Part One
August 1, 2012

Yes, it’s true! Six days ago, Terry Bolinger and I were privileged to experience tomorrow’s publishing world before it actually arrived. The venue was one of the oldest and largest publishing conglomerates in the world, and we were graciously given a two-hour VIP tour.

As we threaded our way through room after room of machinery, we experienced first a world I felt supremely comfortable in: the world of traditional print, that began during the decade of 1440 – 1450, with the German goldsmith, Johannes Gutenberg leading the way with his 42-line Bible in 1456, 556 years ago. That Golden Age of Print reached its zenith during the century beginning in 1880 and ending in 1980 (roughly speaking). I am personally a product of its last half.

Occasionally, during my blogs and published writing, I have referred to the tides of life: periodically, both collectively and individually, we experience ebb-tides and incoming-tides. They are God-given because nothing in all creation is static, for change is constant. But both ebb-tides and incoming-tides dramatically alter our lives, for better or for worse.

Perhaps some of the most poignant and pertinent lines in all literature were penned by the American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson in “The Mill,” which contains in its muffled understated lines two work-related suicides:

“The miller’s wife had waited long,
The tea was cold, the fire was dead;
And there might yet be nothing wrong
In how he went and what he said:
‘There are no millers any more,’
Was all that she had heard him say;
And he had lingered at the door
So long that it seemed yesterday.”

The second stanza contains his suicide by hanging, and the third concludes with her drowning.

Back then, every self-respecting hamlet and town boasted a mill, where farmers brought the product of their land to be ground into food for themselves and their livestock. But suddenly, due to the pace of technological change, the miller realized with a shudder that since “There are no millers anymore,” his place in the world had been eradicated; the only career he knew was, without preamble or advance warning, no more. The mill itself, in which he and his ancestors from time immemorial had invested their life savings, was now all but worthless. Facing absolute financial ruin, he concluded that suicide offered the only viable alternative to starvation and bankruptcy; and she, facing a world which demeaned women and offered them terribly few career options, was so overwhelmed by the hopelessness of her situation, that she quietly slipped into the mill-pond, feeling it offered the least messy departure from life.

There is an equally powerful short story written by the English author John Galsworthy. Simply titled “Quality,” it tells the story of a London shoemaker who prides himself on making the best and longest lasting shoes and boots it was possible to make. His customers knew their footware would be custom-made to their own foot contours. Of course they took time to make for each was a one-of-a-kind work of art. But technological change made possible mass market footware at lower prices and instant availability. And Galsworthy’s protagonist ends up starving himself to death rather than compromise on the issue of quality. Whenever I have read this story out loud to my students, there has been absolute silence in the classroom, the ultimate tribute to a life-changing story.

So what Terry and I saw and experienced six days ago represents both an ebb-tide to a vanishing way of life and an incoming-tide whose long-range impact can only be guessed at. One reality is, however, inescapable: life as we know it, and have known it, will never be again.

* * *
We will pick up where I left off (beginning the publishing house tour) next Wednesday.

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Muy bueno Joe, como todo lo que escribes.

    • Hola hermana, Appreciate your thoughts re the blogs–Jose

  2. Thanks, I look forward to next Wednesday.

  3. Looking forward to the rest of the story. My experience in publishing began with typesetting in lead when editing my college newspaper. Yes, it says something about my age, but WOW, how fast publishing has changed! Are printed books to become a novelty?

  4. For some people suicide is the only way out. They have sought help from God and help from their fellowman, but nothing improves. The Physical and emotional pain is unbearable. God understands, and God is merciful.

    • Dear Donald, Are you contemplating suicide???

      • Why would you ask that?

      • You said, “For some people, suicide is the only way out.” This could be construed as a thought about suicide. Kathleen

      • I am not referring to myself but people I have known that have committed suicide shared some of these thoughts with me. There are situations that are unbearable and suicide seems to be the way out for some. As counselors we do every thing we can to prevent it and feel guilty when our feeble efforts prove to be fruitless. God understands, and there will be a lot of people in Heaven who committed suicide.

      • As a former psychiatric RN I take all comments regarding suicide seriously, so I was concerned about you. I am glad you were not referring to yourself. One of my best friends lost her husband to suicide several years ago, and he gave no warning, but did leave a note. It is a tragedy for the ones left behind.

      • My wife is currently a psychiatric charge nurse, and she witnesses this every day. Many people are depressed because of the economy brought on by the mistakes and the greed of politicians. The system, in my opinion is the leading cause of suicide in our nation. I am sorry to give you the wrong impression, but I was responding to Joe Wheeler’s comments.

      • I think God you are OK; and I believe God forgives depressed people who take their lives, since He is a loving and forgiving God.

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