New story, and other updates

Anomalous Press #1I'm really thrilled to have a story, "Winner," in the very first issue of Anomalous Press. It was released on the Ides of March, so I'm a bit tardy announcing it here—it's been a busy March so far.

The issue includes work from many better writers than me, including a poem and two translations from my friend Naomi Ayala. It was Naomi who suggested I submit to Anomalous. In this way and many others, she's been a great friend and supporter of my writing, and I hope someday to be able to pay her back. You can catch another poem of hers when Call + Response: Textures opens on April 16. (More on that tomorrow.)

Anomalous Press #1 is available for download as a PDF, but only if you pay with a tweet. Neat concept. Attention as currency. And from a technical standpoint, I'm interested in how they integrated with Twitter using OAuth—I want to do a similar thing with the reading series web app (Readsr/Readthing/whatever) I'm working on: tweet whenever a reading series is updated. So I'll be looking into this soon.

First, though, I plan to deploy an alpha version of the site this weekend. I've been reading up on virtualenv, pip, fabric, and git, trying to figure out how to deploy the right way--with automated version control and dependency isolation. This part, the admin stuff, is as complicated as any coding problem I've faced. Looking forward to tackling it in a marathon session on Saturday!

Stuff: Happening

Plane flying in cloudsIf I updated more regularly, I would have written entire posts about the following things.

  • AWP 2011 came and went blazingly fast. I saw many people I've missed dearly, and missed many people I would've liked to see.
  • The second workshop with the Bell Poetry Club for 826DC, this time diving into the poem-as-extended-metaphor, went swimmingly.
  • A story of mine is going to be published in the first issue of Anomalous.
  • And I continue working on my reading series Django app. Possible names: Readsr, or Readzee, or Readoo, or maybe Readthing. Hmm. Are any of these, like, any good? Tonight's task: refactoring and adding messaging.

Bell Poetry Club

Potomac River ice

Friday, I helped out with an 826DC workshop at Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights. Bell's Poetry Club meets after school each Friday, and we came by to work with them on metaphor. To fuel the discussion, we read "Snow Leopards at the Denver Zoo" by William Matthews (who I'd never heard of before—I'm so not a poet):

There are only a hundred or so
snow leopards alive, and three
of them here. Hours I watch them jump
down and jump up, water being
poured. Though if you fill a glass
fast with water, it rings high to the top,
noise of a nail driven true. Snow
leopards land without sound,
as if they were already extinct.

If I could, I’d sift them
from hand to hand, like a fire,
like a debt I can count but can’t pay.
I’m glad I can’t. If I tried to
take loss for a wife, and I do,
and keep her all the days of my life,
I’d have nothing to leave my children.
I save them whatever I can keep
and I pour it from hand to hand.

A few metaphors there, huh? It's a swift poem, turning from accessible to knotty in the space of a few lines. Great for discussion, and the students were more than up to the task. The writing exercise we did next further showed off their chops. We all took 20 minutes to write a poem full of metaphors, then shared them with the group. Their stuff leapt off the page, lyrical, narrative, associative, wild and subtle and everything between.

All of us from 826DC were seriously impressed, and I look forward to hanging out with the Bell Poetry Club again in a couple weeks. It's on us to come up with something new to challenge these talents—my prediction is we're going to learn just as much as they do.

Building the New Call + Response Site

National Portrart Gallery in the snowOver the past couple weeks I worked on relaunching the website for Call + Response, an art show I co-curate with my friend Kira.

The website for the second iteration of the show, Call + Response: Textures, is pretty different from the first version. The first was ultra minimal, hand-coded, and didn't use a CMS—just a simple site that I could get going in a matter of hours. It was not designed to coordinate with a promotional campaign incorporating Twitter and Facebook. Even doing regular updates on our progress putting together the show would have been a real pain.

My goal for this site was to keep the clean, minimal feel while using a modern CMS that would allow for frequent updates, integration with social media, and cool stuff like photo galleries, maps, and interactive widgets. So here's what I did.

