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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


number XX/2006

I have worked all week to rebuild my blog in this new and, one hopes, less restricted way. This is an explanation of sorts as to why I did it and what I hope to get out of it. 1,643 words.

[NL]—A style book is a resource publishing houses (like the New York Times, or Harper Collins) use to standardize formatting for the works they publish. It is a formal list of all the grammatical and typesetting answers to routine questions that pop up about preferential writing styles. There are as many different ways to write something as there are writers, and the style book offers guidance in tricky situations. It dictates house rules in the areas of formatting and the handling of verbal particulars. Ace reporters then know where to turn when trying to sort out material particulars such as: how do I go about inserting punctuation around quote mark? At what point is it appropriate to merely use numbers instead of spelling numbers out? Will the Washington Post let me print “asshole”? Will the editors at Penguin demand a certain endnote format? The list goes on and on because there are hundreds of standards. What is right for a doctoral thesis at Stanford and what is acceptable in the Boston Journal of Botany may vary by a little or a lot, but they do vary. One can assume there is a gulf of difference between the stylebooks of the Christian Science Monitor and Penthouse Forum.

This journal also has a style book, though it seems a little overblown to call it that. For formatting, I choose to copy incidental firsts: an illustration I whipped up of my Halloween mask (here) has been the antecedent for every other photo in this journal: I copy those unlikely parameters into every new file I post. The color of this blog’s background came about through accidental experimentation with the bizarre hexadecimal codes in the blog’s template. It was a pain to figure out how to replicate it in Photoshop, but I did it. Now it is saved for use on the borders of all of my Polaroid-looking frames. But or substantive issues, I keep a stylebook detailing the textual rules observed here. It is half a sheet of yellow legal paper, bulleted by handwritten five-pointed scribbles, and I know it is around here somewhere. Doesn’t much matter for today’s post if I find it, though.

That sheet of paper probably tells me the following: star: do not write in the second person. Star: do not reference the blog itself, it’s a platform, not a subject. Star: write about yourself not your friends. Star: be inclusive, explain things for a wider audience than expected. Star: don’t whine. Star: write sentences out; no bulleted lists, net jargon, or other irritating brevities. So look, the thing is only half a page, so it is far from comprehensive. If life gets too tricky, the Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition) is on a shelf about four feet away from me. These tools help me keep a system imposing post consistency from one month to the next. They also to prevent me from posting tempting blog content like this:

“Damn, its been six months since you last heard from me. Good thing I have been writing those letters to each of you. Hey Chris, stop reading this blog and get back to work!” [Star: do not overuse exclamation points or other bizarre punctuation.]

All of this serves to make this project as tidy as possible. My desire is to work up to a writing discipline that will serve me in other areas, but also to keep the posts themselves from straying into ugly or bewildering territories. I also try to keep the content away from subjects off-topic or entirely pointless. There are certain style rules intended to keep these goals, too. There is no sheet for these: I tend to steer away from any daily journal or diary content, preferring to let experiences ripen in hindsight, connect thematically to other experiences, and formulate into a synthesis. I like the subjects of my posts to act as a springboard to research and learning more about the places I am interacting with. I try to write to the point, occurrences grouped by theme or time, which keeps me from dumping long lists of unrelated material together in one heap. Finally, I want to take my time and make something that I worked hard to make, spent some energy and mind on. Combine this with the fact that I work kind of slowly, and only pretend to work in chronological order, and the outcome is that my project is ever more divorced from the rapid timeline of its subject. Something new for the starred sheet, then: take notes, it’ll be six months before you finally tell Chris to get back to work.

