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A Look Back at the Second Year of the Roaring Twenty-Twenties

Some time has passed since I've managed to write one of these blog posts, something I have spent a fair portion of the year feeling guilty and a bit hopeless over. In part, I wanted to document things for others in the community, particularly newcomers. That was made rather difficult by, among other impediments, a number of things changing as I started to write things down. This is a good thing on the whole since it means the site is undergoing change and moving ahead. Nonetheless, if I were to commit much of what I'd had in mind to (digital) paper, well, it would all have been out-of-date very quickly; the dream of a THP Primer was, I dare say, a bit preposterous given all the things that have needed to be iterated upon and improved.

Just to stretch out the apologia a bit, I will say in my defence that 2022 has been a fairly troubling year for personal matters. Without detailing anything, I've had to deal with troublesome health issues and all sorts of migraine-inducing financial scares, surprise expenditures, and general insecurity. There's also the ongoing matter of unemployment and the lingering question of how and when to remedy that whole matter. To say I've got messes that are more pernicious and often more urgent than a blog... would be a slight exaggeration. Still, a point I've made in communication with a few community members this year has been that friction of any kind just takes away from the already strained and limited pool of resources. Even small annoyances can pile up to the point that motivation and ability to do much of anything can die an ignominious death of a thousand cuts.

There's also the simple fact of blogging being a challenge in general. Whilst perhaps not as prone to the blocks of fiction writing, there is a certain degree of resistance on one's own part when it comes to writing down things that feel frivolous. Doubts quickly set in as to what's really worth writing about. Soon enough, nothing feels particularly worth putting out there to the readership and the whole business sits unattended for a while. I've grappled with these doubts fiercely, finding myself on the losing side most of the time. After all, does anyone really care about my personal troubles? I doubt it. My half-hearted opinions on new stories? Hardly. Of course, discarding such easy examples as those just restricts things to the point of feeling a bit impossible at times.

Anyhow, that's enough grovelling. Someone I've forgot to note — an individual somewhere out there on the Fediverse, I believe — made a post on their own long-time blog saying, in essence, that the trap of finding something 'worth writing about' is one of our own making and one we shouldn't heed. Whilst I don't completely buy this line of reasoning, I suppose I do see the point. As such, I've finally worked up what gumption I can spare to cobble together a year-end post. If it's not already clear, this post is largely about looking back on the year 2022 and what it's meant for THP as a site and as a community. In no particular order at all, I'd like to give my thoughts on what I felt the highs, lows, and points of mixed blessings were. These obviously entail a high degree of personal bias, so don't feel too affronted if you disagree with my take on things.

Settling on a single thing to call the high of the year is difficult. That's why I'm not even going to try to be discriminating in such honours and simply call out two things that I find particularly great. The first of those two is The Heart of the Fool, a story by Teruyo, our dear admin. The second is the current weekly drawing challenge on /blue/.

It's been a good while since there's been a story that I've wanted to read more of as badly as The Heart of the Fool. The hook is right there at the start: a villager with murky motivations heads underground, to significant risk to life and limb, for reasons he refuses to explain to anyone. Our paradoxically milquetoast yet adventurous villager undertakes the trek down, only to quickly run into an oni — Hoshiguma Yuugi herself! I won't say much more for those who haven't read, but the relationship the two of them develop is something that draws me in; it's not a simple one, no matter how simple the circumstances appear to be. Just looking into the psyche of a Gensokyan human who would willingly go into the underworld, full of man-eating creatures indifferent to his comfort and state of mind, is itself fascinating. And, of course, there's the sudden interjection of a certain disturbed cave elf to complicate matters...

The current trouble is that the vicissitudes of life and the waxing and waning of motivation are troubling the writer. I would like to believe, though, that they can be overcome and we will have more updates in the future. I really want to see how things carry on with Yuugi and Kawanami. I want to know what the hell Parsee's whole thing with him is. I want to find out if Kawanami also likes turtles. Well, I guess that last one might be beside the point. Either way, more of this story would always be amazing.

I should also give Teruyo-contemporary YAF's currently running story, The Rabbit Has Not Landed, an honourable mention here. My enthusiasm for it is a little tempered as its pacing is a bit slow-going, but it's certainly not a bad story. Compared with previous outings, there's a balance struck between storytelling and wordplay that is refreshing to see; I don't mind the flexing of vocabulary and twisting of phrasing and such, but it can get a little tiresome in large doses. Even those who complain of the writer's purple-ness wouldn't have too much room to balk, I think. Of course, if you don't care too much for moon rabbits, well, you'd be out of luck. Then again, I can't say I cared that much about Seiran coming into this story, and now I think she's quite all right.

Written material aside, visual art is something that has been part of the THP community, albeit more irregularly and sparsely than writing. We just don't have that many dedicated/designated drawfriends to begin with, and a number of known ones have either gone inactive or gone away entirely. This has led to something of a drought of original illustrations beyond the odd doodle done by someone as a shitpost; I will certainly not admit to doing one or two myself. One anon wasn't content to leave things in this state, so they took it upon themselves to do what few on THP do: goad others into community activity. They proposed that others join them in making weekly drawings based on a chosen character and set things off by making a very seasonal selection of Aki Shizuha to start.

