As the second full week of the inaugural Build Retreat wraps up, I thought I would start off this post by sharing a little bit about my compatriots, their projects, and the feeling of working and living alongside them out here in rural New York.
One of the true joys I've consistently found in life thus far has been the experience of introducing friends and acquaintances from various parts of my life to one another and watching them interact. (Usually it's better if these interactions are positive and edifying, but the inverse can be entertaining as well, occasionally. But luckily we're dealing with the former case out here!) Dinner parties and weekend trips are fun for their potential of interweaving the social threads of my life, but the true magic happens in longer-term comings-together: apartments, cellphone family plans, business ventures, and weeks-long cabin retreats! You know what they say, nothing gets the social juices flowing and breaks the ice like isolation and mutual accountability. So here's the team roster:
Tom and I have been friends since high school. Mark Twain might have called us bosom buddies. Over the years, we've kept in touch, lived together in New York City, and have worked on various projects together. Known for his high-intensity yet sweet demeanor, Tom's presence in the cabin has been a motivational one. He hasn't let anyone slack and miss a single workout yet. Although he is the only one here that is still working a fulltime job remotely, and thus spends much of the daytime locked in his room yelling something about "cloud spend" and "commitment deals" on the phone, he still works hard to embrace the spirit of the retreat and finds time for his personal projects in the evenings and weekends. He's currently taking a React.js training course, training his voice through vocal exercises (which admittedly hasn't been as bad for the rest of us as one might initially have feared), and developing his video-editing chops.
Nate and I met at the University of Chicago in a larger group of friends, but immediately glommed on to one another when we realized that we possessed a shared interest in plotting and scheming. Although we've never really lived in the same place at the same time, we've always found ways to meet up and go on adventures together. And even if we haven't been able to actually execute each and every plotted scheme (we have somewhere like 4–9 bike trips that we still need to do), we'll talk on the phone ad nauseam about them and keep the dreams alive. Nate, his partner Sindhu (a sometimes guest in the cabin as well), and I have talked for many years about experiments in communal work and living, and in many ways, this retreat is a direct result of and experiment in those conversations. His name is on the AirBnb and his monitor is the biggest, so I'll let you draw conclusions about his mythological role in the cabin dynamic. Nate just left his job in private equity to pursue the creation of a consulting/software startup in the offshoring space. If you're curious about following his process in detail, you should subscribe to his newsletter.
Aaron and I have worked together on various media projects over the years, brought together by our mad-genius friend Mika, and I've known about him and his work as a writer for more than a decade. But we only actually met in person for the first time a little over two months ago at a café in Brooklyn. Still, when our original fourth member of the planned cabin community had to drop out at the last minute and I put out a call for interested parties on Instagram, Aaron raised his hand, packed a small bag, threw it in the trunk of his Prius, and drove the two hours from Brooklyn to Forestburgh. Nobody is really quite sure what Aaron is working on up in his room on the top floor of the cabin. I've heard rumors ranging from "writing the next great American novel" to "overseeing merger contracts for small agricultural operations." But whatever it is he does up there, it doesn't stop him from being the charming social lifeblood of our collective life together. Aaron's knack for asking insightful questions during our weekly presentations and his culinary talents in particular will be missed when he leaves us next week.
Productivity Loves Company
During my final year at University of Chicago, while I was writing my senior thesis, I spent almost every waking moment in the library. I'm an inherently antsy person and normally require a frequent change of environment and scenery to feel at-ease. But there was one spot in the library that I fondly remember as being the one place that I could really get some work done, and that was at the communal tables on the fourth floor, right near the balcony overlooking the third floor. Something about sitting near and being aware of other people, studiously working themselves, made the solitude and rigor of focused work bearable, and even kind of fun.
And I'm learning that lesson again here at the cabin. Having moved around constantly, and largely by myself, for the last few years, I've really missed the feeling of working besides others. (It hasn't helped that the pandemic has made libraries much less comfortable communal places, either.) Nate and I share a big table where we both have our work setups here, and it's hard to describe the comfort and comradery we both experience while we work, just knowing that the other person is a few feet away, working on something completely different and opaque to the other, but typing furiously and sighing occasionally all the same. Even now, as I'm writing this post, I can see Nate's furrowed brow and feel the energetic tapping of his feet on the floor beneath us. I don't know what he's working on today exactly, but our work-buddy relationship has progressed to the point where I can tell from these various signals that a breakthrough moment is neigh and that he will soon reward himself by eating a peanut butter-and-granola-encrusted apple. I'm sure he feels similarly about me and my work-body-language.
The Boy Who Cried "Backend is done"!
As far as my work on Subject+Predicate went this week, I think I started to annoy by cabin-mates by announcing confidently every single night during the evening meal: "Well boys, I think I've finished up most of the backend, and tomorrow is finally the day I will move on to working on the frontend." Turns out, the backend was never done. At least not when I thought up a new way to optimize it a little more every time I took a shower.
In the spirit of accountability and friendship, Nate and Tom actually sat me down one night after a cabin-meeting and held my feet to the fire about my goals with this project: Was I actually trying to build and ship a particular game, or was I building a reusable backend framework for this and future games? Was it just for me, or was I going to open source it? I needed to decide clearly and then make moves accordingly, otherwise I would just be wasting my time.
I took a couple of long walks this week and thought about it, and ultimately decided that while I do actually want to ship Subject+Predicate, the project of developing a reusable multiplayer turn-based game framework, and learning all of the attendant software-development skills and best practices, was very appealing to me. I haven't had this much fun writing code in years, and going down all of the optimization and framework architecture rabbit holes have really brought me a completely new understanding of networking, security, and game design. And so, when it was my night to present the status of my project after dinner, I announced that I was comfortable with the idea that I might not actually finish Subject+Predicate as quickly as I had initially thought, but that I would be spending more time working on a framework that I would eventually like to release to the open source community. Although perhaps slightly disappointed by the capital-B Boring nature of this announcement, I think I was able to win them over using some colorful diagrams, a strategy that I learned during my time as a teacher and that has yet to fail me.
I do realize that I can't just keep working on the framework in theory-land forever—it'll be useful to actually run it through its paces with a real game running on top of it. And so—and I may regret this, but here goes—I do actually think that the backend might be in a place right now where I can move on to working on the frontend and feature sets of Subject+Predicate next week. Famous last words, I know, but here's hoping that next week I'm able to report some progress on this fun, occasionally-prophetic game of "random" slip-matching.