I’ve updated my website; also, some tips about shitty web design

I’ve updated lauramichet.com and this blog, blog.lauramichet.com, to look good instead of bad. In general, it’s good for things to look good and bad for things to look bad, so I’m pleased with what I’ve done.

I have spoken recently to a number of people who are not professional web designers or coders and feel unsure about designing their own webpages/hosting them/etc, so here’s some advice from me: just copy other websites.

Seriously. Don’t copy them exactly– that’s ridiculous and it will make you look like a chump– but if there’s something on another website that you want to have on your website, take a look at its source and just use the same techniques they used.

The stuff you learn doing this will be highly valuable to you. If you are making a very small static webpage for yourself– the kind of thing that just presents links to your projects without any bells or whistles, or just contains a Twine game or a bitsy game with a title, or is just a lot of centered images with titles or whatever, it will honestly teach you 100% more if (instead of using a web design program) you just write the site by hand and blatantly copy other websites to learn how they do the things you want to do.

Learning this basic HTML and CSS is important because many services– like WordPress, for example– require you to have an understanding of CSS in order to make modifications to their product. WordPress’s 6-bucks-a-month premium package gives you access to a lot of templates, but the only way you’re going to make it look “unique” is if you know CSS. You need to have a basic understanding of CSS to make your Twine stories look unique, too.

When it comes to “coding,” these are some of the easiest skillsets to learn, mostly because you never actually have to be good at them. If you’re the kind of person who makes small projects and just needs to find a home for them on the internet, you can get away with shockingly low skill levels in these departments. I do! My websites are actually terrible and very simple and stupid. My bitsy websites are particularly brainless. You can make a website that’s just all embeds of your youtube videos or Bandcamp albums. You can work in Prof. Dr. style. The amount you need to learn in order for these skillsets to be useful to you is shockingly low in part because it’s so easy to copy other websites. I retain barely any working CSS knowledge between projects and I just gather it all back up again by googling a ton whenever I have some CSS-related work to do.

Don’t avoid learning HTML and CSS because it seems intimidating, either: it’s actually not really coding. Writing a web page by hand using CSS is basically like using a really complicated UI for applying paragraph effects in Microsoft Word. You won’t need to write loops or figure out how to do data input/output or understand search theory or anything– you just need to know how to write out the lines that make things bold or right-aligned or left-aligned or centered in a column on a certain part of the page, or whatever, and you need to understand how those effects nest and overlap with one another. The way you think about problems has to change a little bit when you learn about “real” coding, but the problems inherent in the kind of ultra-simple static website design I’m taking about are probably not very different from the problems you experience when you’re trying to format a stupid image-filled word doc. They’re more complicated, sure, but it’s honestly not so bad.

Anyway, good luck with this stuff. Copy shit and take it easy.

Three moments when I was very disappointed in myself

The time I was “helped” by policemen

When I was about 18 years old, I was once stopped by policemen while doing a dangerous thing near a river. My friends all ran away and left me behind. When the police trapped me and questioned me, I was so frightened that I stuttered for almost a whole minute without saying a word. When I finally managed to speak, I coughed up a word salad.

The policemen shared wide-eyed looks. They began speaking extremely loudly and slowly, as if I were a baby. I nodded my way silently through an entire conversation comprised mostly of bizarrely basic yes-or-no questions. “DO YOU KNOW THOSE PEOPLE WHO WERE HERE WITH YOU? DO YOU LIVE NEAR HERE? DO YOU KNOW WHAT NUMBER YOUR HOUSE IS?”

It wasn’t until we were headed back out to the road– the policemen guiding me as carefully as they could, warning me about obvious roots in the path, obvious puddles of mud– that I realized they thought I was mentally disabled!

I did not correct their assumption. In the end, they just left me standing in a parking lot– “You know how to get out of here, right?”– and took off in their car after my friends. I’m not sure this was best practices for them, but whatever.

In the end, nobody was caught.


The time I was robbed!

When I was in fifth grade, I and several of my friends were obsessed with Pokemon cards. One of these friends– we’ll call her “Lisa,” because I don’t know anyone named Lisa–  had a reputation for stealing things, but I was loyal and did not believe it. I invited her over for a sleepover one weekend, and we spent the whole evening nerding out about these cards. My sister and I showed the girl our most prized specimens: a holographic Charizard in my collection, and a holographic Polywrath in my sister’s.

The next morning, my sister was the first to notice that something was wrong. While I was eating pancakes and Lisa was in the bathroom, my sister marched up and silently brandished the D-ring binder with her collection in it. She refused to say a word. It took me a while to realize the Polywrath was missing. I ran and checked mine: the Charizard was gone too!

For some reason, we spoke in whispers, moved silently. While Lisa was washing her hands– I could hear it through the wall– I went and checked her stuff. I found nothing. But it was obvious she’d stolen them– obvious! It grew even more obvious when Lisa sat down at the table to eat her pancakes and told us, “Oh I forgot to mention to you yesterday… I have some nice cards too.” She then removed the Polywrath and Charizard from her pocket and showed them to us. “From my collection,” she said.

I was dizzy with anger. “Excuse me,” I said, and stood up. My sister followed me. We went into the kitchen to speak with my father. “Lisa’s done something very bad,” I told him.

My dad was furious with me for bringing it up. I still don’t quite understand or remember why. He told us we were being very impolite and sent us back into the dining room with orders to “respect our guest.” So that’s what we did: we went back to the kitchen and, with a practiced niceness that today makes me cringe, we had a perfectly kind conversation with Lisa the God-Damned Thief.

