Saturday, February 25, 2012

A loss to the senses

Two of my favorite things in life are books and fabric. I can remember how in my high school study hall, held in the library, I was overwhelmed by all the books surrounding me, especially Carl Sandburg's Lincoln series, which I coveted for years until one day, through generous friends, I received my own precious set.  I still enjoy going to libraries and bookstores. I love the smell of books, the feel of my fingers around their edges, the physical motions of turning the pages, the heaviness or lightness of the book in my hands.  I had a friend once who had an intriguing habit of signing his name on the book's page that represented his age when he read it (e.g., if he read the book at age 41, he would sign page 41) for a small bit of personal historical documentation.   Of course, a book's primary purpose is for information/education or pleasure, and that in the end only depends on the written word, no matter how it is packaged and sold.

My other love is fabric - all kinds - quilting fabric as well as fabric to sew into clothes.  If I had to have lived in any place other than my home growing up, I would have divided my time between the library and Hancock's Fabrics.  Again, the overwhelming sensation of entering a fabric store is familiar to quilters and seamstresses - the overpowering sense of color that jars the senses, the smell of all that new fabric, and, of course, the ultimate in sensation, which is the feel of the fabric.  From denim to velvet, cotton to tweed, I have always loved to "fondle" the fabric.  Again, fabric's purpose is in its use, regardless of how it is packaged and sold.

I find the tactile, olfactory, and visual stimulation from these objects heartwarming.  Both collections of books and fabric make my head swirl and calm down at the same time.  Both demand a response from my imagination - how will I take what I am reading and make use of it in my life?  This book has the power to the life-changing for me!  It can transform me, it can make me healthier, it can make me relax and laugh and it can open my eyes and be aware, and, yes, it can make me cry.  Every book, good or bad, demands a response from me.

It's the same thing with fabric.  On the bolt, it sits there without purpose, but people who sew don't see it just on the bolt or folded on a table; we see it as a dress, a blouse, a skirt, a pair of pants, a Halloween costume, a curtain, an apron, a stuffed animal, part of an incredibly beautiful quilt, and countless other ideas overpowering our creative brains.  Fabric certainly demands a response - before it is ever cut and bought.   Sometimes there is no idea or plan, but the fabric itself is so appealing that you buy it as an object whose future is uncertain and entirely open.  Sometimes the fabric just calls to you...and you respond as if in a trance.

I thought about these two classifications of things I love this week as I am reading the news on my iPad and browsing through and  Oh boy, am I in the digital age or what?  And the news I read yesterday?  A local bookstore chain in Maine is going out of business after decades of existence.  There's a Mr. Paperback in Ellsworth and it's our only local bookstore.  Immediately I felt guilty.  I used to spend a lot more money there before I bought an iPad.  Now I read most of my books digitally.  In fact, digital book reading was cited in the article as one of the reasons for the closing - people just don't read regular books much anymore.   The iPad is so convenient - no matter where I am or what I'm doing, my books are by my side.  Of course, holding an iPad is not anything like holding a book, and as much as they try to simulate the book experience by "swiping" pages that "turn" and giving you options to "highlight" and "write" notes, it's still a computer.  It has none of the character of a book, and certainly none of that ink and paper aroma.  There's no variation between a heavy book and a light book - they all weigh exactly the same: the weight of an iPad.

And the fabric?  That's been a bit harder for me.  Our Joann's Fabrics in Bangor is the only large fabric store in our area, and even this, there is a limit to what they can carry, especially since over half the store is dedicated to other crafts, scrapbooking, etc.  I'm very tempted to get some fabric online, but even when I enlarge the sample fabric picture, I'm still looking at a computer screen.  Colors may be off, you can't really see what it looks like, and you certainly can't touch it.  But I know many people who have been exceptionally pleased with fabric purchases from well-established Internet sites such as these.  Certainly in Maine, choices are limited in everything locally.  We're kind of "at the end of a dirt road" in the world of shopping.  The Internet is a godsend for people in out-of-the-way places who would never be able to enjoy the choices it provides.  Joann's seems to do a brisk business, and I am hoping they are around in Bangor for a long time, but you never know.

I love technology, really I do.  I love my iMac and iPad and can't imagine life without them.  But I'm sad this week, because I have the niggling feeling that we have lost something in the process.  The very thing that drew me to "in-person" interaction with my beloved books and fabric is shifting; it is disappearing as fast as the brick-and-mortar bookstores themselves.  The ad with the catchy tune, "The touch, the feel of cotton...the fabric of our lives," is hard to measure against when one is peering at a square of fabric on a computer screen, trying to read a definition of something that can't really be defined in words because yes, it has to be touched and felt and interacted with in a very intimate way.

I'll probably be buying some fabric online soon, and I'll still be reading my books on my iPad, but I'll be the first to admit - it's just not the same.  I fear something precious is disappearing from the landscape - and it's a loss to us all.

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