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Beginner's Mind

One of the more famous Zen quotes comes from Shunryu Suzuki, an influential teacher who helped Zen explode in popularity in the United States in the 20th century. It goes like this:

In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.

When I first decided to make a portfolio website, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea that web design and web development are widely considered to be different fields, so I did all the design myself. I had no idea that software is “supposed to” be done in small, incremental steps, so I built it in a series of wild, aimless sessions, following my bliss and darting around the project until it was done. I had no idea that something like making a stateless JavaScript version of Minesweeper that utilizes Minecraft assets and includes breakable blocks and sound effects is really hard, so I just did it.

In the intervening years, I have come to understand how big important businesses make software, and learned a lot about how the systems work that keep platoons of developers on track to ship something, at some point (A miracle in its own right). I came to accept coding and software as a predictable, slow-moving endeavor, and forgot how much fun it can be to lose yourself in an ambitious project that only you are responsible for.

In my last iteration of this site, I moved from my original design, painstakingly handcrafted, all of the fonts and colors and assets chosen with care, to an off-the-shelf template that looked “more professional”. It fell into a consensus view on what sites are supposed to look like, and I had very little to do with the design decisions. It joined the thousands of other identical sites that don’t rock the boat, but due to their inoffensiveness, immediately fade into the background of the web.

Especially now that a large language model can write a “working frontend” in seconds, it becomes imperative that we create online spaces with real human creativity invested in them. The machines are, even now, pumping out millions of webpages, designed to capture micro-cents of ad revenue from Google searches, slowly choking out the human internet as we know it. Social media algorithms are hiding posts from our loved ones, in favor of low-effort slop to make us mad or anxious, to keep us tied to their content pipelines forever. There’s got to be a better way, and there is! It’s been there since day 1 of the World Wide Web: websites.

As I have come to re-appreciate the simple promise of an internet of websites, rather than a series of mega-platforms that all exist as vectors for ad delivery, I realized that I was doing myself a disservice by hiding my original site design. It turns out I’m very proud of it! ChatGPT couldn’t make it, not in a million years, because a human being invested creative thought into its design. It’s very intentional. Aside from a few tweaks (it links to my Mastodon instead of my (deactivated) Twitter now), it is a time capsule to a period of time where I didn’t know what I could’t do, and armed with that beautiful ignorance, I made a really sweet web site. As I continue to rediscover my Beginner’s Mind, I hope that it will be one of many, and that I have lots of other sites made by my loved ones that I can link to.