Posts Tagged ‘“Designing with LibreOffice”’

A few years ago, I posted a recent picture of myself online. I only meant it as a placeholder until I could get a better one, but I got busy. The picture became the social media equivalent of those dusty cars that strangers write, “Wash Me” on, and one acquaintance even offered to shoot a better one for me. It was only a few weeks ago that I realized that, with my book, Designing with LibreOffice, coming out, I needed something more professional, and arranged a professional shoot with Sara Paley Photography. It turned out to be one of those surreal experiences that pop up in my life from time to time.

Because my book used pictures from the Sun Yat-Sen Garden, to draw an analogy between feng shui landscaping and typography, I wanted to get the photos of me from the same location. However, Vancouver was in the rainy season, so finding a suitable day was difficult. Once, we tried to squeeze the session in during a break in the clouds, but I forgot to tell the photographer that the Garden is next to a public park, and we wasted time waiting for each other in different places. I also found out that I now needed a permit to shoot in the Garden – and that, naturally enough, since it was a Sunday, the person who could give permission was not in the office.

Ten days later, armed with a permit for an hour, we tried again. As I had suspected, the garden was a natural place to shoot, with arches and doors and windows, even trees and rocks, to frame shots naturally. Moreover, Sara was such a thorough-going professional that I soon lost my sense of the ridiculous as I tried to follow her directions for positioning myself.

What we hadn’t counted on, though, were the people.

To start with, when people see you posing for picture after picture, they immediately assume you must be someone. As I posed for shot after shot – which is much harder psychologically than I would have expected, and, to a much less degree, hard physically as well – I was constantly being distracted by people lingering as they passed, staring to see if they should recognize me. The idea was ludicrous enough to make me want to giggle.

To make matters worse, halfway through the session, the Garden was invaded by a day camp of about sixty eight or nine year olds. No sooner would we get the shot set up than the children would troop two by two between Sara and I, staring at both of us. I would try to hold my position but the children were not rushing, and at least twice, I couldn’t.

When I couldn’t, we would line up the shot again – just in time for the kids to return the way they had come. Again, giggles were a clear and present danger.

And again.

And again.

Somehow, we persevered, and the results were satisfying, even if my first reaction was to wonder how I had grown so old, and when my cheeks had become so chubby. But the process itself appealed to my sense of the ridiculous in ways I hadn’t expected.


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Shortly after 4:35PM on Saturday, March 28, I finished my manuscript for “Designing with LibreOffice.” It was the end of two years of work, stolen from my efforts to make a living and from my leisure time, as well as the start of the next stage in bringing the book to market.

At eighty-thousand words, the manuscript is the largest I’ve prepared since my master’s thesis twenty-five years ago. This time, no lightning strike directly overhead took out my hard drive a few weeks before a critical deadline, but other obstacles impeded me instead. Unlike with my thesis, I couldn’t take the time to do nothing else until it was done. Grief, repetitive stress injuries, and bad knees took their toll, dragging out the writing far beyond what I had expected.

Then, too, I confess there was mission creep. I was aware of the problem, having tried to write a book on OpenOffice.org over a decade ago, only to lose the control of the scope, but it happened again anyway. This time, while I wanted to avoid too much detail, I soon understood that,while I started only with the intention to explain styles and templates in LibreOffice ,the exercise would never serve readers unless it also explained typographic conventions and standards.

Fortunately, having worked as both a technical writer and a graphic artist, as well as a free software writer, I was well-positioned to write such a book.

However, the form it needed took a while for me to understand. What I wanted to write was only partly a technical manual. It was also an explanation of typography, mixed with advice about how to – and how not-to – use LibreOffice. Finding the voice and structure for all these aims was much harder than the physical act of writing, which is why some of the chapters only took their right form in my third draft.

I finished, tired and satisfied, and smirking just a little at having overcome everything when I finished sending the last of the files to my editor. Had I been living with someone, undoubtedly we would have gone out to dinner and so to bed, but instead, I floated vaguely around the townhouse, imagining vast panoramas of spare time opening around me in the days to come.

That won’t happen, of course. Next comes the corrections requested by my editor, the selection of the cover, and the building of the concordance for the index. At some point, too, I have to divide into small sections to sell separately from the hard copies of the entire book (the downloads are free). Already in the past two days, this new stage is starting, so I feel like I am at the tip of the crest, feeling the roller coaster starting to tip inevitably downwards.

Time now to disengage from the book, to re-frame it in my mind as no longer mine, but an object to prepare for others. Time to lose the ego’s perspective, in which criticism feels like an attack, and to become detached and business-like.

Still, even as that next stage begins, a sense of accomplishment lingers. Not the meaninglessness of self-esteem, but the sense of accomplishment of having finished not only a long project but one which very few other people have the background to do.

I suspect it won’t be another twenty-five years before I write another book length manuscript. Possibly, I may begin a new project by the end of summer. Meanwhile, I’m going to surf the crest of the wave of accomplishment, believing for a while that I’m not so useless as I sometimes believe.

Will the return to reality will feel like toppling headlong into the waves and losing all sense of direction? Probably. But for a moment I’m standing tall, doing handstands on my board, waving to those stuck on the beach.

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