I have had moments where I’ve made sweeping, public declarations of reboots and fresh starts. These pronouncements have ranged from triumphant to cringe-inducing. This is one of those posts.
Existential crises keep me up at night, and If I’m to be honest, have probably haunted me for at least a decade now. They reach a boiling point, and suddenly it’s time for blog reset… as if writing out loud would make things manifest in a more certain direction. Magical thinking.
Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy some privilege… you know, water and electricity (not to mention amazing partner and genuinely exciting opportunities all around).
There’s just a nagging sense of creative stagnation. A little version of me sitting on my shoulder tugging my earlobe, “ok, but you’re not quite there yet…. And it’s now or never, chief.”
I know I’m not the only one that feels like this sometimes, and yes, there’s probably a lesson somewhere about contentedness and happiness and mindfulness I should investigate. I’ll put that on the list.
For now, I’m installing WordPress plugins and restoring past blog posts.
What’s old is new again
If you don’t count the 1337 dial-up BBS I ran for a while in high school, my first personal site lived my server space at Rice in 1996. I used those pages to let my high school friends know what I was up to; I'm positive it was the kind of embarrassing verbiage that I don't want to refresh in the search engines.
The bits of post-college writing that survived continuous migration from server to server date back to 2002. The past couple of weeks, I’ve been spending time reviewing (i.e. a little editing, link fixing, and about 10 cases of redacting) these old blog entries.
Think about the nopestalgia you feel as you go through your old high school yearbooks and diaries. Yes, there are fond memories, some tearjerkers, and just as many, “what was I thinking?!?”’s. That’s how I spent the past week, reviewing the almost 700 blog entries I’ve written and restored in my archives here.
For many posts, I have zero recollection of what was going on at the time, but I certainly wasn’t holding back the drama. I wrote more than my fair share of meta entries about blog administrivia, “I’m changing fonts! I’m going offline. I’m rebooting my blog.” Ahem.
Buried in there are blog entries with cryptic, “secret project launching in 11 days! Stay tuned.” posts. Whatever I thought those projects were, I think it’s safe to say they didn’t change the world as significantly as my delusions would have indicated. I’m reminded of the Sparrowhawk who wanted to be a Condor.
Along the way, I found a small community of Austin online writers. We had meetups and gossip and arbitrary rifts between “bloggers” and “journalers.” It was fun. We had moments of joy.
By virtue of just having a personal website, I had, for me at the time, relatively many followers. To be fair, I never was what we now laughingly refer to as an “A-list blogger.” I was around them, though. They were accessible and not so much only about accelerating their startups back then. I enviously watched them assert what I had assumed was an undue influence at meetups and SXSW interactive “before it got too big.”
I’m grateful to them now. They created the tools and sparked the dialog so we had a good run there. Blogging felt like something that could help build a quality community, and a blog was a quasi-private place to get stuff made and have Important People notice.
Then came Facebook and Twitter and all the other Starbucks's of personal web publishing. The kids these days vomit bits and vines and snap-whatevers to their like-happy audiences who sip from myriad vapid firehoses. The idea of constructing a site for readers is old-fashioned and what amounts to the “vintage” web. However, I’d like to think it was the tractability, difficulty and rarity of maintaining a personal website that made it so fun for me back then.
I remember attending the SXSW where Twitter became a thing. Before then, my blog was where my ephemeral writing lived: one off links to sites I found interesting, short personal asides, or the infamous blog posts about the blog (i.e. meta posts).
So twitter has assumed the role as a place to share my external links and asides; I shout into the ether and sometimes get a moment of recognition (favorite) or an echo (retweets and responses). Most of the time I don’t. My blog stagnated as tweets became easier than crafting a site. Work, moves, survival, and life got in the way of careful crafting of my site. Tweets were the potato chips I needed to feel like I was an “active online citizen.”
Tools to shave a yak
These blog reboots often included me making dramatic shifts in blog technology. I think this site has rested on everything from MovableType to pMachine to Drupal, Jekyll, Middleman, and even my own DIY amalgam. In the end, I decided to come back to an old friend, WordPress.
Some kids-these-days I know tried to convince me that “WordPress sucks" and that I should just tumbl or write my own CMS. There would have been a time I would have worked myself up over my choice of a technology platform. I guess I don’t have a dog in that fight. I just don’t have the interest. It’s not the point, and WordPress has always just worked.
Indeed, the tinkering and futzing with the perfect infrastructure, and this drive to “clean up the old stuff before posting new stuff” have been their own form of junk food procrastination. “My portfolio isn’t up to date and won’t reflect my most recent work” was another favorite excuse for not moving forward. Irony.
So instead, I just pushed a design I liked online. It needs some tweaking and fixing; I have a running list. I did a quick clean up and will quitely edit older entries a few a time every day until I’m “done.” I have a list of more recent projects to document and add to the portfolio. Pardon the mess to the approximately none of you who will actually read that stuff.
Why a Personal Website at All?
Of course, I must confess I believe putting time into this site is a valuable personal PR & branding activity. I eagerly put a link to my portfolio front and center, and this is part of a strategy to create opportunities for myself. So there’s that.
Couldn’t I just use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and call it a day? They created a monster and its name is Kim Kardashian’s Facebook Posts.
This is how it works now. I can be a grumpy old man or I can rely on my brain plasticity to figure out what I want to do with this ever evolving (forgive me) “multi-channel platform.” I think there’s a role for those venues in concert with my main site; I’d be stupid to ignore them.
However, completely ceding a connection to a potential reader or new friend to the attention stealing Big Social Media tweet-like-love-factories doesn’t seem to be a fulfilling approach for me, lately. Marco Arment lamented readers “snacking on bite-sized social content instead of browsing websites.” But he also suggested that it’s our job, if we care enough, to take back control and build something of quality… of challenge… of import.
I know, at least, I have always felt better when I take my time writing online and trying to say something vs. point to other peoples’ something. Being the neuron is better than being the synapse.
So that’s why. I want to make something here that I care about. That’s all. I do have ideas and projects I’ll talk about. I’ll rant occasionally. There will be more drama and I’ll write more fiction.
I don't know how my writing this site will be different twenty years after I posted my first personal stories online. I think today I am more tired and yet somehow more excited… an urgency as the mortal coil unwinds and the ratio of time left to time left behind crosses a break even point… or something.
I do know I’ve had some moments.
Maybe somebody out there will be interested in the moments to come. Maybe not. Let’s find out.