Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Interlude About Real Life

The first weekend in May, I flew home to MI to attend a graduation ceremony and party for Jake's younger brother Caleb. Jake had decided, somewhat reluctantly, to push back his original move date from April 28 so he could attend; I told him that I wanted to as well. I've known Caleb almost as long as I have Jake (a little over 5 years now) and probably saw him almost as often, considering we worked together for close to three of those years. I pretty much love him like my own brother -- he can be both a pain in the butt like a brother and a great friend/confidante. (Am I the only one who thinks of the Golden Girls theme song when I hear the word "confidante"?)

So, I arrived in Saginaw around 9:30am Friday morning and spent the day with Jake; we joined my parents and sister Janessa for lunch then spent a couple of hours at our old hangout spot, the Red Eye. I have to say, Saginaw is getting quieter and quieter. I still run into plenty of people I know but their numbers are dwindling. Not long after I moved (and even shortly before) people started leaving -- for other cities and other states -- and a good portion of those that remain are talking about doing the same, at least idly. It occured to me over the summer how strange it is that, while unfamiliar places can become familiar, the opposite is also true. That night I drove Jake and myself home from The Scottish Inn and quickly became all turned around in the roads near there. Granted, Saginaw city's roads have always been somewhat of a cluster; they aren't gridded properly because of the river and a great number of them curve sharply or stop and start or end altogether. But I used to know my way around pretty well. Fortunately Jake wasn't actually in bad shape and played navigator for me.

At our Scottish Inn party that night (for which the event page on facebook was titled, "Rachel's Visit/Jake's Exodus") I was reminded of just how good a friend group I've left behind. The number of people who continue to attend these events when I visit home has certainly dwindled over the past couple years (as people have moved away and/or on with their lives), but the ones that do show up are quality people.

But they didn't just come for me; Jake's not much of a party planner but despite the last minute announcement, several of his friends, co-workers, and 2/3 of his brothers came out for the evening. I got some great pictures.

Saturday's graduation ceremony and resulting party were both well-attended; delicious ribs were eaten (at the party, not the ceremony), bocce ball was played (not by me, sadly, though by watching I now understand the premise of the game) and more pictures were taken.  We had a fairly quiet evening, expecting to be on the road sort of early Sunday morning; in true Jake fashion though, the car wasn't cleaned out until then and it took a couple tries to pack everything in tight enough to fit all of it (including a cat box for our reluctant feline traveler). He did it, though (2000 Ford Focus = surprisingly high capacity for stuff-holding) and after one last stop for coffee and a bagel at the Red Eye, we hit the road around one pm.

A little over 10 hours later, after a relatively uneventful trip, we arrived in Baltimore, unloaded the cat, and unpacked the car. And thus, I have acquired a Jake. At a week and a half in, we're still working out some logistics but have otherwise been successful at co-habitating. We've even managed to explore a couple of places in the city together that I hadn't been to on my own yet.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Finished Product

 (or, the Last Post I Make About the Pianos Already, I Promise)

The night before my pianos were due, I posted a picture on Facebook of what I thought then was the finished product. They were bound, glued, painted, and glazed; in a written reflection which was to accompany them, I predicted that I'd spent about 40 hours collectively on them. This was not counting drying/setting time or computer time (for laying out the inside pages). Looking back, this might be a little high, but for about two weeks I spent a few hours nearly every day on them, so I'm probably not far off.

The posted picture garnered over 40 comments, about half of which came within hours of posting and a couple which expressed interest in buying a piano. I was a little dumbfounded by this -- people actually wanted to pay money to have one of these? I'd been thinking a little about price anyway, as part of the assignment, and was thinking somewhere in the $25 range. This seemed low to me, but I couldn't imagine people would pay more than that for one -- being handmade, they weren't without flaws: small gaps between the covers and the piano body; the black keys cut to different sizes, etc. But Jake convinced me that, based on the amount of effort alone, I should price them higher than that (plus, he said, they were "really awesome," which I guess I mostly agreed with). So I offered them at $40. And my prospective buyers still wanted them.

The "finished" pianos

Now that purchasers were involved, I started looking at them a little more critically (despite my goal to finish them Wednesday night). As I was handling the books, I noticed that in one of them, the wire binding was... broken. I repaired it that night, replacing the wire with some thin elastic (which was really a much more suitable material) but didn't rebind the pages to the back book cover, figuring I could use the broken wire to hold the elastic in. I called it a night and went to sleep.

