Zeldman on Web and Interaction Design

Web design news and insights since 1995

Resist revenge tweeting. 8 Nov 2020, 3:26 pm

The people have removed a tyrant. I feel the joy and wonder of a newborn thing.

My relief is so intense, it’s physical—my body has begun a slow unkinking, cell by cell, muscle by clenched muscle.

But I’m resisting my urge to be publicly clever about Trump’s defeat.

Because, darn it, Joe Biden calls on us to be better.

Yes, many on the other side, if they had won, would exult in rubbing our faces in it. Yes, it should be our turn to hurt them.

But isn’t that how we got here? Tribalism and ridicule of the other?

Isn’t resentment at being looked down upon by better educated, more privileged people part of what led to Trump’s victory in 2016?

There’s lots I could say about the racism and cruelty of many Trump supporters that would justify rubbing their noses in Trump’s defeat.

And after our country’s narrow escape from Fascist authoritarianism, the desire is strong to punish those who, knowingly or not, carried us to the precipice.

But an eye for an eye—well, you know.

Today, how I contribute to my nation’s healing is by taking this really fine tweet I just wrote, and deleting it, unposted.


Photo by H Shaw on Unsplash. Hat tip to Button Monkey for his friendship.

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As Fresh as an Airline Food Joke 16 Oct 2020, 11:58 am

For years, for the sake of some hack standup comic’s guaranteed cheap chuckle, the hallowed untruths have recirculated: Yoko broke up the Beatles. (She didn’t.) Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet. (He didn’t.) Some third thing. (It wasn’t.)

And our acceptance of these lies begat an easy swallowing of bigger lies, amid a deepening skepticism about the very notion of truth. After smiling faintly at the eleventh joke about Yoko, many among us came to believe it was based on a truth. The more who believed, the more who thought surely it must be true.

Knowing that previous human beings believed all kinds of old bullshit doesn’t keep us from swallowing new bullshit and asking for seconds. The earth is flat. Jews drink the blood of Christian children. Our crops failed because that woman who rebuffed our advances copulated with Satan. We would have won the war if only our leaders hadn’t sold us out and stabbed us in the back.

It’s a Satanic torment: feed me and I grow hungrier. Lies, lies, and more lies, and our hunger for lies grows more ravenous the more lies you feed us.

Why do you feed us lies? To keep yourself in power.

What do the lies make us think? They make us think you’re one of us.

And the more lies we swallow, the more you hold us in contempt. You do not love us. You do not respect us. You are not our friend.

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The dogs won’t eat it 1 Oct 2020, 6:16 pm

My father used to tell this story to his project management students.

The executives of a dog food company were holding a meeting.

“The new label design tested through the roof!” said the VP of Marketing. “In double blind tests, it outperformed our B and C designs across all demos.”

“Unprompted recall has doubled since our last campaign,” the VP of Advertising chimed in. “Our ‘Share the Love’ theme line has gone viral.”

“‘Dog Mommies’ in key ethnic demos responded favorably to the new, ‘organic’ ingredients,” added the VP of Research. “The ‘fresh chunk of love’ concept is going over like gangbusters.”

“Our new ‘green’ delivery chain efficiencies look like a winner,” said the Director of PR and the Chief Scientist in unison. “We’re a cinch to win Green Co of the Month in Green Business Magazine.”

“So why,” asked the CEO, “are sales trending down?”

The executives looked blankly at one another. Finally the youngest of them spoke up.

“The dogs won’t eat it,” she explained.

No amount of marketing can save a bad product.


Photo by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash

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My Glamorous Life: Sunday Repairs 13 Sep 2020, 9:40 pm

For about a week, now, my bedroom floor has been torn up due to under-floor flooding created by a malfunctioning window air conditioning unit.

The A/C unit began leaking during the summer months when I lay in bed with COVID-19, and, in my sickness, I initially did not notice the leakage. When I did notice, I was too sick to do anything about it, other than turn off the air conditioner. Summer in New York did not make that sustainable.

Months passed, I began to recover, and repair people began to work in people’s homes again as New York flattened the curve and began carefully easing restrictions. Six weeks ago, I hired an authorized air conditioning repairman to make a house call and check the air conditioning units. (There are three window units in the apartment; one leaked and all three were radically underperforming.)

