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25 July 2008

We saw an odd play on Friday.  It was called The Typographer's Dream by Adam Bock.  When it was over, I heard some people asking each other "What in the world was that all about?"

It's that kind of play.  But I really liked it and gave it a good review (which hasn't appeared in print yet, so I haven't posted it on my review blog yet).

It's a one-act and the setting is a stage set up for a panel discussion.  Three people -- a typographer, a stenographer and a geographer are there to discuss their respective jobs.  I won't go into the review itself, but each character is so passionate about his or her job that it leads the audience to ask "am I my job?" and to wonder what sort of effect the job has on your life.  (E.g., a geographer is concerned with boundaries.  Are boundaries important in her non-work life?)

However, the reason, I think, that I enjoyed it so much is that while I have not been a geographer (though am married to someone who loves maps), I have been both a typographer and a stenographer and I could really relate to the pride and the joy that those two characters took in their work.

The stenographer (or "court reporter," he reminds us several times) carefully handles his court reporting machine, setting it up for display on the table in front of him.  He explains its intricacies and says that "Those who can't quite achieve the necessary manual dexterity can always become surgeons."   He expresses great pride in his role in court proceedings.  (An interesting article about how a stenotype machine operates is here.)

I have never been a court reporter (though there was a time, especially when I worked under a school that taught court reporting when I thought it would be a fun job to do).  Today I watch closed captioning on television and marvel at the people who tackle that job, occasionally giggle at the mistakes that they make, but understand the pressure to do simultaneous translation from voice to type.

But I've always enjoyed the tools of my trade.  I started out in my first "grown up job" on an IBM in the days before selectrics.  I was required to type complicated physics equations and so had a bunch of exchangeable keys and a big board on which they all hung.  In many ways, for the kind of work I did, this was actually more efficient than when the Selectrics came along with the interchangeable typeface ball. 

fingernails.jpg (59116 bytes)But then came dedicated word processors and I actually got hired to work in the office because I was the only person who could figure out how to do troubleshooting on them.  (It always boggled my mind that the women who came around trying to sell us a word processing system all had v-e-r-y long, highly polished nails.   How in the world do you type with nails like that?)

I did eventually, of course, graduate to a computer and haven't looked back since.  I've always loved knowing how these gadgets work, and even when I'm tearing my hair out because they are causing me such problems, I still take great pride in how much I am able to do before I throw up my hands in frustration and call an expert to help me out of my difficulties.

type.gif (13207 bytes)As closely as I identified with the stenographer, I really related more closely with the typeographer.  From my sophomore year in high school, when I was the sophomore editor for the yearbook, I have been "aware" of the mechanism of placing type on a page, of choosing the right typeface (or at least the typeface that appears right to me). 

Typographers make great scrapbookers.  Your joy in the placement of type and the design of a page can run full tilt.

I don't print a lot of stuff these days, so I don't shop for paper all that much, but I used to love to walk through the paper section of any office supply store, looking for the right weight, the right brightness, the right feel.  I always bought the heavier 22 lb weight of paper and was thrilled when they came out with 24 lb paper at roughly the same price.  I liked the "heft" of 24 lbs and was willing to pay a liittle more for the feel of it, even if the people for whom I was typing couldn't tell the difference.

I love having more than 600 different fonts installed on my computer and whenever I'm making a title page I scroll through them trying to figure out which one speaks to me for that particular title.

And though I suspect you won't find it in the definition of the word "typographer," I'll bet anybody who loves typography also loves the smell of a freshly printed page, the pages of a newly opened book.  It's a heady fragrance.

And so The Typographer's Dream got high marks from me because I closely identified with at least two of the characters, and because the actors were all three excellent.  Even if I'm not sure I "got" exactly what message the playwright was trying to impart. 


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