The next day I ended up rebinding the other two books, which had the same issue (you'd think I'd have known better than to use a slightly-discolored wire spool that had spent an unknown number of years in a box). I also rebound the first book yet again, taking apart the book cover so I could assemble it properly (attaching the elastic to the remaining wire still left too much stretchiness). Fortunately the end result was worth it, despite the fact that I had to re-cut, repaint and reglaze the spine. And while touching up one of the covers, I ended up dumping glaze on one of my favorite pairs of work pants (again, you'd think I'd have known better). At that point I quit while I was mostly ahead, only to realize that in my haste to get the glaze upright and on the table, I'd spilled a string of it onto one of the other pianos. SO, I had to sand it off and reglaze it after the presentation that night. I was really tired of them all by then.

At school, the pianos were very well-received. People seemed to really enjoy the fact that they could actually touch them and pick them up (I worked to purposely make them nice and sturdy). After the reception, the professor collected a copy to grade, and asked me if she could keep it afterward. I told her that I'd already sold two of them (the second one was claimed that afternoon) and was planning to keep the third; she said that she was willing to outbid another buyer if necessary. I was amazed that she wanted one that much. So I told her she could have the one I'd planned to keep; I could just make another. And with that I'd sold all three pianos. So, the above picture, taken before they were rebound with elastic, is the most recent shot I have of them. But I fully do plan to make another, plus an extra that's just a box without book pages inside.

I really enjoyed having a project like this to work on (though I probably wouldn't have done three of them at once if given the choice). Someone joked that I should make other instruments now; I told them I actually was considering trying a cello that opened up or something. I might still. I just need some more cardboard boxes... time to eat a crapload of cereal.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What are you doing here, anyway?

I don't know if I've actually said anywhere on here what it is I'm doing in school. I mean, I've stated that I'm working on an MFA (in creative writing and publishing) but nothing more detailed than that.

I was just wading through my archives, as I'm wont to do from time to time, and noticing some holes in my life-story coverage. So:

I'm just about done with my second year here. Since I've only been taking classes part-time, I'm finishing in four years instead of the anticipated three. And while I thoroughly enjoy the program, I feel like a lot of the experiences and opportunities I've had outside of my classes have been what really makes this whole adventure worthwhile (apparently this is common). I've also pretty much decided that anytime I move to a new city, I need to go to school there, because that seems to be the best way to meet people and get involved in the city.

Anyway, some statistics: there are about 30 students admitted to the program each year; 10 each for poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. In my year, we had people from Michigan (me!), Indiana, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. It's a 48-credit program which requires us to complete an internship as well (something I've started thinking about but haven't pursued yet).

So far I've taken a couple of poetry workshops, a creativity class (called "ways of seeing"), a literature seminar, a typography class and a class detailing the methods and processes of getting published (sadly, I've forgotten most of what I learned in that class because I didn't have anything ready to send out for publication).

This semester, I'm taking an Experimental Forms class and a Literary Publications (Lit Pub) class. The latter is the one I'm making the ridiculous(ly awesome) piano books for.

The assignment is to make an unconventional book whose form somehow fits the content. The less traditionally book-shaped, the better. I sat and pondered ways to make a book shaped like a tree for awhile, but then while laying in my bed, looking around my room for some other form of inspiration, I spotted my keyboard, leaning against the wall near my closet. Stream of consciousness led me to grand piano, and thus my final idea was born.

My first mock-up

The lid of the piano opens up, revealing the pages of the book. I've written various poems and musings that somehow relate to music, so I pulled a few of those together for the content. I also made this nifty music note thing for the cover page (yet another example of my astounding progress in Illustrator):

My first mock-up, which is now largely disassembled, consisted mainly of cardboard from a Cheez-It box. The newer, more presentable versions are cut from book board and use far-superior cereal box cardboard (actually, the only advantage of the cereal box is that it's longer and thus requires me to cut fewer separate pieces). I'm using wire to bind the pages and tacky glue to hold everything else together.

I'm pretty proud of how well the design is working out so far (and of how good I'm getting with my box cutter). The only real issue I've had to work out is how to attach the legs to the bottom of the piano: attempts to nail them down ended up spltting the wooden legs apart. But I think I've arrived at a solution for that involving wood glue.

My progress as of a couple days ago: pianos in the front, in varying stages of completion; covers in the back left and pages in the back right.

We're supposed to create some type of display for them and mark them for sale (or with a sign that says, "Not for sale"). I'm not sure how I'm going to approach that yet.