Category Archives: Living fine

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.

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.

2010: a personal recap

2009 was when I left my shell; this was when I hit everyone in the face harder than a bear falling off a trampoline the wrong way. This was when the shit got real, for a lot of people.

I’ve had friends online for the longest time; some of them I’ve known from my very earliest days of blogging. When I was invited to a CPAC after-party my Melissa Clouthier, I was prepared to meet some familiar faces. Some people I’ve known online for years but never met until then were James Joyner and Michelle Malkin. However, I was not prepared to meet my long-time friend, Val Prieto. I was just stretching my design muscles back in 2002, and I was glad to have someone I can give a free design to while helping me practice. To this day, his site design has remained unchanged. Meeting him and hearing the appreciation from him directly made me more confident with meeting people in real life.

To its credit, Twitter has a lot to do with the expansion of my social circle. For one, you cannot survive on Twitter without being authentic. Even manufactured authenticity is easy to see through in that medium. You have to be who you are, because if you meet with people after what they know of you online, there’s a kind of mental accounting that happens. There has to be a generous overlap, or else you’re a faker.

I enjoyed visiting friends, especially Ryan Duff in Harrisburg, as he has become a good friend and close professional compatriot. This year was also the year I attended three WordCamps: Raleigh, MidAtlantic, and Philly. Each of those events held their own unique significance.

WordCamp Raleigh was the first conference I spoke in; I was very nervous at first, especially with regards to the relevance of my talk, but I carried through and more than a few people have expressed their appreciation. The trip to Raleigh was also the longest road trip I’ve done so far, with me driving Aaron Brazell and Ryan Duff. It was where I was introduced to Matt Danner and Cory Miller of iThemes, and where I met Travis Ballard. I hung out with Brad Williams and the rest of the WebDev Studios crew. Professionally, Raleigh held a huge lesson in navigating what has become the thornier side of WordPress politics. It was a lesson in the power of ideas going negatively viral, where my thoughts could be taken by others and ran into a direction I never imagined nor intended.

My favorite moment of WordCamp Raleigh was finally—after knowing her for almost eight years online—meeting Lisa Sabin Wilson. My one regret is that I didn’t hug her long enough for all the times I owed her hugs over the time I’ve known her. The greatest of thanks, too, to Michael Torbert, who’s been a great friend over the past two years. He’s been the source of great perspective and has helped me keep my feet on the ground when I needed it the most.

Summer’s highlights included the Newsbusters Nerdprom, which celebrated its 5th anniversary. Another was the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor rally. I didn’t attend—I really wasn’t all that interested—the rally itself, but hanging out after at Rocket Billiards in DuPont with some of my best Twitter friends was one to remember. It was also great finally having a short hour or two at Julian Sanchez‘ place.

It was also great expanding my presence in Baltimore; mainly thanks to the Beer and Bacon Happy Hours at Bad Decisions. I’ve made some really great friends in the city and I’ve grown to like Baltimore’s vibe. Because of my visits I’ve resolved to make an effort to steer my professional life towards that area moreso than DC.

A year’s worth of memories cannot be fully recapped in one long, rambling blog post. It wouldn’t be fair to the people and events I’ve left out, and the more I try I know the more that those who’ve been passed over will be more prominent in their absence. In forgetting to mention some, I mean no insult. I do not hang on to the hope that a year will be better than the last; every day is an opportunity to do better, to break your personal records, whether in weightlifting or your career. I do know that while life will always throw challenges my way, 2010 has helped me be ready for many things.

I’m so ready for 2011. Bring it on.

I hate going to the gym but I don’t care

I go to the gym a lot: four times in a week is the bare minimum. I believe in setting a new personal record every day, even with the small details. It’s what’s kept me going for over two years now. Every now and then I’d tweet out a milestone. I record my workouts in great detail on my phone’s calendar function while I work out, and write these records into a daily moleskine notebook. I’ve had progress and setbacks, weeks where I kill it and weeks where I feel like I’ve lost everything I’ve worked so hard for. I’m proud of where I’m at and I remind myself of where I’d be were it not for the constant work.

