Winging It On the Web

I don’t like not knowing how to do things. You could say I’m a control freak, especially when it comes to creative endeavors. 

So, after saying good riddance to my dissertation in May – becoming a bonafide PhD – I switched gears completely and threw myself into learning HTML/CSS and the basics of CMSs. 

Some backstory: A fellow doctoral student and I are in the process of forming a literature-related online community, a combination webpage/Youtube page. We want complete control over how it looks – logos, navigation, overall look. I can’t do that on a standard WordPress.com site, so we considered upgrading or starting somewhere else, ending up on Bluehost using the Modx web building program. 

I went with Modx mainly because I can build a dynamic site using its system of chunks, snippets, and templates without knowing PHP. Overall, the design process has gone pretty well. I created a (basically) functional site (main pages and blog) from scratch, and I think that’s pretty good for only having two and a half months of training. I even have a version of this site hosted there, completely redesigned. It’s just not done yet. 

Here’s my problem. Although a quick learner, I have some pretty big knowledge gaps. I don’t know PHP or Javascript, which is problematic even on Modx, which relies on these behind the scenes.

I also learn on the fly, teaching myself stuff as I go along, which can be frustrating. Modx doesn’t have nearly the tech support/community as WordPress. Its forums have been great, but I haven’t been able to find as many online tutorials and Youtube videos showing how to use various elements and addons. 

And sometimes I just get stuck.

Like right now, where, on my revamped personal site, I’m trying to figure out the getPage program used for creating page navigation within the site. It’s just NOT WORKING. I’ve triple checked the calls and code – it should work, but it’s not, and I’ve spent all morning trying to fix it. 

I could (and probably will) post my issue to the Modx community forums, and someone will help me figure out the holdup, but I’m stubborn and I hate asking for help. I’m also self conscious about my lack of computer know-how. Posting makes me feel like an idiot, even though I know I’m not and no one’s ever treated me like one. 

Ultimately, what I’m realizing is that hosting my sites elsewhere – and making them functional/presentable – might take more time than I’ve got. Teaching takes up the bulk of my child-free hours during the day, and I’ve been spending all my nights/weekends ironing out web design problems rather than actually promoting and fleshing out my sites. I’ve put off getting the lit site up and running because I want to do it right.  

Even worse, in the 2-3 months I’ve been learning this stuff, I haven’t written anything of my own. That’s a monumental problem. 

I don’t want to say I’m giving up on learning the skills to build and run a professional site, but I am frustrated and impatient. Do I give up a good bit of creative control (and the sense of accomplishment on learning something new) in order to move forward more quickly with my project? 

I know I’m going to have to fill in those knowledge gaps I mentioned. I’m considering sitting in on classes offered where I teach. Indeed, we want our organization to be affiliated with my college, so there’s the potential of partnering with tech/design students who can help us run the site. 

But I’m a control freak, so that just doesn’t sit well with me. 

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