Thursday, January 12, 2012

But I like Comic Sans!

Back in 2005, when I was opening a bakery, I looked for a fun, casual typeface for all my signs and labels. I wanted a font that said, “Relax! There is nothing in life so serious and dire that a whoopie pie won’t help to lighten the mood!” I wanted my customers to walk in and say, “Well, here’s a fun little place with great cinnamon rolls in the bakery case, crazy colors on the furniture and walls, and a lovable, funny proprietor in the kitchen!”

I chose a font that seemed to say exactly what I wanted. How was I to know that Comic Sans, which was created in 1994 by then-Microsoft designer Vincent Connare to evoke hand-lettering of the sort most often seen in comic books, was—by the time I stumbled across it and thought, perfect!—the subject of worldwide ridicule?

OK, OK, so I understand that the fun, lighthearted Comic Sans is not an appropriate typeface for, say, the resumé you’re sending to Pompous & Stuffy, Inc. Or your Aunt Sally’s gravestone. Or Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s angry letter about LeBron James’ betrayal. Or this sign, warning people of the imminent danger of death at an electrical substation:

But does this casual, innocent little typeface really deserve the amount of vitriol that has been expended toward it over the past 15+ years? Does it deserve to be the subject of the “Ban Comic Sans” movement that has exploded in articles, blog posts, and even the Ban Comic Sans Official Website (which asserts that using Comic Sans in the wrong context is like wearing a clown costume to a black tie dinner)?

Just because people make mistakes about where and how Comic Sans can be appropriately used, do we really have to blame the font, and call for a total ban?

Google “Comic Sans,” and the first result is the Ban Comic Sans website. Among others near the top: “What’s so wrong with Comic Sans?”, “Comic Sans Criminal: There’s help available for people like you!”, and “Comic Sans: The font everyone loves to hate.”

Now, because of all of this negative press, when I look back at my “pie lady” logo and the “Amy’s Bakeshop” I so proudly painted on my sign, had embroidered on hats and aprons, and used on every label on every pie, cake, and loaf of bread that left my bakeshop, I’m a little mortified.

To tell you the truth, it’s not unlike the nagging feeling of doubt I get when I look back at photos of me from high school and realize that maybe (just maybe) farmer’s overalls, flannel shirts, and my father’s gold pocketwatch hanging on a chain around my neck did not combine to create the stylish look I thought they did. Aughh! What other significant aesthetic mistakes have I made in my lifetime? (Don’t answer that, please; I have a feeling they may be too numerous to list.)

Holly Combs, who runs the Ban Comic Sans website with her husband, Dave, says, “Comic Sans is in the hands of people that shouldn’t have it. Secretaries and librarians, they don’t use it well.”

Besides the fact that Ms. Combs’ statement is offensive to secretaries and librarians (implying that if they had access to a clown costume, they wouldn’t have the good sense not to wear it to a black-tie dinner), it’s probably not even true. After all, it wasn’t Dan Gilbert’s secretary who chose Comic Sans for his vitriolic missive—he owns that mistake all by himself. And librarians? Please! Do you really think a segment of the population most often caricatured by horn-rimmed glasses, sensible shoes, and the constant admonition to “Shhh!” is going to suddenly go rogue with a font that has been described as frivolous and irreverent?

People seem to take their hatred of Comic Sans quite seriously. Comments on the Combs’ website include “It is a disgusting font – immature, frivolous and visually jarring” and “conveys silliness, childish naivete, irreverence.” There is even—I am not making this up—a book, due out in April, titled Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans.

It all makes me feel kind of sorry for poor Vincent Connare, who undoubtedly has many worthy accomplishments to his credit, but is probably doomed to be best remembered for creating the typeface that font geeks love to hate. He has surely spent a disproportionate amount of time and energy responding to Comic Sans detractors, which is why he has included a page titled “Why Comic Sans?” on his own website, in which he explains that “Comic Sans was NOT designed as a typeface but as a solution to a problem with the often overlooked part of a computer program's interface, the typeface used to communicate the message. There was no intention to include the font in other applications other than those designed for children when I designed Comic Sans. The inspiration came at the shock of seeing Times New Roman used in an inappropriate way.”

That’s right, Connare was “shocked” when he saw Times New Roman used inappropriately. And I think you’ll agree that Microsoft Bob’s friendly, helpful pup Rover would never speak in Times New Roman.