That said, I have to confess: more days than I do not, I hate going to the gym.

There, I said it. It’s a lot of work. I have an elbow issue that has hampered my progress with some lifts (including the bench press, the yardstick by which all manly strength is measured). I wake up sore the next day, and the DOMS is worse two days after a hard workout. I do a split routine that hits my entire body such that I barely recover until the rest days. On rest days, I do some cardio. I don’t burn out, but my body is never alloweed to fully rest. I have calluses on the palms that were at one time so soft, hands that were predestined by some to be a surgeon’s.

I spend at least two hours at the gym per visit, and I drive ten miles each way to get there. This is gas that commutes one way to work. This is time I could be spending doing a design project, or something useless all together. I’ve avoided athlete’s foot from the locker room by wisely using slippers, but I’m pretty sure I picked up the flu there at least once. I’m certain I’ve estranged friends by spending too much time at the gym.

That’s a lot of discomfort, and actual losses over two years. There’s much reason to hate going to the gym. But there’s so much that I hate more than that.

I hate being out of shape at thirty years old. I’ve sat on my ass for years living a life of the mind, working in a livelihood of the mind (sales, but still), and I’ve neglected my body and my health. Despite what popular culture might say about “acceptance” and “confidence,” our bodies reflect what we do to it, and we are judged by others about what we’ve done to our bodies.

I hate that the media has reached an irreconcilable point where one show on the same channel talks about dangerous body images, and yet another of their shows is littered with images of the very bodies we shouldn’t aspire to because we might hurt ourselves trying, or because it’s too frustrating and time-consuming. I hate that a news outlet would feature an “obesity epidemic” yet obligingly take advertising dollars from the very same companies whose subhuman ingredients and nutritional compositions are making so many of us sick and fat in the first place.

I could sit all day, blog and tweet and watch more TV in a week than what a household used to watch in a year. I could eat at each step of the way. But I hate being overweight: I hate that I have to wear what amounts to a man’s muumuu so I can hide my unsightly curves in public, while being bombarded with the reality that so few among us have taken the time and made the effort to stay healthy. I hate that despite my current weight and body composition, I am still ahead of the curve for most men in my age group, because my current state isn’t really all that. I hate the fact that jeans, those durable denim pants that were built to last practically a lifetime, would have to be replaced every year if I maintained a sedentary, overly consumptive lifestyle. I hate having to buy new shirts every year because the XL that I wore three times last year doesn’t fit right any more. I hate having to buy new pants, of all things, as I suffer the indignity of the fact that in 2007 I wore size 32 and now am finding size 34 a little too tight, but here I cling to the hope that the effort I make at least four days a week will pay off and I won’t have to go to Old Navy next year to buy another pair of pants, which by then would be size 36.

I hate that fat comes hand-in-hand with ugly, and that behind it closely rides its younger, bastard brother, apathy. There are very, very few truly zaft people. Most people who could lose a few pounds could also use a haircut, a better scrubbing in the shower, fuck it, a daily fucking shower, and some better-fitting clothes. I hate that we out-of-shape people come with all sorts of sterotypes that impugn our honor. Fat people are lazy, or neglectful of family, or “eat too much.” I hate that once you’re stuck in an apathetic rut, even getting dressed for the gym can be such a chore. I hate that the beautiful people could at least pass off as having perfect lives. I want that kind of ironic invisibility, that benefit of the doubt that a fit guy or sexy girl gets during a job interview.

I know I may never meet the standards that popular culture might impose, I want my body to reflect the respect and care I give it. I may hate going to the gym, but what I will go through when I choose to quit the gym all together is something I hate more.

Memories of Holy Week in The Philippines

Growing up, the most different week off from school was “Holy Week,” which started on Palm Sunday and ended on Easter Sunday. Back in the early 80s, the nation starts shutting down as early as Palm Sunday, as some businesses close and people prepare for a trip to their rural homes. By Maundy Thursday most people in Manila with roots in “the provinces” (sa probinsya), or more accurately, in rural areas, have made their pilgrimages and are usually spending the hot summer days leading up to Easter in quiet observation of these religious holidays.

