Knowing the destination before setting out on the voyage

Earlier today I mentioned that there’s never been something I’m so equally attracted to and horrified of in my entire life – as writing. I’ve done it and not done it all my life and I’ve written about doing it and not doing it probably more than I’ve actually done it. I have this problem that I’ve become much more aware of recently, which might actually be making it worse now that I know about it, where I’m petrified of beginning writing if I don’t know where I’m going to end up. Depending on your perspective this has never/always been a problem for me to some extent – or rather, it’s been a problem in other areas that I didn’t realize were problematic, but hasn’t really been a problem with writing.

In my most prolific writing days I had no idea where I was headed until I got there and that was my salvation. Writing was incredibly therapeutic and with just a spark I could dig into my head and spill my guts all over a page and not only feel good about what I’d written, but feel better mentally as well. Like I’d worked through something. Solved something that I didn’t understand before and that drove me to keep doing it. At some point I got the idea that I needed that spark to give me the push, and then at some other point I realized those sparks don’t really happen on command. And then I started worrying about them and how to find them and what to do without them. The spark was like a quick strobe flash in a dark room that gave me an idea of what route to take to get through it, and without that I just keep standing there not knowing which direction to move in.

I told a story last year (and many times before actually) that as a kid I never took first steps, or said first words. I sat around staring at people for ever – much longer than I should have – and then just started walking, and just started talking in full sentences. It’s a story passed on to me from my parents and I don’t even know how much truth is in it. But I guess I convinced myself it was true, and then used it as an excuse by blaming some weird way my head works. I have to know I can do it before I start. Or I have to know the destination before I can embark on the journey. Which I think is bullshit, so that’s conflicting to say the least.

The thing is I love writing. When I’m in the groove it’s easily one of my favorite things in the world. If I could do that all day I would in a heartbeat. When I’m not in that groove it’s torture and I beat myself up about it all day long, which I’m certain only makes it that much worse.

I’ve talked to a number of my “writer” friends, or just my friends who write even if they don’t consider themselves writers. I ask them if they know where they are going when they begin. If they have a roadmap. If they just dive in blind. And their answers, of course – I knew before I ever asked them, are varied. Some people have outlines, some people have ideas, some people barely have a spark. So there’s no one solution, no one answer. And again, I already know that so I don’t know why I keep asking. But I do. I feel like I’m 1 year old just watching everyone walk around too afraid to try to take a step. Does that mean that at some people in the future I’ll just *get it* and suddenly be able to write without issue? I doubt it, but that’s a good excuse to not try today.

And it’s not even a fear of failure. I don’t mind if I suck. I don’t mind if what I write is stupid. I mean I don’t want to write sucky stupid stuff, but if that’s the result then I’m already OK with that because it’s a result, which is better than what I have right now. I’m afraid of getting lost. Afraid of staring at the blank page and not having any idea what to write next. Afraid of trying to tell a story and not having a story to tell. If I don’t actually write it then I can keep telling myself that I have a story that I just haven’t written yet. If I force myself to start writing it and hit a wall, then I have to admit that I don’t have a story. Which is where that desire to know the end before I begin comes from. And again, I know it’s stupid.

I’m not even looking for advice here, just trying to kick my own ass and sort through the crap in my own head so I can better grasp what it is that is actually standing in my way. Like with this post, I knew the first sentence because I’d already written it on twitter, everything else just appeared as I typed the line before it. So that’s something.

First 140 People On Twitter

(crossposted on Medium)
A conversation on twitter last night reminded me of a list I’d seen compiled many years ago of the first 140 people to sign up for Twitter – known as twttr at that point. The site where the list had been posted was down but thanks to The Wayback Machine I was able to find the list. I thought I’d repost it here just for posterity.

