I’VE BEEN BUSY this month:
- Updated! Writing the Book on Web Design, Jeffrey Zeldman interview, Communication Arts Insights, March 24, 2015. “This is the beauty of a design career: you have the opportunity to create what you feel is missing from the world.”
- Zen and the Art of Wearable Markup, by Jeffrey Zeldman, The Pastry Box Project, March 21, 2015. Should my pants understand HTML? (My first Pastry Box piece!)
- You, Inc: Going from Developer to Web agency (interview with Jeffrey Zeldman), by Jeff Pflueger, Pantheon, March 20, 2015. Career tips.
- Interview: Jeffrey Zeldman, PSD To WordPress, March 20, 2015. Cartoons, music, and web design.
- Automan, The Dan Benjamin Show, March 19, 2015. Dan and I discuss the death of Internet Explorer.
- Designing the Web with Jeffrey Zeldman, The Web Ahead, March 18, 2015. Jen Simmons conducts a remarkable, in-depth interview on web design history, the state of web design and development, the future of our medium, and our masochistic love affair with Big Brother.
- Jeffrey Zeldman on What He Wants All Designers to Know, Founder Dating, March 4, 2015. I’m an entrepreneur, and you can, too!
- Jesus and the Uber Driver by Jeffrey Zeldman, Medium, March 3, 2015. The panic and the passion. (My first Medium piece!)
And March is only half over.
I’M CELEBRATING my birthday with a painful stomach virus that began Thursday night and shows no signs of leaving. It feels like a jackass kicking me from the inside. I can’t eat—I tried last night, with hideous results—and have little energy: walking my daughter to school this morning wiped me out. Aside from joining a couple of remote business meetings later, I plan to spend today horizontal and quietly moaning.
The nice thing about the sickness, which began as a chest cold two weeks ago, is that it spares me from the whole social birthday thing. I’ve been too sick to plan a party or even think about one. And that suits me fine. When you turn 16 or 21, you want the world to hug you for it. But as the years rack up, the urge to announce your birth anniversary fades. Or so I have found.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m overjoyed to be alive after all these years, and boundlessly grateful to the universe and my ex for the child I love and protect. Food, shelter, and love matter. The rest is optional.
MY FRIENDS have invited me to a New Year’s Eve party, but I’m too sick to leave the apartment. Hell, it took me all day to muster the je ne sais quoi to go downstairs to pick up my laundry.
Achieving that much—it required me to press an elevator button and exchange a few pleasantries with my doorman—wiped me out. Having achieved it, and closed the door behind me, I am more than content to spend the rest of the night (at least as much of it as I can stay awake for) sitting in my apartment in the gathering dark, listening to Kind of Blue, and creating new photographs by recropping old ones.
Anyway, New Year’s Eve is for amateurs. Back when I was a drunk, I had a name for the kind of drinking most normal people will indulge in tonight: I called it Monday. All that bile, all those tears and toilet confessions, all that coming to on somebody’s floor and searching for a fresh drink—it’s nothing I miss.
There was a time between that time and this when I was half of a beautiful couple, and we were expected to show up at social functions everywhere. How happy I was when our newborn baby gave us an excuse to spend New Year’s at home. Now I’m counting the days til my daughter returns from visiting her mom for the holidays, and calling this week’s sick time “me” time. Ain’t no party like a DayQuil party.
I wish you all joy, meaning, and safety in 2015.
I WATCHED dozens of Barbie videos hundreds of times when my daughter was three and four years old. I can’t praise their animation, dialog, or other cinematic and literary qualities, but this I can say in their favor: every Barbie video we watched was feminist and empowering in its messaging.
This was not the Barbie my girl cousin grew up with, wondering which outfit she should wear to please Ken. This Barbie kicked ass.
In one video, set in 18th Century France, Barbie and her roommates overcame sexism to become Musketeers. They exposed a conspiracy, beat male villains at swordplay, and more than once saved the life of the kingdom’s rather ineffectual prince. (The downside of the Barbie videos’ crude but seemingly heartfelt feminism was that they tended to portray men as wimps or scumbags. Women are strong in the Barbie videos; good men are not.)
In another video, Barbie was an actor who became a film director when the director of the picture in which she was starring tried to patronize her. In Fairytopia, the first and worst animated of the videos, Barbie went on a Lord-of-the-Rings-style quest and saved an entire kingdom from ruin. In A Fashion Fairytale, she saved her aunt’s business from bankruptcy by an evil (woman) competitor, and then helped that competitor turn from the dark side to the light. In other words, she kicked ass but also nurtured and forgave. Assertive and supportive. A fighter and a hugger.
I watched these videos over and over, because children aged three to four thrive on repetition. I got familiar enough that I could quote the dialog as easily as I quote from Rushmore or North By Northwest. I was relieved when my daughter outgrew Barbie, because my mind craved something a little more grown-up in the film narrative department. But I never once worried that the videos were telling my daughter she could be anything but awesome. I never watched a single Barbie video that told girls life was about finding and pleasing anyone besides yourself.
This was also the time in my daughter’s development when we bought Barbie reading books and Barbie dolls. When I was three, Barbie had a thousand ways to look beautiful. When my daughter was three, Barbie had a thousand ways to earn a living.
