Thomasorus wiki

2020 Year review

2020 was one of the best years I experienced in recent memory.

Considering everything that happened, it might sound rude or tactless. But in the middle of the mess, I evolved as a person like I never did before. I faced and solved problems I was burying inside of me for years. I reconnected with my partner. I coded personal projects that helped me question my field. I shared my knowledge with others. I bought an apartment and am still renovating it.

When 2020 started my goals were:

But my ultimate goal was to get out of a productivity mindset and switch to a self-discovery mindset:

I hope next year instead of a display of work, I'll be able to do a display of creations.

—Me, Last Year

I wanted to question the value, benefits and enjoyment of everything I did, used or saw.

Time tracking as self-discovery

Considering I have bad memory and do way too much stuff, my first move of 2020 was to start tracking the time spent on personal projects. I was inspired to do it by several people I met in the Merveilles community who use such tools as a way to reflect on themselves. But I didn't want to use an app or someone else system. So I just... wrote down my time in a text file following this format:

//year week activity project hours
2020 1 Development Website 1

I didn't have any idea how I would exploit this data. Actually, I only finished the visualization in July 2020. But having it readable allowed me to self-reflect and understand why I was feeling tired or restless. In early 2020 we worked with my friends Sword and Pr0sk on the translation and publication of a massive article about netcodes in fighting games. At the same time I was upgrading our CMS to the latest version. All this took me around 40 hours in the first two months of the year. At the same time I was still recording podcasts, developing stuff for me and of course, going to work.

So on week 9 of 2020, I was exhausted and at the same time I was feeling guilty of not working. Looking at my time tracker, I realized how stupid I was. I decided I had earned to do nothing. And so I did. It was the first of several similar cycles. Work on something, then rest.

And of course right after this, lock-down started in France.

Lock-down rhymes with breakdown

Lock-down was is still a mess in France. And it was even worse with my client. We were supposed to work from home and told it could happen anytime. For the first two weeks of lock-down, I was up every morning to check my emails in the wait of my access. I was extremely stressed. Finally we had found a way of working with difficult people. Projects were moving forward under my guidance. But the access to work from home? They never came.

So, my partner was working, and I was not. To keep me occupied I broke my first engagement and started doing a website for someone else. I redid the whole Art Eater website. Saying I did it for others is a bit lying. I wanted this website online for myself, because I loved it and it went offline years ago, leaving a big hole on the internet.

But when the second month of lock-down started I collapsed. As the days went by, each day seemed more and more like the day that preceded. Anxiety spikes, characterized by tetany crisis, became common. I gradually had more difficulties getting out of bed. Depression symptoms appeared.

So I did something I never dared to do. I asked my partner for help. I asked her to read my journal, as I was unable to speak. She said nothing, didn't judge, and helped me get back on my feet. We made a program to keep me occupied. Sport, reading, studying, coding. Little by little I was able to get my head out of the water, but remained fragile.

But there was a benefit from this. I finally stopped lying to myself. I am depressive and anxious and I have been escaping this state with work and social gatherings. Lock-down removed my escape roads and I had to learn to live with myself. This realization profoundly changed me. When not in shape, just go to bed, cry, and wait for it to pass. When you feel like doing nothing, just sleep. The goal now isn't to suppress feelings, but to let them flow in me.

As I explained to my partner, I am sometimes feeling terrible. But I am now in a better place, because I feel things. I am now way more honest with myself.

The birth of my tools

This change in mindset actually helped with my personal projects. I was already working on my static site generator for a while, exploring different roads. But when lock-down ended and I went back to work, I was hitting a dead-end. I had too much text files, I had redone this thing 3 times (even one time in Python). My problem? I was still following other people rules and way of thinking.

So I re-started from the beginning. What is a website? An accumulation of text. What am I using to write text? A text editor and the Markdown language. Do I like using them? Actually, no! I hate writing in Markdown! So why do I use it? Because there's nothing else available! If it doesn't exists, why not create it?

And it clicked. I was terrified and felt I was not capable of doing it, but went for it anyway.

I explored different syntaxes for a new and personal markup language. I called it Kaku and I wrote a parser in JavaScript to convert its text to HTML. It took a lot of time, as I rewrote it 3 or 4 times, each time exploring a new approach and making it more robust. I now write everything in Kaku and I love it.

My static site generator Ronbun also found it's final form during this period (it's now using a single text file for all pages and has no external dependencies), as well as my time tracker tool. In the span of a few months I created my own ecosystem of tools that fit my needs. Using them feels natural. Of course there were bugs and limitations I didn't saw coming. But that's the beauty of it: the projects evolved at the same time as my needs and tastes.

