My Experience

In light of some recent research that has verified a higher level perspective of the creative process that I’ve been intuiting for some time, I thought it important to relay an experience that occurred to me back in the early 1990s. Why it is important to do so is because aspects of this experience seem to closely mirror the descriptions I’ve recently read in a research paper. In effect, my life seems to be coming full circle and this experience seems to be a foundational moment to it.

Back in the early 1990s, I was living with my wife in Vancouver, having been together at least two or three years. While going to sleep one night, I feel asleep in an unusual sort of way compared to normal. I was lying on my back with my arms crossed in front of me and my legs and feet next to each other touching firmly. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought to myself that I felt like I was lying like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh being buried and passing on to the afterlife. 

As I drifted off to sleep though, I also noticed my breathing was very deep and rhythmic. The blankets on the bed had been pulled up enough that they were close to my face and mouth but not close enough to be touching. So there was this gap, a space, where my breathing was channeled and focused, making it more noticeable. As I breathed and listened to myself breathing, this sense of being in between this space amplified. So I was not thinking of myself in bed, nor thinking of the room around me. I was in a sort of in between empty space between both.

When I finally drifted off to sleep, the locations within my dream seemed very apocalyptic. I was on an abandoned highway that was climbing higher and higher into the hills and into a mountain range (reminiscent of the California hills used in the TV series MASH). Destroyed cars and school buses lay strewn alongside the roadside. In front of me, an overpass lay broken and crumbled on the roadway, as I continued to slowly climb up and up. 

Eventually I neared the top of the hilly mountain range and stepped up and onto its peak. When I did, something shifted profoundly in the experience. It’s like I was no longer in a dream but what was happening to me was now very real and vivid. As I stepped up onto the top of the hilly mountain range, my body just lifted up into the air and I began to float forward off the edge of the mountain. My gaze shifted to what was in front of me and what I felt was so vivid it is hard to describe. 

Imagine being able to feel every single atom in your body and every single atom floating around you. That’s what it felt like. I felt completely naked, being able to feel everything at the tiniest detail. I could feel the air around me…the space, the emptiness, the environment, the flow (reminiscent of the Amy Adams scene in Arrival shown above, where her hair is flowing as she floats). In the background, I could still hear my breathing but it became a rhythmic part of the breath of this space. Small chimes could be heard in the distance as well. 

After the feeling of the space, I looked up and experienced the visual grandeur of it. It was like seeing nothing and everything at the same time. Around me, the black emptiness of space engulfed me. It was enormous, beyond comprehension. And yet in front of me in the far distance was a light, so great it was blinding. So there I floated, between a space of infinite emptiness and infinite light. I remember someone telling me it must have been scary, yet I felt completely safe, like I was floating within my mother’s womb. 

And then I “awoke”, if it can be called that. I opened my eyes and I felt like I was both back in my bed but also still in the space I envisioned at the same time. I could feel every cell in my body, hear the rhythmic breathing and chimes fading as I slowly looked around my bed room. 

I can’t remember if I told my wife of the experience after it happened the next day. I don’t think I did until years later. Where it gets really interesting though is that I tried to replicate entering this “altered state” again later, lying and breathing in the same way. I always came close to it, to the edge of it, but failed to fully cross over though because of one primary thing. A fear of losing myself in the crossover.

It was like when I opened this space in between spaces, I felt like the stability of who I was started to vanish. In effect, to enter into this space, this state, I had to fully let go of who I was. I had to be nothing and everything at the same time. The fear that arose in doing this was never the fear of letting go, which I thought it was at first, but the fear of never coming back to what I was. So this fear of being lost in this void with no sense of self, no solid, stable sense of identity. That was the fear that prevented me from crossing over and experiencing this experience again.

Considering Web Design Again

After being ecstatic about the future direction of Gutenberg and even more excited about the future direction of CSS Flexbox and Grids and how they both work together, I’m at a point in my life where I’m seriously considering getting back into web design again.

Having said that, over the past few days I’ve been reviewing where all of these things are at in terms of their development and usage to see if it’s worthwhile to start working with these now. Based upon what I’ve found, I don’t think it’s worthwhile getting on board just yet, at least for myself, due to the following reasons.

