birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Dateline: Harlem Avenue

Wired and tired.

That's how I wrapped nearly every night in my first job in a newsroom, working the sports desk as a summer intern for my community paper in Chicago.

The numbers: I was 16. The shift ran 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. There were roughly 30 puns shared by the editors every night in search of a brilliant headline. 48-52-40 was a typical code to input a headline into the desk-size computers we used to set type, encompassing font size, leading, and squeeze width. There were two of those machines kicked or otherwise beaten into submission by editors stressed on deadline. I've been shaped by and passionate about journalism for about 36 years since that first experience.

The textures: Warm sheets of waxed photographic paper coming out of the processor, to be cut into strips and laid into 12-pica columns. Wax, warmed and filtered across rollers to make those inches of type adhere to the grids on each page before being plated. Hyper-sharp Exacto blades on utensils, wielded expertly by paste-up artists to place onto boards and trimmed with precision to fit.

The takeaways for a lifetime: Thinking smartly and analytically on deadline. Finding the precise combination of words to define the essence of a story and fit space constraints. Asking questions with precision to draw out an interviewee and get to the core. Savoring wordplay in all facets of life, not just in the newsroom and not just in a crunch. Reveling in the community of brilliant, witty, committed news-gatherers and curators who keep putting all the pieces together, every day.

File clerk

Sports bra and dork shorts