I like doing things. Especially making art and such. I’m not very good at doing nothing. That makes it hard to relax sometimes. I usually sit in a chair and watch TV to unwind for a couple of hours before bed but besides that I’m not good at sitting and doing nothing. It’s always more fun for me to do things. But I can’t do things all the time or I’ll get exhausted.

In my younger days I’d do that every so often. I’d be working for a living a certain amount of my time and I’d be working on my art with whatever other time I had. I’d end up going for ten to twelve hours a day for weeks on end until one day I just couldn’t go anymore. My body would make me sit down and do nothing. Sometimes by starting to get sick but mostly by just feeling tired and burnt out.

I’ve learned to pace myself better in my middle age. I’ve managed to not make myself exhausted like I used to for about a decade or so. I’ve also learned to do busy work when I want to keep busy but don’t have the energy to do anything real. Busy work is work that is repetitive and keeps my hands busy but not my mind. It’s the stuff I can do in my sleep as the saying goes.

In the past I’ve done scanning as busy work but that can actually be more tiring than I expect. When I scanned in about 50 of my 22×30 inch drawings I got worn out just moving all those large drawings around. They’re not heavy but each one had to be scanned in four pieces so that’s 200 careful and precise movements. That took more out of me than I thought it would.

Back in the early 2000s I scanned in all my photo negatives from the 1980s and 1990s. That was a huge project and far from busy work. Each negative strip had to be carefully handled, cleaned, and mounted into a scanning tray. That took me weeks to do and was in no way relaxing.

The scanning I’ve done that is busy work is mostly old photographs. I take them out of a box or album, place a bunch of them on the scanner bed, and then scan them in. There is no cleaning of them and they’re small and easy to handle. I can put four or five of them on, set them up to be batch scanned, and then let the scanner do its work. Much easier than negatives. But negatives make for better scans since they’re the originals.

What I’ve found myself doing this week to relax is typesetting. Though it has been part of my job over the last decade I find it easy to do. What is typesetting you ask? It’s making type look the way the designer wants it to look. It’s about putting the words in bolds, italics, paragraph styles, and generally making an article or book pleasant to look at or easy to read. Typesetting is usually done after the design process is over and the creative work has been done. Of course it’s done on a computer. Usually in Adobe InDesign.

I recently read online that during this Covid quarantine a lot of sports card stores have been doing well. People have been looking to find things that made them happy in the past and have been digging out their old cards and even ordering more. Before I even read that I started digging out some of my old Collectible Card Games from the 1990s to look at them.

One of those card games was a Windstorm CCG from 1995. I remember playing that one and enjoying it back then. Now we cut to 2003. That was the year I was first getting nostalgic for the game and look on eBay for the cards and discovered there was a solitaire version of the CCG. I bought some cards but then never played the game. Now, seventeen years later, I dug the cards out to give them a try. But the instruction book was really tiny. Too tiny for my old eyes.

My typesetting skills in 2003 are a fraction of what they are now. These days I can typeset in my sleep. So I got the idea I could scan in the instruction book, set it up in InDesign, typeset it, and then make a PDF for my iPad. I could have just scanned the pages in as images but that didn’t seem like much fun. And it would be inelegant. So I used the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) setting on my scanner and scanned in the thirty two tiny pages of the instruction book.

OCR is far from perfect and with this tiny book it made a lot of mistakes. Italic type a sixteenth of an inch high isn’t easy for the computer to read. A lot of my typesetting time went to copyediting rather than typesetting. Fixing spelling mistakes. But it was still relaxing. Typesetting is like putting together a puzzle. Make this part bold, this part body copy, indent here, this part has to be a bullet list, and this part need to be a headline. It’s all about taking care of the details. There are no creative decisions needed.

This type of busy work is almost like meditation for me. I end up not thinking about anything. I enter a head space where I’m just following the pattern. I’m making this computer document look like this tiny book. I have to pay close attention with my eyes but no so much with my mind. It took me a couple of afternoons but I got it done. Then I tried out the game with an easy to read instruction manual.

After I finished that game’s manual I continued to dig through some of my other cards. There are a lot of CCGs that I remember fondly so I decided to typeset and make PDFs out of their instruction books too. So far I’ve typeset a card game named “Dixie” and another one named “Heresy.” There was a third one named “Guardians” that I scanned in images of because OCR wouldn’t work well on it.

For now I’m done with typesetting old instruction books and have moved on to other stuff. But if I find myself in need of some busy work to help me relax I might get back to it.