Comic Update: Peahen Butter

September 01, 2011
CSSquirrel #85: Peahen Butter

Today’s comic features inanity, a rather eye-bleeding shade of green, and Dylan Wilbanks. It does not feature any snide commentary on web design or development, a joke at Apple’s expense, or even any squirrel-related humor.

It does however reference the mighty peahen.

Consider this comic something of a mental enema, loosening up the blockage that has been plaguing me throughout the summer.

Quite honestly, I’ve been feeling like something of an imposter over this past year, a lurker in the forum that is the web development/design world. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but it turns out the Internet is chock full of extremely talented website makers. Constant displays of their talent pour from my Twitter stream like Gideon’s moist wool, dripping all over the web with raw, unfiltered awesome. They’re not just rocking my face with their drool-inducing personal website redesigns. They’re not just filling Dribbble with jaw-dropping snapshots of amazing work. They’re drop-kicking monitors until they explode into fancy, limited-edition magazines that you put on the coffee table to impress both the lady you’re courting and your mother.

Look, I’m not saying that Elliot Jay Stocks is a curly-headed, 21st century typographic British Chuck Norris that groin-punched Comic Sans so hard that Bill Gates’ grandchildren will feel it. I’m also not saying that he isn’t.

It comes down to adequacy, and the occasional disheartening fear that you’re not up to snuff. With “you’re not” meaning “I am not”. In a world of Stocks and Santa Marias and Irishes, I’m aware that my design skills (which were never my selling point) are a combination of obsession with green and empty space and not much else, and that my Javascript skills, while far better, aren’t Olympic grade either. I don’t invent Javascript libraries, I just use them. I frequently feel like a Jimmy Olsen in a field crowded with Supermen.

The caveat is that ultimately I’m a commentator in the field, blending humor, a cartoon squirrel and occasionally a sense of outrage into bite-sized portions for people to chuckle at. Ultimately, I’m okay with that. All the way back in the first grade I accepted that my role in life was to serve as comic relief. But some days, which drag into some weeks or some months, I feel so irrelevant even in that role (perhaps without any good justification) that I can’t seem to muster the desire to put something out there.

Dylan, back in the end of June, wrote a piece that on the surface was discussing a spat between usability experts. Underneath that, it goes to the topic of feelings of adequacy as a designer, and a speaker, and even a participant in the always-on social stream of web development. His article got a bit of heat of its own due to perceived attacks on certain outstanding leaders in our field, which for the record I don’t think was his intent or point. But it also touched into a good conversation I had with him a month prior to that in a pizzeria in Seattle.

I’ve met Dylan approximately three times in the flesh, but I’d like to call him a friend. The most recent time was when I went to Web Directions Unplugged (which was an amazing event that I was honored to be invited to as a cartoonist-in-residence). On my first night there we met for pizza then started a small, two-man bar crawl while getting reacquainted and discussing our field. The topic went to the realm of conferences, and our mutual interest in participating in them as more than audience. He told me about his experience as a speaker in a higher education web conference and I mused about an interest in either speaking or even creating my own conference.

My main worry, as shared between pints of IPA, was a nagging concern that I had nothing to offer in a crowded web development conference world where the likes of Mr. Beep himself are there to blow your mind with cutting-edge techniques, Andy Clarke is ready to take an aggressive stance and make you angry, and Jared Spool is going to make you come dangerously close to experiencing a personal brownout in the pants region as you learn your personal limits on how much you can laugh in a single hour. Does the world need another thirty-something white guy who’s only moderately talented to take up a speaker slot in an industry that desperately needs to give more room to the packed crowd of web development superwomen that both we need to see more of and deserve the opportunity more than I do?

In the end, Dylan insisted I had something to offer, whether it be speaking in someone else’s conference or someday making a “Squirrelcon” of my own. Maybe he’s even right. That’s not relevant. But it meant a lot for a man of his experience to insist on my worth over pizza and beer mere blocks from offices packed with employees in Seattle’s various web-centric corporations. Whether he’s speaking to a crowd or just to me, I’ve found him profound.

I don’t need reassurances. I’m not seeking affirmation. I’m not wearing black eye shadow and reading Poe. I’m just getting something written down on this damn blog to get the gears rolling again, and I might as well share the insecurities that caused it to grind to a halt in the first place. Writing it, writing anything, is a vital step to contributing to the stream of awesome web designers that clogs your inbox every day.

Every time I make a prediction about when I’ll next post something, I’m usually wrong. So instead, I’ll say they you’ll hear from me again soon, and I may even be more on topic when you do.

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One Response to “Comic Update: Peahen Butter”

  1. Always good to see something new from you in my feed reader! Also, thanks for voicing what is, I’m sure, a common feeling among web devs. I certainly question the worth of my own blogs and tweets from time to time. The web development community is richer when we all take part.