What’s a personal website? What are these things all about? Why should we even bother to have one, when so many services exist to hold and display our content online?
I’ve struggled with these questions for years: it’s resulted in bursts of energy towards new designs and new writing, coupled with long, long periods of quiet.
Over a year ago, I sat down and wrote out a set of loose principles by which to craft a new personal site. Taken together, they show my intention with this latest iteration.
- My personal site is a collection of things I curate—some of them mine, mostly not.
- I think through connections—between ideas, between people, between words—and my personal website is a set of connections.
- Thinking can take many forms. Writing is one of its best.
- Writing doesn’t have to be long; short and relevant works just as well.
- Curious exploration is one of the most rewarding experiences; my personal website is like a long, rambling walk through my brain.
- Our thoughts and beliefs change. A personal website is a place to document and celebrate this process.
- The web is loud, filled with noise, and huge. Conscious, restrained cultivation is a real alternative to the web’s unchecked default.
The garden versus the river
The last principle is the most important, in my mind.
The web’s natural state is pretty wild. There is so much information being constantly created, processed, and discarded. There are many places that people congregate to do this: Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and so on. It’s great that so many people feel empowered by these tools. People are giving public voice to their thoughts, and gaining the platform to do so, allowing more people than ever to exchange ideas and consider new viewpoints. This is a beautiful thing, and I plan to continue using Twitter for random notes.
But this content churn stops us from slowing to think. These convenient third-party stores for our content—intentionally or not—pressure us to senselessly throw our thoughts into the stream. While it’s great to dive into the shared stream, it incessantly propels us forward, and discourages deep consideration or reflection. The seeds of thought can’t grow in a stream—they need fertile soil within which to spread their roots and bloom.
Anne Lamott points out that there are two great metaphors for humanity: the river and the garden.1 All those other sites are rushing rivers, while a personal site is a growing garden. Admittedly, gardens can grow wild and unruly, as unregulated as those rushing rivers; it’s much easier, though, to guide a garden back to order than it is a river. Furthermore, when you don’t own the river it’s that much harder to wield your own influence over it. We don’t own those convenient sites where we post our content. We own our own sites.
This is my little garden. I’m not very good at real gardening, so I’d prefer to get my hands dirty here. Expect to find many quotations and excerpts from whatever I’m reading, whether digital or physical. I’ll provide commentary sometimes, though the act of quoting is itself a form of commentary and may sometimes be all. In a moment of inconsistency (may inconsistency be the only pattern in your life), I’m calling it the study (alternately titled The Cherkewski View2).
In addition to setting aside space for my thought garden, I’m creating a space to document my work (paid or otherwise). Appropriately, this space will be my office. Stop by to see what I’ve been up to, and what I can do.
Taken together, my study and my office form my home on the internet. It’s fitting to use these metaphors, because they describe well the place a personal site can have in our lives. By coming into my personal site, you’re stepping into my home. It may be messy sometimes, but it’s also one of the best embodiments of who I am.
To borrow greater words, I close with some from Marcus Aurelius, a 2nd century Roman emperor: “To enter others’ minds and let them enter yours.”3
This site is where I attempt to enter other minds, and, in doing so, permit you to enter mine. Welcome.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, pg. 77 ↩
A few years ago, my friend Isaac suggested that I one day publish a book titled The Cherkewski View. I don’t foresee any books in my immediate future, but the title’s stuck with me—it may be slightly pretentious, but it’s also honest enough to suit what I’m trying to accomplish here. Thanks for the name, Isaac—you may have meant it as a joke, but it’s one I took seriously! ↩
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, pg. 114 (Hays Translation, 8.61) ↩