Not that anyone is really spending the weekend in grave mortification. There are ways around the sheer boredom and proscriptions against conducting business. In Pampanga, where I came from, kids played in street. Deprived of regular television viewing except for religious-oriented films such as The Ten Commandments, we had to get creative with what we did. Video games in my household were forbidden during this time. When I was tired, I would read.

I would go to the makeshift chapels where they would read the Pasyon (an extended narrative poem about the life and times of Jesus Christ). These were centers for activity. The prayerful would spend most of the time there. Outside, children would frolic while their parents prayed and gossiped. Penitents—anonymous in their faces covered with cloth and dragging large wooden crosses the way Christ has been depicted—would visit a chapel for a small drink of water and a ceremonial whipping at its floor, in front of the altar. Equally anonymous flagellants—their backs intentionally and shallowly wounded for the visual effect of blood that the cat o’ nine tails can’t draw—would walk the streets. As a youngster I never understood why these people would silently re-enact the suffering of Christ, some, all the way to a crucifixion—modified for non-lethal effect—on Good Friday. The practice bewilders non-Filipinos, and every now and then I have to explain, without myself being a participant, why it’s done.

While gory theatre they may be, it is still theatre. The Good Friday crucifixions performed in Pampanga are mere shadows of the real Roman crucifixions. But why subject oneself to even the shadow of that pain? Why would a woman go through this fourteen times, despite the objections of the diocese? The priesthood discourages the practice but really cannot forbid it, because these penitents are doing something that so many religions teach in one form or another: rejection of the Flesh, ahorrence of pleasure—suffering, pain, discomfort and sacrifice—which lead to an altered state of consciousness. Starvation led the prophets of old to great insight. Psychoactive drugs were used by others to see into a truth obscured by daily living. The penitents who have themselves crucified suffer as a matter of choice because—at least for the truly penitent—they feel the weight of their sins on their consciences. This clarity, this insight earned through pain and suffering, can be so stark that it leads people to want more. It’s just like a drug. It starts with bearing that cross that first time. Then it just escalates.

Alas, growing up, the practice has changed a little. It used to be that the crucified penitents were shrouded as they stayed up there. Now, it looks like their faces are out for people to see. There’s an element of theatre and recognition that mars the solemnity and casts doubts of the sincerity of such an act.

What does ritual mortification have to do with modern, American life? I grew up in a slightly more comfortable environment than my two siblings, who were born ten and nine years before me. I never knew true hunger, never knew true suffering. My mother saw to that. Personal difficulties are not worth nothing, even if compared against the hardships of others. It is when we are faced with the gravest of problems that we are challenged to be at our best. We may not bear wooden crosses, but we have challenges ahead of us.

Here in the States, Good Friday is yet another workday for so many in the private sector. Easter has become a secular holiday—well, what else is new—emblemized by a mythical rabbit, colored eggs and plenty of candy. Just like Christmas, the religious background goes backstage. This is America, right? But honestly, I’m not really mourning the way Americans celebrate Easter, for as long as it’s a holiday well-spent and not wasted, to be with family and friends. I really can’t say you guys are missing the point, but boy are you guys missing out.

My first ever Lego set: the Guggenheim Museum

When I was young, Legos came in the form of boxes of random, mixed-up blocks: cast-offs from more well-to-do kids who got tired of them. I never had enough parts to complete whatever the pictures showed, so I took liberties with them and just made up whatever I thought I could. Tonight, a friend bought me my first ever Lego set, one from the Architecture series: the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Some photos:

The project, new in box Partially complete Done, and on the box My very own miniature Lego version of the Guggenheim!

I took my time working on this. It’s been a while since I’ve approached something with such childlike wonder. Tonight I had fun.

