Remembering Kim Parsell

Some time after December 24th, Kim Parsell died in her home, in bed. I do not know how she died, but seeing how we can draw no lessons from the circumstances of her passing, the facts of how are not germane to the life she lived.

And what a life did she live!

So many of us in the WordPress community know her as #wpmom, and we have given her that title for good reason. She was the wet blanket who threw herself on the fire of drama. She brought people together and had the salty, country-gal personality who would not put up with your bullSHIT and yet would never break one rule of ettiquette in the process of letting you know.

I remember when, in the closing hour of WordCamp Baltimore 2012, she handled a situation with a very disgruntled guest who got on my nerves. She was a professional, and she helped me keep my professionalism intact.

Many of you know her from working on the Documentation team at; I know her as the friend I met at some WordCamp or the other but who’s always stayed in touch. She always checked in to make sure I was doing okay, especially during times of personal crisis. She made an effort to be there for the people who wanted her to be there; and was genuinely sad when she could not make it to an event she’s committed to.

Kim was a dreamer. There are confidences that even her death won’t allow me to break, but she had aspired to shift gears a little and make a living in technical writing; her work for the WP Docs Team was her avenue to prove the value of documentation, and I am crushed, absolutely crushed, that she never got the chance to see that dream through. We are not owed our dreams, but she worked hard to make them happen.

And isn’t that what the whole point of Kim Parsell is? “Keep your head down and kick ass,” she told me once. “The recognition will come, and even if it doesn’t, you know you worked hard.” She never spoke of herself as other than “the little ol’ crazy lady at the top of a hill in Ohio,” and she was always gracious in accepting recognition of any kind that was beyond that self-image of hers.

I am still grieving over her death. When I got the news last night, and was told to keep it on the down-low, I couldn’t help but but unleash a passive-aggressive stream of tweets. I was growl-screaming in my living room while chatting with my closest friends who also knew the news. I felt regret at every invitation to WC Columbus that I didn’t take, knowing that she had made an effort to go to every WordCamp we held in Baltimore. I am sad that I won’t ever get to share cigarettes with her anymore, and that she won’t ever talk my ears off about anything and everything under the sun.  But I also know that this is not how she would want me to react. “You’re fussing over me too much,” she would say.

And she is exactly right. However, I get to say goodbye but once.

Goodbye, my friend. It’s so very, very nice to have known you.

My first year at WebDevStudios

I joined WebDevStudios in late December of 2012, after a brief stint in full-time freelance work. I was presented with an offer that I couldn’t pass up. A year later, I can unequivocally state that my life and my skills in this craft are better, way better, than I could have imagined.

I work with a very supportive team. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, and to not let pride get in the way of a project. We had a grand time in WordCamp San Francisco, where we as a team got together and not just learned together at the conference, but also learned more about each other when we all shared a living space (and what a space that was!) together for those days. They are, as they say, Good People, and it’s hard to put the details into words. I just know that I can not imagine myself working for and with another team.

I started off as a designer, and I still am. I love making mockups when the projects need it. I love giving feedback to clients and telling them that their design idea might need a little massaging to make it work within the medium. In this aspect, WDS provides me with a medium to perform tasks that I love.

There is no growth, though, in staying within one’s comfort zone. Our projects at WDS have constantly presented new challenges to me, new ways for me to learn new things, and not just about visual design, HTML and CSS (which have been my forte). I’ve learned to manipulate data in WP objects. I’ve gotten creative with loops and logic and yes, some of my work may seem extremely hackish to seasoned developers but dammit, I did it. And the best part is most of my developer-y work passes QA with very few tweaks from a senior dev.

A year in, I wouldn’t call myself as well-hybridized a designeveloper as Justin Sternberg, who’s been at this for three years now, but I am learning. And I am always learning something new. Every day.

This coming year will be no different.

Recapping 2012

It was a year that flew by so quickly that I had spent little time noting events, and worse, self-reflection. One event quickly moved to the next before I could tap the brakes and squiggle a few notes here or on paper. The past year was marked by a lot of travel: WordCamp Miami, WordCamp NYC, WordCamp Boston, WordCamp Philly, WordCamp Raleigh. That’s just on the business side. I attended CPAC thanks to my work with Misfit Politics; made new friends and business relationships both in my WordPress circles as well as with the Conservative community.

Professionally, at the end of September, I quit my sales job of four and a half years to go into business as a full-time WordPress professional, only to take the opportunity of opportunities to work with WebDev Studios. I’ve only been two weeks into the new job and I am very, very happy to be working with the team that Brad, Brian and Lisa had put together. Additionally, I am permitted to moonlight in the same industry (with reasonable restrictions, of course) and I’ve been the designer of choice for a small roster of freelance developers and PR consultants. I also co-organized WordCamp Baltimore with Andy Stratton.

