Books of secrets

Each of my nieces is receiving a A Book of Secrets this Christmas. That is, they’re getting a blank book to use as a journal, with a nice note from me on the front cover. But this journal has a secret in it.In truth, it has several secrets. Several dozen secrets. Scattered among the blank pages are a number of diagrams and tools for young ladies that are not entirely appropriate. Secrets like, how to write in coded letters and ciphers, how to speak in semaphore, how to write morse code messages around the edges of notes, and how to draw things that no one else knows how to draw, like horses and princesses. How to fold origami besides cranes. How to tie useful knots.  How to write in runes, and Greek, and the two Japanese syllabaries. How to draw in isometric perspective and 2 point perspective. How to make beautiful repetitive patterns like Zentangles.   How to draw complex geometry using only a ruler and compass.Thanks to the invention of modern quick copy machines and the Internet, this is not particularly difficult to do.

I created forty-eight sheets of secrets using public domain imagery from the Internet, traveled to the local photocopy shop, and made two copies of these ‘secret pages’. Then I bought another ream of the paper they used to print them, and made another six or seven quires/signatures for each book; and interleaved the ‘secret pages’ in amongst the others. The result?

A journal that also doubles as a teaching aide.  A teaching aide on how to be difficult and interesting and smart.  And I hope that the act of giving this book to my young nieces will encourage them to be interesting and smart and knowledgable about complicated matters, and to care about ideas and where they come from.

There’s no one book that can do all of that, of course. But a journal that is not quite like any other journal in the world, hand made just for you, with a group of secrets that you share with only your not-quite-sister… I hope that will be tempting enough.

Because no one quite decides to become interesting on their own. Interesting people — like interesting teachers — take an interest in young people (without too much of an interest, of course), and nourish and encourage them in the right ways at the right times. For me, it was an uncle who gave me lots of books about architecture and archaeology and history and science. Later he taught me to sail, and later still he took me and my family on a sailing tour of the Greek islands (I was supposed to go on the sailing trip to Denmark and Sweden, but it didn’t work out).

In any case, here we are: two books of secrets — where ‘secrets’ stands in for the idea of “things that you have to learn by doing them“.

And that’s at the core of what it means to be a Maker.  I would not have thought to make a pair of books for family members, each filled with secrets, without first training myself to be a bookbinder; and I wouldn’t train myself to be a bookbinder without first identifying myself as a Maker and a Designer.  The two go hand in hand.  We can’t be Makers without some clarity about what it is that we make; we can’t be designers without some sense of what it is that the world needs to have in it to be a better place.

For many Makers and Designers, that means making new things, like robots and blinking LED gizmos. And there’s a place for that. For me, there’s benefit in making new things in an old way — and sharing mindsets and methodologies with young people that machines and electronics are not the only things worth having.


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