Joshua Keel

A Place of One’s Own

December 15, 2019

A room of one’s own: Is there anybody who hasn’t at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn’t turned those soft words over until they’d assumed a habitable shape?

Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own

I have been hard at work these last few weeks, first developing the germ of an idea, refining it, then putting fingers to keyboard and doing the difficult mental labor of bringing it to life.

I’ve been redesigning from the ground up. My goal was simple: I wanted full control over my own domain (literally and figuratively). I wanted a place that had my authentic stamp, a place that felt like home, that was truly original and my own.

In my earliest teenage days of making websites, there were no themes. WordPress and Squarespace didn’t exist. If you wanted to make a website, you learned HTML and CSS, so that’s what I did. I created various sites over the years, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I registered as a domain name.

I was in college at the time, and set my site up with WordPress, which had been released just a few years before. According to the Wayback Machine, my bio at the time was:

“I’m a musician, student and many other random things, living in southeastern North Carolina at the moment. This blog is about my progress towards music that inspires me and that others enjoy.”

Since that fateful start, the site has gone through many iterations, and even one incident where I let the domain expire, and couldn’t get it back until whatever faceless company snatched it up released it a year later.

I’ve used to promote my music, publish status updates on how my final exams turned out, and now as a vessel for my writing. It’s been a long, evolving journey, and now I have opened a new chapter.

As of yesterday, I re-platformed the site using Eleventy, a static site generator that takes in files with your content, and spits out HTML. This is about as hand-crafted and manual as it gets these days. It’s also wicked fast and highly customizable.

For the CSS, I used Tailwind, which allows you to quickly create great-looking sites with a minimum of fuss. I really enjoyed learning and using both of these tools. The site is now deployed via Netlify’s Content Delivery Network (CDN), which makes it ridiculously easy and quick to publish changes.

This has all been a great adventure, and an obsession of mine for at least three weeks now. I have read almost nothing (at least in book form), watched very little TV, and basically spent every waking moment I could grab on this project.

My wife is glad the new site is finally done, since she was getting a little annoyed, and called this project my “mistress”. It’s no secret to those who know me well that I have a very obsessive personality. When I care deeply about something, I am utterly committed to it. I become fully focused, to the exclusion of almost all else.

Certainly this project has ruled my thoughts and free time, capturing my attention in a way that few other things can. I found that while typing into my code editor and refreshing my browser window to see the changes I was making, I could easily enter a flow state where time passed by without notice.

While I get bored with many other tasks, this one had a captivating quality which kept me engaged late at night when I should’ve been preparing for bed. I could work on it for hours at a time while barely even noticing that I had done so. I didn’t want to sleep because I just wanted to get more done.

I was relentlessly driven to complete this effort, and now, in the immediate aftermath, I feel both a sense of relief and a slight emptiness, a hunger for more that can’t be fully satisfied.

Obsession is certainly a mixed bag. On the one hand, I love the way I am, passionate and driven to understand and build. On the other, this project has taken its toll, and now I feel depleted, even mentally exhausted.

I’ve also missed books, and the open feeling of not entirely knowing what I want to spend my free time doing. Yet this experience has also taught me that I can enter flow while doing technical work, something that is less accessible to me at my day job, where I don’t have full control.

The creative freedom to conceive, design and build my ideas is powerfully intoxicating. I believe I will be doing a lot more of this in the future. Somehow I’ll have to find ways to balance my obsessiveness with the need to do frivolous things like eat and sleep.

Seriously, though, I doubt the level of intensity I have maintained over the past weeks is sustainable. If I kept going at this rate, I would burn out quickly. It was a deeply rewarding and fun experience, though, and I am going to be on the lookout for my next project, software or otherwise.

Now I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor: a website that I crafted myself, that I can update and change to my heart’s content. I really wanted a space where my writing could shine, and I could focus attention on my email newsletter.

I think I’ve achieved that, and if not, well heck, I’ll just keep making it better, bit by bit.

I’d love to hear your feedback on the redesign. If you’ve got comments, hit me up.