So that was my simple plan until I began to stumble upon its problems: any consistency of style is very restricting; little, unripe and disconnected experiences were disappearing between the posts; and oh, that escaping timeline. The fact is that there are very few readers willing to check back once a day for the forty days between entries. Some entries (a long history of everything that has ever happened, for instance) tend to bottleneck the process, too: while I am putting the hard work off, I cannot actually post the easy and fun posts that come along directly after. Who would ever find all the back-dated commentary that I am posting if it is hidden under newer backdated content, born tucked into this blog’s archives? I didn’t mean to insinuate above, if I did, that my own delusions of magazine are the right way to make a nice web log. Indeed, they are probably less valuable to the world than the more traditional bulleted, listed, linked, spur-of-the-moment, and—most importantly—frequently-updated blogs out there. But in the long run, this is not the real reason why I decided to change everything last weekend. Frankly, I decided I really wanted to be able to include some of that traditional, lightweight, easy to make stuff on my space, too. It looked like fun.

That is why I’ve just spent something like fifty hours maddening myself with HTML and CSS to figure out how to include a second, smaller blog beside the longer standard content on this site. It just comes down to the fact that, like many bloggers, I would like to tell you all about the links that I visited this week, toss in a note about my upcoming vacation, or just tell you that nothing of any kind of importance has happened to me today. It could be a forum where I mention things that are happening in the Mexican news that have caught my eye. It might be a place where I can express an unsupported opinion. Mostly, it is a place where I can mention short little experiences that don’t resonate or change my life or teach me much, the disconnected things that were slipping by in the old standard. For example:

On Thursday, November fourth, while it was still daylight on Sunshine’s lone sick day of the year, we stood and watched hundreds and hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies tumble by level with our second floor windows. They were visible from blocks away, black dots that grew in the sky into a pair of spotted gold wings, spindly and random in the air, and then receded into dots again against Cerro de la Silla. The birds were going nuts, swooping to and fro and mostly missing; but occasionally disembodied wings would sprinkle by, leftovers like a stale fortune cookie crust. In the wind, the severed wings floated much the same way that the living butterflies did, dead but persevering.

Why should I have to do without that, just because it makes no difference to whatever else was happening that week? Just because I haven’t gotten around to writing that week yet? Jammed between our trip to Honduras and our friends Tony and Christene rotating back to the US, the butterflies were in danger of being forgotten simply because they were small and there was nowhere to fit them. Is there some reason I could not just impose the above, as is, into my journal? Yes: obsessive compulsion. I didn’t think it would look pretty to have long twenty-two hundred word posts clustered in with bulleted lists and three line sentences. I thought that would annoy me. Because of this, I created a whole new blog for that stuff, figured out how to make a new column for it to live in, and then I tried to figure out how to make it actually appear there to a greater or lesser extent. When all of this was done, I worried that the three column look would coop up longer content into a thin yardage of text scroll, making it harder than ever to read. I worried that the cluttered business of the new design would be confusing. I worried that readers might now know what the temperature was at the Monterrey airport (which is located in the mildly cooler town of Apodaca). The worries snowballed, and I attempted to solve every one of them.

Now it is next week somehow, and I can tell it is daytime because I have the screen tilted away from the window reflection. I am just about done with this. In preparation for the roll-out, the new build, the encroaching go-live date, I wanted to write this down in explanation, even if it varies form the strictest reading of the style book. I was worried that I was alienating my few readers through my inability to keep up with the old blog right. The answer to this problems seems to be to make a bigger blog—two blogs—this I should be able to keep up with no problem. But the answer is also to stay engaged by not restricting myself from sillier, easier content more enjoyable, at times, to both you and me. Star: be interesting.

Copious Notes © the Author

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It's that time again. Beginner headquarters is picking-up house and relocating back to the United States on July twenty-fifth, 2009, to enjoy a month at home with family and friends. By the end of August we'll have set-up a semi-permanent household in Washington, DC, near the Cleveland Park metro stop on the red line. [DC metro map] Then, sometime after Labor Day, our boxes and boxes of stuff should catch up with us. After that it'll be smooth sailing till sometime in July 2010, when we will be moving abroad again, this time to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for a little real winter.

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