  1. Gutenberg is still probably at least a half year away from completion.
  2. While Flexbox seems to be gaining traction, there doesn’t seem to be many style editor plugins that incorporate it yet (i.e. Microthemer does include it).
  3. CSS Grids almost have little to no adoption yet, so I haven’t really seen any developer tools that I’d like to use incorporating them yet. Even more so, very few theme developers seem to be developing with it either.

All said and done, if I can find a theme developer that is really breaking new ground with Flexbox and CSS Grid within their themes (even providing customizations due to their flexibility) then I’d seriously consider web design again. The key thing in all of this is that I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel and relearn everything from scratch. Rather, I want someone else to invent the wheel for me, as a foundational tool, that I can then build upon and modify to my needs, as well as for the needs of others.

Update Jan 17/08: Completely rethinking this.

What I just realized is that I’m no better off if I wait to dive into this all. In effect, I have needs in terms of my website right now and I’m finding most WP themes don’t meet my functional needs no matter how great they look.

All said and done, to meet my needs right now, I’ll may as well dive in building templates with WordPress right now since certain aspects of it will still exist when Gutenberg is launched, whereas other aspects will completely disappear. The key thing is to not to lose track of what will disappear when Gutenberg is released, so that I don’t waste too much time learning it, only to discard it later.

Whats clearly evident though is I need to map out both my current needs and vision of what I would like WordPress to become (i.e. my next gen CMS vision).

Update Jan 19/08: Seems I’m not alone in this situation. Spoke to PixelGrade, a prominent WP theme developer, and they are in a sort of holding pattern as well, waiting for Gutenberg to stabilize and finalize before they fully test it and update their existing themes for it. Seems to me there’s not too much I can do if I want to work on web stuff for Gutenberg until it actually stabilizes. In effect, the foundation of my work will be based upon it, so can’t do much until that foundation is stabilized.

Update Mar 6/08: Having spent the time trying to get a theme that works the way that I want it to for this site, I’m realizing that WordPress has a long way to go before it has the tools and structure that work the way I want it to. Based upon what I’ve read, it looks like Gutenberg may emerge out of beta by mid 2018 and I’ll reassess by then. In the interim, I’m quite happy with this Scrawl WordPress theme and the modifications I’ve made to it. It almost has a Medium.com feel to it. Even more so, it will allow me to easily add content in a variety of forms, long or short form.

My Past Towards The Future of the Web

In the 1990’s, I was fascinated with the emergence of the Web, as well as the emergence of online multiplayer video games. I built online communities around these video games in my personal time which eventually lead to professional work as a Senior Web Developer building communities hubs for notable video game publishers such as Sierra, Activision, and Konami.

Discovering Squarespace

After the Dot.com Bomb period though in 2001, I went freelance and eventually discovered Squarespace in 2004 as a web publishing platform and I absolutely loved designing with it. As an integrated platform, Squarespace was light years ahead of the competition, incorporating a way to structure, layout, and style a website, all within a browser. Because of this, you could rapidly develop a website in just a few days or weeks instead of few months. At the time, I saw so much potential and evolving possibilities for the platform.

With the release of Squarespace Version 5 and Version 6 though, it was becoming more and more apparent that the platform was not going in the direction I had hope for. When Version 5 was launched in 2008, I remember being told you could build “anything” with it but after addressing my concerns, no public admittance of the limitations of the platform came out until a Squarespace 2010 Roadmap post. Hoping Version 6 would address these concerns in 2012, the platform as a whole was almost completely neutered for a rebuild, losing most of its flexibility and functionality to become more of backend developer platform, rather than the stellar front end designer platform it once was.

What I Had Hoped Squarespace Could Be

Throughout the years using Squarespace, I had been asked what I wanted it to become and I think in 2012, when I launched Evolution for Squarespace Version 5, I think this was a cumulative last ditched attempt at articulating what I had hoped it could be. Evolution was basically a javascript-based framework file that you loaded onto your Squarespace site, thus empowering it with more flexibility and functionality, thus overcoming the limitations of the platform.

