Who are you? Answer in three typefaces.

Every once in awhile, a friend or acquaintance will read a bunch of my posts and say, “Hey, I was stalking your blog.” I always thought this was strange because my blog is public. If I didn’t want people to read it, it would be on my hard drive, not the internet. Then I started to wonder if the feeling that they were “stalking” my blog came from the design.

Only the top row can answer “yes” to this question. As of this writing, most of my site is in Open Sans. Top to bottom: Open Sans, Fira Sans, Alegreya Sans

Instead of a design that says, “Hey, this is someone’s personal blog. Maybe they don’t totally realize this is online and anyone can read it?” I would like a design that says, “This is the website of a speculative fiction author and freelancer, and you can read what they have to say about some stuff.” These roles, along with enjoyment of blogging and web design, are why I have this website. Yet, it doesn’t do a good job of expressing them, for good reasons as well as bad ones.

Hint: they’re the same reasons. They boil down to the fact that, although I’ve been designing website for 20 years, I didn’t design this site myself because I needed to avoid waffling. And maybe even waffles.

What’s wrong with the current design? In some respects, not much. It’s readable, for sure, and with the exception of the subheadings, (H2, H3, H4, etc) I like the typography. I even like the “Bleached Landscape” color scheme, which I picked in defiance of my own attitude that if something isn’t dark-colored, it’s deeply uncool.

However, the design is also decidedly personal blog-like. It also has a slightly dated look to it, which honestly, is part of the reason I picked it. It reminds me of a nicely- designed Livejournal with some cool details. There’s nothing actually wrong with it because I don’t consider not following current trends to be a wrong. What matters is that it doesn’t match my current aesthetic well enough, and I didn’t design it myself (aside from some tweaks over the years, such as the background from the cover of Spirit Notes Fading).

There are plenty of pre-made WordPress themes I could choose from to change the blog vibe to something more professional, if that’s what I wanted to do. But since web and graphic design are two of the areas I do freelance work in, it would be preferable to have a website of my own design. And since I’m also a speculative fiction writer, that is something I would also like the design to express.

One question I’ve been wrestling with: to what extent do I want to adopt the common tokens of author websites, such as typewriter-style headings and bookish body text? Do I need to bludgeon visitors over the head with my absolute writerly-ness, when everyone else who has a blog is also a writer? Many fiction authors’ websites appear designed to convey that they aren’t just some blogger, but a real writer. A writer’s writer.

As far as I’m concerned, typography is the second step of a web or graphic design project, after brainstorming. I always aim to make the typography and layout do as much of the heavy lifting as possible before I start adding color or anything else that isn’t absolutely crucial. And that’s where I am now. It’s a bit of a background project at the moment, but since I look at typography the way other people look at cat pictures, it’s been on my mind.

Does this show some typefaces I’m looking at for a redesign, or a total switch to a website that hides secret codes in Latin placeholder text?

You only get three typefaces per project. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom. It’s the “Show don’t tell” of graphic design. Like any common and seemingly wise platitude, you can find a number of places where people break the rule, for good reasons and bad. I won’t be breaking the rule in the redesign because the rule will serve my purposes.

My three typefaces can say any number of things, on their own or in combination, by their sizes, spacing, positioning, coloring, bolding, italicizing, proselytizing, and jazzercising. Will they convey a mood that is academic, provocative, sarcastic, persuasive, informative, intellectual, surreal, silly, serious, dark, weird, perfectionist, or diy-to-a-fault?

Furthermore, am I correct in thinking I’m the things I think I am? And even if I am those things, do I want to express them in an on-the-nose sort of way, or do I want to put a twist on them? And in any case, how many of these things can even be expressed through typography?

And that’s the story of how typography can pave the path right into an existential swamp of anxiety.

Fortune Cookie Throw Down: Episode One and Only?

Why Fortune Cookie Throw Down? Because instead of reading my fortune, saying to myself, “Self, this is absolute nonsense,” and then throwing out my fortune like a normal person would, I keep all my fortunes. I find them in the pockets of my work shirts, in my computer bag, and in crevices of my apartment that I clean out maybe every two years. They’re scattered about the top of my bureau like dead leaves.

And yet, I still can’t throw them out. I put them to the side when I’m cleaning. I collect them in tiny boxes and bowls, which I then forget about. I’ve been decluttering since before decluttering was cool, but even that does nothing because they’re so small they escape into crevices like papery little centipedes. My entire apartment is infested with mystical fortune cookie nonsense.

