mint jelly

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ben Mirov Interviews Justin Taylor

As I write this, I’m still laughing my face off over something Justin Taylor says at the end of his interview with Ben Mirov on BombBlog, through a little word-association:

BM: MFA

JT: If the circumstances that led to your need for this deferment still exist, you may be eligible to extend the deferment, or there may be other types of deferment or forbearance for which you may qualify if you need to further postpone repayment on your loans.

Justin graduated from my MFA creative writing program at The New School the year before I began, and introduced himself to me at a student reading one night after I read. Ben Mirov is also an alum of my MFA program, same years that I attended, and currently serves with me as a poetry editor on LIT magazine.

Now that I’m a graduate, I’ll have the learning experience and community forever, and those loans hanging over my head for almost as long. I deal with that verbiage Justin recites every single month.

Justin Taylor’s new book, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever is available now, and getting fantastic reviews from notable places. Get it on Powell’s, Amazon, or your local bookish store.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fauxcabulary Lessons (on curating, crowdsourcing, and not totally failing)

When I created Fauxcabulary back in August of 2006, my goal was singular, simple… or so I thought: to find and detail the inception of new words as they are coined via the Internet.

Here’s a longer description of what I was looking for:

This site aims to define words found in articles and conversations that are not yet found in dictionaries. Its ultimate intention is to trace the evolution of language as our need and use develop along with technology and culture.

To qualify, a word had to have been used in an article (or post or column) online, but not have yet been included in the major dictionaries. I was not looking for slang, technojargon, or sniglets. There were already a slew of sites like Urban Dictionary that collected trendy words and phrases.

It’s tricky, this issue of techojargon and the fine line to pop culture. I’m not sure where it is.

As an Internet geek, I don’t think twice about using words like twitterverse to give context to a story. I got a little thrill when the word stitchpunk was coined a few months ago, around the opening of the movie 9, and was immediately understood and accepted by readers of Internet articles anywhere. io9 did a great post defining stitchpunk. There’s something special going on with these types of words, but they weren’t really what I was looking to catalog either.


I definitely wasn’t looking to learn any cute pet-names for people and things, but the vast majority of unsolicited submissions were the equivalent of the word shmoopy as coined on Seinfeld, when Jerry and his new girlfriend get really, really annoying to be around. I’m sure I sound ungrateful for the enthusiastic support of friends and family who emailed me new words; they just didn’t belong on Fauxcabulary.

And that’s the part that made me feel like a real dweeb. There they were, my most loyal supporters, and I was going high-brow on them, babbling about my needs for documentation and citation. Any time I didn’t include a word, even a charming word like “idiotsyncrasy” (submitted with laughter by my mother and stepfather) I felt like I was making a mistake. Not a mistake against my tiny but growing catalog (which I felt I had to treat as precious), but a mistake nevertheless, a missed opportunity perhaps, to do with the website community, or more accurately, my audience. At the time, I believed my friends and family were my only visitors. By being more loyal to the submission guidelines, I choked off a lot of interaction and dialogue. Looking back, I could have done something as easy as make a new catagory. I could have featured a new pet-word a week. Who knows.

I mean, what was I really interested in collecting? Words? Stories? Or maybe moments in history, a word that serves as a little tick-mark that says, “there, that’s where this started.” Like, you’ve heard of Dweezil Zappa, right?

In his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book we read the story of Zappa’s wife Gail, who was very beautiful, but had a funny looking baby toe.

“It wasn’t a toe, it was a dweezil” he writes.

So while their first son was being born, a nurse made Frank fill out the hospital forms, but they hadn’t yet decided on a name for the baby. Frank wrote “Dweezil” for the first name. Under religion, he wrote, “Musician.” The nurse, according to Zappa, was not amused.

It’s sad to think my submission guidelines would have rejected a word like Dweezil just because it’s the pet name of Frank Zappa’s wife’s toe. But then, my curator brain takes over. If every woman’s weird baby toe was called a dweezil, then we’d have a winner. There’s the crux of the biscuit.*

I found it extremely hard to find words worthy of being included in Fauxcabulary on my own while also sticking to the guidelines. Typically, I’d find them through serendipity while reading the daily interwebs, but when my free time became overtaken by the pursuit of graduate school admissions, and then graduate school itself, I had less and less time to look. And less time to document and post. And so Fauxcabulary went mostly dormant.

Again, I felt like I was making a mistake even though I figured by that point, surely nobody was looking. Maybe my dictionary constraint was just too impractical. My silly little blog wasn’t needed.