Remembering 2009

I’m not one for public retrospectives on my blog, as I keep the most sentimental and introspective of material private. 2009 however, despite all the woes and worries that the political climate has spawned this year, was a year to remember. This was the year that my online and offline lives converged. I have to admit it: it was all thanks to my joining Twitter back in March.

Before then, I was wary of attending blogger meetups. We learned about people based on what they were writing, a few email conversations and not much else. Maintaining a steady line of communication amongst locals was not easy, given that most bloggers in my area of interest—politics—live far apart. We also tend to look within ourselves, our at the world from within our windows. My participation in Twitter broke me out of my shell. So, a few highlights:

A springtime bus trip to NYC with my best friend, his sister and his girlfriend. For fear of attracting the worst of theives and muggers, I suggested against bringing our DSLRs. Bringing pocket cameras in their stead was the biggest regret of the trip.

May brought WordCamp Mid-Atlantic, which was the first conference I attended. Organized by Aaron Brazell, the event gave me a chance to meet long-time online friend Stephan Segraves, and WordPress lead developer Mark Jaquith.

I also went to a number of local meetups organized through Twitter. Some of them in Baltimore, and I’ve gone to monthly meetups in Columbia, MD. The last big event of the year was TEDx MidAtlantic (recap).

The year in news is marred with a general sense of dissatisfaction. It’s led to a general sentiment of “good riddance to bad rubbish,” and in that respect, I agree. However, the past year was one of great personal growth and challenges for me. It was not one to forget.

A long day at TEDx MidAtlantic

Generally referred to as a conference for ideas worth spreading, TEDx MidAtlantic was a day-long event featuring speakers of different backgrounds. The videos of today’s talks were streamed live and remain available as of press time.

I left the laptop at home despite the fact that I had the privelege of being able to liveblog the event. I took plenty of notes. I hung out with people I knew. I met people I know online for the first time. I made new friends. We were well-fed in mind and body. In the days to come, I will be posting commentary on most of the talks themselves, along with scans from my Moleskine.

Wordcamp Mid-Atlantic

Updates to run through the day.

[1020]: I’ve been around since the early days of the Movable Type vs. WordPress conflict, and having listened to Anil Dash speak today about ongoing evolution in SixApart’s operations makes me feel like I’ve grown up as a blogger. My best takeaway from the talk is his emphasis on convergence of networks. He spoke about the closed nature of Facebook, for example, and how networks need to evolve in a more open manner. Two words: “Ice melts.”

[1359]: Had a great lunch with a panel of nine guys, lively discussion. I spent a lot of time listening. I’ve hung out at the atrium area and bouncing off ideas with people more than listened to the talks.

[0020]: Just got home from the event. I decided to stay unplugged and just rock the place. Recap tomorrow.

In search of the self

I turn twenty-nine this year, and as quickly as 2008 flew by, I know this year will, too. I have no progeny, and as of now I have not what is typically called a career. Then again how is a career defined? A post by John A. Cohen has me thinking about how it is perceived and defined by others. In his post he reveals his choice to enter law school despite being an “artist at heart,” to summarize. I think I’ve encountered enough vapid pop-culture psychobabble to differentiate a job from a career. The bit about a job being something that merely pays the bills and provides no fulfillment, tends to stand out. It is oversimplistic, though. The people, legendary but not mythical, that we hear about working two jobs to support their children, for example, may gain fulfillment from the fact that the children they brought into the world are fed and surviving. For some, survival is fulfillment. For others, those who have gone past survival, fulfillment means something else.

I do not have the heart of an artist, and my skills are above-average at best when it comes to my craft. I am a fiery debater and a passionate arguer, but I am a logician and a scientist from as long as I can remember. I find beauty in an elegantly simple explanation for an observation. As for passion, I have always been wary of the its very nature. While it drives us to do intensity, it can consume us as well.

I have done much pondering about what I want to do, or try to do. Right now I work in medical equipment sales, a job that allows me to afford my lifestyle, and pay off the debt that I incurred during my idiot phase. I am aware of my contribution to society as a result of my work for this company. The gadgets I offer save lives and prevent health crises. The nature of sales as an interpersonal dynamic between buyer and seller is quite close to that of teacher and student. The key in growing a business is establishing a lasting relationship with a buyer, which is the case especially in a manufacturing business. The problem face by retailers (resellers) like myself is that customer loyalty is a more challenging goal.