Personally, I am in the best physical condition in recent years. After I blew up to 225 pounds this June, I decided to take extra measures towards my gym activities and finally trained like I meant it. I am now at 189 pounds and my goal is to be between 170 and 180 pounds, but more importantly, the focus will be on refining and conditioning rather than simple weight loss. I don’t want to be one of those skinny-fat guys. I’ve been there and I hated it worse then when I was at my heaviest.

I paid off my car. After five years, I paid off my car!

What am I aiming for this coming year? For one, I’m moving to my own place, either in June or September. I’ll be traveling just a little less, but would love to spend more time at each destination. Pay off all my debts by end of year. Do great work: work that does my colleagues, employers, and clients proud. Tend to my relationships, both personal and professional. Get ripped. That’s it. The goals seem simple, but the road ahead will have its share of turns and bends, and I’d love to share more of the road ahead with you.

The Work/Life Balance

It’s been two months since I started working for myself, and it’s been great. The fair warnings from friends were fair, though outcomes aren’t as terrible as some have feared. Client work is amazing when one knows how to set boundaries, and this concept of boundaries is, as I am coming to learn, almost foreign to the self- and home-employed.

When I gave a talk at WordCamp Raleigh about some very useful career tips (admittedly, a little light on technical info), one of the things I shared was how I have a laptop dedicated to work. At the end of the day, I not only shut the lid, I shut the thing down completely. I do. And my life is the better for it.

Inspired by a conversation on Twitter about boundaries and how a friend doesn’t even have internet access at home save for what’s on his smartphone, I took a few minutes to take stock of my day, what I do, and The Important Things, as they say:

  1. Three and a half hours of fitness: weights and cardio, from 5am through 830. 
  2. Home at 9 and banging out code or graphics. One hour lunch break, which breaks the extended daily fasts that I take as part of my fitness goals.
  3. Finish at 6.
  4. Hang out with friends or significant other. Read a book, watch TV, go for a walk, go people watching, or just relaxing in perfect quiet at home.
  5. Go to bed between 830 and 10.
  6. Rinse, repeat next day.

I have neither spouse nor child and the demands of life  outside of work are strictly between that of my Important Person and my own personal trifles. In this I may be considered lucky, although I must warn: ennui is a dangerous thing, and when Friday 6pm rolls around and I shut the laptop down, and have little to do outside the home, it can get… crazyfying.

But for anyone who might ask: how do I do it? How do I compartmentalize? How do I shut off? I give one bit of advice: find a hobby or passion that demands your perfect attention. You see: I cannot think about CSS while balancing 135 pounds of weight across my delts and chest to do front squats. I would hurt myself. I cannot think about a WordPress theme I’m working on when I am also concentrating on the perfect form for cleans. When I am at the gym, I have to concentrate or else I waste my time there and open myself to greater risks for injury.

I cannot afford that.

The same goes for Professional Time. I give myself eight hours a day. If I cannot do what I need to do in those eight hours, it is not a failure of the expansive to-do list. It is my failure to manage my time. (Factor in the fact that I also tweet, answer emails, take phone calls (scheduled ones) and instant message with colleagues during Professional Time.)

Because I have made a deal with myself that my time is strictly my responsibility, it is easy for me to get what I need done, done in the time I need it to be done. Try it some time, and you’ll see that boundaries will fall into place naturally.

Getting started with my life.

I am proud to announce that I have signed on Lisa Sabin-Wilson  of E.Webscapes as a major client. In doing so, I am finally launching my career as a full-time, self-employed web designer and developer. That’s the long and short of it. For the details, keep reading.

If you had told me twelve years ago, when I was senior in college, that I would one day start my own business as a web professional, I would’ve laughed. I was finishing my biology degree. I was going to move to the States, work and save money for a few years and get into medical school. I was going to get my money’s worth and be a damned good physician.

Then, life threw me a couple of curve balls and I had to reassess. I can’t get into details, but it took a few months for me to get over things and around Christmas of 2001, my mom got me my first computer. My very own. And she also paid for a cable internet subscription. That’s when I discovered this glorious thing called the Internet.

That’s when I also rekindled a passion that I forgot I had. Our family business back in the day was in printing. I had plenty of books related to page layout, graphic design and typography. I knew how to go beyond making things look good on a page, but also to have aesthetics work towards effective communication. I learned HTML and CSS in the pioneering years and the focus on semantics resonated with me.

