Zach's PEN #52: A Full Year

2021 Week 29: Another successful experiment, light meters, and mechanical keyboards

Dear PENpals,

I'm proud to say that I've now sent out this personal email newsletter every single weekend for an entire year. Going forward, I will be stopping the weekly cadence, maybe as a break or maybe permanently. But I'll still send it when the spirit (or something else) moves me.

This experiment has been a wild success. The past year has been a true awakening for me. As small and casual as it is, this personal email newsletter is probably the most important step I've taken in my creative life.

As I've discussed previously, I got to a place with writing/filmmaking/photography/product-design/all-my-interests where I just wasn't enjoying them anymore. They had all become something I should be doing, and the shouldness came to overpower any real desire I had. When you spend so much time telling yourself what you should want, it can be hard to tell what you actually want.

I sought courses/advice/coaching/reading/therapy about what to do. Should I just give up on creative dreams? Was I actually just influenced by a culture that says I should be great at something hard? Do I just have the basic-as-hell American obsession with fame and fortune? Did I put myself on this path at 15 years old and never stop to question it? There were a lot of questions.

When I talked to people about it, they would notice these huge shifts in my energy when I'd start talking about something that excited me. I'd instantly break out of this inwardly-focused dissatisfaction/strained tenseness and go on rants about the things I wanted to make and the stories I wanted to tell, and they'd say "Hmmm... seems like you do care about that stuff."

To a person, pretty much every author and teacher and person I spoke with had the same advice: "Just make something, anything, the smallest thing, and share it."

That was the one thing I'd never done. I'd never just made/written some small little thing of no consequence at all and shared it. For no reason. Just to do it. That's what this personal email newsletter is. And I did it. And it helped. A lot.

Thanks for hanging with me this year. Thanks for the replies, the encouragement, and just for playing along with this thing that has helped me so much.


This coming week I go on a silent retreat for the first time since right before COVID, and it's a very important moment as I'm taking my Refuge Vow. I'm not expert enough to make a comparison, but you might think of it a little bit like getting confirmed as a Catholic. This is my decision after directly experiencing a lot in the past many years of practicing meditation with instruction from lamas and teachers in the Tibetan tradition.

I'm going to do the deal. I've come a long way from the very anti-religious views I used to have.

Light Meters

I got asked by my friends at Negative Supply to do the voiceover for their new light meter. The project has already raised $167,000 (well over their $50,000 goal). It's, without a doubt, the greatest light meter ever created, and I'm super honored they wanted my voice on the video.

Mechanical Keyboards

I did my first full build of a keyboard. Check out these nostalgic 90s-Mac-inspired keycaps.

It sounds even better than it looks. It's delicious. And yes, that's the layout I use. So if you ever wonder what I mean by "Dvorak layout," that's it, with the vowels on the lefthand home row and the most common consonants on the righthand home row. As they obviously should be.


In Allison's religious tradition, Wendell will be baptized tomorrow. The church became skittish with all the new COVID news and we sadly had to cancel the in-person event again (ugh, when will this shit end?).

It'll just be us and my cousins (Wendell's godparents) Anthony and Jillian in the church.

Here are the kiddos playing with some other keyboards.

You'll hear from me soon, PENpals,