There were more established and more popular “new word” or “dictionary” sites out there, curated by more official, or more Internet-famous people, like Dictionary Evangelist Erin McKean who speaks at TED and generally does awesome things in this regard as a lexicographer. Then in June of 2009, McKean launched Wordnik.com. I felt that bittersweet combination of admiration and regret that any creative person feels when they see something they wish they had been responsible for. I joined Wordnik, and took delight in adding my first word to their bank. Better to add a word to a viable website I thought, than keep it to myself and my own humble little cause.

Then in August of 2009, just two months after the launch of Wordnik, my friend Richard Nash sent me an email that said only this, “Erin McKean, former head of Oxford’s US Dictionary program, and now EiC of Wordnik.com, misses Fauxcabulary...!”

Cue the dramatic pan of camera from the computer monitor to my stricken, shocked face. Cue my slow and staggered rise from the chair, the flutter of hand to brow, the agonized moan, the humbling pride of being on the radar of Erin McKean for genuine and geek-worthy reasons, and the sore, sore regret upon reading the email thread in which she remembered the launch of Fauxcabulary, and was “sad” when “they” didn’t keep it up.

I had done something right, and I had done something wrong. But I wasn’t sure at the time how I could have done anything differently. While I was mulling over the consequences of both strict guidelines for submissions and lack of content for Fauxcabulary, one of my lovely author clients, Bruce Frankel, submitted neologinerd and the etymology of the word nerd. Deciding to go with the flow, I cataloged them in Fauxcabulary.

In a strange coincidence less than a month later, I was honored to be encouraged to apply for (another one of Wordnik’s founders) John McGrath’s former job at the New York Times. He had been the one behind Wordie.org, which now forwards to Wordnik. I was told that McGrath left the NYT to work full-time on Wordnik. It felt so weird and awesome to once again overlap with a fellow neologinerd. I declined to go for the job at the NYT, as awesome as it sounded, because I already had many irons in many fires. Sometimes I wonder what might have been, but then ultimately I don’t, because my goal is more to be where a person like McGrath is going, as opposed to where he’s already been. 

So.

I’m still taking submissions for Fauxcabulary.com, and I encourage you to read my laborious submission guidelines, even though experience and common sense tell me that I have absolutely no right to expect you to do so. Or shoot me an email at info at fauxcabulary dot com.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mother Lu's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie:

I’d like to share my great-grandmother’s pumpkin chiffon pie recipe, a Thanksgiving tradition from my maternal grandmother’s mother.

Mother Lu’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie:

Ingredients

  • 1 envelope Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 9” baked pie shell
  • whipped cream

Instructions

  1. Mix gelatin, dark brown sugar, salt and spices thoroughly in saucepan.
  2. Stir in water, milk, egg yolks and pumpkin and mix well.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until starts to bubble and mixture mounds slightly when dropped from spoon. Set aside in refrigerator to cool.
  4. Beat egg whites until stiff.
  5. Beat white sugar into stiff egg whites.
  6. Fold gelatin mixture into stiffly beaten egg whites/sugar mixture.
  7. Turn into baked pie shell and chill until firm.
  8. Serve with whipped cream.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NaNoWriMo BloPo

This is my NaNoWriMo blog post. While I and many others have failed to complete the simple task of posting once a day for thirty days, some excellent people are actually meeting the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, and writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.

One such writer is Viviane Schwarz, UK-based author and illustrator of children’s books. She’s one of my most favorite twitter friends I’ve not met yet in person. Based on her updates, I know she can install Unix or make herself a dress out of old Marvel comic bedsheets while inking hamsters. Once she said her printer was too shiny so I sent her a bunch of stickers I collected over the years in DC, NYC, and around. In response, she sent me a rachelortas.co.uk bunny postcard, some English-flavored stickers with words like “rotsome” and “slime-wanglers,” and best of all, some hand-inked cutouts of characters from her books!

I love them so much (sorry for the lack of pictures for now, i suck).

Viviane and Frank Brinkley have a great interview in Qype does London about their motivations and impressions doing NaNoWriMo so far. I think many writers can identify with (or aspire to) a lot of things they have to say:

“Viviane Schwarz: The most surprising thing so far was that for the first time I managed to write personal things without being at all bitter. I normally write happy things for small children, and when I write longer texts for myself all the anger and sadness I’m not normally allowed creep in and the whole thing becomes rather nasty. I always worry that I’ll write awful things about real people by accident and it will be unpublishable (because I wouldn’t want to get in trouble with them). But writing at this speed, without thinking about it much beforehand, I don’t have time to get worked up about what I feel. It’s coming out funny and honest rather than obsessive. I based one of the characters on myself and it’s surprising what she’s like - not as nice as I thought in some ways, not as bad as I thought in others. Sometimes when I finished writing for the day I realise I have mellowed towards people who irritated the heck out of me, just because I wrote about it and understood my own part in it better.”

