Shouting Into Darkness

Spring Cleaning at Shouting Into Darkness

Posted in Personal Crap by Chris W. on March 24, 2011

If you’ve shown up at Shouting Into Darkness recently, and you wouldn’t be reading this if you hadn’t been, you’ll notice that this site looks a lot different from they way it did a month ago. It’s more rustic now, more “lived in”, and I’m really proud of how it turned out.

Here’s some background of what’s been going on behind the scenes. When I redesigned the site a few years ago, I settled on a jet black background with white text. After all, the site’s name is “Shouting into Darkness,” so it made sense at the time to make the background of the site a big empty void. That was all the thought that went into the look of the site. Black background, white text, images by Google. You can probably tell that I didn’t go to college for web design.

You could probably tell that from reading the site. On certain monitors, everything was fine, but on most LCD monitors, the white text started to give me a frontal lobe headache after reading it for too long. The words eventually blurred together and I squinted at them like a fatigued driver trying to make out the road for the road signs. You don’t have to have a degree in C++ to know that your site design shouldn’t physically distress your visitors. My writing ought to make your head hurt, not the site itself.

After flirting with the idea of a complete site redesign, I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago. Gone was the black background. Gone was the white text. The mantra going forward was stark and readability. I wanted the content to be king (this is a benefit of having a blog that you don’t expect to monetize. You don’t have to clutter it up with ads) but have the site still evoke that feeling of one lone nut throwing all his thoughts into the ether, hoping that they somehow connect with someone else.

The key to this was in my retro fetish. I have an old-timey typewriter sitting in my apartment, and I’ve even typed up some blog posts on it. They coincidentally never got made into real posts because I detest having to type something twice, but that’s beside the point. I love the look of type-written pages, especially long, manuscript-sized reams of paper. That’s how all the great writers of the past delivered their work. Once I started unraveling that thread, it was a no-brainer. “Shouting Into Darkness” would have a typewriter theme. It wouldn’t be as sexy-cool as other websites produced with modern Macintosh hardware, but it was certainly better than black background/white text.

The redesign has also had an effect on how I feel about this website and the work I put into it. This is the very definition of a labor of love. I get no monetary satisfaction out of it, and until I install some code-heavy Google Analytics bullshit, I have no idea how many people are visiting or reading. Judging by the comments, I’d say my readership numbers are just about as good as a website made up of random numbers and letters thrown on the screen. That site might even have more readers than I do, because there’s the chance than an accidental dirty word would pop up and stand out among the gibberish.

But despite the lack of feedback, or lack of any long-term prospects this site has, I don’t care. I’ll keep doing it, and I’ll hit that “Publish” button every time with a smile on my face.

One of the realities that every creative person has to face is their own motivations for doing what he or she does. Why does the underground band get up and perform their sets at lackluster gigs to crowds that barely care? Why does the screenwriter spend hours and hours of personal time crafting worlds that are highly unlikely to be open to anyone else but him or her? Why does the filmmaker invest thousands of dollars of their personal funds into a short film that might get play at a local festival and then languish in the lower doldrums of YouTube while The Annoying Orange gets a development deal?

The easy answer is “because they enjoy doing it.” That’s what we were all taught as kids. “Do what you love, and don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you love.” A fine message, and one I’ll try to pass along to my kids if I have any, but a love of what you do can’t sustain creative drive forever. Especially as we all get older, as time becomes more devoted to the families we’ll raise or efforts to bring in more money, creative endeavors that are financially taxing or eat up a lot of time become less and less important. Time and Life have eroded the wills of a great many creative persons, leaving creative dreams littering the empty highways of the past like abandoned cars in a zombie movie. Sometimes, doing something just because you love it isn’t good enough for some people. If it isn’t paying off, it’s just not worth the time.

But then you come back — weeks, months, or even years after the fact — to something that you’ve created. Everyone remembers coming across an old report or school project they did in the past. Creative people experience that feeling all the time when revisiting old works. You get swept back to the moment of creation, what was going through your head when putting the ideas together. If it’s been long enough, you may not even recognize the work as your own and just experience it like a stranger would. That leads to the best feeling: setting the pages down and thinking, “You know what, that was pretty good.”

I wanted to reflect that nostalgic feeling of coming across something you created in the past, a snapshot of your mind and personality frozen in ink or digital encryption, flattening out the pages on the coffee table and re-experiencing the work you did long ago. Even though it may not get wide exposure or be remembered by many, there is a small kernel of truth you tried to communicate in that art and that small bit of your reality is now eternal. Like a photograph freezing a moment in time, these blog posts are like snapshots of my mind and I want to preserve them. Like most creative people, competitiveness is a driving force. It’s much easier to keep producing if you know that people out there like what you do. But if I can look back on something I wrote, feeling proud of what I created even though it never went anywhere, that’s all the positive reinforcement I need.

The drive to succeed in these creative endeavors doesn’t come solely from a need for monetary gain or for acknowledgement of the work, although those things certainly help. Beyond the immediate need for money and the psychological need for kudos, I think most artists want to leave a little piece of themselves behind in the work they produce. I don’t buy the argument presented to me in college that the “best art” is one that is independent of the artist. Art is a product of the artist, of his or her personality being affected by a myriad of influences, and a small part of that personality imprints itself on the finished product. That art will live on forever, even if nobody sees it, and because the art will live on forever, a part of the artist does as well. I never knew Hunter S. Thompson, but by reading his books, and can get a sense for his mind, the burning hope that things will be okay, coupled with massive drug use and personal anarchy to shield himself from the horror of what he saw as reality. That sense of life will always be in the pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, generations after his death and my own.

That’s why I redesigned the site, to make it easier on the people who do come to read, and to capture that feeling of an idea scratched out on an old piece of printer paper, filed away and forgotten, only to resurface later and give a small window back into the person who originally had that idea. In the creative world, a tree can fall in the woods and nobody can be around to hear it, but someone will later discover the downed tree and experience its truth in his or her own time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: