Some recent reading

Somewhere along the way discovering more cool, individual, personal websites recently, I found that some people who dedicate their time to creating such things, also – gasp! – sometimes turn this creativity to the making of zines.

Of course!

Incidentally, I think this also sort of explains my lack of posts here lately: I’ve gone a bit into ‘receive’ rather than ‘transmit’. It happens. These things come in waves.

Anyway, it’s been nice to tap into an undercurrent of creative little publications – particularly the genre of autobiographical life-writing (a particular favourite of mine). In recent years I’ve found more and more examples of the kind of memoir and recollection that discusses the author’s life growing up on computers. I guess that generation is just of the age where a) they could grow up with computers, b) they are feeling nostalgic enough about that time to now write about it.

It’s a bit like the saying about the music you listen to when you’re c.14 years old being really important – it can also be applied to computers: the computers you use, and the games you play, and of course the internet communities you inhabit during those years inevitably has a profound effect on what kind of human being you grow into.

With this in mind, here are three zines that I found recently that scratch that itch for me:

First up we have a couple of submissions to the Lost Histories Jam run a couple of years ago that ran with this pitch:

[…]what was something specific to the way that you played or experienced videogames that you feel like hardly anyone ever talks about? How can the community-based, experiential, specific, overlooked and personal enrich the common-knowledge history of videogames?

Perfect! Personal histories in relation to videogames, but with a specific slant on those areas that may be overlooked by mainstream recollections.

The first find was the intriguingly-titled “I have always liked sci-fi, anime, and sex” by Freya C. But what I hoped would be a fun read was actually so much more interesting than that: Freya was born assigned as a male* and is now a trans female. Apart from that, they seem to have had a very similar computer life to me: I loved Freya’s recollections of storing school IT work on floppy discs.

* I’ve always found it is good to read things that cause me to look up a word or investigate a referenced work; in this case, the term ‘AMAB’ occurred just a few words into the first page and I had never come across it before. It stands for ‘assigned male at birth’ and can also be used as AFAB, for female. I’m really glad Freya thought to include this introductory text as it helped frame the work, and I learned something at the same time.

I loved the fact that as well as touching on the subject of wanting to play as female characters from quite early on, they also discussed games on Palm Pilot devices (of which I had one), and even something as niche as Terminal Velocity, a game I lost many hours to.

The next submission to the Lost Histories Jam was this neat little zine entitled “In the beginning we all played Family”. It’s made by an Argentinian called rumpel talking about how widespread videogame piracy was there when she grew up, how many Argentinian families kept playing the Famicom (or Nintendo Entertainment System / NES elsewhere) for years after its release, and how she feels that as videogame piracy is now less rampant across the console market there, a counterculture has somehow been lost.

Obviously I loved both of these for their mix of the familiar and the esoteric – a world I feel I know and understand well enough, but viewed through a lens I do not possess – but I also loved that they took the form of neat little digital zines. Even better, these A5-ish PDFs were the perfect size to be read on my Kindle. I even read Freya’s zine in the bath. Sorry, Freya.

I’ve talked before, I am sure, about how much I love how text and certain types of illustrations are rendered in e-ink; I much prefer to read the majority of web articles on my Kindle at bedtime using Five Filters’ Push to Kindle tool, but all the better when I can email a well-designed PDF to my device to enjoy. If it’s natively sized to fit the Kindle’s screen, all the better, but a bit of pinching and zooming where necessary is fine too.

And finally, a zine which wasn’t available digitally, but rather was pointed to from the author’s website. I can’t remember how I found Olivia’s neocities website, but it was very pretty, and had a button labeled ‘InternetNostalgia’ which I clicked faster than the speed of sound. On that page, which might have been enough on its own, she opened with the line: 

Hey, first of all, I wrote a zine specifically about my 2005-2007 internet nostalgia that goes into more detail than this section, and you can buy it here:

So naturally I clicked that as well – albeit slightly more warily – but found that she wasn’t charging very much at all for her zines, and I figured that chucking £2-3 at a creator I don’t know is something I like to do every now and then, particularly when there’s the promise of a little physical doohicky coming in the mail. So I ordered a copy.