Later, after dropping Lisa off at her home, my sister and I informed our dad that we’d just let a thief get away with our shit! Now he was even angrier, but mostly at himself. “I’m sorry,” he kept spluttering. “Jesus! What a girl!” This was probably the moment when my blind faith in adults died.

When Lisa added me as a friend on Facebook a year ago, I was still angry enough (!!??) that I considered reminding her that our last real friendly interaction had been a conversation over stolen Pokemon cards. However, because I am nice, I accepted her invitation, and now we are friends.


The time I got punched

I worked for several summers at a sleepaway camp for girls with diabetes. Because I am a space alien who only pretends to be a human woman, I spent most of my time there behaving like a jester. I got a weird reputation for being “up for anything.”

There was another counselor at the camp who always seemed a little “out of sorts” to me. At first it was innocuous– weird fascinations, odd opinions expressed at embarrassing moments. However, this out-of-sortsness took a pretty dark turn when she found a plastic lawn ornament in the shape of a penguin in a storage closet in the barn. “This is my penguin,” she told us. She concocted an entire story about how her grandfather (???) had given the penguin to the camp on loan. She insisted that it still belonged to her and her family. This was impossible. The penguin had been locked in that closet for several years and had never belonged to anyone’s grandfather.

But this counselor started carrying the penguin with her everywhere and using it in most of her daily teaching activities. She talked to the penguin, apparently. It weirded some people out. Some said it was disruptive. I didn’t really have a problem with it, but when several people suggested that I steal the penguin, I was totally Up For It. And one rainy day, when Penguin Counselor left her precious penguin alone in the dining hall, I stole it and hid it under my bed.

Shit got serious. There was angry shouting, franticng rushing around, and actual crying. She made plaintive pleas before the camp at mealtimes, begging for the penguin’s return. Probably fifteen different people knew I had it, but nobody ratted me out. People actually came up to me and begged me not to return the penguin. “She’ll get over it,” someone told me. “The whole point is to wean her off the penguin.”

At first I was pretty gleeful about the whole thing, but as Penguin Counselor grew increasingly teary-eyed, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. She was physically a very powerful individual. Penguin Counselor’s day job involved physically restraining people at nursing homes. She enjoyed explaining these restraint techniques to us in enormous detail. It was frightening, and besides, I felt very guilty. I started to look for a way out.

I decided I’d leave the penguin in the pool in the middle of the night. Leaving shit in the pool was A Thing that summer. You could only enter the pool area with the head lifeguard’s permission, so the campers would always notice and laugh on the way to breakfast.

I’d have to do it in the middle of the night. Diabetes camp had a system where campers were alone in the cabins from about 9 PM to midnight. Counselors who didn’t have time-off would wait “on patrol” at picnic tables outside, in case of medical emergency. The campers were supposed to use this alone time to go to sleep. I waited until about 10 PM and snuck back into my cabin to extract the penguin under the cover of darkness.

Of course, none of my kids were asleep. On my way up the stairs: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, LAURA??” As I dragged the penguin out from under my bed: “WHAT’S THAT SOUND, LAURA??” I wrapped the penguin in a blanket to conceal its telltale form. As I came down the stairs: “WHY ARE YOU HOLDING THE PENGUIN, LAURA?? I KNEW YOU HAD THE PENGUIN!”

“This is not a penguin,” I told them. “This is a stack of textbooks and I am going to study.” I rushed out of the cabin and down the hill toward the center of campus. There was a sort of valley in the middle of the camp,  with a low flat field next to the pool and the pond. It was visible from almost every major building on the camp. And there was a patrol table down there, too, full of people who would certainly see me with the penguin.

When I arrived with the penguin, they cracked up. “Good idea,” someone laughed. I grabbed the penguin by the beak, hooked my arm back, and flung it over the fence into the pool. As it flipped end over end through the air, someone at the patrol table yelped and pointed. I didn’t even have time to turn around before Penguin Counselor was on me, thrashing her fists and shouting, “YOU LITTLE SHIT!!!”

It turns out that Penguin Counselor had been high on the hill above the field, sitting on the steps of the dining hall with another counselor and pouring her soul out about the missing the penguin. She’d seen everything!

After a lot of screaming and fist-swinging stamping and me shouting “Jesus Christ! It’s just a penguin!”, she finally stomped off. In the morning, she got the lifeguard to let her into the pool area to rescue the penguin quite early. She even made a mealtime announcement about my guilt in front of the entire camp. My punishment was a draw from the “suggestion box,” where campers were supposed to put creative indignities which the counselors would occasionally agree to suffer. People had to smear food in their hair and wear crazy clothes and do unusual and inconvenient things. My specially-designed “punishment” was to wear a dress to the dance. (We had a dance every week with the boys’ diabetes camp down the road.) This was supposed to be “a big deal for Laura,” since most people had never seen me wear or do anything feminine. I didn’t care much, though. I suffered no kind of loss.

Listen: diabetes camp has been the only place I’ve ever been “cool.” This is the one braggardly claim I will defend until death: I was a cool camp counselor. I was very cool to ten-year-olds, and even my public guilt and punishment could not diminish that. I used my day off to go to Boston and buy a very frilly pink prom dress from a thrift shop. I let my campers give me makeup. I lurched around the dance in this dress while making Frankenstein faces. It was definitely a cool way to handle the whole thing

I danced like a maniac with a bunch of little girls and got dehydrated and tired. My makeup started to run off. I remember asking for a bit of space, sitting on the sidelines in my pink dress, drinking water out of a paper cup, and noticing that Penguin Counselor was also alone, but not by choice, and I remember feeling suddenly very disappointed with myself.