Widows and Orphans

In the world of typography there are all kinds of unique terms. Things that only typesetters, design geeks, editors and the like, pay attention to. For example, it is considered bad form to have one word on a line, all by its lonesome, finishing off a paragraph. This is referred to as a
widow.

Or, if you end up sending that word, and a few others to kick off the next page, then those stragglers are called orphans. Because sadly, they don’t have a mothership paragraph on the new page, that they can call home. The paragraph from whence they came is on a page in the past, yet they can’t just add themselves to the beginning of a new paragraph, it wouldn’t make sense. So they reside at the top of the page, looking forlorn.

Both of these scenarios are attempting to resolve the same issue. Keeping the story looking pretty, without losing any of its meaning. Bridging the gap from one page to the next. It’s just a question of how you write the play. Do you end it with a lonely word, or start the next page with a couple of lost ones?

It’s kind of sad to think about. But when I hear these terms used in relation to my job, it always makes me smile sympathetically, as they are so descriptive, and also because I feel sorry for those little words and their predicaments.

I am now a widow. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the use of this term. It bugged me in the beginning, and it will probably upset me when I mark the box on my taxes, but for what it’s worth, it tells you something about me, it’s a snapshot of my story. Not the whole story. More like the dust jacket.

The deeper story, when you read between the lines, is not as easily defined. The day to day struggles to find footing back on the pages of life. Feeling like the last word at the end of a beautiful poem, and a new word, just written, the timorous beginning of a whole new chapter – a widow and orphan, all at the same time.

This is where I find myself. In the space in-between. Trying to bridge that gap between what was *our* past, with what is now *my* future. A dangling participle, a dangling participant, in the next chapter of my life.

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9 thoughts on “Widows and Orphans

  1. the timorous beginning of a whole new chapter – a widow and orphan, all at the same time.
    This is just one example, but you write so beautifully to make me cry and laugh, all at the same time! I’ve never heard those terms used in these ways…they are so visual, poetic, metaphorical, and perfect and not.

  2. I only just discovered these terms earlier this week from a designer in my office. I was really taken by them, but your beautiful interpretation of them has given them an even more poignant meaning.

    My colleague attached the following quote to an email he sent me about the typographic definitions later that day: ‘An Orphan have no past. A widow has no future’

    I immediately responded in reaction to the latter sentence, and your positive approach to your sad situation is evidence that a widow of course has a future, just not the one they planned.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • The stark definition your colleague sent is definitely a good way to remember the difference, in terms of typography, but it stings a little in terms of life, eh? Thank you for your reply. I am enjoying reading your observations on grief in your blog.

  3. This captures a thought that has nagged at me. I’m bound to meet new people. They’ll know me just as I am now. I’ll be a “widow,” and they won’t have any content to fill in my rich past. I’ll be a lone status, dangling on a line, without the comfort of my past.

    But that’s not it, right? There’s the next paragraph. And any good essay needs to segue from paragraph to paragraph. The paragraphs certainly set boundaries, but there is, also, flow.

    I love that you’re in an industry that deals with widows and orphans. Me, I’m doing research on “widows carts” in the 19th century. My co-author and I found documentation of Progressive Era cities doling out patronage to Irish widows. We got a kick out of this blatant political corruption to the widows of party loyalists. I just proofread one of our studies, and now it feels a little weird. I’m a widow, now, too. Of course, the New Deal has passed between then and now, so I don’t need to reach out to my local political machine for kickbacks. And there were the various women’s movements, which means that I have a job to support myself. Still, the widows in those old public registers resonate differently with me, a widow researching on a Macbook in 2013.

    • Ironically, did you hear about that ancient law they just changed in France, finally allowing women to wear trousers?! It makes you wonder how far we’ve come. In regards to how we move forward, I am still very much in “limbo” land. I know there will be another story unfolding, but I am still not sure how I will bring my past along…I think that’s why I continue to feel so stretched thin.

      • No I did not hear about that law. Progress!

        I don’t think you’re supposed to know how to bring your past along. I think you’re just supposed to do what you’re doing.

  4. That’s really interesting and I just ran into this very situation today—a widow on a page. I’ve been working with Blurb’s software to turn my last year’s blog into a book for my own use. I knew instinctively it didn’t look right and found a work around.

    I like what you said about the word ‘widow’ being a snapshot of your story but not the whole story. I need to work at adapting that same attitude. I meet new people and my first impulse is to introduce myself that way.

    • Blurb is cool, I’ve used it. I imagine your “blogged” book will be beautiful. As for our newly acquired status/label…I have yet to share it with anyone (other than grief support acquaintances) that I have recently met. As much as I don’t want the term to define me, I have the feeling when I finally feel strong enough to say it, it will be followed by a break down….

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