top 6 x 6 following list on Twitter I find this list incredibly fascinating for a number of reasons. We all know what twitter is now, but no one knew what it would be then so if nothing else (with the exception of the people who worked at Odeo) this is a snapshot of a somehow connected (it was invite only) group of people who were willing to try out new things that likely made no sense to them at the time. Who is on the list is just as interesting as who isn’t – and seeing how it spread. Jason Cosper invited me and I invited both Xeni Jardin and Richard Ault who signed up immediately. I recall the first few days much more vividly than I do the following 6 months. Random text messages from people stating that they were making sandwiches or going to the store, and the feeling that this info was probably important in a context I couldn’t quite wrap my head around – which made it exciting. It was also annoying. But it found it’s groove and as I’ve said before the service went on to change my entire world and how I communicate with people, and I’d argue I’m not the only one who feels that way. I can’t imagine a world without Twitter today. And because those first few days and weeks were so new and weird, this list is a bit nostalgic for me. I don’t know how it makes anyone else feel, but like I said I just thought it was worth archiving.


(Note: Unfortunately it seems that a few people on this list, over the last 7 years, changed their usernames or stopped using them and someone else has snatched those names up. They are obvious when you follow the links below, so this list is more an archive of the names and accounts, no so much the current users.)

Decisions Decisions

I feel like I used to be a lit more decisive. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just my head making shit up but I feel like it’s true. I feel like when I was presented with an option I would make my choice and run with it but at some point I started asking myself about the options and which was better and what might happen if I chose one over the other. I told myself that this was smart and it would help me make more educated choices and more thoughtful decisions. And that’s not entirely wrong, or bad, but the result of doing that more and more often hasn’t been making better and better decisions it’s been making some very well thought out decisions and being paralyzed in fear of making the wrong decision so not making a decision at all on far too many other things. Maybe I don’t have time to do the research I think I need to, or maybe the info that I found wasn’t definitive, or maybe I just didn’t feel like thinking about it – whatever the reason a choice left unmade was the result. And it’s been happening more and more often. It’s almost like I’m bikeshedding myself.

Anyway I sort of knew I was doing this but pretended I didn’t, and then I really knew I was doing it and thought I’d just ignore it. Turns out neither of those are really good ideas and it’s just been getting worse and worse. The anxiety. The indecision. It’s a bunch of bullshit, all of it. This morning I was at Costco with Tara because we needed to pick up a few things (protip: Costco sells a giant 26oz jar of MaraNatha Almond Butter which is amazing in smoothies for like $6, which is even way cheaper than Amazon, and the 12oz jar is $19 at my local grocery store – but anyway…) and we were walking down the office supply isle and Tara said “Oh we need printer paper” and reached over to the stack of paper packages closest to her, grabbed one and put it in the cart and kept going.

I stood there in shock. And then told her why I was in such awe.

There were no less than 8 different kinds of printer paper there. At even my quickest glance I could see they were all about the same price and about the same sheet count so there was no instant, obvious reason to choose one over the other. If I had been standing there and realized I needed paper it would have taken me 10-15 minutes of reading about each option and trying to decide which one was the wisest choice. I probably would have been googling them holding them next to each other to see how much of a difference there was between 92 bright white and 87 white. And I would have been unsure about my final pick. Did I spend extra for something I don’t need? Should I have gotten something brighter? What about recycled? Tara wrestled with none of that, she didn’t even care. She spent 3 seconds on it – if even – and then moved on.

I thought about this for the rest of the day and this afternoon realized why. I hadn’t really realized how much this indecisiveness was bothering me until I saw how little impact making a choice and running with it had on her. Because really, there’s no difference in any of those papers – they all do the job. So anything more than 5 seconds would have been a waste, but I couldn’t have realized that until I saw it in action. And so here I am, obsessing about that and promising myself that I’m going to stop wrestling with myself over shit that doesn’t matter and just make a decision and run with it, and be happy with it, and stop thinking about it so I can move on to the next thing. A decision made is better than a decision in limbo tearing away at me. I won’t even get into the months and months of disasterous mental hell I’ve been putting myself through over any number of choices that have been laid out before me. None of which deserve 1% of the time I’ve spent on them.