I thought the fancy repairman had stopped my bedroom unit from leaking, and apparently so did he. On that basis, I authorized a floor repairman to rip up my bedroom floor and replace all the warped floorboards. It took me three weeks to get the floor guy to come here.

He came, he pulled up some of the floorboards, and he immediately stopped working. It was impossible to continue the repairs, he explained, because the under-floor was badly flooded. He asked why I had waited to so long to get him in. I told him I’d been trying to get him to come for three weeks.

So, anyway.

So, anyway, he ripped up more of the floor, then went away and told me to wait a few weeks for the under-floor to dry out.

A week passed. The water under the floorboards didn’t seem to be in any hurry to evaporate.

Then this morning I couldn’t open or close my bedroom door, because  the floor area near the bedroom’s entranceway had suddenly begun to buckle. By pulling with all my might, I was able to open the door, and I will have to leave my bedroom open until my floor is fixed.

Why was the leak spreading, I wondered. And then I noticed that the air conditioning unit had begun leaking again. There was a fresh pool of water on the floor beneath the unit that hadn’t been there last night.

So I called upon Damir, a porter-slash-handyman who works in the building. He’s exceedingly courteous and warm-hearted, happy to take on odd jobs, and remarkably competent at diagnosing and repairing the many things that can go wrong in an apartment.

(Be thankful I’m only boring you with this tale of the flood, and not listing the many other home repairs that have become necessary since around the time the quarantine began.)

Damir elevatored up to my apartment and immediately found the twin causes of the bedroom air conditioner leak. First, there is filthy gunk in the guts of the unit that prevents the water from draining. Second, because of the way it was first installed, the unit is angled forward into the room instead of tipped slightly backward. As a result, all that icy, backed-up water leaks down into my apartment instead of spilling harmlessly out the window and into the alley behind the building.

Over the months I was sick, enough water had quietly leaked into the room for all that cold wetness to find a weakness in the flooring—a point of entry—where the water secretly settled like a doom in the darkness under the floor.

Damir brought up a hand truck to lug the A/C unit down to the building’s basement, where he will hose out the guts of the machine. Then he will reinstall the machine and build a shim under it to tip it backward so future leaks go out the window. It looks like he may get everything finished by tonight.

While Damir was making ready to cart the A/C unit away, he emptied my vacuum cleaner and vacuumed up the bedroom. Meanwhile, I moved all the stored items (boxes, drinks, rocking horse) out of the hall that leads to the bedrooms, so there would be room for Damir to cart the huge air conditioner away. 

Damir and I were both wearing masks, of course, and in my post-COVID weakness, I found myself breathing heavily while I lugged the junk out of the hall.

Remember, several weeks ago, I paid several hundred dollars to an authorized air conditioner repairman who didn’t do any of the work Damir is doing and didn’t even notice the cause of the flooding or recognize that the flooding would continue. Damir, a building porter, would seem to be a better air conditioning repairman than the authorized air conditioning repairman was. 

If the work Damir does today finally stops the A/C from leaking into the apartment, then the next step, after the under-floor dries out, will be for the floor guy to finish pulling up all the floorboards, replacing them with new ones, and buffing and enameling everything to turn those planks into a floor.

The hardwood floors are one of the most beautiful things about this apartment; I hope, some months from now, some semblance of what they used to be will be restored. Although at this point, I’d probably settle for ugly linoleum and the ability to shut and open my bedroom door.

Update: 60 minutes later…

Damir cleaned and reinstalled the bedroom A/C, mopped up a lot of the flood water on my bedroom floor, built a shim to tilt back the window unit after installing it, and checked 60 minutes later to be sure it wasn’t leaking. (It isn’t.)

He also cleaned the filters in the living room unit and Ava’s bedroom. I thought I had cleaned them but I did a poor job. Two words: cat hair. It gets stuck in all the units, causing them to malfunction. Basically, Snow White + my poor home upkeep skills + five months with COVID-19, not really paying attention to what was happening in my apartment, led to all this.

Thank goodness for Damir.

