The following was intended as the first half of a Thursday post in which I planned on combining a narcissistic spiel about my past experiences writing online with a little how-to guide explaining how my Neocities page worked. I nearly had said post finished to go up on time, but my Notion client decided to shit the bed – leading to me losing half of the original post, giving up on the concept, and just lazily copy/pasting an unreleased zine piece minutes before my deadline. Due to the length of this recreation I’ve been working on, I decided to split it into two posts – with this one serving as the narcissistic spiel and next week’s one serving as the actual tutorial. Apologies in advance!
A few years back I started writing a really embarrassing zine for reasons that still elude me. At the time I was obsessed with this vague idea of forming some form of community or collective, essentially treating my local arts scene like every socialist sect treats the notion of a mass party – I just assumed that by making things people would eventually follow, magically seeking me out due to how correct I was about everything. This (unsurprisingly) went nowhere and nobody ended up reading the final product, which was probably a good thing in hindsight – I feel like someone will dig it up at some stage in the future to discredit my opinions on music and that’s perfectly understandable. I’ve been thinking about that era of my life scarily frequently as of late, mainly due to the final scramble to get the thing out before the end of the year. I’d asked a friend to help me set up a small website for the collective, hoping that working together on this would lead to collaborating on some larger projects at some stage in the future. The friend said they’d put something together, did out a “framework” (read: one CSS stylesheet), and then completely forgot about it due to (understandably) having better things to be doing. This meant that the last week of December was spent frantically trying to work out how to use CSS and trying to secure cheap (if not free) hosting – those seven days were spent solely on Google and I’m oddly nostalgic for that.
Through these frantic Google searches, I discovered “How to use Tumblr as a web host for a blog you FULLY control, without paying anything”, a blog post from some random anarchist who managed to make running a website seem slightly less boring. I think that this post resonated with me at the time as it made the act of narcissistically putting your words on the internet seem nearly exciting – setting up a Tumblr page with a custom domain was compared to holding a rave in an abandoned warehouse, the idea of backing up your content locally felt like a strategic middle finger to some soulless megacorporation, and the tech industry was made fun of in a way that felt slightly less trite the first time that I read it. The post channeled the energy of the anarchic fanzines I wanted to imitate and as I read I genuinely felt that I was on the verge of taking part in something larger, even if I realized how silly that was within the span of five minutes. It felt as if I could channel my voice into some form of community, even if I was just shouting into the digital void. The author advocated setting up a VM in which one would run WordPress locally, using a plugin to mirror posts onto a site like Tumblr that offered free hosting. This would essentially offer you the best of both worlds – you wouldn’t be paying some stupid price to host your meaningless blog, but you’d also have some semblance of control over whatever you wrote. I tried setting up this system but gave up after quickly realizing how hard it was to find a decent Tumblr theme, eventually just resorting to using GitHub pages and a badly broken version of my friend’s framework. I put the zine online, received zero response, and quickly snapped out of the narcissistic train of thought that inspired the whole thing, completely forgetting about this blog post as I focused on being really annoying online – something that I excelled at.
I started wanting to write again during February of last year, admittedly for largely self-serving reasons. I felt like I was at a weird point in my life – people who I texted every day for what felt like ages were finally getting their shite together (and logging off for good), I hit a brick wall whenever I tried doing visual work, and most of my day was spent constantly refreshing Spinter News (RIP) in the hopes of reading a new piece from Hamilton Nolan. I’d started talking to some person with minor internet clout and it felt odd to have no real creative work to show her, especially since I based my whole personality around wanting to make things. Around this time I was also obsessed with Yoñlu, a Brazilian musician who posted these beautifully haunting songs onto some random gaming forum and went on to commit suicide at a scarily young age. I felt this odd sense of kinship whenever I looked at their forum posts or listened to their music – I saw part of myself in them and that simultaneously intrigued and freaked me out. I ended up with this weird idealistic view that I needed to artificially create an interesting personality through working on some form of creative output – both for whoever I was currently trying to befriend yet also for whoever stumbled upon my web presence five years after I did the one thing that felt inevitable. I eventually decided on setting up a Neocities page, using a static site generator called Jekyll due to my inability to string five lines of HTML together and assuming that this would be the start of a new era of my creative output.
The problem with letting me use a computer is that I really don’t like learning about it – programming and scripting will always elude me due to my fundamental inability to patiently stare into a Vim window for hours on end. I never really got the grasp of Jekyll – I was genuinely scared to even think about changing the theme I was using, I spent more time modifying HTML than actually working on posts, and whenever I pushed any changes to my page I’d get paranoid about accidentally breaking the whole thing. Jekyll is presumably versatile once you get the grasp of it, but my lack of knowledge (and/or outright laziness) made it feel scarily rigid – I didn’t want to experiment or try to implement anything due to spending countless hours cleaning up my own mess and that experience very quickly became infuriating. I wrote five articles, got way too cocky about my writing skills, burnt out hard, and let the site gather dust. This state of burnout ended up lasting until August of this year when I once again felt embarrassed about not having creative work to show the people I was trying to befriend. I’m not sure exactly how but I returned to the idea of the zine, stealing the title ‘Fiteclub’ from a conversation I had with a new friend. I made the false assumption that I’d have a finished product by the end of the year, started working on scarily large pieces, and inevitably fell back into a state of deep burnout. A majority of the zine was penned between the months of August to October, with none of the “major” pieces reaching actual completion and a bunch of drafts staring at me every time I went on my laptop. During the February break I went around compiling these drafts into something half-finished, mainly just so I wouldn’t have to think about them. I applied final touches to the zine around the start of lockdown, leading to me thinking about this Neocities page again.
Once I wanted to release Fiteclub I recognized that I needed to rebuild this site from scratch, mainly as the idea of finding my original Jekyll folders freaked me out. I ended up settling on my current setup, essentially combining the two setups I rambled on about earlier into some Frankenstein’s monster that somehow works for me but presumably makes fuck all sense to anyone on this website. I essentially just use WordPress as a bloated static site generator, running an instance on my laptop, doing all the design work from there, and using a plugin to convert my local website into a bunch of HTML files that play nice with Neocities. This system makes no coherent sense but it seems to work for me – it isn’t necessarily more or less labour-intensive than more traditional methods used on this site but the labour required feels more amenable (and I can listen to a podcast while doing it). It just works, even if it’d make any competent web designer wince. I feel like this current spell of writing under lockdown has been the most productive I’ve ever been, even if this sentence will probably curse it and I’ll enter burnout by Thursday. People seem to be interacting with my work in some minor way and I’m scarily appreciative of it, even if that’s probably as I’m a low-stakes attention addict. I think I’m obsessed with writing as it allows me to play a character – my fidgets can get replaced with niche references, charisma can be feigned through jokes about careerists, and anxiety attacks can be conveniently omitted when the past is referenced. I guess writing just gives me a space to exist without the baggage my melty brain eventually results in, I can feign being functional twice a week and get to have fun conversations with people every now and then because of it. Around this time a few weeks back, one of my friends approached me, asking for guidance on how to set up a blog. As I was giving advice on how to use my method I was suddenly reminded of that random article I read back in 2017 – perhaps I was edging closer to that idealized sense of community my first zine aimed to channel? In order for things to come full circle, I thought I’d do a post outlining the method I use to run this blog, mainly just in the hopes that someone as pretentious as I was gets to temporarily feel like they’re part of something larger. Perhaps that’ll complete the cycle and you’re no longer constantly spammed with these blog post links, but perhaps I’m being too optimistic.