But a few years ago, this looked like it might change. Back in the early days of this blog, I had tons of ideas for features and series of posts. Most of them involved me going out of my way to do eccentric activities, and then write about them. Thus, like a twisted emperor of meaningless scraps of paper, I decided that my fortune cookie fortunes must prove their worth through combat. Pitted against one another on this very blog, they would win based on wisdom, humor, uncanny accuracy, or my fickle whims of the day.

Somehow, this made more sense to me than throwing them out in a cold-blooded sweep.

I initially started fortune cookie throw down in my art journal. Which looks about the way you’d expect the art journal of someone who can’t throw out a fortune cookie and used to collect My Little Ponies to look.

Fortune One vs Fortune Two

“Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it’s enough.”

The first fortune is pithy advice with a sensible caveat. Actually, I like this one. I don’t believe that intuition, or gut feelings, are some mystical, magical thing, or that intuition needs to be opposed to logic. Rather, I think that intuition is basically an impression you get from things you’ve noticed, but not necessarily verbalized. But no, it’s not enough, because one bad thing can color an impression if you’re not willing to think about it logically. I live by this.

“What makes an apple fall to the ground?”

The idiocy of this question can be summed up by one word: GRAVITY. Or possibly kids with sticks, or extreme over-ripeness. But it still comes back to GRAVITY, doesn’t it?

Obviously, number one is my winner.

Fortune Three vs Fortune Four

“One is not sleeping, does not mean they are awake.”

Being judgemental, New Age style. And that’s about it. It’s not profound in the way that people who believe this think it is. Also, it loses points for grammar. Although grammar isn’t the point here, I was so distracted by the mismatch between “one” and “they” that I didn’t immediately notice that the entire thing is a grammatical hot mess.

“Curiosity kills boredom. Nothing can kill curiosity.”

Except for sedatives, electric fences, and unwanted answers. And also the knowledge that if you look up your symptoms online, it will send you into a panic, which is probably far worse than some imaginary tingling in your leg that seems to go away as soon as you put on Star Trek or otherwise occupy your mind. Curiosity does kill boredom. Other things can kill curiosity, and swiftly.

Number four wins this one. Three is judgemental, but not helpful. While my response to four was glib, the fortune is still more true. I rarely get bored, and am always am trying to learn new things. Curiosity can be killed, but like a comic book villain, it never stays dead forever.

Fortune One vs Fortune Four

To recap, Fortune One is “Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it’s enough.” Fortune Four is “Curiosity kills boredom. Nothing can kill curiosity.”

As I said above, I live by Fortune One. If that hadn’t already the case, Fortune One might have been good advice for me. Number Four has been brought down by its second sentence, and by the fact that I’m a smart ass.

Fortune One advances to the next round!


While Fortune Cookie Thrown Down was kind of a weird thing I found on my hard drive and I no longer intended to turn into a series, I had fun typing this up. I enjoy poking holes in common cultural wisdom, although much of what one sees on fortune cookie fortunes doesn’t really match that description. You might have noticed in the art journal image above that I had glued down four more fortunes. At the very least, I’ll have to write about those. This may not be Episode One and Only after all.

And so…

Next time, on Fortune Cookie Throw Down…

Principles, convictions, schedules, and being wronged duke it out! Don’t miss it! Coming soon! Or at least in the future. Eventually!

One small, square box of revenge

To me, blackout poetry represents an opportunity to make mischief out of boring things like financial columns and interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger. You excise the dull parts with swaths of ink or paint. It’s like a secret code created with gleeful defacement.

talk to strangers, surprising men, a paper friend wrote that morning

You can see how I made a “rough draft” in pencil, but then couldn’t erase it because that would’ve effectively murdered the newsprint.

Poetry, in general, isn’t something I write. But I can never resist mischief (or trickery, or sneakiness*), and apparently I created a lot of blackout poetry a few years ago. I posted another blackout poem over a year ago. I found these few poems while looking through an old art journal, and had one of those “Oh, cool!” moments that come around sometimes when looking through old things you’ve forgotten about.

Or even things that aren’t so old. If you write enough, there’s a point when your brain can’t hold it all in, and blog posts from maybe two months ago read like new.

Call someone who you think they're an enemy.

If I twist my brain hard enough, I can justify this as being actual advice. Of some sort.

I thought I’d share these, because out of all the blackout poetry I found, these were the ones that came out surprising well. Or at least the ones that didn’t make me think, “Holy crap, how can anyone over seventeen compose something so depressively emo?”)

one small square box of revenge

I imagine it’s wrapped in elegant paper the color of titanium.

And the idea of a small, square box of revenge, whatever that is, amused me.


