"A moment of realization is worth a thousand prayers." - Mickey Knox, Natural Born Killers
We're bookmakers. Often, we're asked if this is a full-time job. The response that usually sums up all variations on definition of the term "job" is that we're two hundred years too late to make a living as a bookmaker. Usually this retort gets replied to with a chuckle and we're able to move on to more interesting matters such as the actual content of the books at hand.
As bookmakers of books that it's unlikely one has heard of, unless one has heard via word of mouth, a glowing review of something we've done, we occasionally venture forth from the bookhaus (which sounds glamorous and old and ought). From bookhaus to bookshow that allows the opportunity to cloth and cover tables, hang pages and covers in bird's eye views, and most importantly to interact with the world in ways of words.
There are shows that are art shows and often we're overlooked because it is rare that books are considered artistic and we also do comic books which seems to disqualify in many eyes. There are craft shows at which we're overlooked because our handmade books are too artsy. There are comic book shows where most folks are looking for Spiderman and Superman and cool toys and we're that strange "indie" in the corner. This latter was our most recent experience.
A few weeks back we set up a table at the 3rd Annual ComiCONN - One of two very large comic book shows in Connecticut. Shoppe set up in a conference room of a Marriott in Trumbull, the doors opened and the red carpets were flooded with X-Men (and women), G.I. Joe characters, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the obligatory cadre of Stormtroopers, and so many more amazing outfits (which is a far better term than "costume").
There were also hundreds, and then amazingly thousands, of folks who weren't dressed up but were there with full-on enthusiasm. This is a moment then to, as they say, give a shout-out to the organizers of the event, who did a fantastic job when their show was happily invaded by probably double the expected audience.
For our booth, every moment is a moment to talk with somebody, hear a story and tell a story in return. We're not hard sell types. Maybe if we were attempting to make a living at this we'd try to fill the hands and backpacks of each and every, but instead...the interaction is golden. Our books tend to go home with the hopes of those who need to see words living in ways that all of the Kindle and iPad adverts lead us to believe they are on life-support. That "old book smell" that we know and love so well? That's really the book-hospital odor of decaying spines and the elder tales passing into the aether. Or so the liter-digerati would have us believe.
We spent much of the day talking to an amazing couple - she running the high school newspaper, he working at a cemetery. We talked words, books, futures, charity, and it constantly amazes me how much more involved today's youth are than we were. Going to the South to rebuild homes post-hurricane? I don't think any of the folks around our cafeteria did such things at seventeen.
There were those who were writers, wanting to know more about being published. There were artists who talked about all they had illustrated but had no portfolio. There was the new stream of folks who see the term "publisher" and believe that term to mean that they send their book and we print it. Apparently "publishing" is now mostly (mis)understood as "self-publishing".
We laughed with folks as they talked about their favorite tales. We watched folks marvel that there are folks who still hand-make hundreds of copies of books. We smiled on the rare occasion that somebody reached into the wallet and took one of our textured beauties home. Amazingly, we sold barely a comic book this day, but sold many of our literary journal, Garbanzo.
As often happens at an event like this, folks will come back around multiple times, wanting to browse everywhere before deciding to combination-unlock the bankroll and dive in to a lifetime commitment to
having a tale in their mind. That's something that ten thousand books on a digital-reader can never solve - the ability to look on a shelf, pick up a much-tattered and warmly-memorized tome, and to be inspired to read again. For that's really it, isn't it - a book is an experience, and thus we build our books in a manner that one must truly interact with them - rather than hold them open with a coffee mug. But that's a digression.
The girl's father didn't look happy to be there - mostly he skulked with his tattooed cowl of scowls. The girl's mother was dressed as Wonder Woman in her later, not so glamorous years. Her brother dressed as Wolverine. The girl was in a nearly-neon green dress and was apparently some character that this writer's media intake is too old and outdated to have familiarity.
The family wandered past at least four times. Later in the day, she and her younger brother, stopped in, having finally escaped the shackles of the 'rents.
"You're the ones who make the handmade books, right?"
She walked into the booth (for we do not set up and sit behind a table - we push back our tables and make a space into which one is invited - see the photos) and the explanation started.
"Which one should I get?"
"What are you interested in?"
At this point the brother, dressed as Wolverine, and who couldn't have been more than nine or ten says -
"She likes things with violence."
To which the sister, probably thirteen or fourteen replied to Wolverchild -
"No, that's what you like."
After a bit of back and forth, in which she stated that she writes poetry, we decided that a copy of Garbanzo - forty three authors, poems stories essays lyrics - is what fit the interest.
She asked the price, the price twenty dollars, and she reached into her purse and pulled out a wad of one dollar bills.
"This should be twenty."
"You have it counted out?"
"Yup." She puffed up. "I am very careful with saving my money. I get twenty dollars a week for allowance."
She counts the stack and sure enough there are twenty Washingtons, after which the stack is kaput. To this, her brother is rather dismayed. He exclaimed -
"But that's all of our money."
"Oh no. I have plenty more where that came from." Her brother smiles and the topic of concern is relieved.
But then the air got sucked out of the space as she turns to me and says -
"My parents say that I'm a Jew with my money."
"That's a horrible thing to say."
"Well, they're just joking."
And that's the usual excuse for so many things in this world - sorry, just joking - don't really mean that thing that we said that piggy-backs stereotypes or, more importantly, is the seed of hatred. For stereotypes all begin in the actions of a few - but it is the reverberation of that belief cast as a blanket across all of a given color, creed, religion, belief, lifestyle, that suffocates the soul by invigorating the dangerous minority of those whose self-control doesn't have the stopper-cork that their explosive wine-bottle ought.
Even a joke can incite a riot.
And this is where the moment of truth has to come in, to play without fear. Catching her eyes, the only acceptable words came tumbling out -
"There is no joke in saying something like that. There is nothing but hatred."
Giving but a moment repose the next words to the Girl -
Walking over to our handmade journals, also priced at twenty dollars, each a textured cover with a silver or gold lotus leaf on the cover...
A bit confused and a bit startled afterwards, she whispered -
"Here, this is for your poetry."
A decade ago, while working as a traveling technician for CompUSA, there was a call made, at which address the parents spent the entire time screaming back and forth at each other while these hands dug around inside the pesky computer. Two kids, not all that different in age or cadence as these two, stood watching the repair with a look in the eyes that couldn't be translated as anything other than, "Please take us away from here."
Yeah, the idea of stealing the suffering away, a great escape, certainly passed through the mind...but the reality of it - what then? What next? Eventually the feet carried out the door but the memory is burned burned and etched vividly into the cortex.
"When you've written something you really love, send it to us for Garbanzo."
Art, bedraggled and de-budgeted, argued and ridiculed, incited and insightful, it is the equal and opposite reaction to darkness. It is creation. It is hope. Let there be light.
It takes but a gesture. An offering. A slight shifting of the way things are supposedly supposed to happen. Like a handmade book for instance - they are truly, still, and forever, possible.
May we, each of us, whether bookmakers or not (for we are all storytellers - at that there is no doubt) provide the moments when enlightenment is there for the grasping. For the death and rebirth of the phoenix is every day in each of us if we're willing to be shaken to the core. Sometimes, it takes but a gentle gesture.
The payoff is obvious and doesn't need to be overstated - that each time she opens that book to write, she remembers the conversation, transcribed and shared, here...and becomes something more. This is why we do what we do. Stories as epiphany.
May it be some of the best twenty dollars ever unspent.