A lone a last a loved a long the

I done me best when I was let. Thinking always if I go all goes. A hundred cares, a tithe of troubles and is there one who understands me? One in a thousand of years of the nights? (627.13—16)

The keys to. Given. A way a lone a last a loved a long the (628.15—16)

James Joyce

Spark Box Studio in Prince Edward County, Ontario
Inside Spark Box’s letterpress and silkscreen print studio
Finnegans Wake set in metal type
Settings from Finnegans Wake in metal type

On May 24th, 2018 I was back in Ontario following the unexpected passing of my father-in-law Eric McLuhan — a loss all of us still feel acutely. But on that particular day I found myself at Spark Box Studio in Picton, a short drive from my brother-in-law Andrew’s home at the time. Owners, Crissy and Kyle were kind enough to offer up the run of their fabulous studio to complete a small letterpress piece as part of the funeral proceedings.

Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was a hugely important book for Eric, and remains so for anyone studying his and his father’s work. Like Marshall, Eric had several copies, each filled with handwritten annotations and marginalia. Because Andrew had been his father’s close working and travel companion for many years — he knew its significance and selected two passages for us to print as a keepsake for family and close friends.

I hadn’t hand set type in a few years and it was a nice reminder of how challenging it is, and also how fulfilling it is to work with your hands. Pulling type from the case, setting it backwards and upside-down, all the while hoping letters were filed in their right space. The worst part for me was that I had to borrow Andrew’s reading glasses to really see what I was doing — an acknowledgement (or maybe resignation) towards my own slowly weakening eyesight. Too much time in front of a glowing rectangle…

Seeing these photos again a few days ago made me pause to think about so many gone unnecessarily or tragically from the world this year — including unresolved losses close to home, like the final pages of a book torn out and missing.

Joyce’s words bring some comfort in that they appear to be an ending, yet are a continuation — transporting the reader instead to a different beginning.