I’m feeling like this is a reckless decision but it’s probably not in anyway. But I’m making the choice to just start making choices. I’m committing to making a commitment and seeing where it leads rather than trying to know the whole map before I take a step. Maybe I’ll make the wrong choice sometimes, but I’ll be making choices and that’s better than where I’m at right now.

So we’ll see where this leads.

Message Boards might just be the solution to Comments

In the mid 90’s the community where I spent the most time online was Alen Yen’s ToyboxDX. This site was the epicenter of the Japanese toy collecting world, and naturally in our pre-twitter, pre-blog, pre-social networking world, the message board there was where all the action was. This was also a pre-wikipedia world so research was much trickier and that message board was invaluable for those of us trying to figure out what toys which companies released and when. I still have good friends who I first met soaking up details about rare chogokin and sofubi there. We had built a vintage toy nerd utopia… and then the Transformers kids showed up with their unrefined discussion about toys made in the 80’s. People threatened to leave the site because it had become a cesspool of US released plastic toy talk. It was a nightmare as you can imagine.

Until someone had an idea – what if, all Field of Dreams style – we could build something for those Transformers dorks that would be more appealing to them and would get them out of our faces. We made a special “Transformers” section of the message board (along with an “off topic” ghetto) and instantly the problem was solved and the classic toy threads returned to their previous unmolested toysnob glory.

In the years since then I’ve thought about this strategy time and time again when working with communities online. Adjusting where someone hangs out is easier than adjusting how they hang out. It’s not about getting someone to talk about something else, rather finding the right place for what they want to talk about.

Encryption and Privacy – What I’m Using


[Originally posted on Medium] Can you imagine if an email program shipped today without a “reply all” feature? Or a browser shipping without tabs? It’s a crazy prospect because those things are used so frequently used, to not include them would ensure instant death for this new software. I’ve often complained publicly that privacy and encryption tools aren’t thought to be just as crucial, and expressed some annoyance that developers don’t consider them mandatory. Afterall, if these options were baked in and simple people would use them all the time, right? Or at least much more frequently. Recently a friend threw this back at me and asked if we, all of us, are not to blame for these things having a low priority because we neither use them regularly nor demand their inclusion in our software?

I initially objected to this idea, but the more I thought about it the more it rang true. Saying “it’s too hard to use so I’m not going to bother using it” doesn’t provide any motivation for people to make it easier because hell, people aren’t using them anyway. On the other hand if people used these things regularly and “how hard it is” became a common gripe, then making it easier would suddenly be very attractive. Looking at it this way, maybe we really do only have ourselves to blame that these technologies and assurances aren’t ubiqitus. And when faced with a realization like that, I always feel like I have to at least try.

So I spent a few days looking back over the tools I’ve used in the past, the tools I want to use now and bringing things a bit more up to date. There’s always a balance between convenience and usefulness because I know myself and if something is a pain in the ass I’ll eventually stop using it. So one of my main criteria here is that is has to be easy to use, even if there are a few hoops to jump through in the initial set up stages. I’m a Mac users and do a lot of my work in the browser so I have a preference for tools that “just work.”

As I have these conversations with others from time to time, I thought I’d share what I found and what I implemented so that perhaps others might find something useful in the mix. I don’t pretend to be an expert here and welcome suggestions for improvement.

Fight yourself, you always win


Everyday I tell myself to write and everyday I don’t. Everyday I tell myself to take photos and everyday I don’t.

That’s not entirely true but it feels that way, and I take more photos than I write words but I obsess about writing more than taking photos so there is that. For weeks, months I’ve been in this back and forth thinking about writing and having sparks of ideas but because I can’t see the full idea I give up before I start which I know is the 100% wrong thing to do and I think about that and then I do it anyway. I’m in this particularly awesome headspace of thinking that my work has to be brilliant (not that it should be, but that is obviously is) but at the exact same time thinking it’s complete crap. I don’t even know how to classify that particular brand of crazy but it’s a near perfect balance of massively over inflated ego and crushingly low self esteem. Which results in inaction. And either way, I’m right.

