Reprieve: Alaska

Thursday | I had planned to post more about May prior to this, cook_inletbut it’ll have to wait until I get back to Denver. I did want to carve out some time to write while I’m back up here in the North, though I selfishly thought I’d have a bit more time to relax, and that has not been the case. I’m not very good at relaxing anyway, so I suppose I’ll live. I had originally planned to be up here for two weeks, and cut it down to one, so it’s my own fault in the end. Alas, here I am, sitting on a floor cushion pecking away on my opium table, my favorite spot in my favorite spot.

I got choked up flying into Anchorage at 1:45am, right in time for the very brief dip below the horizon the sun makes in the summer before it comes up again. I think continuously of Robert Service’s “Spell of the Yukon”, one of my favorite poems, and one I will never forget:

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
   It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
   To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
   Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
   For no land on earth—and I’m one.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel being back here, and I still don’t know. I do know it feels like it was yesterday that I packed my shit and left. I went to my old ANC house and slept on a mattress for a few hours, got up, grabbed a breakfast burrito and some coffee and then some supplies and drove down to Girdwood. virgin_creekLeaving Alaska was bittersweet, being back here is like visiting your childhood hometown, the things you hate and things you love surfacing interchangeably. I feel more like that here than I do returning to the Catskills, which have changed so dramatically since I grew up there. The po-dunk mountain town I grew up in is basically a satellite colony of Manhattan and New Jersey now; Alaska will probably always be the same as I left it. AK is just too far for the hordes of city-dwellers from New York and California that have colonized Montana and Colorado and the other mountain towns of North America, and for that I am grateful. I think often of John McPhee’s Coming Into The Country, probably the most renowned read on Alaska history, and I think about all the people up here I’ve met over the years who talk about how different things are now. And they are, but subtly: change materializes slowly up here, excepting the weather.

I don’t want to romanticize too much: the first morning here, some cracked out girl wearing only a bra and leaning on her friend to walk keeled over in the spaghetti aisle, and I forgot the skin-crawlingly creepy looks you get from many men as a woman in this town; Anchorage is still a shit hole, and a dangerous one at that, but I miss Alaska all the same.

After 6 months in Denver, I’m still doubtful I’ll love anywhere as much as I’ve loved living at these latitudes, nor do I have any intention of staying in Colorado; I don’t like the culture and Coloradans don’t seem very authentic to me. The city is also wildly overpriced and the whole state is too freakin’ brown. I’ve been mulling over what’s next and I’m increasingly leaning toward the eastern seaboard, where there is actual lush greenery and the ocean is not so far. I wonder if I’m done with the West, and I’m not totally sure, but Denver is about as much “my thing” as I expected it to be: not very. Ultimately it’s not about Denver: I am just not interested in living in a city. I’ve done it before and I may have to do it again, but it’s not the way I want to live my life at all. That said, as long as I hold onto my little house up here, I think I’ll feel OK doing whatever, but the 9-to-5 corporate life is not one I wish to hold onto.

Unfortunately this is the second year I’ve returned to this condo to find it in relative squalor. I say relative because it could be, and has been, left in worse condition, but I made a mistake last year by issuing a warning instead of charging a fee for my trouble. While I’m tempted to align my experiences with the well-researched fact that conservatives are higher in conscientiousness, I’ll just say I don’t know what the hell is wrong with people these days or why anyone would have so little respect for someone else’s home, but it’s pretty depressing to come back to my house and see the state it’s left in. When I shared my disappointment with the owner of the company I lease this place to for the winter (and told him I’d be sending him a bill), he was super apologetic and shared that he feels self-centeredness is a hallmark of this generation. I’m inclined to agree. It doesn’t help that my house resides in a town of hippies and trustafarians who believe homeowners should “return their property to the commons” (direct and LOL-worthy quote).

Sadly most of the places I’ve loved throughout my life are being overrun with this hipster mentality: the Catskills and Adirondacks, especially… Asheville, Bozeman, Sedona, Santa Fe… and cities I don’t even much like: Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver. Pittsburgh and Savannah will probably follow in time.

I bought this place in 2013 and I doubt I’ll let it go anytime soon, 1654905724575despite the fact it’s appreciated in value by over $100,000. This little home is pretty special to me and I’ve renovated it piece by piece over the years from the wood paneling, laminate counters and cream-colored carpets it had when I bought it. It is now one of the nicest, most updated (and energy efficient) units in my complex. There are still things I want/need to do in the coming years: replace the washer/dryer, get rid of the dated textured walls and repaint, fix some of the trim… but every year I upgrade a few things to maintain its value.

I, like anyone in a similar position, have heard many times about how “lucky” I am, which is insulting and dismissive of all the damn work I put into my side hustles and sacrificing in the short term for longer term gains. I finally felt taken advantage of enough this trip to charge a hefty fee for my trouble, and it sounds like a pilot or other typically-anal-retentive person will be placed in here for the next lease term, and I like the sound of that. I have had more than enough of irresponsible, self-centered millennials living in my house splashing wine all over my shit.

