Sunday, February 13, 2011


As you know I’m spending more time at the office on weekends. Partly because I'm peevish, partly because I'm digesting the recent changes in my life.
Savage Kitten broke off our long-time relationship half a year ago. I've accepted that, and am moving on. But I still haven't fully come to terms with the fact that I am now a single man again.

It isn't the easiest thing to do. I haven't been a free agent in years.
How should I proceed? Women have changed since last I looked.

It's nice and quiet here. I have a few pipes at my desk, in case I want to go outside for a long smoke break. Tins of tobacco. Tea. Aspirin.
A stuffed armadillo, a life-like plastic lizard, small wooden monkeys, and a cheerfully smiling Totoro-chan. Toys. Magazines. Rubber bands.
Plus books.

My cubicle is a home away from home.


Subversion as Foreign Policy, by Kahin & Kahin.
The Abu Ghraib Investigations, by Public Affairs Reports.
Mahabharata, by Rajagoplachari.
Beyond Belief,  by Elaine Pagels.
Book of J, by Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg.
Everyman's Talmud, by Abraham Cohen.
Webster's New Geographical Dictionary.
Complete Guide to Credit and Collection Law, by Winston & Winston.
2002 Supplement, Complete Guide to Credit and Collection Law, by Winston and Winston.
Head Hunting in the Solomon Islands, by Caroline Mytinger.
The Message of the Qur'ān, by Muhammad Asad.
Emes ve Emunah - A Sfas Emes Companion, by Nosson Chayim Leff.
Igrois Pinky - Responsa and Other Scholarly Writings of Rabbi Pinky Schmeckeldtein, SHLITA.
Dictionary of International Trade, by Edward G. Hinkelman.
Rand-McNally Premier World Atlas.
The I-Ching, by Wilhelm / Baynes.
The Roots of English, by Robert Claiborne.Dictionary of Word Origins, by John Aito.
Nederlands Etymologisch Woordenboek, by Jan de Vries.
Chinese Characters - Their origin, etymology, history, classification and signification, by Dr. L. Wieger, S.J.
558 Easy-to-use Chinese/English Dictionary of Words and Phrases, by Edward PH. H. Woo.
Far East New Epoch English-Chinese Dictionary - The Far East Book Company.
English/Chinese Dictionary of Accounting - Wan Li Book Company Ltd.
正草隶篆四体字典 ('jeng chou dai suen sei tai ji-din') - Shanghai Bookstore Press.

That last item requires a little explanation. It's a dictionary of script-styles, with the main emphasis on the lesser-sealscript variations of the characters, which is of primary use to both the philologist and the calligrapher, specifically the seal-carver.

Chinese seals are often highly individualistic, reflecting both the sense of line and balance of the artist as well as the taste and education of the person who commissioned the seal.

To clarify what I'm on about, here is a close up of several entries on page 141 - all characters have the hand radical on the left side.

The modern form of the character is at the top of each cell, intermediate and calligraphic forms in the middle, and the oldest versions at the bottom of the cell, showing the shapes standardized in the era before brushes where used.
At that time the script had moved beyond divinatory markings carved on tortoise shells and cow bones to rounded characters painted onto bamboo slats with a type of felt-tip - a reed with a wick leading to an attached ink reserve. Once the fine-tip brush was invented, certain curves were no longer easy to make, but writing speed was enormously improved. Inevitably more fluid forms of the characters developed, and the two script styles co-existed for several centuries before finally the brush versions became the official standard.

When the Loma Prieta earthquake happened I was working temporary jobs through an agency. Immediately after the quake business dried up somewhat, and making enough money became a struggle. One day a friend whose father is a talented calligrapher asked me to make him two seals.
I was carving them at a coffee shop the next day and five more people requested seals. Over the next year I carved a few hundred chops, mostly for Chinatown customers, although several commissions came from Caucasians and Japanese-Americans.

Here are two seals with which I marked ownership of the above mentioned dictionary:

Early work, but maybe not too bad. Rather like drafting.

Seals are used to sign one's name, to identify a collection of books and paintings, or even to assert authorship, authenticate documents, express a particular mood.
Many people have several seals - correct personal name, literary name, nicknames, studio and book room names, even quotes from favorite texts.

The material is not very expensive, if you don't want chicken blood, longevity mountain, or mutton fat - those stones are much more pricey, and the Japanese and Taiwanese buy the best ones. For daily signature purposes the Japanese use wood or ivory chops, but stone reflects the calligraphic ability of the craftsman much better.

Perhaps I should bring in some stones and carve on weekends.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


e-kvetcher said...

I have "Everyman's Talmud" - that is the only intersection with your list.

How much do you charge for a "seal"? Just curious...

The back of the hill said...

" How much do you charge for a "seal"? Just curious..."

Since I no longer need to do it for rent money, not very much. If a stranger were to ask, it would be cost of material (usually between $10.00 and $100.00, assuming that a reasonable stone were decided upon rather than an expensive show-off lump), plus cocktail money.
It's variable.

Friends, starving students, witty people, bloggers whom I read on a daily basis - cost of material only.

Nowadays I only do Chinese characters, though - reproducing LLC logos and 'meaningful' personal glyphs like that of the artist formerly known as 'prince' is not really rewarding or interesting. It's too much like doing a tattoo on somebody using their own design.

Search This Blog


Several years ago I had a coworker down the peninsula who would leave work related voicemails on people's answering machines all weekend...