(I tipped him very well; that’s my job.)

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Fear and loathing on 9/11 11 Sep 2020, 2:06 pm

On Sept. 11, 2002 I was speaking at a web conference in Las Vegas. I’d wanted to turn down the gig, but my partner said if I did, the terrorists would win. We talked that way back then.

A cheesily animated digital American flag was flying on the Jumbotron overlooking the Bellagio fountains. Cheesily animated fighter jets replaced it.

I live in NYC and my partner was home in NYC and it was strange and terrible to be away from her and isolated poolside at Caesar’s Palace on that first 9/11 anniversary.

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See me speak: WordPress.com Growth Summit 28 Jul 2020, 3:28 pm

WordPress.com is holding its first virtual conference, I’m speaking there, and you’re invited. The WordPress.com Growth Summit is a two-day live event where you can learn to build and grow your site, “from start to scale.” To make it as inclusive as possible, the event will take place twice, with live sessions accessible to all Earth’s time zones:

  • In the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, the conference is August 11-12 from 11:00am–4:00pm EDT (15:00–20:00 UTC).
  • For attendees in the Asia Pacific region, the event is August 12-13 from 11:00am–4:00pm JST (02:00–07:00 UTC).
  • Can’t attend all of the sessions you’re interested in? No problem. The WordPress.com events team will record them all and make them available to you after the event.

diverse group of speakers will share tips on creating your site, aligning it to your business goals, finding an audience, building and nurturing an organic fan community, and more. 

As for me, I’ll co-host “Blogging and Podcasting: Defining Success” with the amazing Jason Snell. Here’s how we describe our panel:

There are almost as many ways to succeed at blogging and podcasting as there are bloggers and podcasters. In a lively discussion full of plentiful tips and takeaways, industry veterans Jason Snell (The Incomparable, Six Colors) and Jeffrey Zeldman (A List Apart, WordPress.com) will teach you how to:

  • Define your mission;
  • Craft and govern content;
  • Understand and cultivate your audience;
  • Maintain authenticity;
  • React to change.

You’ll also learn when and how to diversify, and how to make money with paywalls, stores, advertising, and more.

Explore the entire schedule of breakout sessions, demos, keynotes, panels, and talks.

It’s only $79 to attend if you order your ticket by Friday, July 31. On top of which, zeldman.com fans get an additional 20% discount with code Jeffrey20

After July 31, the ticket price will be $99. So register today.

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Covid-19 Progress Report 27 Jul 2020, 11:07 pm

People have kindly asked how I’m doing, so here’s the answer: I’m doing better. Most days, I’m doing a lot better. My doctor says it sounds like I’m making a good recovery. Making a good recovery, not recovered. Sounds like. I’m what they call a long-hauler

I came down with a virus in late February, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 20 March, and stayed bedridden at home until mid-June, when I began returning to work. My company has a remote work force and a non-exploitative attitude toward its employees, so I was able to work from home, in sleepwear, at my own pace.

Initially I could only work a few hours a day. As I kept working into July, I built up a tolerance to fatigue and discomfort, while also slowly shedding the disease’s more intense symptoms. 

Generally, I’ve felt more and more like myself—except when I carry a few light packages, walk more than ten paces, or stoop to clean the floor. When I do those things for more than a few seconds, I have to stop and fight for each loud, wheezing breath. The discomfort lasts a minute or two, and then, as I rest, I feel “normal” again.

I’ve been viewing the lung stuff as post-COVID damage, which I hope someday will go away. But I might be wrong to think I’m past the disease. Two weeks ago, the lung stuff aside, I would have said I’d finally recovered from COVID-19, even if my doctor, that very week, would not say so.

But then last Monday, attending a virtual conference, I worked too many hours in a row—and for the rest of last week, I was symptomatic. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I sat at my desk working as well as I could through bruising migraine headaches, nausea, and periods of fatigue that were hard to wave aside.

I took Friday off and slept. I slept Saturday. I slept Sunday. My migraine and nausea continued through all three days of rest. I took today off as well and felt better. But now I feel bleh again. Tomorrow, however I feel, I will return to work. 