All I want is dark nails

During this exploratory period right after lock-down, my partner was exhausted. Working and taking care of me was asking a lot. One evening we ended up talking for hours. We confessed we were exhausted by years of efforts to grow into adults as society expects us, and that it made us miserable. She has no desire to be a woman and bear the responsibilities it implies in our society. I have no desire to be a man and apply the behaviors expected of them, like control an strength. I realized that all I want is dark clothes, dark nails, a sensible life made of creative doubts and enraging blockades. So I did. I painted my nails. I bought women clothes because I liked them. I now dress entirely in black. I'll have new piercings soon. I have never felt as whole as today.

When I went back to work from May to June, it was also the moment we bought an apartment. We were searching for a long time and finally found something we loved. I decided I would do this whole operation my way. Which meant a low stress, un-destructive way. I hired a broker as I was not feeling capable of meetings half a dozen bankers (not did I want to prove I was capable of doing it). He made the deal for me. My notary was recommended by a friend. Same for the artisans and the electrician. I made a deal with my banker to not have repayment during the renovations, and took several months for them so I would not feel pressured. I didn't want to turn this into a demonstration of control and strength. Until now, it has been working great.

It wasn't without challenges though. As I tried to take more responsibilities at home I felt it was not going to work. I was not able to manage unexpected problems, even the smallest ones. I had trouble focusing. Muscular pain. And worst of all, the unstoppable feeling that something terrible was going to happen. I needed help and counseling was not enough. As my mission was over and I was not working, I decided it was a good opportunity to get medication. My doctor was super helpful and found the right treatment right away. I have been feeling great for months now.

In September we took a few weeks of vacations and explored the nearest region. It felt good. I was happy like I haven't be for a long time.

All they want is JavaScript

From July to December I was not working due to the pandemic. I took the time to explore a lot of things related to my field, frontend web development. First, I wrote an extensive guide on HTML. I wanted to share knowledge with the Merveilles community, but also felt it was time to use my personal wiki for, well, wiki things!

I also continued studying JavaScript using the very good Wes Bos course. I like this language, all my tools are built with it. But I really dislike the way we are doing web development using JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular or Vue. A monoculture emerged around them, pushed by companies using soft power tactics to make them unquestionable in web development. So I compiled a list of alternatives to study them a little bit. The act of creating my own tools with little time and without external ressources reinforced my feeling that the field is moving towards too much complexity. I feel we are bending the projects needs to the framework or libraries needs and that instead of solving problems related to the project, we assemble kits and solve problems related to them.

Which leads me to my current problem: work. My employer can't find a job that suits me. When I tried finding one myself, I only got negative answers. I don't fit in the definition of frontend developer, which now seems to mean backend developer in the browser for over-complex technical stacks in JavaScript. I'm a frontend developer specialized in design systems, UX and accessibility. In half of the job interviews I did I could see why they should hire me. But they did not. I know too well why: people only hire my profile when everything is a mess and needs to be rebooted, which leads to incredible pourparlers between dozens of people questioning your expertise, making the project near to impossible to finish.

So what should I do? I really don't know! Either I become the frontend developer everyone wants me to be, or I continue to wipe everybody's mess when it's already too late. What I would actually love to do is develop art directed pages for magazines. Replicate bold or original print layouts. I love writing, I love design, I love frontend technology. But making a living from this is probably impossible. What a headache!

2021 Goals

This post has been far too long already so let's wrap this up with 2021 projects and goals. Here's the list:

Work on art directed articles
I love this, so why not try making more? It would step up my knowledge in an area of frontend that I actually care about!
A new portfolio
During my job interviews I had to explain what my specialty was. I'm bored repeating it, so I'll make a portfolio website and join it in my job applications so people understand more easily what I do.
Write CSS guidelines
I really enjoyed writing my HTML tips and tricks pages. I'll do something for CSS, probably related to the different methodologies. I love this stuff. I love CSS.
Code less
Yeah that doesn't sound logical but I actually want to code less. I won't change my tools in 2021 or only make small evolutions. I wanted to redo them in C, but it will have to wait because I have to...
MAKE ART
That's the thing I could not do in 2020. I want to do it. I know I will suck for a long time, but I want to untie this knot that has been bothering me for years. I have ideas to do some with friends. Why not do a comics of a dozen pages?
WRITE FICTION
The second thing I want to tackle this year. I'm only able to draw things I wrote before, so I'll have to finally put on paper this lores that I have in my head.
Be responsible
Being responsible at home and in life frees my partner and helps her moving forward. I want to help her.
Relax
Yeah, I love relaxing. I've already started. Never spent that much time in my sofa.

And that's all!

What a strange year. A global tragedy was the trigger of a massive personal renewal that left me feeling better, more sensible and authentic. Of course the state of the world outside my window worries me and I will not isolate myself from it. I will participate as much as I can, as long as I can.

See you next year!