Taking a Break
Inspired by my partner - now wife - I decided to get active in a slice of my beloved Long Beach only a couple of years ago. I quickly found there was a nascent “tech scene” centered in downtown Long Beach, at the invisible junction of WeLabs, MADE, and city hall. Excited, I was.
My first visit to Code and Coffee, hosted by good guy James, was a blast. I was hooked. I had spent most of my childhood and adult life being extremely active in online communities - from the dialup BBS I ran in the mid-90s from my bedroom at The Gaytonia, to the underground servers of the Hotline and KDX era, to the many mailing lists, Usenet groups, and Web forums I always found myself juggling - but other than a few attempts when I was living in LA, I had never quite clicked with a geographically-defined community. Ever.
I had recently left a career in the corporate world for the freedom and self-determination of… anything else. Suddenly, I was immersed in a community that more than replaced the sense of belonging I knew I’d miss no longer working fulltime in a large organization. I made many friends quickly, and we’ve been supporting each other almost daily ever since.
With a young, hip new mayor saying all the right things about Long Beach becoming a tech town, it felt like I was in a unique position to contribute. With a measure of spare time many couldn’t afford, a full glass of passion on a range of issues from a lifetime of experience in tech, and a newly discovered persona as an old gray beard (an inversion of the wünderkind I still saw myself as) I knew I could add as much as I could take.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Those who know me can roll their eyes right about now, because I can be slow on the uptake, but my passions are easily offset by my intolerance for bullshit. It’s a flaw, but it comes from a good place. I can, no doubt, come across as a real asshole at times because I’m terrible at suffering fools, and even worse at putting up with gatekeepers, crooks, and phonies. Working in software, or organizing online communities, it’s not hard to identify these people - you contribute or you don’t, there’s no heriditary right, no grandfathering, and an infinite space wherein the useless can go find a more willing or naive group to take advantage of. Local politics - I’m sorry, “community building” - is a whole other story.
Stepping into the tech scene in Long Beach, I misunderstood a lot. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is this: unlike the infinite expanses of the online world, when communities are organized geographically it’s much harder to push the shitheads out, because they also live here, are also invested here, and can’t just pick up and move on to easier marks when called out. So, I concede. You win, we all lose.
This year is going to be the most important of my life, and I can’t afford to tarnish all the beauty I’ve been gifted with by burning my energy and pushing my psychic balance towards the negative. I’ve decided to bow out - maybe not forever, but certainly for now.
The next few years will be focused solely on creating. Creating life with my partner. Creating art and craft for fun and for work. Creating healthy, pleasant environments for my family to thrive in. Creating the business environment I want by creating a business that can sustain us.
I can’t change others, but I can change myself.
I won’t be spending my temporal and emotional capital trying to change Long Beach head-on. I won’t be engaging with the city, with Uncoded or LBTech, with any group with the word “innovation” in its name, with activities that give credibility to those who only want to extract value from our community rather than add to it, with community organizations that are neither organized or community-driven. I wish them all the best - honestly - because if they do make progress, improve, we all win. They can take all the credit - they will - and I’m OK with that.
This isn’t a table-flip. I’m not looking to destroy, to go out with a bang. This is me attempting to preserve my peace of mind by passively opting out. By giving my vote-of-no-confidence, but accepting I could be wrong, in fact hoping I am. By going back to what I know: that I’m good at doing, but I’m terrible at politics.