Life uprooted, again.

Friday, May 16th, 2008

When a big old oak tree hits your house, it gets your attention. It also focuses your attention on a completely different set of aspects of your life.

As you may have heard, we have been thus refocused. The towering oak between our western neighbors and our driveway fell Sunday night in our direction, and now, at the end of the week, we are, amazingly, back into what’s left of our house, living amidst tarped roofs and zipwalled-off sections inside what is usually a comfortable, familiar home base.

There’s a photo album here with captions that walk you through the process from tree to tarp…we didn’t have much in the way of internet, digital cameras, or iphones back the last time an oak tree felled our home, but boy, we have captured the pixels this week.

So I’m contemplating the mental and physical remnants of the last treefall…as shattered drywall and splintered lumber were carefully extracted from the northwest corner of our house, one of the large 2-by-sixes was clearly labeled “to Sawhorse, Atlanta GA”—the contractors who rebuilt this place in 1991, and who may well reconstruct it for its next seventeen years or so of turbulent existence here in this century. As I box up dining room objets-d’almost-art and drag clothes I will never wear again from our amazingly-intact upstairs closet, I take a census of stuff—how did we come to have this much of it? What do we keep? What do we toss? How stuff-filled a life do we choose in our next chapter?

In many ways, we are so fortunate…much more so than our fellow metro residents (down in Clayton County) who were sent a fresh tornado the same weekend. Much more so than the blue-tarped denizens of Cabbagetown and East Atlanta who are still dealing with the mid-March tornado that wreaked havoc on a line east out of downtown (and they were forced to deal with Sunday’s winds and Thursday’s rain with their houses already crushed and tarped). And so, so much more fortunate we are than the victims of natural disasters in Myanmar and China which struck around the time of our little crisis. Their losses, made much worse by governments who pretend (even more than ours does) that they’re doing a heck of a job even as the side effects of the storms and quakes reverberate and revisit. It’s hard for us to even focus on external events this week, but when we do, and when we see pictures from the other side of the planet, we shudder and are thankful just as you are when you look at our pictures and count your blessings.

So in that fine American middle class milieu we seem to have ended up in, we are indeed fine. And will be fine. And eventually, so will our home.

I’m sure we’ll be the beneficiaries of improvements in construction materials and techniques, and I know we’ll have a better-insulated, healthier, more energy-efficient house when we’re done. It’s gonna take most of the summer.

This is my brain on fonts.

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

helvetica, everywhere

It was particularly wonderful for James, Rebecca, and Brigid to get me the DVD of Helvetica for my birthday. It sat here unwatched, however, “awaiting just the right moment,” until last night, when Sammy and I had a razor-sharp viewing on our fine HDTV screen…even the standard-def DVD looked outstanding.

It was so worth the wait.

There it was, the story of a font as old as I am, the font that seemed so stunningly new and clean to me on the side of NYC garbage trucks and along the multicolored routes angling through Massimo Vignelli’s NYC subway map. The font that probably was my first Letraset purchase, and therefore used in my painstakingly (and crushingly) kerned logo for my high school newspaper-turned-magazine. The font that became the ubiquitous signature of 1970s corporate America. The font that brightened up the sooty Greyhound buses that took me across the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Ohio to New York. The font I brought excitedly to the corporate identity of SuperStationWTBS. And now, the font that greets me in bright Target red when I drive down to Caroline Street to buy toilet paper.

And here were the international masters of modern design and typography discussing their own particular loves and hates of the font that somehow changed everything…and nothing. Kelley’s type teacher Matthew Carter. Gotham god Tobias Frere-Jones. Spiekermann. Scher. Hoefler. Brody. Carson, so many more.

In their self-proclaimed type nerdiness I recognized the pulls I’ve felt since I was first aware there were things called typefaces. I could relate to all their persnicketiness and flashes of ego, their romance with the magic of type on the page and their contempt for all things mediocre (Erik Spiekermann‘s evisceration of Microsoft on the DVD extras is so damn entertaining)…and I especially connected with the moments where they paused, looked aside, and seemed to grasp for greater meaning in something that is ultimately an alphanumeric collection of light and dark shapes…and failed, one after the other, quite to put it into words.

Well, exactly.