I'll admit that I was a tad sceptical of the concept at the start, figuring the appearance of needed effort would scare off most. To my surprise, there have been an okay number of regular participants every week. I participate in the goings-on myself, though I can't claim to have done much of worth, especially not compared to most of the others. Still, even though it can be tricky to find the time to draw, much less come up with a composition, it's still just fun to try and represent the many 2hus visually ourselves, as a community. The output needn't be mindblowing. That we can (almost) consistently get four or five people doing that every week is pretty impressive, considering organised activity on THP tends to be hit-or-miss — more on that later. If something like that can work, then I'm pretty sure we can make other things work. My only regret is resorting to somewhat tasteless memery in my own submissions rather than more sincere expressions of 2hu-ness. Something to be worked on, I guess.

Remember when I said there were only two highs? Well, I lied. There were three and I'd be very remiss to not mention it. In case you haven't been paying a lot of attention to the site, THP now has its own Matrix server thanks to Teruyo's tireless toiling. Many probably don't realise how big a move this is for THP as a whole. As a site that tries to support free, libre, and open source software as much as possible, we now have a server all to ourselves that doesn't rely on big monolithic services like Discord. This means we have a lot more freedom in terms of how to moderate activity and other perks like not being restricted to a single Official™ client. There are certain limitations, like the much more functional voice chat being restricted to Element and still in beta, but it's otherwise not that far off from Discord in terms of basic functionality.

I'm quite proud to have got in on the ground floor with the server, helping Teruyo test it along with a couple of select others for a good month before it was made public. I also drew the logo for the Matrix server that adorns the site at the bottom of every page; Summerfield improved it to make it more suitable for actual use. The migration wasn't without its bumps, of course. We had a few issues with registration e-mails and general confusion over what was going on, but I feel like it was all settled pretty quickly. I'd like to hope that in future the Matrix will start to become the focal point of the external community and that we can migrate off of Discord at some point. In the meantime, we have the majority of the channels bridged, along with a few Matrix-exclusive channels that could always use a bit more traffic. The fact that we can be that much more of a self-sufficient community really makes me happy.

Contrasting the highs, the dark to the light as Bob Ross constantly reminded us was necessary, there were more middling-to-low moments, and I would say they were about as numerous as the bright spots. Now, I could be a real sourpuss and have a long whinge about people's lack of drive and engagement in the community and all of the persistent issues that brings, but that's never particularly helpful. Instead, I'd just like to call out a couple of personal failures and some things that I feel could either be learned from or be worked on going forward.

It's hardly a good year when a story only updates a single-digit number of times. Even less so when said story eventually, after months of radio silence, goes into an official hiatus. Unfortunately, that's what happened with A (Lion-)Dog Among Gods this year, certainly against my best intentions. As far as I recall, the last update occurred around March, at which point I continued to struggle through the year.

So, what's the problem? A lot of things. I don't even know if I can fully unpack all the ongoing issues with the story. There were a few times earlier in the year when I spent time talking to people about the story and my very messy thoughts about it at that moment. I fear some may have got the wrong idea and assumed that things I brought up were long-held ideas. They weren't. Most of what I brought up in those discussions was... it's hard to put a label on it, but let's call it 'conjecture' at best. The true fact of the matter is that I went in with no plan — albeit with an asterisk. There were broad brushstrokes laid out at the start. The only difficult there is that there was nothing in particular thought out for the substance of any of it. For instance, I started out with the general idea of an opening story arc, an arc for each Moriya, and an ending arc. What that would possibly entail? No clue.

Now, some who engaged me in conversation might protest at this point about the Kanako arc. Indeed, I did bring up various points about that. Here's the really awful thing about that: I hate every bit of it now. The whole situation that it involved was just dumb, and I honestly don't think I could have lent any literary merit to it. At this point, I want to say it's all trashed. That does leave me in a bit of a bind, of course. Namely, I've fairly well stepped waist deep into the situation to the point that I should reasonably say I'm committed.

What do I intend to do about that? That is the big lingering question. As should be quite clear now, I've left the story on an officially-announced hiatus, and there really is no coming back until that question is answered. There is a big part of me that wants to start over entirely. I'm not happy at all with everything that's been posted thus far. The massive downside of that general idea, of course, is that I have an exceedingly poor track record on do-overs (see: Dacmag). Having no real plan has been the largest part of that, and I would have to figure everything out to a fairly high degree of detail before attempting to start anew. This does raise the further question of whether or not it's even worth keeping the story alive at this point. My gut instinct is to say 'yes'. I would like to tell the story still; I just don't know what the story is and probably didn't know to begin with.

Another point I'm not so proud of, albeit less my responsibility than writing, is the job done on storylist upkeep. There are certainly more entries in the list that have actual tags and descriptions now than when the year began. Taken in proportion, though, the coverage is still fairly lacking. If you scroll down the list, you'll see many cases where only the title and links are there. Ideally, users would be able to get descriptions of the stories and search through them by tags. You can do that for a portion of the overall stories, but that's really not good enough.