You can find fault with Barbie. For one thing, she still promotes a vision of the world in which caucasian features set the beauty standard—a world in which, even if there are variously ethnic friends in the mix, the main character is always white. Then there are her unrealistic physical dimensions, which have been tied to self-loathing and eating disorders in girls and women. (Not that Barbie’s is the only unrealistic physique girls contend with—they’re bombarded with the stuff from birth.) The Barbie stories never question the established social order. They inspire girls to achieve, but obviously they don’t address male/female pay discrepancy or other serious social issues.
Musketeer Barbie saves the prince; she doesn’t ask why do we need a prince? Shouldn’t we invent representative democracy? And how about letting a woman run things?
Barbie won’t save us. But she’s not as bad as all that.
For young girls who have just begun seeing the world through the filter of gender, today’s Barbie does some good. Barbie videos were some of the only stories we watched back then that didn’t require me to immediately explain, apologize for, and caution against believing, one or more horrifying biases. Viewed a classic Disney film lately?
The internet feeds on outrage and cat gifs. And the recent outing of a Barbie story that appears to conform to 1950s-Barbie-thinking made perfect fodder. But it might simply be a book that teaches children how different professionals work together to create the digital games they enjoy playing. A designer is part of the mix; so are developers and other professionals, whose complementary skills support each other. That’s how it works when I design stuff. In my work, almost every day, there are things that go wrong that oblige me to call someone else to fix them. I notice a problem on a server; I reach out to a sysadmin. It isn’t because I’m a boy and boys are dumb. It’s because designers aren’t sysadmins.
All right. Fair enough. It was a terrible error for the illustrator to make all the technical people male. That sends an awful message—one lots of us have been working to fight. It’s disturbing that nobody at the publishing house realized the inferences that could be drawn from this mistake. And if this were my only exposure to Barbie in the past ten years, I’d be drawing those inferences and storming the barricades (i.e. retweeting) with the rest of my peeps.
But honestly? I spent two long years with the Barbie franchise. I think the women running it today are serious about girl power. Maybe the unfortunately timed illustration error reveals a deep sexist conspiracy. Or maybe it’s just one of those things nobody thought about while rushing a cheap book to print.
SATURDAY October 25 will be the 14th anniversary of my mother’s passing. Let’s honor it with this 2006 entry from the vaults of My Glamorous Life.
Read: Hi, Mom!
CHICAGO is a dynamite town, but it may not be the best place to recover from a cold. Since I arrived, my virus has gone from a 4 to an 11. There’s a spectacular view out my hotel window, which I’ve spent the day ignoring by sleeping. I have several nice friends in this town who I’m similarly ignoring, having canceled plans with them today because of this fershlugginer cold. I was flat on my back, sleeping, my phone like a cat on my chest, when my dad called this afternoon to recommend gargling with a three percent peroxide solution. My trainer texted a moment later to ixnay the peroxide. She recommended going back to bed to finish sweating it out, and that looks like my plan for the next twelve hours, give or take a hot bath.
I brought a heap of work with me to Chicago, planning to tackle it between visits with Chicagoland friends, but the cold has pushed all chance of work aside. I got one sentence written for an Ask Dr Web column—the easiest task on my plate—and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t so much write that sentence as copy and paste it from a reader’s email. Come to think of it, it wasn’t even a sentence. It was a question, which the column I was going to write was supposed to answer. So the sum total of my work today consisted of selecting and copying a question and pasting it into a blank piece of digital paper. Also answering the phone, and removing the Do Not Disturb sign from my door just long enough to admit Room Service.
I get colds a lot. My daughter brings them home from school to visit, and when they see my lungs they move in for the winter. And who can blame them? I’ve got great lungs. All the years I smoked cigarettes, I never caught colds, go figure. There’s a message in that, or maybe not. Maybe I just never caught cold when I was young and had no kid, but time has corrected both of those things.
It’s nice to be awake for a few minutes, listening to the inane chatter that passes for my consciousness and sharing it with you. Thank you for reading. And thank you, Chicago, for your marathon winds. I thought New York was a tough town. New York ain’t nothing to this.
SLEPT much of yesterday. Slept till 1 PM today. Whatever this bug is I’ve got, it lets me work and care for my child during the week, then flattens me all weekend. Fortunately my daughter can amuse herself for hours, as I could at her age. I hope she will not be as lonely as I was. Am.
THERE WAS THIS GUY, sax player, used to honk all up and down the Q Train to Coney Island. Thought he was Sun Ra. Wasn’t.
JUST WEEKS ago, my daughter’s mother moved out of state. The kid’s been having a tough time with it, and with school, and with her upcoming tenth birthday, which won’t work out the way she hoped. And then, over the weekend, her laptop and mine both broke—hers by cat-and-ginger-ale misfortune, mine by gravity abetted by my stupidity.
To lighten the mood, this morning broke grey, pounding rain. We pulled on our hoodies, scooped up our bodega umbrellas, and shrugged on our backpacks—hers heavy with school books, mine with gym clothes, a camera, and two busted laptops.
We were standing by the elevator when an apartment door burst open and Ava’s best friend in the world sprinted down the hall to hug her good morning. The two girls embraced until the elevator arrived.
The whole dark wet walk to school, my child hummed happily to herself.