War of the Worlds

Or, what this website will be about.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been at war. If I may be so dramatic, a war of the worlds.

I’m not sure if Martians invading Earth is an apt analogy to my war, but I do like the imagery. The H.G. Wells novel is gripping: mysterious metallic cylinders from outer space land all across the country. Then, horrible machines of destruction emerge from them and methodically destroy society. The only way to make this story even better is turn it into a radio drama, air it on Halloween, and accidentally fool the public into thinking alien invasion is really happening (Orson Welles did just that in 1938, depicting the story as if it were a live news broadcast).

The story begins.

I love stories. Everything we do revolves around stories. We tell them (and hear them) all day every day. Most of them are mundane, like what happened today at the office. But good stories, crafted stories, can be powerful – playing on emotions never put into words. In an atmosphere of pre World War II tension and anxiety, The War of the Worlds radio drama genuinely frightened people. Were they really scared of alien invasion? Or did a realistic story of alien invasion bring their sincere fear of an uncertain future to the surface?

Eleven years ago I decided to study Film at the University of Texas so I could become one of the storytellers I’d always looked up to. I graduated with high hopes of becoming an independent film maker, enterprising animation and film projects that would take me – well, who the heck knows, that was a life time ago.

I didn’t want to move to LA, so I stayed in Austin and worked in coffee shops. I got married. I studied drawing and animation in my free time. I made attempts to get a few projects up and running. I even had a few successes, most notably some animation for @scottythep’s indie classic, Kabluey.

But then it happened. The first few metallic cylinders crashed on my world.

Invasion!

The short story: Someone I knew needed a website.

I had taken a ‘new media’ class back in school, so I knew this internet thing changed the way we think about media. By this time YouTube was YouTube, and I was listening to everything the TWiT network put on air. The message of the era: there has never been a better time to be an independent creator. And the place to do it is the Internet.

Be free! Make stuff! Make it free! Somehow profit!

Yeah, that’s sarcasm – but I have no one to be bitter at but myself. At the time it really felt like I was on the ground floor of a revolution. In retrospect, I probably was, but skipped that all important step of making stuff.

Instead, someone I knew needed a website.

“Well,” I thought. “The internet is where it’s at. Making web pages would be cool. I can use that knowledge to make websites for all my creative ideas too!”

So I learned how to make a website. And then I made another website. Before I knew it, I was making lots of websites for other people’s creative projects, but not working on any of my own. I even got a job - I became a full time front end web developer. What a happy discovery that I could be paid to make some cool stuff. And I was good at it.

But something wasn’t sitting right.

The cylinders open!

I know many creative people who became web designers/developers on accident – and for good reason. To paint a picture of web development as a bad thing would be a terrible disservice to an incredible industry.

Building websites is intoxicating. I fell in love with web design and development because, like drawing or filmmaking or writing, it’s the art of taking nothing but a thought or idea, and then building something real from it. Something tangible, yet something that communicates beyond words. At the end of the day, you have this thing you made that (hopefully) enriches people’s lives. It’s fundamentally creative in that way.

But, for all my love of the internets, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was never my intention to do this for a living. My hopes and dreams were being invaded by a new set of creative goals. Instead of picking up a pencil and storyboarding cartoons, I was learning about the triune god of HTML, CSS, and Javascript jQuery. I was becoming an expert at making other people’s ideas a reality, but my own ideas were disintegrating under Martian death rays.

By the time the cylinders had opened and I realized what I’d been doing for the last few years, it was too late. My identity was under attack…. albeit by myself. Commence inner conflict.

I am my own worst enemy.

The first response to an alien invasion is panic. Plain and simple. Run around like a chicken with your head cut off and write the doomsday scenario over and over in your little brain: my creative life is over I am now a slave to the Almighty Code. It will devour my time and attention and I will whither away, soulless. What was once a life-giving creative job is now the crusher of my dreams. Weird how that happens.

Eventually the panic subsided into a more sustainable inner turmoil. Want to see it in action? Just ask me “what I do.” I hate that question. One part of me says, “I’m an animator and illustrator!” But another part of me says, “heh, that’s funny. You build websites all day every day. And let’s face it, you enjoy it.” So my mouth spits out a bit of rubbish that comes off as “I don’t know what I do.”