I spent a good month or two really going at it, and that was more than had been done in a while, enough to get us to where we are now. Unfortunately, it's obvious that my labour alone isn't going to solve the problem. This is the part where the community could do a lot better. I've put forth my own efforts to draw attention to the work and recruit volunteers to help. The result? Not very many takers. Thus, not much work has been accomplished overall. Really, I'm not sure how aware most are of the storylist to begin with. I've heard disparaging remarks made of it, so presumably it's not unknown to people in the community. I wish those lamenting its incompleteness would pitch in. As with everything else on this site: it won't take care of itself.

What I'd like to see going forward is more people getting involved. I think that really starts with awareness and a willingness to talk about the storylist more. Anyone who hasn't looked at the storylist in a while really ought to do so. Go back and see what stories you're familiar with. Is there a description? Are there tags? Are the tags complete? If not, why not contact Teruyo and get set up as a storylist editor. It's an easy process getting started, and the actual editing is a cinch. The hardest part is coming up with a description, though it should be simpler if you've read the story you're describing. And that's really the key: I can't (read: won't) read everything on the site just to tag it. If you care at all about stories you like being discoverable by others, I'm begging you, please pitch in. Hell, even if you don't do that, it's helpful to discuss stories and bring them to others' attention.

Speaking of discussion, how about that Site Events Discussion Thread? It's certainly had some activity this year. I'll be honest that, when I started the thread, I expected few to no responses to anything posted. The biggest triumph was the Red-Hot Contest, coming up with the theme being a wonder in and of itself, being partly derived from unhelpful shitposting.

Naturally, this being the less-good side of the list, I have some issues. Firstly, the organisation itself was a... scattered effort, let's say. I had hoped in starting the conversation that consenses would be reached and perhaps motivated individuals would take charge. Instead, talks just seemed to sputter out. It became pretty clear that if the event was to happen at all I would have to just take the reins and be its overlord. That part is a particular point of pain because I didn't actually care all that much about the event. However, I felt responsible, having been the one to bring it up in the first place, so I went along anyway.

My second gripe is that the turnout was, whilst better than could be expected these days, still a bit tepid. I'll always applaud those who did bother to put in the effort. In fact, we seemed to get a few relative newcomers this time, which was a pleasant surprise. That said, the voting was very limited, and if I had to guess, most of those voting were probably just the writers of the submissions. Overall, enthusiasm just seemed to be limited. After everything was over, there wasn't much in the way of chatter about the event or the entries, so it feels a bit like there was a pretty collective 'meh' in general. I guess that's to be expected when it was sort of forced as a concept, but that does beg the question of what others would have wanted instead. Until people actually speak up, it will be a mystery, I guess.

Similarly, I was forced to organise Nanowrimo again this year to little applause. That was even more disappointing than the annual contest, if I'm quite honest. Sure, people have difficulties and fall out. That's understandable. It's just... well, again, the enthusiasm seemed lacking. The event just sort of ended without comment. I think this year's thread may have been the quietest yet. I find it hard to believe no one had opinions about things. Yet again, until people speak up, no one will know.

That leads me to a more current matter that has yet to resolve itself. It wasn't that long ago that, owing to the chilly response to the porn category during the Red-Hot Contest, YAF proposed a porn contest. There was a fair amount of talk around it for a while, and then a silence settled over it. And here's my admission now: I tried to step in to help organise once more. However, you'll notice that I backed out. Simply put, I'm done being the designated organiser. It's partly a matter of frustration over what feels like a lack of return on investment and partly one of simply not having it in me anymore. I could be working on things for myself instead of using my limited motivation on things of scant interest to the community. Frankly, I just want someone else to do it for once. I don't know what will happen in this case, but I'm afraid I just don't enough skin in the game to say much now; I won't be participating even if it happens, so what does it really matter what I think?

If I sound like I'm being harsh on the THP community, it's only because I really do care about this site. I want us to be a thriving, lively community that actually takes interest in itself, rather than tepidly prodding away as if largely detached from the whole business. Believe me when I say that, despite my rather sour take on some of these things, I do have hope for us. Every so often, I'll catch a little spark in the interactions between people, and it helps me believe that people will eventually see the value in the DIY-ness of this community. And I really harp on the idea of it being a community rather than just a site for people to dump things on. If that was all we were, there would be little reason to not just disappear into the big corpo social media content aggregation machine. I would, of course, rather shoot myself.

In all sincerity, though, I'm reasonably happy with this year. It had its minuses both personally and less so, but we've also made pretty big strides. We are moving forward no matter what dark moments we have and continue to have. All that really remains is to remember what we've done, acknowledge and learn from the mistakes, and move into 2023 with the intentions of doing even better this time around. Remember: nothing happens on THP without you making it happen. I'll be doing what I can. Join me if you can. I'd really appreciate it.

Happy New Year, THP.