I went through a strange phase last week. Strange, at least for me. For months and years I’ve been wanting to work on all the little sites I have or learn something new on the web. But I had hardly ever done so, unless for compelling (like @skinnylatte texting me non-stop) or professional reasons.
You see, I love making things on the web. That was why I built a career on it, because I thought it would be amazing to do what I love. And it most ways, it is. But I focused so much of energy in my professional work, that I thought that the last thing I would do when I have time on the side is to be building again. So I ended up doing other things instead. I chilled, watched tv, wrote, read, ate, hung out with people, everything else except touching anything remotely close to design or code.
Last saturday, I am not sure exactly why, but I thought it was a good idea to rebuild winnielim.org in Jekyll. It used to run on wordpress, and of course it is extremely overkill to run a simple one-page site on wordpress, but in those days I wanted to be able to edit the content on that page easily and also run multi-site. I had this grand dream that I will use wordpress multi-site to run tons of mini sites for all my crazy ideas and initiatives. Never happened.
Then something strange happened. I had to install brew and rbenv on my home laptop so that jekyll can run properly – that process started reminding me of the days when I would spend hours configuring my local dev environment in macports. It was painful back then, and I was sitting here in wonderment about how much things got easier. It is not that I stopped writing code, just that at work the dev environment comes packaged, for good reasons. Through the whole process of getting jekyll to run and then rewriting everything so my sites would start working again – I fell back in love with the process itself:
Writing code feels as close to magic as it can get. You type things and something is created, almost like waving your hand in the air.— Winnie Lim (@wynlim) March 9, 2014
From rebuilding one site last weekend, I ended up rebuilding two in a day – this site is now running on jekyll too, migrated from wordpress. This weekend, the same thing happened again. I ported connections.sg from drupal to github pages. Apart from markdown being so much easier to maintain, I am now able to invite other people to contribute to the data in connections.sg through pull-requests. Within 24 hours, I’ve merged two of them. This rebuilding process started out merely out of curiosity and fun, but it redemonstrated the power of collaboration and community.
Sifting through links in order to freshen things up on connections.sg, I discovered Life by @cheeaun. I forked his project and starting putting in my major life events. For the past few years I have been self-quantifying as much as I can, and obviously I wouldn’t be able to resist seeing a timeline powered by jekyll.
That led to something else – in order to remember the dates (if I am making a timeline, it might as well be a really good and accurate one), I had to sift through my emails, tweets, files and photos. It made me realize my digital assets are all over the place. So I ended up trying to organize them as much as possible, as well as making sure I have them stored in a way that the likelyhood of me losing any of those data is kept extremely low. I didn’t do a good job archiving my life for the first 25 years of my life, and I really want to ensure I do not repeat the same mistake.
There is something transformative about keeping an accurate chronicle of our lives. What I’ve discovered through journalling or sifting through my own data is that – our minds are deceiving. They cannot be trusted to remember things. What seemingly happened in our heads is not the same as what truly happened. Through sifting through my data I got to remember things I had forgotten, parts of life I had dismissed as unremarkable but turned out to have had meaningful events. It still amazes me to this day how all the dots connected, and they didn’t seem meaningful at all when they were happening.
I realized organizing my data is like organizing a physical space. When we put things in proper places and review them periodically, it allows us to throw things out without anxiety. Remember those boxes you can never throw because you are paranoid that something important will be in there? By organizing my digital assets I have freed up the mental space, not only to store more things, but to be creative with what I can do with them. My cognitive load is reduced because I no longer have to entertain my own questions about where are my important memories or assets.
To go on a deeper meta level, by rebuilding my digital assets and spaces, I now feel like I can go on to rebuild other parts of my life. Not because they are broken, but now I simply want to always try to be better than the status quo.
I am slowly piecing myself together through these seemingly random fragments. They will all build on each other and make more holistic sense one day. For now, I will attempt to connect the dots as much as I can.
The best about making things is it makes us want to make even more things. The act of creation fuels more creation. It is one of the best inherent cycles we have as humanity. All of this brings me back to a time when I was just making things and all I cared about was making things. I would write these entries as though no one else would be reading. It didn’t matter if I was being too random. I don’t want to worry if writing geeky stuff about how I like building my sites would distract people from what I view as my more important work.
I am the person I am today, because I am entirely random and made up of seemingly disparate pieces connected by a thread of self-determined meaning. It should not change no matter what direction I am headed in. Evolve, it will, but I cannot disregard the very roots which brought me here today.