And it’s not necessarily untrue, because at that point I’m just spiraling: When you don’t know what you are doing, you lose sense of who you are. And you can’t represent yourself well if you don’t know who you are. But if you don’t know who you are you can’t figure out what you are doing. See how this works?

In the end, I stopped being social in relation to my work. I couldn’t fully commit myself to my job because I couldn’t decide if it was my “real” job. I never built myself a website or blog or any kind of presence online because what would I even say there? I became a recluse, hiding from more death rays, quietly trying to stay productive.

The invasion is coming from inside the house

Boy, after being so long winded about the “problem” where do I begin with the “solution?” Perhaps it starts where it began: making things.

Credit where credit is due – Merlin Mann. That guy. Man. I could say so many things about what I’ve sorta learned from his ramblings, but I’ll try to sum it up succinctly: Be honest about it and just do it. Honestly, do it. Or honestly do it. Something like that. Really I can never pin his ideas down, but mostly I “get” that creative work is hard, and creative work really is work.

If I’m looking over the great expanse of career and creativity, and I’m unhappy with what I’m cranking out, can I really blame that unhappiness on Martians? Metaphorically or actually?

No, but it’s a good story. See I like stories. And the story that building websites was this foreign thing that invaded my creative life and destroyed all my aspirations as I knew them is a good, comforting story. Because in that story, I’m not the villain. I’m the unfortunate hero holding out hope that somehow the alien invasion will be stopped and we’ll all get back to the way things were.

But the thing is, way back when, I chose to build that website. And I chose to build the next one and the next one and the next one. And somewhere along the line it became easier to build other people’s stuff than to take up the challenge of putting my own thing out there. Whether it was a skill thing or a money thing or a confidence thing – it doesn’t matter.

I’ve written a nice little synopsis for myself where I don’t have the time or the skills or the whatever to make the stuff I claim to be passionate about. Talk about a powerful story.

Poof, you’re home. Or, resistance is futile.

So, what do I do? For starters, I built this website. I cried, “To hell with website building! I’m going to build a website!” And then I added, “From now on it’s going to be about my animation and illustration, and nothing else!”

And then I proceeded to spend months on said website, making sure to use HTML5, CSS3, web fonts, responsive design, and any other buzz word you can think of. Because to hell with website building!

I showed an earlier version of this site off to my friend and mentor, @lgani, and I made a remark like, “I know, I need to pick a career, right?” He paused, then replied, “poof, you’re home.”

That phrase hung in the air like the smoke from a Martian death ray. He was right. I wouldn’t pour so much of myself into building a website if I weren’t actually passionate about building the website. It goes beyond just being pretty good at something. I… I… I really like it.

Oh God oh God oh God. Death rays! Explosions! Destruction everywhere! Ruuuuuuuuuuun!!!!!!!

Exploration and opportunity. Or, I, for one, welcome our new Martian overlords.

Boy, it’s so much more complicated than any silly metaphor or narrative I can come up with, isn’t it? When the smoke clears, I have to look up and face the fact that I like all of it. I like making websites. I like telling stories. I like animation. I like illustration. I like ice cream.

The web design and development community is the most awe inspiring group of people I’ve ever experienced. There is a jaw dropping amount of awesome stuff these people produce every day. And I’m not talking about clever new website widgets. I mean real tools and resources that make our world a better place. Even non “web” things like books, magazines, music, entertainment – you name it and some developer has an incredibly cool side project that’s related. If there has ever been an industry to be inspired by to get your own creative work done, it’s this one.

I’m never gonna figure it out. We all have tons of interests and ideas that compete for our time. The moment I first typed <html>, my future was changed forever. But, the error I’ve made is thinking that the choice I need to make is which thing I’m going to do. Which world wins the war?

False choice. If one world wins, nobody wins. Web development has taught me that every interest and talent can influence and improve every other. The real choice is the one I make every day when I get up – that today I’m going to work on something I care about. I’m going to use all the tools, interests, and talents at my disposal to do the thing in front of me today. And it’s going to be awesome.

That’s basically my manifesto for this site. It’s a new world out there for me, Earthlings and Martians hand in tentacle. So, what is it “I do?” I have no idea, but I’m ok with that. And hopefully it will make for a good story.