The Printing Pusher and the Apprentice

Ball State University Article

This piece was written by a Ball State University student and member of the Book Arts Collaborative in Muncie, Indiana. They asked if they could post some articles here. I normally say no but after reading I was more than happy to. They are well worth the read. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the full list of articles.

The Printing Pusher and the Apprentice

By Sophie Gordon

Colleen Steffen is a pusher.

Not of drugs or anything nefarious like that, but of classes.

Anyone who has ever been subject to one of her pitches for BSU at the Games (a class that goes to the Olympics) or her most recent travel writing course (where she took students to Italy) knows how persuasive Colleen can be. With her melodic voice and sly way of making things sound manageable, she’s quite adept at getting more students into her classroom.

That’s how I ended up taking 23 credit hours this semester.

I know, I’m insane. Then again, I decided 19 credit hours was the best way to start off my first semester of freshman year, so I’ve always been insane. But this time, instead of packing in required courses, Colleen convinced me to add a six-credit hour class to my already heavy 17-hour course load—a class that I definitely didn’t need.

I’m 92 percent done with both of my majors. This semester was set aside for finishing up my requirements for journalism and knocking out a lot of philosophy courses (because, being as insane as I am, I added that major second semester junior year). I wasn’t thrilled with my classes, but this was going to put me on the road for having an easy second semester of senior year.

And then Colleen walked into my opinion writing class to teach and announced that she still had room in her printing-press class.

It all spiraled from there.

She enticed me with the promise of hands-on work, becoming part of the book-making process and touching a piece of journalism history. Despite already having a full course load, I decided to do something for me. This class, this six-credit off-campus class, was going to be my escape.

Because I, too, am a pusher.

My mother used to joke about it in middle school because I was always asking my friends if they had read this or that book, and, if not, insisting that they needed to read it. I spent my afternoons looking up books on Amazon, checking the recommendations based on my product history and meticulously putting together a 60-page “to-read” list. I stayed up late with a flashlight under my covers, reading into the night, and shushing my sister when she threatened to tell on me. There wasn’t anything I loved more than a book in my hand.

And then high school came and I was immersed in the world of journalism. I ate, slept and breathed interviews, writing and editing. I was at the school from 5:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. working on articles and designs, living my life in the newspaper room. Reading became tedious because homework and the paper came first. The pastime I loved most was placed on the backburner as I pursued journalism—and eventually burned myself out.

College didn’t slow down and I’ve continued to lack reading time. When I come home after a day of class and work and organizational meetings, the last thing I want to do is put in the brainpower it takes to imagine a different world. Instead, I mindlessly scroll through Facebook and wonder why I can’t get enough sleep. Who has time to read these days?

But Colleen saved me. Not only from a semester of classes I only took because they are required, but from forgetting about my love of books. Sure, I always answer that I read in my free time because that’s what I wish I was doing, but the reality is that I never feel as though I have enough time to devote to a book anymore. But in the Book Arts Collaborative, I do.

The Book Arts Collaborative is a makerspace for the Muncie, Indiana, community. It serves as a course for Ball State students, who then help lead workshops to teach Muncie members. It’s new way for me to interact with books, and I’ve fallen in love with it. I get credit to make books. I get credit to make books!

The first day of class, when I slipped a needle and thread through the pages of what would become a notebook and sewed in a spine, I was hooked. The Book Arts Collaborative has become my oasis, the hours during the week where young Sophie, who had dreams of becoming an author or editor, can appreciate the work behind the physical product of a book. There’s nothing like threading together pages or watching ink print onto a postcard as you make the press turn. There’s nothing like becoming frustrated when trying to fit together your type only to be relieved when it looks the way you wanted. There’s nothing like the Book Arts Collaborative.

I’ve been in four other immersive-learning projects (because, you know, the insane thing), and I can honestly say the Book Arts Collaborative has made me work harder and better because it functions as a business. My products have to be good enough to sell. The website, which falls under my managerial position, has to attract enough visitors. We have to make enough profit to keep the Collaborative going. And that kind of pressure, unlike any other immersive learning I’ve done, gives me the thrill of making a real difference. We are impacting the community. We are using our hands and proving that the world still needs skilled laborers and still has an appreciation for items made by hand rather than a machine. We are preserving history. And I couldn’t recommend taking this course enough.

I guess I’ve got something new to push.

Ball State University & The Book Arts Collaborative

This piece was written by a Ball State University student and member of the Book Arts Collaborative in Muncie, Indiana. The Book Arts Collaborative is dedicated to preserving and promoting the apprentice-taught skills of letterpress printing and book binding through community interaction. It's not just what we make that matters, but how we learn from one another to make it happen.

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