I have friends who’ve also been symptomatic for months, and I’ve swapped stories with dozens more. I also know folks who died from this disease, so I’m grateful to just feel lousy.

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Watching Adventure Time again 27 Jul 2020, 4:47 pm

Watching Adventure Time again after not having seen it for a year or two, I’m struck by its raw creative exuberance, broad emotional and tonal range, fearless exploration of psychological and political subject matter, brilliant voice acting (including culturally knowing cameos and characterizations), long narrative arcs, and freedom from external constraint.

Also, those color palettes.

We were fortunate to live when such a program was being made.


Cross-posted to Twitter, beginning here.

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The Young Man from Proviso and His Monkey Friends Meet the Hamburglar 23 Jul 2020, 10:33 am

There was a young man from Proviso, California. He was a kind young man, and a smart young man, and he had three monkey friends: Provo, Rebozo, and Lobo. 

Provo, Rebozo, and Lobo were magical monkeys who could shrink down so small you could barely see them, or grow to full size, or anything in-between. Provo was pink, Rebozo was blue, and Lobo was purple. They wore fancy three-piece custom-tailored suits in bold colors that complemented and contrasted with the color of their fur. Pink Provo, for example, wore a blue suit with bright yellow piping on the collar and shiny green buttons.

The three monkeys resided inside magical bubbles, which could grow very big or very small, just as each monkey desired. The three bubbles were generally to be found in the top pocket of the Young Man’s excellent tweed jacket. To keep the bubbles from flying away, and protect the monkeys from prying hands, the top pocket of the Young Man’s excellent tweed jacket closed with a zipper, plus a button, plus three snaps. Nobody could open the pocket except the Young Man himself, and the monkeys, of course.

Now, Proviso, California, where the Young Man and his three monkeys hailed from, is a lovely place. But this Young Man had a yearning for adventure. So he left California and set out for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which he had always been told was a magical city of hills, rivers, and bridges.

And so it was that on a fine Spring day, the Young Man found himself strolling delightedly across a big yellow bridge that spanned a river between the South Hills of Pittsburgh and the old downtown business district.

And so delighted was this Young Man with the conversation he and his monkeys were having—for the monkeys’ voices were magical voices that the Young Man could hear even when the monkeys were at their smallest, and inside their bubbles, and securely snapped away in his top pocket—

So enraptured in conversation were the four friends, that they failed to notice as a stranger approached them from the opposite side of the river.

The stranger wore a black mask over his eyes, and a black cape on his back, and his black-and-white, horizontally striped shirt proclaimed that he was a criminal.

He was, in fact, the Hamburglar, who had recently escaped from McDonald’s restaurant, and as he came up to meet the Young Man and his pocket friends, he pulled a large blue blunderbuss from the lining of his cloak, and jabbed it against the Young Man’s ribs.

Now, a blunderbuss is a big old-fashioned weapon, and that jab in the ribs informed the Young Man that the Hamburglar was not a well-meaning person.

“This is a stick-up! Give me all your money,” the Hamburglar shouted.

The Young Man fumbled to open his top pocket, and the robber, seeing this, relaxed and smiled. The robber thought the Young Man must keep a wallet in that pocket, and he imagined that he would soon grab that wallet and be off.

But instead of a wallet, three tiny bubbles floated out of the Young Man’s pocket and hovered in the air between the Young Man and the robber. As the Hamburglar watched in baffled amazement, the three bubbles grew larger and larger and settled down on the ground where they popped open, revealing the three colorful monkeys in their equally colorful suits.

“These are my friends, Provo, Rebozo, and Lobo,” said the Young Man.

“Never mind all that, give me your money,” cried the robber, who was beginning to become confused by the situation.

“Certainly, certainly,” said the Young Man, “but first, may I ask you a question? Why do you dress like a robber and carry a blunderbuss? Why do you try to take other people’s money?”

The robber thought a moment. “I have no other skills except waving a blunderbuss and acting scary,” he explained.

“Well, what if we could change that?” the Young Man asked. “What if we could help you get skills and be a magical scientist, like we are?”

“I would like that very much,” said the robber, and to demonstrate his sincerity, he tossed the blunderbuss over the side of the bridge, letting it sink to the bottom of the river where it would never hurt anyone and never be seen again.

