You Read What You Sew

January 12, 2011
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The blank page has been a constant companion over the years, its only decoration often a pulsing bar at the top of a wash of glowing, snowy whiteness, waiting for me to catch up as I ponder over how to dress the sheet before me. I have reasoned with various pages for hours on end, the two of us trying to agree on what exactly they should wear. Many wish to remain cloaked in a blanket of white or retain their neatly lined and ironed outfits at first. Others want to wear a poem or a story right off the bat. The occasional eccentric allows me to drape him in polychrome dress with assorted objects and trifles littering the suit we fashion together. There are the adventurous types who insist on being bold, the airheads who require double and triple spacing, the orderly individuals who insist upon being numbered and prefer lists as clothing. Some are soldiers and require bullets. The expressive orators demand emphatic underlining. The stylish ones love backgrounds and color. I have happened upon literature teachers who tut-tut when I use fragments and calculus professors who demand I justify. Musicians are for some reason partial to symbols. I once happened upon a philosopher who would only allow me to clothe him if I filled the top of his outfit with empty text boxes and the remainder with aphorisms, insisting that he must always be shown thinking outside the box.

My favorite part is always the friendly debate we have over what font would serve as the best trim. A chef I was conversing with was given Alfredo. The soldiers I mentioned earlier tend to receive Bazooka. A clown who specialized in beach parties in a former life got Comic Sans. An elderly man needed Eyeglass Extended. A Roman once told me to get with the times. I had no trouble finding the perfect font for him.

Playing tailor to the many blank sheets that come my way is not always as easy as it might seam. The trouble sets in when I meet a page who simply does not wish to be filled. These are they who are content with who and what they are and do not wish to withstand the ordeal of having hundreds or thousands of words invading the space that they have called their own for their whole lives. Sometimes I sympathize with them. Other times we argue, me attempting to covertly sew together a few garments of sentence and them repeatedly driving my own needle backwards in reverse pattern, deleting their unfinished clothing. I find it best to try to work with each new sheet I happen upon in the hope that we will leave on good terms and they will be cordial and well-mannered to whatever fashion critic reads them. I ask the difficult ones a little about themselves: their likes and interests, if they miss their ream, and the like. Once I figure out a bit about them, we can usually reach an arrangement, find a font they like, and, together, construct an outfit.

Finally there is the issue of modesty. Some pages are so modest that they insist on being completely clothed, top to bottom, margin to margin, and having a cover page to boot. Others are moderately modest and are satisfied with a low-cut garment. But then there are the extreme personalities, those who refuse to have anything but the essentials covered. For instance, one young adult insisted, despite my protests, that he be clothed only with the centrally-located, 2 point font unmentionable “existentialism.” The fashion critic was so disgusted by his lack of modesty that she did not even accept it as my submission to the class fashion show. My protests that the page would wear nothing else and originally wanted to wear nothing at all to get his point across were met with stern glances and shaking heads.

The “writing process,” as some unimaginative instructor once titled it, is a conversation. Each page that comes along is an individual and has to be treated as such. When I was first starting out as a tailor, I had the audacity to try to put what I wanted on a page without consulting him. I tried to put a research paper on what was obviously a sheet who wanted to wear word art, and I will never forget how awkward that poor page appeared after printing. The fashion critics like pages who speak to them, and, as everyone knows, nobody unhappy with what they are wearing will be very talkative at all. Thus, the conversation must begin between tailor and page. Perhaps that’s the problem with the clothes sheets go around in today: their fashion consultants have forgotten their job. There is no such thing as a writer in my book, or at least that’s what my book tells me. The page knows what it is, where it should go, what it needs to wear. It tells me what it needs to look like, imagines everything. Each has its own personality and makes sure I make clothes that reflect it. I know no writers. I am no writer. I just make the outfits.

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