Archive for March, 2006

In Case of a Water Landing, This Scroll May Be Used as a Flotation Device

I like to think of myself as a pretty fearless individual. Spiders, heights, public speaking – none of these things elicit appropriately anxious reactions from me. My parents brought me up to be able to Deal With Things, be it piano recital, entrance exam, beehive, or untended outhouse. I climbed mountains and flew hot air balloons; I rode rickety ships into the ocean to look for whales and braved Walmarts on weekends to shop for groceries. Nothing phased me.

As I grew older, however, something strange happened: I became afraid of deep water. It started out small and manageable, just a twinge of discomfort when I saw a picture taken under the surface. Almost before I had a chance to process this new sensation, it had metastasized into a full-blown phobia. I can’t explain where this fear came from. It predated a scary snorkeling trip, but postdated a bad swimming pool experience. One day, water was just water; the next, it was poison to my mind.

Living in Boise, I didn’t have much personal contact with the object of my horror, but there were nevertheless plenty of opportunities for me to face my fear. Movies and television were the worst. I found myself physically unable to watch entire portions of Titanic and The Phantom Menace (no real loss); an entire subgenre of my beloved disaster movies suddenly became unbearable. The camera slipped beneath the waves, and suddenly I was there: unable to breathe or navigate, being pulled down into the dark, cold, alien-infested tomb of the deep.

Water, particularly the ocean, has a mysterious pull on me. When my creativity goes stagnant, only a boat ride on a sparkling lake or a stroll through a downpour will revive it. Every couple of years or so, an unshakeable malaise sinks into my soul; its only cure is a pilgrimage to the northwestern coast. I go to the ocean to find God, and God is there – massive beyond comprehension, powerful beyond perception, mysterious, beautiful, and utterly, heartbreakingly terrifying. Standing on the edge of the ocean, I feel the fear of an ancient people faced with the visage of a vengeful god. My fear fills me, exhilarates me. Before that fear – before the ocean – I am so small, so fragile, so temporary. And so very, very alive.

It’s a very strange juxtaposition. A fear as irrational as this requires an equally irrational treatment, and so I decided to make an Ethiopian scroll to protect me from the horrors of the sea. My first challenge was to find an appropriate primary medium. Initially, I wanted to make my scroll on waterproof paper. Ultimately, I decided that the uninteresting appearance of that paper, despite its special properties, did not justify the cost of ordering it. I then thought about making my scroll on lifejacket fabric, or out of the shell of a raft. I know better, though; my medium is paper, and anything else was going to be a frustrating construction disaster. While shopping for a roll of white paper to dye blue, I found a roll of handmade navy paper, flecked with blue shades, which looked like it had been custom-made for my project. I cut it very narrow with visions of eels, tentacles, and seaweed dancing in my head. I also wanted it as small as possible in reference to how small I felt in comparison to the waters.

For the graphic components of my scroll, I searched for online images of nightmarish sea creatures. Evaluating dozens of octopi, sharks, eels, jellyfish, and fish for printability and horror-factor was one of the least pleasant experiences I have ever had in college. Some of the images actually made me physically ill. In the end, I selected three pictures that were not only horrifying but symbolic of the irrationality of my fears. The fish in my pictures (angler fish, dragonfish, moray eel) look like man-eating alien monsters, but are in fact either so small that they could do very little harm to a human or dwell so deep that most humans would never encounter them. I cropped, resized, and touched up the pictures, then printed them on white vellum on a color laser printer. Next, I picked three pages out of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea that contained graphic descriptions of suffocation and sea monsters. I scanned and printed these pages onto ivory cardstock and cut them out as backing for the fish photos. Finally, I sewed the photos on the pages using heavyweight fishing line. (Word to the wise: sewing with fishing line is a pain in the neck.)

I decided to write something vaguely poetic for the textual components of the scroll, judging that use of rhythm and semantic devices would prove effective in eliciting some of the emotions I was experiencing. I started in a half dozen different directions, and finally came up with two different texts. While the first had some very good lines and images, I ended up choosing the second. It is written in the style of a prayer, which I thought was appropriate for a protective scroll. Additionally, it has a more concrete rhythmic structure, complete with iambs and trochees, which seems to elicit a singsong or sea-chantey effect. Each stanza of the poem has seven lines for good luck and for the seven seas. I chose to handwrite my poem to make the scroll more personal, to tie it closer to me as my outermost skin.