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writers and the First World War

An interesting article on why writers define the first world war. “As well as its other horrific innovations, this was the first occasion when those in the firing line could record their experiences.”

After reading everything I did in grad school, I feel like EVERYTHING harkens back to the influence of writers coming out of WWI and WWII. One of my self-defined categories for books in my bookshelves is for books like these. 

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I am Irregular

Dammit!

I missed posting yesterday. Woke up this morning and that was one of my first thoughts.

It’s not that I forgot. As is typically my way, I remembered a bunch of times, but in each of those moments, I was otherwise occupied or responsible for something that I gave a higher priority: emails, food, configuring the interweb, reading massive amounts.

Still, how lame. What’s that — 10 days in?

I decided to do NaBloPoMo exactly because posting on my blog has almost never been a daily or regular event for me. While I can write on demand (or speak on demand, no performance anxiety here) I’ve always preferred to leave posting to times I’m excited about something, or feel that something is timely enough that I can’t let it pass without mentioning. I have some posts just waiting around in my head, a couple for years that may never get written.

I’m a bad blogger, but I never meant to be a blogger. I don’t really read blogs anymore, not the personal kind, except for a couple exceptions, just the way this isn’t really a personal blog anymore.

Last night, it would certainly have been easy enough to post one line, to post a photo, a link, so why didn’t I do that at some point when I remembered (or when I made a change to something here on the back-end of mintjelly)? Well, because after remembered about 4 times throughout the day, and having it in my to-do list, I forgot. By 6:30pm last night (an arbitrary time for me, but I realize this is when most people are heading home), my mind got taken over by domestic, financial, and unpaid-job responsibilities, and then my brain shut down and I forgot to remember again. This morning, my missing post joined in with the chorus of other terrors that wake me too early, along with this curious pain around my back and sides.

I’ve always wished I was a regular type of person. A person who goes to bed and wakes up at the same time, works out on a regular schedule, calls people on Sunday, always goes to the store on Monday, and so forth. But I never have. Any time I try, it lasts from between a week and a month. I do always keep doing whatever I’m doing, just on my own schedule. In most cases it works out fine, in the case of this experiment of NaBloPoMo, I have disappointed, but not surprised myself. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

The Disinitermediation Era and the ELO

This is the beginning of The Disintermediation Era, according to Tara Hunt at horsepigcow.com. If your job is based on managing a false scarcity of information, she writes, you’re screwed. Originally, the role of middle man was to facilitate, to introduce and provide, but today “these middle-men are our modern villains — using every desperate trick in the book to hold onto customers while we find creative ways to go around them, go straight to the source and sometimes just do it ourselves.”

We’ve all been wondering what the future will look like, some for longer than others. Michael Hart, former editor and founder of Project Gutenburg has been trying to digitize books since the early 1970’s. The goal is to have digitized 10 million eBooks translated into 100 different languages, one billion ebooks, by 2030.

Hart sound remarkably relaxed for someone who’s been at it for almost four decades:

Well, from 1971 to 1988-89 no one paid any attention so it was just me with tilting at windmills, but I knew eBooks and eLibraries should be two of the great wonders of an entirely new world, so I was never tempted to give up–never. I just had to wait for the world to catch up.

Believe it or not people were still saying eBooks were never going to make it just a few years ago. Look for a quote in the Wall St. Journal: “Ebooks are never going to make it.” Before that the NY Times: look for: “twitchy” screen. However now that it’s obvious they are moving eBooks on their own, but I can’t tell how serious they are. They may just be following the rule of simple reporting: “Follow The Money.” If eBooks fall flat will they all just move on and pretend there was never any interest?

The first goal of PG was just to prove eBooks feasible. My own estimations were that it would take about 10,000, and that seems to have proved correct as Google called me in to advise them ASAP after we hit 10,000, and we went to do just that on December 14, 2003: and they announced they had invented eBooks and eLibraries December 14, 2004. However, they did the opposite, or rather exact opposite of what I said they should do and look what happened. Most of the big legal fray is because they were more money oriented, and as such may have intentionally played the copyright cards that got them in the big legal hassles. If they had started out by emphasizing the public domain it probably would have worked out a lot better for them in the press as the good will they would have built up would have gone a long way.

