Pressure, History, Identity

This is a ridiculous problem to have, I know, but I place so much thought and worry on my public-facing online properties.

I grew up online with BBSs, message boards, and journalling. I was nine when I found my first group of Internet friends in 2001. Spaces online were personal and tight-knit in the corners of the Web I visited.

It was tough to reconcile the communities I was part of with my other interests and the person I saw myself becoming in a few months or years. I imagine that reconciliation is the crux of teenagedom and “finding yourself”. All that interpersonal wayfinding happened (and is happening!) online for me. On the archived, never truly deleted, screenshotted, Way-Back-Machine–able World Wide Web.

The permanence is terrifying. An audience of 0, 5, 300, 900, or thousands makes little difference when you remember what you upload and submit has the potential to never, ever go away. You can burn a diary or throw away passed notes, but there’s no way to know what will happen to the content you put online — twelve years ago or twelve seconds ago.

Having control of my data, posted to spaces I pay for, adds a level of serious anxious pressure atop the permanence. My old personal blog contained some really shitty thoughts. Not long after, I learned better and changed my views. Those posts are gone; the domain is gone, even; the content is in some .xml file on some harddrive, just so I have a record of it.  I’m embarrassed by those posts. They don’t reflect who I am now.

So, you can’t see them. You can’t go back more than a few days in my Twitter stream. You can’t look at my teen antics I posted to Tumblr a few years ago either.

I want to present not my best self, but my actual and current self. I want to be my best self and I’m always working on it. How the Internet — from two people to two thousand people — perceives that is up to them, but the content I put forth it up to me. I govern the narrative.

Authority over that narrative freezes me up. I’ve filled Field Notes with ideas for blog posts. I’ve saved more Tumblr usernames than I can remember for a blank canvas. I’ve wasted money on domain names for a good excuse to have a “fresh start.”

When there’s a sense of permanence (blogging! archives! pretty permalinks!), I feel a need to have a streamlined identity. Fit into a neat little box. I’m a designer for the web, so I should comment on typefaces in UIs and post WIPs and case studies. I’m a developer for the web, so I should share code snippets and tell you about my new open source endeavor. I love makeup, so I should do YouTube haul videos and give you coupon codes to buy my favourite products. I play video games, so I should review titles as I play them and critique the gaming environment. I like fashion, so I should move into an apartment with better lighting and eventually labels should “care of” me things. I’m a progressive and privileged young adult, so I should be posting thinkpieces on Medium (or Svbtle if I’m leet enough), not here.

The respected & revered individuals in online spaces don’t cover more than one of the above categories. Jack of unknown trades, master of the one they blog about. I’ve shied away from posting — even though I have ideas, even though I’ve wanted to, even though I’ve had partially written drafts, even — because I couldn’t find one specialty blogging silo to fit myself into best.

“You don’t always have to be who they want you to be, you know.”
“I happen to like being adored, thank you!”

Having varied interests is good. Writing about them is good. Writing is good. Expression is good. Watch out.

WMC Fest IV: What I Did, What I Learned

The fourth iteration of the coolest fest in the Midwest℠*, Weapons of Mass Creation, just wrapped up two nights ago. This is an event I look forward to every summer — this year more than ever. I spent the extended weekend as a featured designer, Kickstarter backer, volunteer, and Ink Wars participant. You could say I’m a huge WMC advocate and ambassador. I think you’d be right.

What I Did

Collaborated with awesome new friends at 2 Night Stand Thursday and Friday.

Enthusiastically tore sheets of wristbands and ushered in the crowd for 6+ hours volunteering at the Friday night mixer.

My stuff was in the best company — above Mary Kate McDevitt, next to Derek Hess!

Freaked out whenever I saw someone giggling/commenting/cooing/pointing at my work on the gallery wall.

Ran around watching old friends showing their stupid talent with guitars and basses and drums and voices.

Got misty-eyed and mad motivated by the talks of These Are Things, Nick DisabatoCaroline Moore, and Tim Goodman.

Took cutie-cutie pictures with Boybot before The Appleseed Cast and Braid (!!!) graced the stage.

