Cartoon of a handbound book

When I was at Loyola University, I took a bookbinding class. It was time-consuming, meticulous, repetitive, immensely frustrating, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. But I loved it, and it was probably my favorite class of my undergraduate career.

In bookbinding, you measure, re-measure, and then measure again to be sure. Every movement matters: the direction in which you glue paper to board, the precise threading of the binding, the stillness of your hand as it holds the paper in place when the blade comes down to cut it, as well as each fold and surface the paper is placed upon. Any miscalculation is more consequential than seems apparent at first; it’s humbling to learn how much one fourth of an inch can fuck you up. As an English major, I spent the majority of my time in my head, wrapping my brain around things I couldn’t touch, constructing arguments that existed mostly in abstract space. But when binding a book, my hands eclipsed my solipsism. My only thoughts were about measuring, folding, cutting, sewing.

I don’t particularly like holidays, and New Year’s is no exception. It’s easy for me to get caught up in all the things that haven’t changed or have become actively worse. But I think this time of year is about committing and recommitting, about asking yourself who you are and what you want. The hope is that with each new, albeit arbitrary passage of time, that answer sharpens and becomes less terrifying.

I often hear cries that someone, somewhere, should do something—this, that, X, Y, Z. It’s easy to wish and hope that things will magically complete themselves, that you’ll wake up to a clean house, a body of work, a new world. But a lesson I learn repeatedly is that the only way things get done is by doing them, simple as that. So in the spirit of the season, I’m committing, and recommitting, to doing the things I want and the things I must. I’m committing to keeping my mind and hands curious, to finding an appropriate balance between my cerebral and tactile responsibilities.

I am committing to cooking. When my hands are covered in oil and spices I avoid every bad thing the internet has to offer me on a given day. I am somewhat of a novice in the kitchen, but I’ve come to love it. Enthusiasm and commitment to improvement go a long way. I am committing to journaling, each morning putting pen to paper. I am committing to learning to play chess; I have a friend who is willing to teach me. I am committing to reading, to listening, and to asking questions. I am committing to you all, to New Orleans—to measuring, re-measuring, and measuring again each step forward to be as careful and meticulous as possible. And when I find myself circling my own brain, drowning in abstract arguments, I am committing to releasing power back to my hands. May we all find the appropriate head-hand balance in order to do the things we want and the things we must.

January 2023 cover by Tyler Rosebush

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