tools, communities, and homes

Ever since I’ve had a home in Chicago I’ve been itinerant about my homes on the internet. After the umpteenth handwringing conversation about my highfalutin philosophical objections to Tumblr as a platform, the advanced internet man who lives with me took it upon himself to create this blog that hosts itself on a computer that I own. So that’s good to have.

I’ve been iterating through a series of small adjustments to make myself into a person who writes every day. Part of that is being okay with repeating myself: knowing that I often say “I am this person making these changes to become better in this way,” knowing that it doesn’t necessarily show that I’ve gotten there.

Some tools have been helpful: having a pen that I love, an inexhaustible supply of leftover purple notebooks from XOXO, a tiny computer that I actually like using, coffee, a website with some good colors and fonts that looks nice to read, and a piece of software with “focus mode” which is the greatest mode a piece of software has ever had. Not necessarily because it makes me focus, but because it makes it very easy to see just the latest sentence that I’ve written and how much space it takes up in comparison to the grayed-out sentences around it).

Focus mode is one tool that I use to make myself better at writing. There are lots of tools in the world, and lots of stories we tell ourselves about them. One I’m telling myself right now is: now that I have the set of tools that I have, I’m going to be more successful at accomplishing this writing; at being this person who writes, even when she doesn’t feel like doing it.

Basically all we get in the world are tools and communities. Tools are anything we can use – a pen, a website, a vocabulary – and communities are anyone we can reach. Communities are slippery; it’s possible to group people by any old arbitrary thing and call them a community, but that’s pretty cynical. That’s how you sell things, by telling people they’re part of some grand aspirational community by virtue of ownership. (And that’s how you sell ads, by telling businesses you have access to a community of people using your product.)

I have this itch to subvert that sort of creation: to take people like me, who have tools like words and websites, and make a community of writers and readers who practice together and teach each other how to be better at those skills. My friend Diana’s post on “unbundling” the pieces that make up a learning experience got me thinking about this, as it applies to learning after college. When I think about how I learn to be a better writer, community seems to be the hardest piece to unbundle. Everything else is just reading and hard work, but quality critical feedback requires the right relationships. Those can’t be sold: they’re not a tool like a book, a graduate program, or a piece of software. But it feels really necessary to find a way to build them.