Sometimes when you're in a hole, it can seem as if the effort required to climb out of it is just more than you'll ever be able to manage, as though the task is just too hard, with too little reward at the end, and all you want to do is to give up and rest. I found myself in such a hole at the start of 2007.
Put simply, I was completely burned-out. I had been working on Pegasus Mail for 18 years, Mercury for 14, and my fortunes were in head-long decline. Money was in short supply, collections of old source code needed huge amounts of updating, and I had simply answered too much mail.
I probably need to explain what I mean by "answered too much mail". From the earliest days of Pegasus Mail (1989 was when it sent its first ever message), I've always kept an open mailbox: unlike the lead developers at large corporate software firms, I don't have a carefully-guarded e-mail address - the same address that people could use to mail me in 1994 (the only time I've ever updated it) can still be used today, and I make no attempt to hide it. The price of this has been a veritable deluge of mail over the years, with everything that accompanies that - there has been praise, there has been hate, I've made friends and occasionally lost them, but above all, there have been bug reports.
Now, for a software developer, bug reports are like accusations of failure: when you're as involved in your work as I am, each report is sharp and painful like a paper cut - it's very hard to pull back emotionally and see them as the positive things they actually are (because they allow you to make your work better). Each one knocks you back a little, and after 17 years of dealing with them, I had reached a point where I was almost phobic about them. At the start of 2007, I was in a mental and emotional place where I actually *dreaded* opening my new mail folder. For someone who has always regarded communication as being the gift I most wanted to give people, this was an ironic and unnatural position to be in.
January 2007, then, was when I faced a kind of "mini crisis" in my life - not quite a breakdown, but it was a very, very unhappy time. Somehow, though, with help from my friends, my very dedicated beta test teams and from a hardcore group of committed users in the Pegasus Mail and Mercury communities, I clawed my way out of the pit. But to do so, I had to make some changes, and to accept that there were things I just couldn't do any more: in particular, I simply couldn't handle the same volume of mail that I had up until then.
So this, then, is my apology if you have found me unresponsive in the last few years. I am deeply conscious that I do not communicate with my community as well as I either should, or would wish to. Cutting down the amount of mail I handle has been an essential part of the process of easing myself back into a working state, but however unavoidable it might have been, it's still an adjustment I don't like. Increasingly, I am relying on my beta test team and supporters to ensure that things I really need to know get escalated to me through channels I can sustain. That's one reason why this community site is such a god-send for me - even if I don't participate here as much as I might wish to, people I trust implicitly *are* participating all the time, and they regularly refer issues to me, thereby reducing my communication burden, for which I am enormously grateful.
Five years on, and the start of 2007 now seems mercifully distant. After a long period of time where I didn't, I am now actually enjoying doing the work again. The dismal process of updating and modernizing old, clunky code is now mostly done, and new, more interesting projects give me something to look forward to each day. No matter how quiet I may seem to be, rest assured that I am anything but idle: good things are happening in Dunedin - indeed, it's hard for me to tell you how frustrating it is that the time required to bring them to completion seems so great. I guess this is just the inevitable evolution of software: user expectations are now so much higher than they were ten years ago, and the environments richer, more complex and more difficult: doing even very small, seemingly simple tasks can now take a depressingly long time. I am, however, very excited by the things I'm producing at present, and can't wait until they're ready for me to be able to show them to you.
The only real problem I haven't resolved from the dark days of 2007 is that of funding. Initiatives like the Pegasus Mail Thousand have basically failed because of my personality - I simply don't like asking for help, because I don't like the idea of being a nag or a nuisance, and because a core part of the New Zealand psyche is the idea of not being pushy, not promoting yourself. I am, in a sense, my own worst enemy.
I've never been very good at the whole "let's make money out of this" aspect of software - it's not the primary reason I do any of this: my clear preference would be not to have to ask for anything - to make Pegasus Mail and Mercury into the pure gifts I would like them to be. But I have to eat, as well, and that's getting harder and harder. In spite of my own inertia and poor fund-raising skills, though, there are still quite a few people who, even without prompting or reminders, still send donations for Pegasus Mail: I see every donation, and the morale boost they provide is as valuable as the money they provide: my heart-felt thanks go out to you all. I still live in the quaint, naive hope that some day a corporation or foundation might offer some kind of sponsorship - after all, the amounts required are actually pretty tiny - but I guess this is fantasy in 2012. I'm clearly going to have to do something, but at this stage, I don't know what it is.
So, there it is, straight from the heart. I live for the day when I can again offer something exciting and of real value to my community - after all, they're - no, "you're" the number one reason I keep doing this.
All my very best to you,
-- David --
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