  • First I installed a Wordpress theme, a rather minimalist one called sartorii. Then I started to customize it to the particular needs of the site, slimming it down further, eliminating sidebars and meta information, culling whatever felt extraneous to the site's mission of communicating essentials and focusing on the concept and participants.
  • To present the bios of the participants, I used jQuery UI's accordion tool. Call + Response pairs artists with writers, so I wrote code to link two accordions together. When you click on an artist name you get two bios, theirs and the writer they are paired with, and vice versa.
  • I installed a lightbox plugin for the photos page. First, I discovered just how many lightbox plugins are out there. I wanted one that would integrate with Wordpress's gallery feature, and it took some time to find a solution. I ended up using Fancy Gallery, which integrates with Fancy Box to produce the desired results.
  • Once I received the poster design for the show from our designer, Oliver Munday, I further customized the theme to use the poster's colors and imagery.

I'm pleased with the result. I think it fulfills the goals I set forth. I learned a ton about jQuery, css, and WordPress, which was a great side benefit. Picking up new skills can be really enjoyable, especially when those skills quickly turn into tangible results.

I'm already starting on my next web development project: building a Django app to manage a list of DC-area reading series.

Should have been born in January

A book being reading by a fireplace.I can't stand Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, but the best part about waking up at 6:35 a.m. is his Writer's Almanac. For five minutes he puts his cornmeal voice to good use, first to list this-day-in-literature history tidbits, then to read a poem.

In this way I learned that three of my favorite authors, David Mitchell (the 12th), Lorrie Moore (the 13th), and Julian Barnes (today, the 19th), were born in January. That kind of news is the kind of news I want to wake up to.

From perusing the Writer's Almanac's website, I have learned that Keillor's signature signoff, "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch," is trademarked.

I won that Julian Barnes book, by the way. Sweet. (I suspect no one else entered, for lack of publicity.)

Quelle coincidence

A glowing globe on a tableJulian Barnes has been a favorite author of mine since I borrowed stole Metroland from my friend Mark last winter. Reading Barnes makes me wish I knew some French, since he drops sentences, phrases, and occasionally passages of it, sans translation, into everything he writes, or at least everything of his that I’ve read. But I muddle through with an incomplete, partial, or guessed understanding and still find myself drawn into the stories and entranced by his command of (English) language. I'm nearly finished with Flaubert's Parrot, and being the type of person who compulsively reads Wikipedia entries, today I browsed to his, which in turn led me to his website.

There is nothing particularly special about the website, except that there happens to be a weeklong giveaway of signed copies of his brand new short story collection, Pulse, going on. I entered. It's easy. Too easy?


A laptop on a deskGoogle's new toy, ngrams, graphs the relative frequency of words and phrases occurring in books published over an arbitrary time period from 1500 to 2008. Let's go. (All search the English Fiction corpus from 1908 to 2008 except the last, which searches American English, 1858-2008.)

I'm Friends with a Winner

Congrats to my friend Mark Polanzak, who won the 2010 Pint and Pen Contest. The contest rules:

Type up (and print out if you must) a story that includes the words PINT, PEN, BUKOWSKI and HARPOON. Entries must be typed, in reverence to the brilliant Charles Bukowski. The word count must be between 500 and 750 words.

Read Mark's kick-ass story here. On a personal note, Bukowski is one of those famous authors who I've somehow never read.

Where I'm coming from

Three hikers above the clouds on Mt Fuji

In my old dog, new tricks post, I mentioned that, though I used to blog, what you're reading now represents my first use of Wordpress. Was it hard to set up? No. It doesn't hurt that I have a computer science background, including an undergrad degree in the field. Of course, when I was in college, web development was not part of the required CS curriculum. Standalone apps were still dominant, so I learned Java and then C# .NET, which I used to write black box trading systems for a couple years. During that time, I also took my first writing classes, and once I realized that software engineering was not going to be my career, I left that job and went to grad school for writing for a couple of years.

Post-grad school, I got into communications/marketing as my day job, and of course those fields are now entwined with web development, as websites/email/social media/etc have become the dominant tools for organizations to get their messages out. So I find myself in the nexus of computers and communications, which, considering my background, seems like a natural place for me to be.

In my current job, I maintain a relatively simple site, using Dreamweaver to write the standards-compliant XHTML and occasional JavaScript that the site uses. But I want to develop and hone my skills, and starting a WordPress blog to play around with is a step in that direction. I've already customized the theme and poked around in the templates, and I'll be doing some more of that. My long-term plan is to learn Django and to write my own--wait for it--applications. Yes, back to application programming. But a different kind from what I learned back then, and one I'm really excited to get into.