And with that, the three monkeys and the Young Man smiled, pulled thin white wands from their pockets, and waved the wands in unison, creating four small circles in the air. 

The Hamburglar looked down and found that he was now wearing a clean white lab coat. In the top pocket of his lab coat there were some small medical and magical instruments whose use he did not know but would soon learn. And on the top of the pocket, his name had been stitched. It read “Professor Hamilton Burglar.”

Everyone smiled, and then they heard the wail of an approaching police siren. Professor Burglar looked afraid when he heard that sound! But his three new monkey friends smiled and waved their wands again, causing a magical bubble of privacy and safety to arise from the tips of their wands and cover the professor completely. The monkeys then waved their own bubbles back into existence, and stepped gently inside them.

Then all four bubbles shrank and rose, gliding through the air and shrinking, always shrinking, until the four bubbles had come to rest in the safety and secrecy of the Young Man’s top pocket.

The Young Man zipped, buttoned, and snapped the pocket, then continued on his walk across the bridge, enjoying the beautiful day. He smiled at the police car as it passed.

Next time, we’ll learn more about Provo, Rebozo, Lobo, and the Young Man, and their new friend Professor Burglar.

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First, be kind. 16 Jul 2020, 12:58 pm

In my earliest 20s, I wrote a novel. Make that three. The first two were garbage—a kind of literary throat clearing. I shelved the manuscripts and moved on. But my third draft novel, “Sugar and Snow,” seemed to have something. 

My Uncle George connected me to his friend, a famous writer. She read my manuscript and shared it with her daughter, who also thought there was something to it. 

The famous writer asked if she could share my manuscript with her publisher. I, of course, said yes. Then I phoned all my friends to tell them I would soon be a published author. 

After three months of silence, the publishing company returned my manuscript, untouched. No word of explanation. Not even the courtesy of a boilerplate rejection letter.

Unless you count a few fibs on the resumes I submitted to potential employers, I never wrote another line of fiction. 

I drank my way through the next decade, and did not exercise my writing ability for nearly ten years.

The power to help… or hurt

I should not have been so sensitive at age 20, I suppose. Older writers had told me that rejection was part of the life. John Casey, an early writing mentor, survived the Korean War, wrote a novel about his experiences, and submitted it to two dozen publishers who weren’t interested. Eventually he siphoned a short story out of one of the chapters of his rejected novel, and found a little magazine to publish it.

John Casey became an award-winning novelist, but first he slogged through years of rejection, as all writers must. He’d told me that was the game, but my heart wasn’t ready for it. At 20, I wasn’t strong enough.

Perhaps as a partial consequence of how badly a single rejection spun me out of control, when I sometimes have to deliver tough news to a creative colleague, I’ve always striven to be kind about it. Maybe I’m excessively careful about not hurting people. But is that a bad thing? After all, I don’t know which people whose work I need to criticize or even reject are strong enough to take it, and which aren’t. 

And neither do you.

Happy endings

Being kind as well as clear becomes a moral mandate when you realize the power your feedback has to encourage another person to do their best work … or to shut them down creatively, possibly forever.

In “Wild Strawberries,” Professor Isak Borg is told in a dream, “A doctor’s first duty is to ask forgiveness.” We never know whom we may harm, or how deeply.

I told you a sad story, now here’s a happy one. I’m part of a small publishing company. Evaluating book proposals is where our process starts. Being clear compassionately is our mandate—we recognize the tremendous emotional risks folks take when they submit their ideas for review. 

Last year an author approached us with a proposal that wasn’t quite right for us. We responded with detailed feedback about what would have made it the right fit for us … and we chose our words carefully to avoid inadvertently causing harm.

This year that author returned with a spectacular proposal that we’ve accepted gratefully and with real joy. 

I thanked the author for having had the courage to come back—after all, I’d lacked that courage myself after my brush with rejection. The author thanked us for the feedback and the way we’d presented it, saying they would never have had the willingness to come back if not for the quality of our feedback. 

As a result of an author’s determination and our compassionate clarity, our readers and this industry will benefit from an author’s brilliance.