The idea and inception for Evolution actually started out years earlier when I was much more involved in the Squarespace community forums. At that time, I kept seeing different people coming forward with the same problems and yet nothing ever got fully resolved or made easier. While I tried to help people out solving specific problems, I found that it was like sticking a finger in a dam that kept sprouting one leak after another. In effect, to solve all of these problems, a completely new way of working with the system needed to be devised.

While I tried to help people out solving specific problems, I found that it was like sticking a finger in a dam that kept sprouting one leak after another.

While Evolution includes features for incorporating Grids and additional Styles (i.e. magazine style elements such as hero images with text overlay options) on your Squarespace site, it was its Placement feature that was its primarily selling point. In effect, it allowed a person to move Squarespace content blocks anywhere on their site rather than just within the page or post content area. This was something not even Squarespace Version 6 could do.

Alas, while there was evident community interest for these features within Evolution, once people realized they had to manually activate these features using CSS “Activator” classes, they quickly lost interest. In effect, people wanted these features integrated into Squarespace, not hacked on top of it. Unfortunately most of these people didn’t realize that you couldn’t modify Squarespace core features, only Squarespace could do that. Therefore, without much further ado, my professional web design career ended.

Common Conventional Problems

What is interesting to note though is that after web design, my interests gravitated to community development and how that related to organizational development, more specifically The Future of Work. What’s amazing to realize is that upon reflection of both of these interests, web publishing and organizational development, both at their core have very similar problems. They both try to force people to work in limited ways with predefined behaviours of functionality “hard coded” into the system, rather than letting people flexibly construct their own behavioural functionality that works for their own unique needs.

They both try to force people to work in limited ways with predefined behaviours of functionality “hard coded” into the system…

For example, most web publishing platforms let you create a blog which is a collection of posts, formatted in a typical fashion, and sorted in reverse chronological order. The beauty of Squarespace Version 5 and earlier was that it didn’t limit you to this. Any end user with no coding experience whatsoever could create a collection of posts sorted alphabetically or chronologically by making a few adjustments to the block settings, thus allowing them to create an alphabetic company directory using categories to define the different departments of the company. In comparison to achieve the same simple modification in Version 6, you would need to be a Web Developer with years of experience under your belt.

Another example is the usage of blocks for content creation, which Squarespace itself introduced as its Layout Engine in Version 6. This was truly a ground breaking leap for Squarespace but it limited its usage to just the page and post content area, rather than letting the end user layout and build their entire website with it (i.e. header, content, sidebar, footer).

WordPress: Gutenberg

After leaving Squarespace, I did try to find an alternative platform comparable to it but nothing came close. I did eventually settle on using WordPress for my own site but I found its community highly fractured, all using different approaches, thus making jumping from one theme to another highly frustrating. In comparison, switching themes in Version 5 and earlier of Squarespace was a breeze, as all of the templates utilized the same HTML structure and CSS class Selector names, thus making it extremely simple to modify a new theme.

Matt Cromwell’s First Impressions of Gutenberg

When WordPress initially announced Gutenberg, it first came across as a “new editor” that would provide enhanced functional and flexibility to WordPress. This somewhat peaked my interest and gave me hope for using WordPress for design and development again but what I really wanted was something that went beyond just the content area. Low and behold, after being out of the loop on the status of developments for Gutenberg for a while, I was stunned to watch a December 2017 WordCamp presentation by Morten Rand-Hendriksen in which he articulated capabilities within it that mirrored my own idea of a next generation CMS (see 18;00 minute mark of video), similar to what I had wanted Squarespace to become.

This to me is The Future of the Web. It is what I had initially envisioned a decade ago. That this same vision is being seen, understood, and accepted by WordPress, the most popular open source web publishing platform on the planet, just blows my mind even more so because it means they are building it for a community with easy sharing and portability in mind. I can hardly wait!

This to me is The Future of the Web.

In closing, let me just say this. While I’m thankful for Squarespace for truly breaking ground in using LEGO-like blocks to build a website, initially with “blocks” being page modules and then later creating actual block elements on a page / post level with the Layout Engine, I’m so glad it is an open source company such as WordPress that is taking this next big leap, as it will hopefully open up a new accessible frontier for the Web as a whole.