Participated as one of eight Ink Warriors in the first-ever Adobe-sponsored Ink Wars battle.

What I Learned (& Why I’m Writing This Post)

I matter. My story matters. My voice matters.

My perspective is unique; what I have to say isn’t what everyone else has to say and I say it in a way that’s inherently different from everyone else. It might not always be worth listening to, but it’s worth expressing. The more I express, the closer I’ll get to my best self.

I’ll never be exactly where I want to be creatively/technically/professionally, but I know I’m on the right road. The path I’ve paved so far is the right one because I’m doing what I love.

I’m killing my idols. Unfollowing my heroes. I’m done putting myself and my skills down because my work doesn’t look like @_____________’s. Now I have the courage to understand my work shouldn’t look like @_____________’s and I shouldn’t want to be  @_____________. I’m me and I’m transmuting my creative insecurity to confidence.

I was recognized this year for a reason. There are other people way more talented than me, but I was given opportunities this past weekend because someone thinks I deserve recognition and a platform. That doesn’t mean I expect or demand constant opportunities and platforms, or that I think I’m entitled anything. I will continue to work as hard as I have and then push harder.

I have a story to tell. I have passion and a skill set to tell it. I’m starting now.

This weekend I got in a room full of strangers more than once, feeling uncomfortable and out-of-place and too young and an all-around-gold-medal-level of weird. Maybe the room wasn’t for me, but the whole venue was. The whole world is. I belong where I am as long as I believe in myself.

After a full 46 hours to process the weekend, I feel just as I did Sunday at midnight: emptied of all the stress, anxiety, nervousness, missed sleep & skipped meals — and ready to be filled with wonder and amazement. Definitely ready for WMC Fest V.


Thank You

A huge thank you to Jeff Finley of Go Media for starting this event, working your ass off to make it so amazing every year for everyone, and inviting me to be a special part of it. And to everyone I met and reconnected with because I want to be friends with everyone all the time forever ♥!

*terrible slogan totally copyright me

My First Time Presenting a Design

Disastrous. I did everything I know I’m not supposed to do when presenting a design. My insecurity got in the way. I was closed-off, unprepared, unresponsive — completely without grace.

I designed a prototype for a small iPad-specific site. It was the first opportunity I had in my position to design in the browser. I followed the brand’s style guide and took positive cues from the existing desktop web experience. I made use of a simple Sass library I’m developing and flexed my responsive muscles to pivot seamlessly from landscape to portrait. I compressed images, minified scripts and styles, and loaded assets conditionally. I added extra padding to inline text links for larger touch targets and abandoned hover effects as a visual crutch. It met the needs in the statement of work; it looked alright and functioned well.

Selling all those decisions was just short of a failure.
I’m sorry, Mike Monteiro.

The client lives a few hours away, so for this small job we presented remotely. The phone call’s calendar reminder buzzed so my company’s CEO dialed the client’s number. We thought the client had an iPad, but she was viewing the site stretched to the full width of her monitor: clumsy and oversized, and my fault. With my boss in the front seat, client passenger, and me riding bitch in the back, we drove through the user experience flow page by page. When a question was raised, I tried to answer and got tongue-tied. When a design decision was contended, I became quietly and defensively offended, stayed shut up until muttering in agreement. I was too embarrassed by my inability to articulate my ideas in the beginning to argue for those decisions later on.

By the end of the call, the project was received well; the client was happy with the direction and naturally suggested a few completely reasonable changes.

If I wanted to justify the unjustifiable, I have two perfect excuses.
One: I am terrified of conversation, particularly on the phone. Not simply in a millennials-that-prefer-texts-and-IMs way, but a social-anxiety-for-which-I-take-medication way.
Two: My creative director and mentor left the company and it was my first day without him, so I wasn’t in the most confident frame of mind.

Pointing out these mistakes will help me present better in the future. Simply presenting again will help me present better in the future — fear itself, etc. etc. I know the next chance I get to sell my design, I’ll be falling asleep to Don Draper the night before re-reading Design is a Job during that morning’s commute.