A New Theme

It’s time for me to turn my attention back to the Celestial Waste Of Bandwidth. This is my first update of the entire summer, and there’s sort of a reason why…but that’s for another blog post on another day.

First things first: the design.

In principle, the content is all that really matters and the design should be a distant second in the author’s mind. Charles Dickens’ “A Tale Of Two Cities” set in Comic Sans with janky margins is still a better novel than “Fifty Shades Of Gray” in letterpress. So why don’t I just forge ahead, not think about the shortcomings in my blog design, and keep right on posting?

Because I don’t love the design, and it bums me out that I feel a little bit constrained by limitations in the theme, and I still haven’t figured out why the popup menu for “Categories” spans outside its container…

It’s an old story. Web design is my nemesis. I’m handy with a code editor, I promise you. Remember, the predecessor of this site was managed by a content management system that I started coding before any formal CMSs existed. By the time I moved on to WordPress, it was a full XCode project with windows and popups and buttons and many many nice features that made things happen automagically and integrated with my web browsers.

My ego made me think that customizing and managing a WordPress theme would just be another iteration of that kind of work. I’d overlooked a simple fact: coding up CWoBber was a piece of cake because I’d written every line of code. I knew how every part of it interacted with every other part because I’d designed it from top to bottom.

In WordPress, my code has to interact with thousands of other lines of code. My intentions have to compete with hundreds of other intentions that are baked into the system. Though I made plenty of progress customizing the most excellent Carrington Text framework, mastering that complex relationship between PHP and CSS and plugins is beyond me.

Or at least it’s beyond the level of enthusiasm I seem to be willing to bring to the project. Inevitably, I finish writing a post, and I preview it, and something that ought to be centered is so totally not.. By the time I get to the root of the problem, I’ve totally disconnected myself mentally from the writing part of the exercise.

(Oh, and: it turns out that I hadn’t gotten to the root of the problem at all. I just wasted so much time trying and failing to figure out what was overruling my stylesheet that I gave up.)

Metaphorically, managing a WordPress theme as a mere Interested Amateur is like trying to develop a brilliant new product at a company when your box on the org chart has lines connecting upward to eleven vice presidents in three different divisions. No matter how carefully you’ve done your work, there’s always some authority that can and will put a stop to everything without discussing it with anybody else. And you’ll never get a straight answer why.

(For the love of God. There is a CSS whatsit that signifies “You are to ignore ALL OTHER stylesheet definitions and heed THIS AND ONLY THIS MARKUP between THESE AND ONLY THESE brackets”…and it doesn’t work. Deep within the bureaucracy of CSS is the basic understanding that the one way to prove your authority and thus maintain the facade that you are An Important Person is to prevent things from happening.)

I’m supposed to click “Publish” and be pleased that I’ve created and published something. Instead, invariably, I’m cheesed that something isn’t working right and I don’t have time to fix it.

All of this is connected to another frustration I’ve become increasingly aware of: I want to spend more of my time making things and less time fixing things.

A vividly-recalled day last month is a case in point. It was a hellaciously busy day and I had exactly 30 minutes of relaxation time between early morning and late evening. Truth. “Relaxation time” was lunch, but after a busy busy busy morning I was totally looking forward to watching a show on Netflix. It almost didn’t matter what.

Annnnnnd then I had to spend ten of those precious thirty minutes figuring out why the streaming wasn’t working properly. It was hanging and stuttering.

Relaxus interruptus!

As I restarted routers and went up and downstairs checking for naughty network devices and felt my stress levels increasing I reflected upon the good old days. You know, the days when the teevee was something you turned on and which almost always worked. I concluded that the arrow of progress does not unerringly fly forward.

This was meant to be thirty minutes of passive calm in my day. Instead, a formerly functioning system thrust a snarling, hissing puzzle at me and demanded that I cuddle it.

This blog should be a place where I can just open WordPress, do some type-type-type, click “Publish,” and bask in the knowledge that although the words themselves might have both the same linear structure and appealing interaction as barbed wire, at least the pictures attached to them obey the margins of their container and there’s the desired amount of white space between postings.

Clearly, this blog won’t be that thing with me as its principal architect. So tonight, I put the call out on Twitter for suggestions of “Minimalist-leaning, responsive, and hopefully accessible” WordPress themes. I’m hoping to find a theme that’s at least 90% of what I want CWoB to be and easy enough to customize that I can get it to the 98% mark on my own.

Here’s what my Twitter followers came up with:

There were also recommendations for WordPress’ latest standard theme, “twentythirteen” and Squarespace.

I’m not going with twentythirteen. It looks aces, but I’d have to make lots and lots of modifications before CWoB would look the way I’d like it to. The first time I politely said “CSS, I think it would be nifty if this header were a different color” and CSS replied “Andy, I invite you to go suck an egg” I would regret having made that choice.

Why not Squarespace?

No particular reason. I might wind up there eventually. For now, I’m happy with WordPress as a publishing mechanism and I’m not ready to abandon it just yet. It’s one hell of a great machine for turning synaptic misfirings into published text and every iteration of the webapp for crafting and managing content gets more impressive. I want to be along for the rest of the ride so I can see what comes next.

I must say that I like the cut of Literary‘s jib. I have made an enquiry to its creators to see if it’s suitable for my needs and I avidly look forward to that conversation.

I tried Literary after installing Manifest and taking it for a spin. I opened the “header.php” file. Aha, thought I. If I want this theme to use a header graphic, that’s where I should put some static HTML. But despite the fact that this seemed to be (to my admittedly unsophisticated eyes) the only place where that line of code should go…nuh-uh. Same old problem: something else in the CSS or Lord-knows-where was superseding my edits.

But Literary looks to be the business. I hope this is the start of a very short journey that results in a lovely, fluent blog design that incorporates the new header graphic that I finished in November but haven’t been able to correctly integrate since.

More later.