For purposes of balance, I placed the graphic and text components relatively close to one another near the center of the scroll. To fill the empty spaces at either end, I added “scrapbooking pebbles” – or, as I prefer to think of them, bubbles (perhaps the bubbles of a drowning book artist!).

I was lucky enough to find red alphabet pebbles with which to spell out my name. The end result was a bit bloody, but not at all inappropriate given the many dire fates that might await me in the nightmare world of my phobia.

The finishing touch of my scroll was the hanging hardware. I wrapped the top of my scroll over an inexpensive snorkel, strung fishing line through, and secured it with a bobber large enough to symbolize a buoy. The buoy keeps my scroll – and hopefully me – afloat and out of harm’s way. At the other end, however, I’ve grounded my scroll with two coins. They serve a practical purpose in weighing down the bottom of the scroll, and a symbolic purpose as a reminder of the rites of death. Finally, I utilize a water wing – reassuring if largely illusory flotation device – as the scroll’s holder.

From a practical standpoint, I feel that my scroll has some problems. The combination of rigid plastic bubbles and stiff squares of cardstock prevents me from rolling the scroll as tightly as I would like or from rolling it around the snorkel. The cardstock has been bent and curled by the rolling process, and doesn’t adhere well to the paper. While I did manage to get them to stick using double-sided tape, the red letters did not want to stay on the scroll at all. I am also somewhat concerned that all of the brightly colored “props” detract from the ominous tone of the scroll.

That being said, my estimation of the scroll’s overall effect is very positive. Over the course of sketching plans, hunting supplies, sewing through paper and hand-lettering text, I found myself giving my phobia a lot of thought. I’ve come to realize that I created my scroll to protect me, not from the ocean itself, but from my fear of the ocean. I’m not statistically likely to die a sailor’s death, but I allow a foundationless hydrophobia to affect my landlubber life. Creating this scroll was an almost meditative experience that forced me to face, evaluate, and address that fear. I don’t know that I’ll be able to watch shark movies or evade a predestined appointment in Davy Jones’ locker, but I feel a certain amount of much-needed objectivity and sanity returning to me.

Photo #1 taken from Wikipedia. Photos #2, 3, and 10 taken by my mom, Bonnie Hoffman. Photos #4-8 and 11 taken by me, and Photo #9 taken by my husband, Ryan.

March 12, 2006 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

Diagnosis of Lycanthropism: A Pocket Field Guide

Last night I submitted my first bookwork for my Defense Against the Book Arts class. The assignment was to create a book in the “hidden room” form; this is a one-sheet folded book with a surprise in the middle. We are supposed to stay very conscious of the relationship between form and content in this class, and so properly utilizing the hidden room in our book is very important for our grade.

I decided to use my hidden room book to explore a topic I find pretty fascinating: lycanthropism. This disorder has been the focal point of more than one story I’ve worked on, and is an engaging subject for research and speculation. I’ll include the text of my book in this post, so that you can learn a little bit about it yourself. (And yes, there will be photos at the end. :))

Lycanthropism (also called lycanthropy) is an extremely rare disorder characterized by a unique combination of physical and psychological symptoms. It is estimated that fewer than 1% of Americans suffer from this disorder; statistics indicate that these numbers may be higher in other countries, especially eastern Europe, and among certain Native American populations.

This disorder is distinguished by its unique 28-day cycle, much like the human mentrual cycle. Patients are completely symptom-free for 21 days; symptoms begin to manifest on the 22nd day, reach their peak on the 24th o4 25th day, and gradually decrease until they are completely dormant by the end of the cycle. As in the menstrual cycle, each patient has his or her own schedule. Interestingly, females with lycanthropism typically suffer from amenorrhea.

Patients of both genders exhibit the first symptoms of lycanthropism in early adolescence, usually coinciding with the onset of puberty. This and other indications lead many researchers to conclude that lycanthropism is a disorder of the hormonal system; however, no known human hormone has been shown to have any similar effect in test cases.

Psychological symptoms include loss of speech, diminished inhibitions, and drastic and uncontrollable shifts in personality and mood. Behavior becomes erratic and reflexive. Patients experience claustrophobia and often become destructive in their efforts to escape closed-in areas. In some cases, patients have become violent.

The physical symptoms of this disorder are striking. Patients experience significantly escalated growth of facial and body hair; both male and female patients suffer this hirsuteness. Nail growth is likewise escalated. The heart rate and temperature of the patient increase as well. Many patients experience contractions of the back, shoulder, and leg muscles, causing them to assume an exaggerated hunched posture.