I mention this because higher education as a career choice has increased its appeal. It reflects my personal strengths and abilities, and I am able to meet the needs of personal advancement and the very human need to make a mark on society. Higher ed usually requires research, and, with a few changes in lifestyle, it is also an economical choice. Best of all, I like it.

2008: a personal retrospective

As the year ends I want to share the major highlights of my life from the past year. I’ve come to realize that there really seems to be a void between the age of 21 and, so far, 28, but there are brief moments that make a year worth remembering. I changed jobs (again) but this time I am in a position of advantage and achievement instead of being in one where I am constantly looking over my shoulder.

I joined Gold’s Gym in January, and over the year I have made some improvements to my lifestyle and appearance. I’ve made a few friends there, too, and for that, I am glad.

I went on vacation technically alone, though thanks to an overlap in scheduling I spent some time with my best friend. Ocean City was great, and exploring it on foot and by car, by myself, was a relaxing, but active experience. I signed up for surf lessons, but we were unable to push through with that due to the weather. Hey, we can’t do it all, yeah?

Perhaps the greatest moment I have been working for came this summer: I finally learned how to ride a bicycle.

These are just a few of the remarkable things that I experienced in 2008. Almost none of them were what I originally planned to do, and I think that would be my best takeaway for the year: we can’t plan for the best that can happen to us. I have no plans for 2009, with one exception: this is the year I do something with my life.

That said, my mind is open. Bring it on, 2009. I’m ready.

Like a pair of crabs in my throat

Over the past few weeks I’ve gradually scaled back my on-and-off-and-on-again smoking habit. I’ve picked up Nicorette and using it like dip, to the tune of about six to ten a day. Withdrawal is a complete bitch: the drug itself isn’t that hard to deal with, rather, it’s the experience of having a smooth cloud of smoke just go down my throat, with the full knowledge that my lungs are on the line.

That said, I’ve been breathing easier, my stamina is coming back during exercise, and I’m expectorating in fair amounts. “It’s all in the road to recovery,” I am told. The past few days, though, I was plagued by the scratchy feeling in the back of my throat that I can’t swallow away nor cough up. Like anything else, it got worse before it got better, but better it did. Today I coughed it up.

I felt it in my mouth; it was almost solid. I walked slowly to the bathroom sink to spit this awful thing out, and I did have a passing thought. Sometimes some things we have to deal with in life have to get really bad before we get rid of them, that is, if they get started in the first place. Credit card debt, addictions, toxic relationships, once we get into it, it’s like that throat loogie that was harder to remove at the beginning that when it was time for it to go, so to speak.

And if there were yet one more benefit to getting on a quit-smoking program, it’s that epiphanies can be found from coughing up phlegm.

In appreciation

Until my arrival in the United States, Thanksgiving day was a mere footnote in whatever I had learned about what would be my new home. There was some history, some common practices, but for the most part, the holiday itself was a foreign event. Besides, Filipinos usually appreciate what they have and each other during Christmas.

That said, the Holiday has grown on me. We usually skip the Herculean tasks of food preparation on this day. For the third year in a row we’ve gone to Buddy’s in Annapolis for a Thanksgiving buffet that has everything I want to eat, and then some. Ours is a family of home-cooked meals and believe me, a roast turkey and sides is not our idea of a “special meal.”

This Holiday is a celebration of bounty, an appreciation of what we’ve got, what we deign to have, and of who we have in our lives. It is a celebration of capitalism, a celebration of Charity, of friendship and a respite from a constant parade of cats, even. In celebrating this and more, we prepare for a new year swiftly on the approach.

To make it all quite short: I appreciate my life. All of it. The drama, the joy, the pain, the fellowship and the loneliness, the good and the bad. I am glad I am alive, and I am happy for my life.