Personally, I am OK with nearly any eBook format that is compact and search quote friendly.

I am very down with Gutenburg’s goals, and very attuned to Hart’s fears and projections:

The laws will be tested as it becomes more and more obvious that there is no longer any copyright expiration…ever…permanent copyright!

It will cost more than Iraq, more than Wall St. Each 20 years of copyright extension removes a million public domain books, not to mention newspapers, magazines, music, movies, etc., etc., etc. If you count a lifetime of access to one of those million books worth $.01, then think how much it costs 300 million people to lose a million books each, as public domain, for their entire lifetimes.

The powers that be don’t want a very literate well educated public. Did you ever watch Roots? Remember the slave who went to Harvard Law School??

I’m afraid that the following catch phrase will take on ever more meaning:

“The Information Age: For Whom? Only Those Who Can Pay For It?”

The goal of Project Gutenberg has always been to create “An Information Age” not as something on the order of “The Digital Divide,” but something greater in terms of bringing literacy and education to the masses free of all charge and in a way the vast majority can access instantly.

Be sure to read the whole article, especially if, like me, you’ve become a bit obsessed with the question of who owns what pieces of information (publishers? google? authors/musicians/artists?), what happens between creator and audience, and what happens to the creation once it’s out in the world for a while. How can people get paid for their work, and how can they share, gain, or provide some sort of larger benefit through their work?

The answer (or beginnings of an answer) whether this is something we feel as a fluttering in our bellies or as an ache in our bones, exists somewhere near social publishing and crowd-sourcing.

At the same time, formally untapped audiences and contributors previously denied access to publishing’s pipeline aren’t just “seizing the tools of production” they’re also reclaiming public speech and communication — the means by which they can create and promote work (which up until recently was dominated by highly groomed and targeted messages, bought and paid for by corporate gatekeepers. Knowing this, marketers have been trying for years to blend their bottom-line messages in info-tainment, edu-tainment, or playing ventriloquist through media channels huge and tiny). There’s no more bulk rate for junk mail and another rate for a civilian’s greeting cards, there’s the broadcast potential of the internet.


I probably shouldn’t write while listening to relatively obscure older punk rock (operation ivy and fifteen) that’s triggering a simultaneous offline conversation about what it meant to rely on one’s social circle and geo-location to find new ideas and culture (for example, being 14 years old in 1989, finding via mixtape and word-of-mouth)... if I can get out of my own way for a sec, I’m trying to eventually point you to Poetryspeaks.

Via Publishers Weekly, I’ve finally checked out Poetryspeaks.com and it sounds like a boon for poets, publishers, and poetry lovers. I think poets will also have a better shot at selling their works when audiences can buy as few or as many as they’d like from a variety of poets. I can see people being very interested in buying poetry “mixtapes.”

The Web site features three different sections—PS Voices, SpokenWord and YourMic—designed to create an online community that will let poets manage their own information page and provide a channel for published and unpublished poets to download material and to sell both print and digital works. “We want to bring poetry to as broad a group of consumers as possible,” said Raccah.

Sites like this, where you can find many poets rather than just an individual poet’s site, will start to serve the whole ecology better. I’ll be able to find poets through serendipity and browsing as well as search,. Meanwhile, more poets and the users benefit from the latest technological innovations that allow them more easily handle things like ecommerce and multimedia and on-demand print distribution.

I have just begun to read and think about contributions to The Electronic Literature Organization but I am their huckleberry, for whatever they want of me. I love a good mission statement, “To facilitate and promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media.”

Man, Joy Division is so good. Sorry… still with the music playing in the background here. I can’t really write and listen to music at the same time. Apologies for the stilted/patched nature of this post.

And for anyone interested, I uploaded some photos from the Intro to Electronics class at NYC Resistor. Out of nowhere my friend Kosta was there, and I got to hang with Kio and look at her fully functioning board when I got confused. It was so fun, I’ll have to play with the kit Raphael let us take home to practice with, and ask again about taking an old power plug apart before I blow up the house.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Good Stuff

MacHeist is giving away a bundle of free software, including the word processing applications WriteRoom and Mariner Write. WriteRoom is designed to help you block out all the visual noise and distractions of your computer, hiding toolbars and so forth, while Mariner Write is to be an alternative to Microsoft Word. If 500,000 people download the bundle, getting 5 free applications to try no matter what happens, they’ll unlock the license to Mariner Write and everyone will get that for free too.

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