There is no proven cure for lycanthropism, although research suggests that regular doses of colloidal silver, administered directly into the bloodstream, may counter some symptoms and halt the progress of the disorder. However, this treatment can be fatal and should be carefully considered before attempting.

To create my book, I started with a 12″x12″ sheet of cardstock in a speckled blue color, vaguely medicinal in hue. Most hidden room books are created using 8.5″x11″ paper, but I liked the long vertical feel of the larger paper. To create the actual book, I first used a blade to score the paper into eight equal sections (necessary for tidy folds in cardstock). I folded the paper in half horizontally, unfolded it, and refolded it in half vertically, making hard creases each time. Keeping it folded in half, I then brought up the ends to meet in the middle and creased, creating an “M” fold. Next, I used a blade to cut along the fold in the middle of the paper, creating a six-inch-long slit and facilitating the hidden room. Finally, I refolded the paper to create the book structure itself. This created a book that was six inches tall and three inches wide, as opposed to the usual 4.25″x2.75″ structure wrought from a letter-size sheet of paper.

The front cover reads Diagnosis of Lycanthropism: A Pocket Field Guide (a publication of the American Psychological Association).

In addition to the blue cardstock, I used a sheet of plain white cardstock, some overpriced silver (“paper metal”) stickers in geometric shapes, and a sheet of plain “vellum” paper. (Trivia: real vellum is a writing surface made from the dried and scraped skin of a fetal goat. The stuff at scrapbook stores is just really cool paper, not really vellum at all.) I printed the text of the book on the white cardstock and cut it into rectangular pieces approximately two inches in width. I then placed the text blocks in a staggered pattern on each page and used silver blocks to create graphic interest.

I used small round stickers for pagination. The following picture shows all of the content pages of the book, and somewhat demonstrates the fold structure of the book.

I wrote my name and the copyright date in an obscure corner of the book, and then put my initials on the back cover just in case.

So, if you’re actually reading at this point, you’re probably wondering what the heck is up with all of the “hidden room” nonsense. (If you’re really observant, you may be wondering where that aforementioned sheet of not-really-vellum comes in.) You see, the idea is that there’s something hidden, something beneath the surface of the text — between the lines, if you will. And when you grab the ends of the book and give a gentle tug, the true meaning appears!

That’s right, ladies and germs. Lycanthropy is just a big ole fancy word for your basic werewolf-ism. (Therianthropy is the general were-ing into animals; lycanthropy is wolf-specific.) On the inside of my book are two creepy werewolves, caught mid-transformation, printed on vellum and attached in such a way that they kind of pop up when you open the hidden room. I got the werewolf art from this guy; given more time, I might have tried to come up with some of my own artwork (ie, convinced Meredith to do it for me).

I’m not 100% happy with my end result. I think that it turned out very well, and very close to what I’d envisioned. I didn’t get to incorporate the fur (which is okay), and one of my silver stickers went on a bit crooked, but that’s all okay. I’m mostly just concerned that it’s too safe, not edgy enough, not unexpected enough. After all, it doesn’t really make any sort of statement of social commentary, nor does it reveal some sordid detail of my past or a deliciously exotic secret of my present. It’s not really personal at all. It isn’t funny, it isn’t taboo, and it isn’t risky.

What will my professor think? I don’t know. He’ll be emailing us with comments and tentative grades in the next day or so, and I’m pretty much expecting a B on this one. It’s good — there’s nothing wrong with it — but it’s not great. (I sound like Randy Jackson.) The nice thing about this class is that if I get a grade lower than I’d like, I have until the end of the semester to revise and re-submit it. In fact, I can ditch this effort entirely and go back to the drawing board with a whole new concept.

Next week, we’ll go to class and see all of the hidden room books laid out in a line from least effective to most effective (in my professor’s esteem). All names will be covered up. We’ll then get to examine them, see what other people did that worked, argue for or against works’ placement on the spectrum, and perhaps even have our book’s estimation (hence grade) improved by the professor. I’m excited to see what other people did — there were some very interesting looking books being turned in — and I’m excited to see if anyone likes what I did.

Let me ask you this. When you were reading the text of my book, did you catch on? If so, how early on in the reading? Were you bored out of your gourd? Were you surprised by the contents of the hidden room? Did you think it was too wordy? Was it effective? Did you learn anything? What, in other words, did you think?

March 1, 2006 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

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March 2006