Because that would be like showing up to make balloon animals at a kids’ party…in black tie.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Happy New Year! Despite the fact that it comes in the middle of the darkest (and usually the coldest) part of winter, and on the heels of the frenetic pace of the Christmas season, I really like January 1st. I love the concept of making a fresh start for a new year.

Although, come to think of it, I would like New Year's Day even better if it came in the spring, which really seems like the most appropriate time to make a fresh start. But maybe it's better this way--if we get dragged down by the long, dark winter and stumble in our resolutions, we can always start over again when the sun gets higher and the days get longer and everyone feels that springtime sense of renewal. My birthday is March 2nd, and I always see that date as a sort of second chance to make all those changes for the better that I promised myself I'd make on New Year's Day.

But I have to make those initial promises, or resolutions, or whatever you want to call them, first, just on the chance that they'll actually take the first time.

I woke up this morning feeling quite resolute, and thinking about the ways in which I'd like to change my life in 2012. I've decided not to make any resolutions about exercise, weight loss, or healthy eating this year, even though all of those are areas in which, like just about everyone I know, I'd like to make changes. However, if I'm successful in achieving The Big Goal I'm setting for myself this year, I believe it will have a positive impact on every aspect of my life.

My Big Goal is simply this: to make measurable progress toward living my Authentic Life.

Here's how I envision my Authentic Life: I have very little stress. (There is some research that argues that a certain amount of stress is actually good for you, but I think that argument pertains more to competitive young professionals, or those in military training, than to 50+ women seeking simpler lives. I'm pretty sure I can get by without much stress at all, thank you very much.)

In my Authentic Life, I live in a house that is comfortable and homey, with enough well-loved possessions to make me feel comforted, but not so many possessions that I feel possessed by them. I don't ask for extreme tidiness, just enough clutter control that I can find things when I go looking for them, and I don't always feel like hiding when someone unexpectedly comes to the door. (Chances are there will be many times when I still feel like hiding from unexpected company, even if my house is clean, and that's OK. Another part of living my Authentic Life involves embracing my introversion.)

In my Authentic Life, my family and friends adore me, and marvel at my wonderful sense of humor and my calm, relaxed approach to everything. I do fulfilling work, and earn at least part of my income by writing.

That last one is important. It's been the missing piece of the puzzle for me for a long time, and I'm determined to figure it out. One of my writing goals for the new year is to pitch some story ideas to magazines, and, hopefully, to sell at least two stories in 2012. In other words, to get started on the freelance writing career I've been talking about for...oh, decades now.

I've made a list of steps I think will get me to my goal. Most of them are about self-discipline--"Write something every day, or almost every day" (I always give myself an out, in case there are days when I wake up paralyzed, or barfing, or just in a terribly foul mood) and "Blog regularly--weekly?" (The weekly part is my daughter's suggestion; I think it may be a little too ambitious, but we'll see.)

Many of the steps concern improving my relationship with time. For example, "Recognize how much time tasks actually take to complete." (I procrastinate on simple tasks because I can't seem to get it through my head that washing a sink full of dirty dishes takes 5-10 minutes, while "checking in on Facebook" may take 30-60 minutes--instead of the other way around.)

I will learn to prioritize. When I make a daily to-do list, I'll stop putting "Read?" and "Write?" at the very bottom, as a tentative afterthought to "Clean bathrooms" and "Go to dump," and, instead, schedule time for reading and writing during my most productive and clearheaded hours of the day.

I'm also challenging myself to continue getting up early--I'm targeting 5 a.m., seven days a week--and to use the early morning hours productively. I'm resolving to attend a writing class, workshop, or retreat, and to schedule mini writing retreats throughout the year.

Last, I resolve to minimize the time I spend on housekeeping chores by (gasp!) trying to stay on top of them, instead of letting things get to a state of emergency before I grudgingly tackle them. Admitting my particular weakness for horizontal surfaces, I vow to keep the big table in my writing room (a.k.a. the dining room) clear for working on projects (whether writing, paying bills, or folding laundry), and to keep the kitchen table clear for purposes of meal preparation (I don't have much counter space), eating, and just generally keeping the peace.

That's it--the steps to my Authentic Life. Time to get started.