Lightening the Page

I haven’t posted here in a week. That’s a bad habit, one I need to break. It’s easy to get into the habit of resting my fingers and my mind, leaving writing until later. I’ll pledge to myself to insist that I take more time to write. Yeah, and I’ll lose weight, exercise, and learn something new every day. The last point is easy, actually. One cannot help but learn something new every day. Perhaps that’s not true; one is most certainly exposed to something new every day, but learning from that exposure requires an affirmative effort. I’ll pledge to make the effort. Now, if I can only entice myself to keep the pledges. All of them.

My time of late has been devoted to learning how to use the tool I’ve chosen to create the church (UUVC) newsletter, Microsoft Publisher. Once upon a time, years ago, I taught myself how to use a more complex (well, I though it was more complex) piece of page layout software, Aldus PageMaker. That was in 1988, when I took the position of Director of Corporate Communications  for an association management company in Chicago. Part of the job involved creating newsletters, advertisements, conference programs, and the like for association clients. Page layout software for the PC was quite new at the time. When I interviewed for the position, I boldly asserted that I was absolutely confident I could become proficient with the company’s new Aldus PageMaker within a week of starting work. I was not proficient within the week (and cannot claim I ever became proficient), but I was able to learn enough within that time frame to do an acceptable job laying out newsletters, etc. A year later, I took another job with an associatoin that did not require me to use page layout software, but did require me to acquire a staff who could do pay layout, so I bought (for the association) Aldus PageMaker. When Adobe bought Aldus, we upgraded. I did not use the software, so did not keep abreast of it as it changed. In 2000, two years after I started my own association management company, I bought PageMaker’s competitor, QuarkXPress. I taught myself the basics of that software, but did not use it much. Within the past few years, I opted to use Office 365, which includes Microsoft Publisher. Occasionally, someone would send me a Publisher file and I opened it with Publisher to review and make changes, etc. But I didn’t really use it as a page layout program. Not until a few weeks ago, when I took responsibility for the UUVC newsletter.

I’ve discovered I learn quickest when I’m forced by circumstances to meet deadlines. That’s how I’ve been learning Microsoft Publisher of late. I had forgotten almost everything I once knew about leading and kerning and tracking. Fortunately, I did not have to re-learn what I’d lost. Instead, I had to learn less precise but equally useful techniques of adjusting the spacing between letters and lines, etc. Between the time I had received the last contributions to the first issue of the newsletter and the time I submitted the finished product to the UUVC office for distribution, I learned an enormous amount about how to use Microsoft Publisher. Unfortunately, I had not learned how to ensure that the fonts I used were embedded in the PDF I created from the Publisher file. I learned that only after I discovered that some recipients received an almost unreadable file. I fixed the problem and distributed the file anew.

All the aforementioned serves as my excuse for not writing more of late. I’ve been learning the mechanics of presentations at the expense of creative expression. The pain I’ve had in my arm, hands, shoulder, and elsewhere has contributed to my low creative productivity, as well. I hope that’s behind me. (Crossing fingers, looking skyward, whistling.)

Looking back to when I became acquainted with old software that’s since been replaced is interesting. PageMaker no longer exists, having been shelved and replaced by Adobe InDesign. I have never seen that software in action. But I’ve learned that it (and other more sophisticated software like QuarkXPress) has become far more complex than they once were. Some of the page layout software packages can adjust kerning, for example, to accommodate Arabic and Hebrew text. My mode of teaching myself by throwing myself into a software package would almost certainly fail in such extremely complex circumstances.

I’m not sure where I intended to go when I started writing this message, but I doubt I got there. And, in looking back at what I wrote, I can’t say that’s a bad thing. At least I’ve unloaded my fingers this morning. My hands should feel as light as a feather.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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