April 12, 2011

Ad Fontes

by Ingrid Pruss

I cannot explain the motivation but can certainly capture the glee of the late January morning I committed to purchasing a file of 50 designer fonts for Windows 2010. It was a snow day. Though I hate shopping, the pleasure of this online purchase was deeper and purer than the hot pink pashmina I dreamt of wrapping around my shoulders all winter long, having saved five dollars a week for the past eight months in the hopes of having it by Easter Sunday. But there was something more mysterious and tempting about the black shadowed letters with their tiny hooks of ALGERIAN, a quality infinitely more seductive than a cape could ever be, something that lent an erotic air of authority a soft, bright shawl could never confer.

I was enamored of 50 choice spices, fragrances, hues, fabrics, textures, moods, cloaks in which to watch my words parade across the page; it was like having my own private fashion show or a grown-up version of Barbie and Ken or, as I imagined it, Camille Claudel and Rodin whenever desire dictated.

Sitting at my desk, the font choices loaded on MS Word 2010 making me feel like the proud owner of the complete box of Crayola crayons–the one that-included-gold-and-silver-and-a-pencil-sharpener--the long, sleek, expensive box Mom said I didn’t need because I wasn’t really an artist. Having these fonts, however, I could confer the title artist upon myself and have the opportunity to live up to it.

Add to that the choice of colors from kelly to forest green and fuschia to lemon yellow, and I wondered if any piece of writing would ever be finished or if I’d defer the end so I could revel in the process of trying on as many outfits as possible on every single word, just to see how they looked – taking them off the hanger, zipping them and unzipping them, buttoning and unbuttoning them, and hanging them back up -- comforting myself with my mother’s false promises about ice cream, “the novelty will wear off” which has not happened yet.

The carefree confidence of capital letters in AR BERKLEY, extended my identity just as I imagined a coveted Mont Blanc fountain pen might; it gave me a wild but sane sensuality as if wearing a black felt fedora, with a large red ostrich feather perched on its brim, to run errands about town, looked respectably eccentric instead of brazenly crazed. There was something tucked-in yet laissez-faire about its boldness, a quality rather like Herrick’s kindled wantonness.

The scripted fonts set my language free, allowed the syllables to sound their way out of my body fearlessly, as if my words needed a costume for safety, a disguise for immunity, similar to an author’s nom de plume. Though this made no rational sense, it was liberating. How strange that a simple typeface could create such wind for my words to set sail on, but if you glanced at Vivaldi, you’d see the amplitude of its simplicity. So I pared down all the phrases I made as hiding places and stared down the small square of space that scared me – the truth of my place on this planet, even more miniscule in this galaxy, Perspective is everything, and when I saw it, I knew who I was, where I fit, and how everything would fall out of its place ultimately, so I sat and fleshed out my words, letter by letter in flagrant celebration of imperfection, homage a la vida mortale.

I wanted these 50 fonts more than a Renaissance-bell-sleeved velvet dress or over-the-knee red suede button-up-the-side boots. I wanted them more than sparkling rhinestone shoulder duster earrings or a Weiss aurora borealis headlight-style antique brooch. I would wear the fonts far more often than anything in my closets or drawers.

And these highly stylized files of ink could dazzle me into believing myself a member of the belletristic benevolent writerly aristocracy long enough to redeem even the most abject poems and prose from the depths of my own darkest censor.

(Photo by Barry Lipman)
Bio: Ingrid Pruss teaches English at WCSU (4/4), and has published in the JAISA, the George Herbert Journal, Violence Against Women, and Quay. She's been teaching 26 years, 22 at WCSU. While her specialty is 16th and 17th century British Poetry, her passion is to teach students to develop their own imaginations, to create their own de-familiarizing images. and to think for themselves. She asks all her classes to make multimedia projects with visual and verbal images in addition to writing papers.