Creators, never give up.

Gatekeepers, first be kind.


Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

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Never give up 9 Jul 2020, 3:37 pm

This story is a bit long, but I promise it will be worth it, because it contains the two most important principles every designer must know and take to heart if you intend to do great work anywhere, under almost any circumstances, over the long, long haul of your career.

Sticking To It – fresh from JZ in Automattic.Design

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Pro Fonts for iPad 3 Jul 2020, 3:25 pm

Fontstand has just launched an iPad app that designers (or anyone else) install third-party fonts on iPad. For a small fee, anyone can use thousands of high-quality fonts, directly from the designers. Its creators say:

We imagine that creative professionals and design enthusiasts will take advantage of the advanced possibilities of iPad to create their presentations, documents and graphics directly on the tablet, without the need to migrate projects across platforms.

Fontstand blog

Created by Andrej Krátky and Peter Bilak (also a founder of Typotheque), Fontstand is a font discovery platform that lets folks test and use high-quality fonts on all platforms.

Read all about it and download the app for free: blog.fontstand.com/

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Smash, Drag, Bang 2 Jul 2020, 12:47 pm

The upstairs neighbors in my apartment building are having their flat renovated. Cue the daily floor sander (right over my head) and sledgehammer (apparently they have many walls to knock down). It’s loud enough to induce vomiting. It happens every weekday, and has been going on for at least two weeks.

The good news is the crew is lazy: they show up around 10:00 AM, pound away for two hours, then take a long quiet lunch break before pounding away again ’til about 3:00 PM, when they quit for the day.

The bad news is, the lazy crew are taking weeks to complete what might have realistically been a two-day job if undertaken by motivated, competent workers instead of fartwads intent on squeezing every blessed penny from their contract.

I start work before 6:00 AM each day because my cats wake me before 6:00, but mainly because it gives me at least a few hours per day when I can work without being subjected to a migraine-inducing symphony of pounding and scraping and banging and dragging and hammering.

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Adelle Mono & Adelle Mono Flex 24 Jun 2020, 12:19 pm

Adelle and Adelle Sans have long been two of my favorite fonts—two great tastes that taste even better together! Now there are two more great flavors, with the release of Veronika Burian and José Scaglione’s twin-powered Adelle Mono family.

Adelle Mono is a true, monospaced version of the robust yet sensitively detailed font family. 

Adelle Mono Flex is a proportional version that’s suited for text, branding, UI, captions, and screens: “It feels monospaced but reads like a nice slab,” TypeTogether explains in the June, 2020 issue of their newsletter announcing the release.

Much more information, along with a try-it-yourself type tester and a 60% introductory discount, is available on TypeTogether’s Adelle Mono web page.


(Note: Veronika Burian and José Scaglione designed the original Adelle and Adelle Sans, along with the new Mono and Mono Flex versions. Additionally, Irene Vlachou assisted in the creation of Adelle Mono.)

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The Web We Lost: Volume One 29 May 2020, 2:51 pm

I don’t miss Flash but I sure miss this level of creativity and experimentation on the web. As today’s “The Web We’ve Lost” exercise for designers, please take a look back at Matt Owens’s historic Volume One project—outstanding design work Matt created in Flash during the 1990s and early 2000s, now memorialized in screenshots. Enjoy:

volumeone.com

For more about Matt, read “From Technology to Commodity – Then and Now,” a brief history of Matt’s 25 years as an independent designer. Matt currently works at Athletics, an award-winning Brooklyn-based design agency he co-founded.

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Day in the Life 26 May 2020, 9:55 pm

The chiming of my iPhone woke me from an afternoon of profound sleep marked by a long, unsettling dream involving basements. I’d taken to bed out of equal parts respect for my own exhaustion and the desire to escape a particularly pungent headache. Both are symptoms of my endless post-COVID-19 “recovery” period. It’s a virus that hangs on like an unrequited lover, and a disease that can leave you weak and debilitated for months—or longer. But we don’t think about “longer” yet, as I’ve only been sick for three and a half months.