To my delight, the zine (along with another – thanks Olivia!) turned up on Tuesday morning, having been posted from Connecticut on Friday evening. That’s mad! That would be surprisingly fast in normal times, but lately the post seems completely out of whack everywhere, so it was especially surprising and pleasant.

Anyway, it was all I hoped it would be: a deeply personal reflection on the experience of growing up online – in Olivia’s case in a home-schooled, religious household which put pressure on her to conform to certain ideals, but also allowed her enough freedom to discover communities which would allow her in turn to discover her own creativity. That’s awesome. 

As Olivia closes her zine by saying: Ah, the internet! 🙂

What’s updates?

I was already vaguely aware that I hadn’t updated my blog in a little while, and then yesterday I was pruning and sorting some RSS feeds in Inoreader, putting less active feeds into folders that identified them as being less frequently updated. I saw mine there as it hadn’t been updated in more than a month. (Inoreader’s ‘no updates in more than a month’ is a bit black and white, hence why I use folders for stuff that, say, hasn’t been updated at all since 2019, and so on.)

(It was interesting to me that the previous posts are all about experiences or things I did, and it made me wonder when I got away from writing about just anything, as opposed to specific events. I used to basically just keep a diary on my blog. The biggest change might simply be that I keep my diary more private now, so the stuff that ends up on my blog is the tip of that iceberg.)

Anyway in that time I’ve been thinking about the stuff I’ve been consuming recently, and a lot of it has been people’s homepages – not blogs as such, but homepages (which may incoporate a blog) – and yet again it’s something I find myself enchanted by.

Noah’s Distinctly Pink is a chaotic-yet-ordered collection of hyperlinked words – almost a wiki of their mind.

Evy’s Garden is a neat distillation of various ideas, concepts and mediums* into different rooms.

Meanwhile, Jamie just updated his blog with some updates and rationale that seem very sensible.

* I’m sorry, I know I mean media but it never feels right in my mouth

Noah has helped me want to further the development of a thus far hidden bit of my website which lets me hack together basic HTML pages to see if that’s a process I prefer to, say, using WordPress, or if it will remain a tinkering hobby and not a full standalone site. Crucially, Noah helped me by reminding me of some neat command line tricks for uploading data to a web server.

Evy gave me some ideas for how to present disparate, orphaned content: she has a jukebox that plays random songs she’s recorded, along with brief bits of metadata, and it gave me the idea to do something similar with various field recordings I have collected over the years. And to do it in a way that means inserting a single line of code pointing to a local MP3, and not a Soundcloud link or similar. I struggle with knowing how and where to present various types of content all under one website. I still think about this here website as blog-first, with optional sub-domains to be added as I see fit. But that’s the reverse of a website which also incorporates a blog.

And Jamie highlighted some design and layout choices that he has adapted to suit his blogging style, and – crucially – he has written about those choices, which I find interesting and helpful to read. Reading about a writer/web designer’s choices is a bit like seeing a website you like and viewing the source code – it reveals things that you might not have considered or thought possible/worthwhile. And that can set me off down another path of thought. That path of thought may not lead me to anything… but it just might. Either way, the process of wandering down that path is enjoyable in itself.

There’s a passage in this 2018 piece by Laurel Schwulst that I enjoyed a lot. I liked a lot of bits from the piece, actually, but this one really struck me. It has echoes of Evy’s ‘garden’ metaphor (and possibly I found this piece via Evy? I cannot remember now).

Website as plant

Plants can’t be rushed. They grow on their own. Your website can be the same way, as long as you pick the right soil, water it (but not too much), and provide adequate sunlight. Plant an idea seed one day and let it gradually grow.

Maybe it will flower after a couple of years. Maybe the next year it’ll bear fruit, if you’re lucky. Fruit could be friends or admiration or money—success comes in many forms. But don’t get too excited or set goals: that’s not the idea here. Like I said, plants can’t be rushed.

Website as garden

Fred Rogers said you can grow ideas in the garden of your mind. Sometimes, once they’re little seedlings and can stand on their own, it helps to plant them outside, in a garden, next to the others.

Gardens have their own ways each season. In the winter, not much might happen, and that’s perfectly fine. You might spend the less active months journaling in your notebook: less output, more stirring around on input. You need both. Plants remind us that life is about balance.

It’s nice to be outside working on your garden, just like it’s nice to quietly sit with your ideas and place them onto separate pages.