On Sunday I work in sans serif.
Boldface for all the headers, because that's what the client wants, apexes and vertexes flattened way out into big floors and tables for every letter, each one stretching and counting and demanding to be seen.
All caps, not because she's into shouting—at least I don't think, though one time I saw her husband give their toddler a drink of his coffee and the look she gave him probably made all his beard hairs fall out within twelve to twenty-four hours. No, I think it's because she doesn't like anything falling below the descender line. She wants it all on the level, no distraction, nothing that'll disrupt her focus or pull her eye away.
Black and gray ink, that's all she'll stand for, and she means it. One time I widened the tracking and added a metallic, a fine-pointed thread of gold to the stems, an almost art deco look I thought for sure she'd tolerate, but when she opened the journal—black, A4, dot grid, nothing fancy—she'd closed it after barely ten seconds and slid it back across the table with two fingers, the sleeve of her black cashmere sweater obviously part of the admonishment.
"Meg," she'd said, "I don't pay you to be decorative," as if being decorative was the same as being a toenail clipping hoarder or a murderer-for-hire.
She's a sans serif kind of woman.
Me? Well, it's not really the Mackworth brand, all these big, bold, no-nonsense letters. It's not my usual—what was it The New York Times had written last year? Whimsical? Buoyant? Frolicsome? Right, not my usual whimsical, buoyant, frolicsome style.
But I can do anything with letters, that's also what The New York Times said, and that's what people pay me for, so on Sunday I do this.
I sigh and stare down at the page in front of me, where I've used my oldest Staedtler pencil to grid and sketch out the letters
M - A - Y
for the upcoming month, big enough that the A crosses the center line. It's such a . . . such a short word, not a lot of possibility in it, not like my clients who've wanted a nice spring motif before their monthly spread, big swashes and swooping terminal curves for cheerful sayings ushering in the new month. Already I've done four Bloom Where You're Planted's, three May Flowers! and one special request for a Lusty Month of May, from the sex therapist who has an office on Prospect Park West and who once told me I should think about whether my vast collection of pens is a "symbol" for something.
"Other than for my work?" I'd asked, and she'd only raised a very judgmental, very expertly threaded eyebrow. The Sex Therapist Eyebrow of Knowing How Rarely You Date. Her planner, it's a soft pink leather with a gold button closure, and I hope she sees the irony.
Now I pick up my favorite pen, a fine-tipped Micron—not symbolic, I hope, of any future dating prospects—and tap it idly against the weathered wood countertop that's functioning as my work surface today. It's quiet in the shop, only thirty minutes to close on a Sunday. The neighborhood regulars don't come around much on the weekends, knowing the place will be overrun by visitors from across the Bridge, or tourists who've read about the cozy Brooklyn paperie that Cecelia's managed to turn into something of a must-see attraction, at least for those who are looking to shop. But they're long gone by now, too, bags stuffed full of pretty notecards, slim boxes of custom paper, specialty pens, leather notebooks, maybe even a few of the pricey designer gifts Cecelia stocks at the front of the store.
Back when I worked here more regularly, I relished the quiet moments— the shop empty but for me and my not-symbolic pen and whatever paper I had in front of me, my only job to create. To play with those letters, to experiment with their shapes, to reveal their possibilities.