Paper and Ink, Skin and Blood

The Christmas lights encircling my bed cast an incandescent glow onto the delicate newsprint as I tenderly run my fingers over the subtle ridges formed by the blue ink.  Paper and ink.

The biggest changes in my life have appeared via paper and ink.

Illustrated stories that whisked an insecure little girl’s imagination into other worlds.  A tattered copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X from a small town library.  An acceptance letter from a university that would wrench wide the doors to a vast unseen world.  Divorce papers.

Anna handed me this copy of ha wan pao in a dingy Indian restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.  The waiter was attempting to impress us by reciting my exact order from a week prior, but I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the cover of this little… object.


ha wan pao no. 6 cover

ha wan pao is a monthly paper, curated by Anna Gleeson, about people who make beautiful things.  Whether they’re making comic books, tofu or shoes, what they have in common is the quiet pursuit of excellence. “Ha wan” (下環) is an old name for Wan Chai – the Hong Kong neighborhood where the project was born.

It’s a beautiful thing about beautiful things.  Subtle simulacra.

ha wan pao no. 6 centerfold

As we live in an increasingly digital world, I understand the dismissal of the smell and feel of books as old-fashioned and destined for extinction.  But…

Instead of killing physical books, ebooks have actually encouraged a new level of fetishization of the printed page.

The attributes that ebooks don’t do well or at all – heavy paper stocks, bookmark ribbons, book plates, artful typography, metallic foils, and stunning, colorful covers – are being implemented in what many see a new flourishing of the mass-produced book arts.

(Why E-books are Inspiring a New Age of Print on Huffington Post)

Even as I consider releasing an upcoming non-fiction book as only an e-book, I can’t avoid developing a serious crush on everything that Visual Editions publishes.

Composition No. 1 by Marc Saporta, published by Visual Editions

Even as a semi-nomad and possession-shedding-minimalist, I cannot escape the allure of paper and ink.  Of the six boxes of belongings that I moved last week, three contained dog-earred and highlighted books.  Those books radiate evocative memories.  They are the stalwart friends who are always waiting for me to return.  They are reflections of all the stages in my personal evolution.

ha wan pao no. 6

This little newsprint magazine created by a single thoughtful artist in Hong Kong elicits the same wide-eyed voracity in me that beautiful picture books did when I was in kindergarten.  However, the swishing sound of newsprint feels less nostalgic than it does… alive.  This object lives as we do.  It is not a mere display of information that can be clicked past or closed.  Even if I toss this amalgamation of paper and ink aside, it will still exist all the same on the floor, on the shelf, in the trash.

Within our grasp, paper and ink becomes living skin and blood.

What can we do with this transmutational power?

ha wan pao no. 4


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