’t tell you how they could be used. The other day I was tittering in the back room, dusting what appeared to be decapitators while Italian opera merged from the speakers overhead with the alarming, muted buzz of wood-sanding two doors over. I’m trading my time, organizing safety goggles for a cloth-case bookbinding course in February.

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