I learned to make webpages. Nice ones. And then, when I started running into issues of scalability and management, I had come across such blogging programs as Grey Matter and Movable Type. And I ran into this lightweight, easy to configure program called b2. Then b2 got forked into WordPress, and I found a platform on which I can make awesome sites.

I worked on this part time for years, and didn’t really get into networking and marketing my skills until around 2009 when I attended my first WordCamp. It was Mid-Atlantic, and was organized by Aaron Brazell. That’s when I started to introduce myself to a vibrant community of developers, designers, and other people who have made a career out of WordPress.

That’s when I discovered the gap in skills that I needed to close. But more importantly: that’s when I learned that this is what I want to do in life. So I hit the books, learned by doing, and eventually mustered the confidence to speak at WordCamps.

felt myself grow. Issues that used to be problematic became easier to solve. I learned to solve problems that I hadn’t dreamed of solving.

I didn’t do it alone. I had made friends with developers and designers who are more skilled than I. And beyond asking them to do my work for me, I asked them to point me in the right direction. Then I did the research and I did the work. Every project taught me something new. 

I wouldn’t have had the business and sales skills to confidently venture into this without the years of work that I did, not doing web work. I worked at Best Buy, I worked at a cadaver lab with incorrigible co-workers, and I am leaving my employer of four and a half years for whom I’ve sold, five days a week, eight hours a day. Sales teaches you about people. I recommend time in sales to anyone who wants to enter into a creative profession, whether it’s through self-employment or with an employer. It will teach you a lot about yourself and the people around you. It will teach you the responsibility that comes with the ability to convince people to trade money for value.

And now, I’m here. I’m an associate designer for E.Webscapes, which means majority of my client work will be for the agency’s clients. I also have the freedom to continue nurturing existing clients and to find my own (with certain limitations, of course). I am embarking on a few professional projects with other web developers, and I will be applying my skills towards making awesome sites and making awesome products. This is not just a job, and this is not just my career. This is my way life.

I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do this, without the confidence of so many people more skilled than I. The words of encouragement have helped alleviate my insecurities. The real talk from those who’ve been in the business longer than I has kept me grounded. When I started the whisper campaign about this career switch, all my developer and designer friends congratulated me. They all showed they believed in me. And it helped me believe in myself. I’m not afraid of disappointing anyone, but at the same time, I want to show my colleagues that their confidence in me is well placed.

I’ve been told, that if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. Believe me: I’m fucking scared. But there’s no turning back. I’m excited. I’m downright giddy. This is really happening.

I trust everyone who’s told me water isn’t just fine. It’s fucking great.

It’s time to jump.

Marilyn Hagerty and a peek into the America you’ve forgotten about

I first read the now-sensational Grand Forks, ND Olive Garden review by Marilyn Hagerty last night, and in response, I tweeted: “I should’ve written a review like that the day I learned Fat Tire—which I first had in May 2011—had entered Maryland last Oct.”

I really do not know what it was about the column that enamored me. Maybe it was the earnest tone with which she presented the fact that people lined up to eat at an Olive Garden in Grand Forks—GRAND FORKS!—North Dakota and it was written with so little self-consciousness about what the coastal communities from sea to shining sea would think about her and her city. Maybe it was the fact that she had given us a glimpse of communities outside our own—with our blazing fast Internet and “artisanal” dining and our hipster culture—communities that are just as American as ours, only with more heart and soul and yes, Virginia, for some communities in the Midwest, Red Lobster happens to be where you take your girlfriend to propose in front of a crowd and make her your fiancee.

Not a month ago, on Valentine’s Day, there was a tweet making the rounds about how men shouldn’t give their girlfriends mall jewelry store baubles and how you don’t take her out to Red Lobster on a date. To which I said that these people have no clue whatsoever about the backgrounds  of the people who are dining there. That young twentysomething guy with his girl? You don’t know how much he worked, to save up money for a dinner for him and his girl that would cost upwards of  forty dollars. You just don’t know. But sure, let’s sneer at them for their commercialized tastes and their plebian preferences? I’d rather not.

There was a lot of sneering directed at Marilyn Hagerty and the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, whose citizens lined up outside a new Olive Garden, whose citizens used to drive an hour and a half to Fargo just to eat at one, who now  have to put up with judgment from Coastal elites who exclaim in sheer horror about their lack of local and organic, farm-to-table dining options in the city of Grand Forks—GRAND FORKS!—North Dakota and why would anyone even want to live there much less eat at an Olive Garden and much less line up for one?

