Be Your Whole Self
Almost 13 years ago, I signed up for a shared hosting account on a little web host called TextDrive. I didn't know it then, but that was my introduction to a community that I'm still a part of today.
TextDrive was founded by Dean Allen, a man with a love for writing and for the ability of typesetting to make writing pop off of the screen. I wasn't a Dean Allen fan — I didn't come to TextDrive because of Dean. I came because TextDrive looked like a good hosting company for people who loved technology, and who loved to tinker on the web.
TextDrive was that. Of all of the hosting companies that I've used over the past 20 years, TextDrive was the best. Dean and Jason gave us a remarkable amount of freedom on their servers, while sparing us from the challenges of being administrators of our own systems. They were personable, with a seemingly endless supply of patience for our requests and the ways that we found to crash their servers.
But I found more than just a good web host. I found a community of the like minded. We all liked to tinker and to write. Some linked to tinker so much that they became members of TextDrive's support staff. The TextDrive forums were our shared campfire. (I mostly sat in the shadows). When TextDrive was absorbed into Joyent, we moved together to the Joyent forums. And when Joyent stopped offering shared hosting, we stayed in touch through Twitter and Slack. The community feels special because we each have different backgrounds, careers, and interests. We have different levels of technical skill. On the surface, it sometimes seems that we have little in common. But we're still united by that shared interest in writing and in tinkering.
Last week, I learned that Dean Allen had died. I feel his loss less keenly than others in the community only because I knew him less well than they did. But I mourn the loss of him nonetheless, because of what he did to attract so many like minded individuals. I've been shaped by that community in various ways and wouldn't be quite who I am today without them and without him.
Joel, a member of our TextDrive community, wrote some thoughts on Dean's passing, Retooling. I was struck by his thoughts and his Twitter summary of them.
- For God’s sake, stay in touch
- A good way to stay in touch is to keep blogging
- Be your whole self online
- Make the whole soup from scratch
I was especially struck by Joel's third point.
One thing about blogging, as opposed to clipping words into a stream of status updates, is that it gives you room to be your political self (say) without collapsing the rest of you out of sight. Dean’s politics were pretty clear to anyone who read him, and he was no stranger to the polemic, but he let himself be more than his politics, to such an extent that people who disagreed with his politics (including myself at the time) were happy to congregate together around him.
Maybe when we each have our own spaces to think and express ourselves, and when we Stay In Touch mainly by checking in on each other’s spaces, we do better at thinking together.
Politics (e.g.) are important. But, thanks in part to my experience with Dean and people at TextDrive, I can see that being inclusive, allowing ourselves to be and see more than our politics, happens to be good for our politics. The fact that they took this approach, and looked past my freshman twerpisms, was helpful for me at the time, and a factor in several changes-of-mind down the road.
I'm not good at being my whole self online. I'm an introvert. I'm very, very comfortable with my introvertedness. I'm not lonely. I'm perfectly content to spend an evening (or 10) with the quiet comfort of my own thoughts. That leads me to spend a lot of time having internal dialogs, forgetting that no one else can hear my constant conversation. And then I realize that's been two months since I posted anything, anything at all, on my blog and longer still since I publicly wrote anything of true meaning.
Joel's thoughts challenged me to make public interaction a priority. Post something, even if it's just a link to something that I found interesting. Post everything, even if it's political and might annoy people. Post about who I am — my whole self — my love for books, my nascent interest in comic books and console games, the boardgames that I'm enoying, the frustrations and joys of parenting, my complaints about American Christianity, everything.
I'm not sure how successful I'll be. It's a struggle to take the constant stream of thoughts in my head and focus on one long enough to freeze it and put it online. But I think it's worth doing. Community is important and I can only be a part of an online community if I'm willing to be heard.