Week 2: Domestic Partnership, Talking to Journalists, Unfinished Projects

I took a mini-vacation with my partner this past weekend, and read Michelle Obama’s memoir in those two days. It has been weeks — maybe months — since I read a book from cover to cover, and it was nice to do that. This had little to do with the book itself. It was nice enough, but a little too feel-good for my liking. Still, there is one thought from the book that has stuck with me. The mismatch between how Obama and her husband’s (see what I did there?) understand time. When he would say “almost home” or “on my way,” it would not be “a geo-locator but that rather a state of mind.” That is the story of our home.

A domestic partnership between two ambitious people is not simple. We both like to believe that we are less ambitious than we were, say, a decade ago. And perhaps that is true. But there is still enough ambition going around to make things tricky. Sometimes I see couples who work together and feel a twinge of envy. I know this is a case of grass is greener on the other side, but it feels simpler that way – you can travel for conferences together; late nights, when they happen, are a collaboration; and you can help each other out. All the problems we face seem magically solved. Type design and public policy are not obvious, or easy, bedfellows. The simple differences in our personalities and work, which enrich our everyday lives, sometimes also feel like exasperating obstacles in eating a home-cooked meal together at the end of a day of hard work.

Last Tuesday, there was an article about unconventional walking tours in Delhi in the Times of India, and my typography walks were included in the list it carried. In the last few years, I have started to feel a real dread when a journalist writes to me with a request to speak to me or cover my work. It wasn’t always like this. I remember feeling quite thrilled the first few times it happened. I was younger, easily excitable, and seeking more validation from the world than I do now. The excitement and delight has now been replaced with the anxiety of talking to a stranger; the effort that I have to make to feel prepared to talk about my work coherently; the anguish of clearing my schedule for this preparation and the conversation at short notice, while fervently hoping that the person I am about to speak to is punctual; and finally, the fear that the resulting story will be botched up in some way, particularly that they will fail to include the name of a collaborator. Thankfully, this story turned out ok, even though I am already unhappy about how I put forward a particular point. I recognize that a lot of this is my own neurosis, but some of it, I believe, stems from a desire for things, whether it is my work or words written about them, to be more meticulous, exacting and useful.

There are times when it feels like I spend my days under the overwhelming weight of unfinished self-initiated projects. This sense of un-productivity, especially with regard to them, is always acute at the end of the year. To make things worse this time around, a few months ago I decided that I would use my days off around Christmas and New Year to finish a self-initiated project that I had started way back in 2011.

Now that the last week of 2018 is almost upon us, I cannot help but feel a bit lethargic as well as at least a little too distracted by other similarly unfinished self-initiated projects. From the outside, it looks like I am rather good at this sort of thing. Two years ago, I resolved to read hundred books in 365 days, and did it. The year after that I drew the Devanagari letter “ka” in a different style every week. This year I launched an online archive of street lettering from India, finished the 36 Days of Type challenge, and ran four editions of two different type walks. Whenever someone asks me how I manage to do so many things apart from work, I always find myself at a bit of a loss. I might look like a success to them, but by my standards I am always behind.

In an interview I gave over the summer, I was asked the same question. My answer, if I recall correctly, was two part. One that finishing projects, especially self-initiated ones, requires a great deal of discipline, planning and sticking to schedules. Two that it is ok to realize that a project you started a while ago is no longer of interest to you – not all projects need to be finished. Both good ideas, just difficult to implement.