Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Slant

I believe that the slanted desktops of my elementary school were a significant academic advantage. A slanted work surface allows one to compose a handwritten page while viewing the work from a plane that is parallel to the plane of vision. It also allows reading from the same stress-reducing position. The desks had a built-in prop that raised the top to horizontal, but the slant was the default position of the closed lid. We cheat our children when we ask them to learn without a visual amenity that is still standard-issue for drafting and fine arts. The deficit is easily remedied by using a clipboard propped on a book or by propping the book itself. 

Every handwriting lesson in that school began with the command to "sit up straight and put your feet flat on the floor". Posture is the foundation of competent written communication. Perch your sitz bones on the edge of a flat wooden seat just high enough for the knees to be slightly lower than the pelvis. Doing so opens the abdomen so that you can breathe and write at the same time.

Give yourself an advantage with the pen or other writing tool by working only in the comfort zone defined by your navel. Move the work into the sweet spot of your field of vision to maintain consistent slope and form in what you render. The zone is just a few inches in diameter. Respecting it reduces fatigue as well as improving the quality of your work.

I rediscovered the value of a slanted work top when I moved a sign writing board (two hollow-core doors hinged together and set on a pair of featherweight folding plastic sawhorses) from the basement to the dining room. The set-up has proved to be a valuable addition to the room's sideboard (a big, flat table) and round central pedestal table.

I prop the writing board open to a mild slant using two sturdy drinking glasses. It's just the slant of a nineteenth century clerk's writing desk-the work top of the "ink-stained wretch" of legend. The waist-high writing surface slashes the time needed for clerical work and is particularly useful for sorting out the clot of paperwork that accumulates if I turn my back on it for even a day.


The big board can be draped to the floor with a large textile or drop cloth and topped with a table cloth for feasting. Opened flat and propped on milk crates, it functions as an improvised double bed when fitted with self-inflating luxury air mattresses. When I want it out of the way, I can set it in a corner as a scrap screen: I have pasted on it a collection of outdated concert posters harvested in the wild from local utility poles-30-

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