Dissing type – round one

“The key to type distribution is your mental state,” writes Clifford Burke and he could not be more right.

I have come to realize at this middle stage of my life that I have always been afflicted with some mild form of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I know it is cliché to throw this disorder around, but there it is. I remember in high school I had one teacher, a brilliant and terrifying Anglo-Egyptian, a giant of a man, who would practice his cricket throws with the chalkboard brush on those of us whose eyes glazed over in class, which mine did repeatedly. “AHAH! A sticky wicket!” (The subject was Economics, but I was pretty much the same in all my classes. As you might imagine, I was not a stellar student).

Over the intervening decades, I have found ways to subvert my distracted nature, but not eliminate it. For example, while writing this blog, I have wandered away from the laptop four, perhaps five times to think about all sorts of interesting and useless things. For repetitive, mindless tasks, I have found (intelligent) talk radio or, more usually, an audio book makes the day flash by, with productivity that would astound the Governor of the Bank of Canada. But when writing, or setting and dissing type, I can’t have that noise.

When I’m just smokin’ at the type case, I can dis 120 to 130 words plus all associated spacing material in an hour (about 15 lines of type set on 20 pica slugs, or a line about 3″ wide). That’s slow, but it’s up from last year when it was under 100 words.

What do I think about when I dis type? Well, I have to make sure that the right sorts find their way into the right fount, or section, in the type tray. “Mind your p’s and q’s” – (A is for aphorism). I could add to that lower case l’s and upper case I’s, u’s and n’s, and d’s and b’s. Then I’ll be dissing the word practice and wander off in a reverie about the spelling of practice and practise, and suddenly wonder if the word I just dissed had been spelled correctly, and what would customers, booksellers, and critics think of a big fat typo in the middle of the first page. What would I do. Drown in drink. (Probably). Try to reclaim all the copies and reprint. (Not likely). Suicide by crushing myself under my press. (What would be the point?). And how would I lift the press to position myself under it, anyway. I’d need a collaborator. Who the hell would do something like that. One could get injured trying to assist a suicide under a 2,500 lb printing press. And it does weight that much, which has meant that any reorganization of the studio must be done around the press and in spite of it. It’s the unmovable object. That’s Zen, man. What is it with religion these days anyway, and why has the world become so mean and tight, and …. Oh, yeah, dissing. Well, back to it.

See. I’d be fired on my first day in the composition room.

To please the Governor of the Bank of Canada, I have adopted some practices to help increase my productivity. I used to scorn the conventional method of dissing, that of placing an entire line of type in the left palm, and distributing with the right, in favour of picking up a single word off the galley, reading it , pinning them between thumb and forefinger and then dropping sorts into sections kind of like a computer robot arm, but with less precision and economy.

More recently, I have returned to tradition and found two interesting things: one, dissing the letter rather than the word is less distracting. The second is a bit bizarre, but it works for me. I know the California job case like the back of my hand, but I still seem to suffer lapses when dissing, pausing trying to remember where the ‘r’ goes, for example, and that causes a break in the rhythm, which leads to a gap which starts me thinking about … well, you get the point. While my right hand is returning to the left to retrieve another sort, I look at the letter. Lower case ‘g’. In the space of time that I’m pulling the sort out with my right hand and bringing it up, I try to picture ,in my mind’s eye, where exactly the sort goes in the tray, then I place it there, and repeat.

It means, for me, at least, having to think in the gap between depositing a character and picking up a new one. Closing that gap with cerebral activity seems to have reduced somewhat the distracting and time-consuming noise of nonsense in my brain. Others may do this by rote; I have to force it. All this may sound amusing to you geniuses out there, but imagine trying to do your work wearing glasses with kalidescope lenses and some friggin’ monkey banging cymbals behind your head. That’s my lot.

Caffeine makes it worse.

842 ordinary words. I’ve blown the better part of an hour writing them. <sigh>

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3 Comments on “Dissing type – round one”


  1. Omar Sharif Vernon El-Halawani!


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