Write with a little more truth than you are comfortable with sharing
14 Aug 2019
This is a challenge set by Neil Gaiman's masterclass (The Art of Storytelling.) Neil Gaiman argued that the best storytellers reveal more than they are comfortable sharing, to the point where their work makes them feel like they are walking naked down the street. One of the challenges was to write a short piece of work which exposes more than you would like to about yourself, and to share it with others. I decided to write a journal entry that I would usually keep private, and share it on Twitter. I'm trying not to think about it too much otherwise I won't publish it...
It's 7.49am, I am sitting on a computer chair, wrapped up in a heated blanket. The top left corner of my computer screen is painted with strokes of sunlight drawn in fingerprint smudges.
There is an open book on the desk to my right, face down on top of a notebook, face up. The right hand page shows the cost of Neil Gaiman's masterclass, the art of storytelling. It also shows a goal of completing 6 masterclass courses in a year, which would work out to be forty six dollars a course. After watching and reading the first two chapters, the introduction and 'Truth in Fiction', my heart says this single masterclass was worth the years subscription.
The best story tellers reveal too much of themselves. The more specific they are, the more relatable their story is to everyone who reads it, no matter their background.
Perpendicular to my notebook are several gummy snakes. To the left of my laptop are 2 small freddo chocolate frog wrappers. To the left of those is a can of no sugar coke that I am about to finish, and a pink debit card, face down exposing the faded hologram, a small signature that looks like a lost memory. To the left of those is a printout of the companion workbook to Neil Gaiman's course. There are two pages to one page, there are pages missing, because the printer ran out of paper.
Opposite me is a grey Macbook, surrounded by sticky notes filled with cursive handwriting in purple in on a pink background. A race bib, a cat toy, two books filled with index cards that belong to me. A jar of supplements, reciepts containing fuel coupons. This is the desk that my partner will be occupying, perhaps with a kitten on his lap, or maybe Berry would prefer my heated blanket. Or maybe we'll have to keep putting him on the ground if he tries to bite our chins again because he is teething.
The thought of sharing this piece of writing feels uncomfortable. There are many things here that give a wrong impression to the one that matters to me. I am a minimalist who values eating healthy, yet our desks are cluttered and my breakfast is sugar even though I am supposed to be on a ketogenic diet.
My partner is a man but we are poly and I am bisexual, but the only benefit of underlining these things is to prevent the wrong impression. I want to be seen in the way that I identify with but not the way that I am in this moment, because it doesn't align with the blueprint that the best version of myself can be proud of. The best version of myself would not be surrounded by clutter and sweets.
It has been difficult to share thoughts on Twitter lately. The things I say there are intended to motivate other people who might be struggling in the same way that I am struggling. It is also a way to motivate myself when my confidence has left and my mental health has declined.
A few days ago I got drunk and had to call a help-line for suicidal thoughts. My arms still bare the marks of the pain I was trying to release. The next day and the day after I published three articles, pair programmed and felt really clear minded, motivated, happy even. Yet I'm scared every day that the next day is going to be a bad mental health day, so I read things by people who have motivating things to say. I study Stoicism to remind myself that the obstacle is the way. I watch minimalism vidoes to remind myself to surround myself with a calming environment that brings real joy.
I tell people that I have PTSD, that I struggle with depression, low self-confidence, but that I cope by doing all I can to put plans in place for low moments. For the most part, I have my shit together, because I have had to learn how to take care of myself. Every time I have seen a therapist in a crises situation I have been discharged for being on the right track, saying the right things, being relentlessly optimistic which is not a trait of suicidal people. But it is a trait of this suicidal person. I am happy, I truly love life but sometimes memories of trauma steals the breath from those precious states.
The last few months has been difficult for me as a developer. When I started learning about development three years ago, I had an idea of what I wanted to build and I made it happen without having any idea what I was doing, and it was fun.
I taught myself how to build websites, weather applications, wikipedia scrapers that looked that robots with a tv screen for a belly. I built a digital piano that looked like Link from the legend of Zelda. I built a content management system for my hacky blog with a text editor that I also built from scratch but never wired in. I was a maker. I exported my weird and wonderful ideas into interactive art.
The problem with all of those programs, is that they are all fixed. I hacked them together so have no idea how to change or extend them. If they were built for a customer who wanted to change or remove a feature, I'd have no idea at all how to do it. I'd have to start all over again.
For the last year, I have been exposed to developers who are so far above my ability level that it feels impossible for me personally to ever get to the point where I can have conversations with product owners that are confident, bi-directional and well-crafted. It feels impossible for me personally to ever get to the point where I can join a team and find my feet in an unfamiliar codebase, let alone add to it or shape the underlying structure so that it sails towards it's true North.
I spent a whole week trying to set up a hello world project in an unfamiliar language, though to be fair it's an old language and I needed to figure out how to integrate version control and testing.
I have also spent a couple of weeks trying to build a Mars Rover program. If it absolutely had to be done in a couple of hours, I could easily hack it together and get it to work. The problem is that I'm not trying to just get it to work, I am trying to get it to work following test-driven development principles, using an object-oriented approach and in an unfamiliar programming language that I'm learning as I'm building things.
Okay, that last paragraph actually helped to undermine my self doubts. I have been feeling awful about not being able to build the program which should be 'easy', but in reality I'm trying to learn multiple paradigms at once whilst also documenting my process in a way that might make it easier for others to deal with the same stumbling blocks I am facing, more quickly.
The thing I am grateful for today, is that while I still have all of the doubts in the back of my mind, there is a stronger voice that is saying "yes, but". This is the voice that I try to fuel with coal every single day, by sharing it with other people on twitter who might need it as much as I do.
Writing this out has been a little exhausting because of the vulnerability. However, it has also been pretty freeing in the same way that launching my website as a raw HTML site was to begin with. None of us are perfect and it's okay to share that imperfection with others.