My vocal admiration of Mme Hagerty landed me a phone interview with Ryan Bakken in which I just poured out my thoughts. Grand Forks is Grand Forks. There was a scene in Friday Night Lights where colleges were trying to convince the individual Dillon Panthers to go to their schools and what they have to offer in terms of football and an education and one, one coach even said “we just had a new Costco open up recently.” Friends, this is America. And it’s bigger than what  you’re used to, and there’s so much more out there than what you think you already know.

So why judge? Why sneer at them from your nose that sits higher than your brow? Why is this so weird for so many of you? Why is it so bizarre to you that on karaoke night in a regional chain when the DJ plays the Cupid shuffle for an intermission about three fourths of the people leave their seats and their booths and just dance?

In my phone interview I critiqued restaurant reviews for being highbrow and pretentious. I had mentioned the Internet’s addiction to irony and mean-spiritedness. That’s about as much fire and brimstone I can bring up. Tomorrow we’ll be mean to each other. But tonight, I’ll borrow a page from Mme Hagerty’s interview with the Village Voice and just tell all the haters to go get a life.

Rest in Peace, Andrew Breitbart

This morning greeted us with tragic news of Andrew Breitbart’s passing. He was 43. He went where so few of us didn’t even have the courage to think of going, and I admire his work.

I am never wont towards fandom towards anyone in the political sphere. It didn’t matter if it was Speaker Boehner or a think tank fellow I was sharing a cigarette with. They’re all people to me.

I remember when I met him at Rightonline on the rooftop of Brit’s Pub. He arrived quietly without calling attention to himself. He sat on the edge of the gathered mass of people. I was introduced by a friend to him, first by my name and then with my alias. He smiled and said “I’ve heard of you.”

I didn’t get a picture with him. In fact, I almost never get pictures with famous people. But I remember that cool night Minneapolis, where Andrew Breitbart was just hanging out amongst people I called my friends. He had sat back and was taking it all in, in between conversations with the steady stream of people who wanted to say “hi.” It was like he drew strength from the people around him.

And now he’s gone. And we draw strength from his passing in the days to come.

More thoughts from: Ben Domench, Jeff Goldstein, and Brandon Morse.

A merry Christmas to all my friends

A few days ago I sat down to put together this year’s Christmas card list. Last year I sent out over twenty. This year, I couldn’t even keep up. Add to that the fact that it is not my habit to merely sign a Christmas card with some boilerplate greetings, no. If you got one from me last year you would know I pour my heart into it. Mushy and clingy, I know. So this year, I’d like to do something a little different, and it might look a little lazy if you don’t really know me, but.

If I have called you—and continue to do so—my friend, you do know that I have the best things to say about you. Know that I appreciate you in my life for reasons that I make aware to you on a regular basis. If you feel I’ve been in remiss in doing so, I am sorry. I want to thank you all for the love you have shown me. It’s kept me going through some very tough times.

Some of you are going through the worst of times at this season of the year. You are in my prayers.

I have learned early in school that Christmas is the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people. The story of the Christmas miracle is one that transcends faiths. Treat it as a fairy tale that teaches a lesson, if you want. If you’re of the Body Of Christ, this day is the foundation of half of our theology. May it inspire you to do good. May you be in the company of people who love you.

And if you need me: you know how to reach me. You already know I am here for you.

What in the world is happening to Rick Perry?

The Legend Of Rick Perry, prior to his announcing the candidacy, was polling over Mitt Romney. His supporters—we—were waiting with bated breath for him to join the primary, sweep away the sideshows, show he is Not Mitt Romney, and win the election next year.

Then, all the True Conservatives turned on him on matters of principle and competence, all the while trotting out Bachmann and Cain like they were better than Perry and Romney combined, and, to make a long story short, we’re going to be stuck with Romney.

How in the world did this happen? Perry’s debate gaffes are easily explicable. As governor of Texas, he’s had an amazing record in limiting the scope of the government. The problem is that he hasn’t been forced to justify his policies as if they were bad policies. I look at his gaffetastic debates and I see a man who finds it difficult to explain the obvious. We all know that the obvious is the hardest to explain.

This is why Perry has had such a tough time at the debates, and answering to questions about how he needle-raped little girls with Liquid Whore (a brilliant Ace of Spades -ism, perhaps the most brilliant one), or the TX educational initiative for the children of illegal aliens, or the license to hunt destructive wild boars from helicopters. To him, it is all obvious, which will make a Perry presidency, should it happen, very difficult. I still want him to win. I just wish more people did.

The personal blog of Jayvie Canono: on WordPress, Politics, Design and Life.