What Sam Made: Words to live by

With a little help from e.e. cummings. Like, he wrote it.

One day when Mr. Torres* and I were grabbing coffee, I glanced at the local newspaper and let out the sort of Ugh that’s inspired by something wrong in a major headline.

* (He is no longer Mr. Torres, but he was when this happened, so I’m sticking with it here.)

“How do things like that register so fast with you?” he asked, amazed. “It’s what I did for almost two decades,” I replied. “I can’t un-see them.”

It took me a longer time to learn how to disregard them. “I’m afraid to send you text messages because I think you’ll make fun of any errors and judge me,” my sister told me once. When I told her that outside of work, the meaning takes precedence over the message content, she was dubious: “You’re trying to tell me that you don’t see mistakes when you’re not on duty?”

“Oh, I definitely see them,” I admitted. “But I’m not keeping a log or anything. I’m just happy to be getting a message from you.”

I still haven’t figured out how to disregard my own errors. How long do you think it will take for me to finish this post? My guess is two days†, because I’ll need to go back and screen for readability, and ensure that each word conveys the appropriate tone. Disregard, for example, doesn’t mean to ignore, but rather to consider something not important enough to pay attention to.

† (Answer: As predicted, two days.)

I do the same thing with texts, with emails, with Facebook updates … (Smarmy Bastard has called me out more than once for posting, then deleting, then reposting a better version.) But things that have been polished to a high gloss often lack a different type of allure — the OMG! pop‡ of the unexpected, the delight that can come from spontaneity. If you work too hard at it, sometimes you polish the beauty right off, leaving you with a shine but no sparkle.

‡ (“Delight”? No, too trite. “Whimsy”? That sounds cheesy, like country kitchen-ish and adorned with toilet paper cozies. How about “OMG pop”?)

So I’ve long held on to this excerpt from an e.e. cummings poem, as a reminder not to be so tightly protective about only showing myself at my best. I’d always wanted to make it into a print, so I could confront it head-on every morning.

Last week, I finally did. After asking some art directors and friends about places that could print to canvas, the winner actually ended up being Costco — I designed the file in Illustrator and converted it to a high-res JPG, which allowed it to be treated like any other photo.  The final product, a 30-by-30-inch square, should arrive Thursday, according to FedEx.

WHAT SAM WORE: 4-24-12
The shirt: Cotton button-down by Ted Baker Endurance,
from the Ted Baker store in New York.
The pants: Slacks by Ted Baker, from the store at Scottsdale Fashion Square.
The shoes: Loafers by Rockport, from Nordstrom, Scottsdale Fashion Square.

4 responses to “What Sam Made: Words to live by

  1. I love that this is what you needed the printer recommendation for. Very cool.

  2. I try to triple check everything I send to editors…I just know they will see something wrong in what I wrote. And on a similar note, I notice (and cringe at) every single image that has lousy Photoshop work, or every tiny printing error in a magazine…for for some reason, I get them all the time!

  3. Smarmy Bastard....

    The REAL question being how long it took you to design the file in Illustrator and how many days did you go back and manipulate it till it was ‘perfect’…… 😛

    • Sam Mittelsteadt

      Well, if you count from my first attempt to accomplish this, by printing it on large-scale paper, then tracing the letters onto canvas and filling them in with paint — shaky-hands FAIL — then about four years.

      But if you mean the computer document, then a week. I tried a bunch of different typefaces and sizes — should the words be different sizes? what are the most important words, then? — before I went classic B&W, in the same typeface I used for the 2011 holiday disc covers.

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