And here I am writing about that – again – rather than the things I want to be writing about. I’d guess that a batch analysis of the archives of this blog, all 15 years of it, would result in far more posts about struggling with writing than actual writing. Blogging about blogging. Writing about writing. It’s useless, and yet I keep doing it. Back in January I told myself that once and for all I was going to put all this behind me and write a book this year. I didn’t restrict myself to what, because while I’m horrified and clueless about writing fiction it’s what I really want to do. But I know how lost I get when I try, and given that I have actually completed some of the non fiction writing I set out to do I wanted to leave that door open to myself. But here we are at the end of June and I have, maybe… 35 words written? If even? I don’t want to count. And they aren’t even complete sentences. Just words.

Part of it is indecision. I realized that this year – it’s something that I fight through it other parts of my life as well but really holds up my writing. I don’t know if I’m making the right choice about what to write. This idea is good, but I like this idea too, but that other idea could be interesting – but would anyone actually want to read that kind of a story? Who cares what other people think, I’m gonna write what I want to read! Which could be this idea, or that one. Or maybe this other one could work too. Well shit, I can’t write about all these things at once, how do I even begin. And then I don’t.

Deadlines tend to work for me. When someone contacts me for a piece in a magazine or whatever and says they need X by next Friday then I nail that no problem. I think if I had an editor screaming at me to finish something I’d probably finish it. Or maybe better yet a group of friends (a writing group?) that were expecting to see something, and I was expecting to see something from them at the same time. I think that would motivate me. Or would it? I don’t even really know. But 20 minutes ago I told myself I had to finish a blog post before I left to go pick up Ripley from preschool, so there you have it.

Introductions: The Art of Curating People


(I initially published this piece on Medium)

Over the years I’ve often found myself in the situation of knowing two awesome people who didn’t previously know each other, and been lucky enough to put them together and see even more awesomeness result from that new connection. I’ve done this enough that from time to time people have referred to me as a hub that connects a bunch of spokes. I blame my short attention span on the fact that I’ve got a foothold in a number of different networks – technology, art, music, etc… – which helps out here as well. To skip to the point, I like connecting people.

Now I should point out immediately that I don’t just connect anyone and everyone, and this is where the “art of curation” business comes in. I could be mistaken, but I think I have a pretty good sense of what people are doing and where they might click and I take considerable care on who and how I introduce people. You’ll see why that is important in a moment. So of course, in thinking about introducing people, how you do that becomes ultimately important. In this, as with many other things in my life, I think about what I like, what works for me, and then try to apply that outward.

What I like: When someone I know and trust connects me directly to someone else they know and trust, gives context for the introduction (who each of us are, how they know us, why we’re being introducted), and then gets out of the way so that I and my (potential) new friend can chat and see what might come from this. I feel like this is the most natural way to meet someone and interact with them, with the least pressure. The best introductions that have ever been presented to me have happened this way.

What I don’t like: When someone I know puts me in touch with someone, or asks to put me in touch with someone, and then tries to play middle man on all interactions, almost holding the contact for this other person at arms length. Right away I feel pressure to say the right thing, or to jump through someone elses hoops and it becomes very difficult very quickly to interact with this new person. I’ve made a few freinds from this, but more often than not talks never go beyond the initial moderated chats.

What I really, really, really, really don’t like: When someone I may or may not know connects me with someone they may or may not know, gives no context for the introduction and then acts like the three of us are instantly best friends, business partners and possibly lovers. This is awkward on every level, and there’s really no way anyone can walk away from it feeling at all positive.

Where is my mind

I’ve been low on motivation and inspiration recently and my creative output has been weak. This is a short term lull I assure you, and I assure me. In the meantime, this is where I spend my time on the internets. as me:

I have a mailing list called Just Another Crowd that I send emails out to from time to time, mostly collected links that I may have posted elsewhere along with some commentary, occasionally more commentary than links. I’m trying to use Path more often too, but that’s really for friends only.

I’m also “behind the curtain” so to speak to various levels on a bunch of projects which you may or may not find interesting:

I have a few other projects that aren’t quite ready for primetime yet. Once they are, I’ll post ’em.