*Despite the fine distinctions between trickery, sneakiness, and mischief, I have tags for both sneakiness and trickery, and most of the posts overlap. Speaking of sneakiness, I just learned I’m the top Google result for “Kris Bowser sneaking food into movie.” For reasons..

Please Kill Me and then go do some stuff

A few years ago, I picked up Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk on the used book shelf at the grocery store. We put it on our cinder block bookshelf next to our Star Wars books and our giant thesaurus, and whatever other books we have on display in our living room that we think make us look cool, but actually do the opposite.

Please Kill Me sitting on the shelf

Please Kill Me thinks it’s cooler than the other books on my shelf. Even the Star Wars ones.

For years, music books were among the few types of nonfiction that could hold my attention through a few hundred pages. One day, I picked up Please Kill Me on a whim and read a few pages. I remained hypnotized in its pages until I finished it.

There’s less about the music itself than I would like, and the focus is on a fairly small number of bands. Plenty of TMI moments as well. However, it stitches together direct quotes so seamlessly that sometimes it doesn’t feel like reading separate voices. And despite the overwhelming number of people whom I’d probably hate if I met them in real life, it really conveys the living community of the New York punk scene, and it makes me want to be there. It reminds me of how important community is.

I wanted to share this quote from Legs McNeil, one of the authors of Please Kill Me (from page 334):

“Overnight, punk had become as stupid as everything else. This wonderful vital force that was articulated by the music was really about corrupting every form—it was about advocating kids to not wait to be told what to do, but make life up for themselves, it was about trying to get people to use their imaginations again, it was about not being perfect, it was about saying it was okay to be amateurish and funny, that real creativity came out of making a mess, it was about working with what you got in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful, and stupid in your life to your advantage.”

At its best, punk wasn’t about studied coolness or meticulous safety-pinning. It was about doing shit. Kicking down doors. It was refusing to be stopped by roadblocks on the obvious path in front of you, roadblocks that say “you can’t go here,” and taking that DIY spirit and making your own road out of salvaged bricks and broken glass and a found bucket of tar*.

That quote reminds me to make my own damn artwork to hang in my apartment rather than to buy manufactured art from Target or someplace, and to make that artwork out of subjects and materials I like rather than worry about getting things a certain way. It’s better to do something creative and true than it is to make the place you live a poor copy of something in a magazine.

It reminds me of why I’m going to help make a new wooden table top for what used to be a glass deck table but, thanks to an incident** that qualifies as “embarrassing, awful, and stupid,” is currently just an empty frame sitting on a sad deck.

It reminds me to write the things that I write, and that the things I write usually have to start out as a mess.

It reminds me to experiment and do things and learn, because so, so many people do not do things, only consume them. It reminds me that the biggest difference between many of my bad days and my good ones is that I did real things on the good ones. I made life up for myself.


*You can tell I know a lot about making roads.
**We didn’t buy a base for our umbrella because we didn’t like any that the store had. We knew we needed to get one, but the umbrella didn’t blow away, which sort of caused an idea to creep into our heads—an idea that maybe we didn’t need a base after all. Sometimes, we left the umbrella open, though we knew not do this. But again, nothing tragic happened, and another idea crept into our heads—an idea that it’s probably not the end of the world if we leave the umbrella open sometimes. One day, we came home to find that our umbrella had nearly blown off the deck in a big gust of wind, and a pile of tempered glass pebbles sat underneath what used to be our table top. And we knew better.

“Checklist,” a blackout poem

What I like about blackout poetry is that it’s sort of an inverted version of pinhole cipher, where a hidden message is concealed in printed matter by pinholes under the words of the real message. I used to make pinhole ciphers on discarded newspapers in cafeterias and coffee shops, just in case someone noticed.

checklist

“Checklist. Smile smile smile smile. Imagine the lie.”

If I had nine lives, I’d use one of them to be a spy who retires and opens a coffee shop.  Preferably, the spy part would be in the early half of the twentieth century, before analogue cryptography was completely outmoded.

With blackout poetry, I can just sort of pretend that someone sent me a secret message and pick out whatever words or syllables interest me.

I didn’t have any particular plan when I did this one, but it’s clear to me that this poem explains how I deal with a lot of social niceties, particularly being asked how I’m doing when I’m not doing well, but I don’t want to say so. Smile, smile, find some sort of lie, and try not to sigh depressively.

Not that I would put on such a charade at my spy coffee shop. I like to think I foster an atmosphere of erudite grumpiness.

The camera ate my color

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Perception and memory interest me. I took the first photo at the community garden where my partner has a plot, and it looks much duller than I remembered. This became even more obvious when I sliced off the top to use for my website’s header. Part of the blame for… Continue reading