Before the afternoon sick bed, I’d been working quite happily and even productively, until—wham!—a wall of symptoms smacked me in the head, and I had no choice but to listen and obey. On my way to bed, I just managed to feed my COVID-sick child, who is bound to her bed all day every day except for the early afternoon brunch and early evening dinner.

After the afternoon sleep—after the phone ripped me from the sinister architecture and unworthy companions of my dream, and while my heart was still pounding from a shocking sudden change of realities—I hurriedly tugged on gloves and a paper face mask, shoved my feet into still-tied shoes, threw open the door and hurried down the hall to the elevator bank, to meet a rolling hotel cart filled with newly delivered groceries that was on its way up to me.

(Bledar, the doorman on duty in my apartment building, had kindly accepted a Fresh Direct delivery on my behalf, stacked the bags on the building’s hotel cart, phoned me, waited 60 seconds ((to give me time to mask up and scramble down the hall)), and then rolled the cart into an elevator into which he’d punched my floor number. This is how we do it in this building.)

I rolled the packages to my door, packed them into the apartment, sent the cart downstairs again, unmasked, fed Snow White her afternoon meal, washed my hands, and put the groceries away. Then I had to sit down. What time is it? What day is it? When will I be well again? When will my child be well?


Photo by Malik Shibly on Unsplash

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Light Bath 23 May 2020, 12:13 pm

I dreamed David Byrne had moved to a small town in Iowa. At first, I wondered why. But then I saw that he’d persuaded all the town folk to participate in a never-ending surreal parade:

Facing backwards, a white man dressed as Uncle Sam, complete with stilt-elongated legs, cheerfully pedaled a strange bicycle. A black woman in flashing platform sneakers walked gracefully on a musically undulating wall.

As I dollied up and back, I saw hundreds of these unpaid amateur performers, widely separated yet somehow acting in unison, performing purely for David Byrne’s pleasure—each in their own ecstatic trance.

Each townsperson had their own strangely perfect costume, invention, and task. The choreography extended for miles in all directions.

“In New York or Hollywood, this would cost millions,” I thought.

Not only had David Byrne charmed an entire town into performing these tightly choreographed rituals that only he understood, but he was also inventing new alphabets and designing typefaces to go with them. Of course.

This work was secret, and he performed it in a tiny darkroom, but somehow I either gained his confidence or sneaked up quietly behind him while his attention was focused on the large sheets on which he was creating his new visual language.

His typefaces were composed of oversized, organically curving black dots, and they were wonderful. I reached out my hand to touch them.

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It’s a good day. 17 May 2020, 12:47 am

I WHEEZED like a busted accordion after carrying a bag of empty bottles down the hall to the recycling room in my apartment building—a journey of no more than 20 paces in each direction. I breathe normally as long as I don’t expend more physical energy than it takes to sit still in bed.

I first noticed I was sick on February 20, and figured it was a cold. When I hadn’t improved after three weeks, I consulted a physician, who informed me I had COVID-19. A week later, he told me I had pneumonia as well. If you’re doing the math, I’ve been sick for three months. I still am. My daughter and her mother have it too.

We took every precaution, and still do. We’re zealots about following the doctor’s (and our kid’s pediatrician’s) advice, along with the instructions of the CDC and state and local authorities. We read all five hundred daily news articles about the disease. We rest, hydrate, quarantine, and wash our hands slightly less obsessively than Lady Macbeth.

Mainly we sleep.

Oh, how we sleep. I just now woke up from three hours of narcosis-tinged, nightmare-filled, exhausted napping, and can’t wait to hit the pillow again for more.

On weekdays, from 8:00 AM ‘til noon, I make myself get out of bed, sit at my desk, and work at my job. It’s a great job and I’m privileged to work remotely for a company I believe in. I wish I could do more, but by 12:00 I’m ready to pass out.

Instead, I bid good day to my colleagues and wake my daughter, who’s too sick to remotely attend her closed school, and who sleeps straight through daddy’s work day. I make us both brunch and we consume it on the couch. While eating, wrapped in blankets, we watch 20 minutes of video and then go back to sleep.

Ava sleeps in her loft bed with our 11-year-old cat Snow White. If we are late for our afternoon sleep, Snow White climbs up to the loft bed alone, and stares down the hall at Ava until she gets the message.

I bed down with an iPad. Thanks to the Criterion Channel, I’ve slept through several dozen masterpieces of world cinema.

On Thursday of last week, wanting to test the upper limits of my recovery, I experimentally pushed myself to put in an extra hour of work by attending a phone meeting for my conference business, but the experiment failed: I fell asleep midway through the call.

Fortunately my colleagues didn’t need me—they’ve been soldiering on without me since mid-March. I was muted and they likely didn’t even realize I’d fallen asleep. I should be embarrassed to confess to having fallen asleep during a meeting, but hey, it wasn’t my doing: it was COVID-19 and pneumonia’s idea.

This is our normal, now.

This is what recovery looks like for my family: an endless sleeping sickness.

Every weekday I wake up energetic, convinced that I’m definitely getting better. Even with all the sleeping, I really am confident that I’m recovering. But how do I quantify that?

People who care ask how I’m doing. It’s hard tell them. They want to hear I’m getting better. I try not to disappoint them. But I don’t lie. Things are about the same. And about the same. And about the same. Yes, I am getting better. No, nothing has really changed.

Our fevers are long gone. We are not contagious. We wheeze and are exhausted.

That’s what recovery looks like on weekdays. On weekends, I sleep all day.

Penne? Or big penne?

Unlike healthy people, I don’t resent my quarantine. I’m grateful to have shelter. I know that shelter, like health and financial security, can be taken away at any time. If we didn’t all know that before, surely we know it now. But I don’t think about it.

I think about bed, and sleeping, and what kind of pasta to make for dinner, and whether 20 more minutes of awake time is worth the heartburn and jitters two more espressos will gift me.

I don’t worry about the wheezing, or whether I’ll ever see the inside of a gym again, or the long term ramifications of school closings and sickness on my daughter’s higher educational prospects. I don’t even think about November. We are alive. It’s a good day.

The post It’s a good day. appeared first on Zeldman on Web and Interaction Design.

Eight line poem. 9 May 2020, 10:15 pm

May 9. Snowing in New York. Wearing face masks, two men stand on a balcony of the Chinese Mission to the UN, photographing the snowfall with their phones. I try to photograph them and the snow, but they are already leaving the balcony, and my phone autofocuses on the window screen.

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World’s Worst Vacation 3 May 2020, 10:43 pm

Surviving COVID-19. It’s the world’s shittiest vacation.

I’m still sick. I still sleep all afternoon. I still can’t sit upright for more than four hours, or carry a package from the lobby to my apartment, without becoming exhausted. But I haven’t had fever in more than a month. The constant aches and pains are gone. Tired or not, and congested or not, I get plenty of oxygen in my bloodstream every day.

What’s left of the disease is exhaustion and flu symptoms: cough, congestion, sneezing. The flu symptoms aren’t hard to bear because I’ve had seasonal allergies and colds that last two weeks or longer all my life. Okay, with COVID-19, the symptoms are more pronounced, more persistent, and they’ve lasted eight weeks without letting up. But they’re not foreign and they don’t scare me. They’re like a bad old friend—or an old enemy you no longer hate. Sure, you have to fight them, but you no longer fear them. They’re familiar, maybe even familial.

The exhaustion is debilitating but not depressing—I’ve learned to rest as soon as I feel it. (I’ve learned what happens if I don’t rest.)

To rest as soon as I feel badly takes letting go of many responsibilities. There’s comfort in that. After four decades of workaholic toil (long hours seven days a week, on multiple jobs and projects), it’s strangely delicious to let go, to calmly and without shame let others save the world today.

I’m immensely grateful to my colleagues who are covering for me, but I don’t feel even one bit guilty about letting them do it. I’d do the same for them, and may have to before this ends. After decades of feeling responsible for everyone and everything around me, decades of feeling lost and guilty if I take a day off, I’m finding joy in my temporary freedom.

These are dark times and they are only beginning. We must all learn to love ourselves and other people all over again. We must find the compassion that decades of cable news cycles burned out of us. Find meaning in helping, and joy where we can.

The post World’s Worst Vacation appeared first on Zeldman on Web and Interaction Design.

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