In any case, it’s Thursday and I leave late tomorrow night. alyeskaLast night I ventured up to the high-end restaurant atop the mountain with a close friend; when I worked in this town, our resort at least had a cool culture, but almost all of the high quality people have moved on, and there is a void where there used to be a passionate, fun-loving, hard-working culture. I was the first of us to leave in 2014; there now remains one of the 8-10 person exec-level dream team.

I have one more day of errands and tomorrow to tie up any loose ends and head out. Delta’s schedule changes foiled my plans to meet up with my dog/house sitter and swap keys in the beginning of this trip, so we had to adjust accordingly, but I’ll end up leaving having accomplished everything I needed to, including a dentist appointment (and another one tomorrow), training my housekeeper, one of two massages I pre-copaid for last year and fixing a few things at the Anchorage house. I dragged a Caucasian rug up here and am lugging a larger, more expensive one back to Denver, and I’m feeling very organized.

I’m tempted to come back up here over the summer or early fall, but I found $850 RT tickets to Amman yesterday and plan to nail that trip down when I get back. If that is the case, despite all the change and hardship, I’ll have hit Georgia (and Abkhazia), Czech Republic, Jordan & Lebanon in a year of low travel… not half bad all things considered (this excludes Vegas, Alaska, Dallas, Myrtle Beach and back to the Northeast for my cousin’s wedding in the fall).

Sunday | After a full blown panic attack to wrap up my trip on Friday night and two trips to Anchorage in one day to fix a chipped tooth, feeling like I had nowhere the amount of time I wanted to say goodbye for what is in all likelihood an entire year, I returned to Denver. For a few seconds at the Japanese restaurant, where I ordered and then felt too nauseous with anxiety to eat, I thought about what the repercussions would be if I just bailed out on my flight. The feeling of being trapped was pretty overwhelming. I also left a bag of salad mix and forgot to put out a hand towel in the bathroom before I left, which in my psychotic brain negated all the work I had done to prepare for the first guest’s arrival. I don’t visibly crack very often, and usually juggle a ton of shit with no complaints, but I was beginning to come unglued on Friday night. I carry a few tabs of Clonazepam with me wherever I go, and that was a rare night I dipped into my stash.

My dog sitter friend’s flight back to Anchorage was canceled Saturday evening and she ended up staying an extra night; I slept most of yesterday, and only woke up to build my P&L for rental season, update my Airbnb listing and create invoices for my winter tenant, including a $500 cleaning bill, which probably should have been more. My big-ticket maintenance jobs are fresh in my mind and I’ve already started scheduling for next spring/summer. She had a great time here and may come back and stay if I end up going to Jordan in September, so that rules.

I am a control freak (shocker) and am not in love with the idea of managing this vacation rental from afar, but I am also curious enough to try. This will probably be my last short-term rental season for awhile, as the winter leasee wants it full time year round moving forward. It was pretty hard to rush out of there and say goodbye to the place once it was finally clean, but I accomplished a lot in a very short period of time. All the items I had swapped between houses and made it back here safely, I am fully unpacked and I suppose I have no choice but to go back to work tomorrow.

The rest of this month is going to be pretty hectic, but I have quite a few bonus days off work. I’m a little sad to be back here, but I wouldn’t have been much happier up there slaloming through tour buses on the highway for the next few months. On the other hand, I am eternally grateful to have two beautiful homes (Denver is a rental, but inside it’s very “me”). On that note, the end.

Bloom

I rolled back into Denver at 4:30pm yesterday after driving nearly 1,800 miles in 2 days. My father has told me in the past to not drive more than 600 miles in a day: it’s “too much.” The internet tells me it’s “not safe” to drive over 500 miles/8 hours in a day. fujiThe route from Myrtle Beach to Denver is 1,745 miles, and it would’ve been feasible to clock 1000 instead of 900, but 1000 is probably my limit. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. I realized on the way home I think I like these trips because (a) I love to plan, and the logistics of travel can be challenging, and (b) I am extremely goal oriented. Long drives require discipline and grit. 900+ miles in a day requires determination. I have all of those things, and I love to suffer to test my own endurance. I’d go so far as to say that’s why I’m here, in my life, in Colorado, in good health, why I haven’t crawled into a hole with booze or pills or God knows what else. Determination is also helpful in avoiding the descent into a homicidal rampage at the ineptitude of other drivers, who clearly have not heard of cruise control, and love to chill in the left lane driving under the speed limit.

The drive out, at least day one, was grim. I hate, hate, hate driving through farmland. Research indicates that humans experience a primitive appreciation for rolling hills: long a symbol of prosperity and sustenance. Me, I fucking can’t stand endless cows, I hate farmland, and driving through the pastures, wheat fields and cornfields of Kansas and Nebraska makes me want to slit my wrists. The smell of the big cattle and pig farms is overwhelming. There is no worse place to drive through than the “heartland”, although I lol’d a few times at the enormous Jesusy billboards (“Shackled to lust? Jesus saves”). You had better believe that enough years looking at fields of absolutely nothing, you’re going to need Jesus in your life. You’re going to need SOMETHING. The second day, through endless interchanges, weaving through traffic as I approached the East Coast, was better. I’d take hours of traffic and 6-lane highways over Kansas any day. It’s particularly amazing, the extent to which the pandemic has pushed people into previously pretty rural places: Tennessee. Missouri. The Great Smoky Mountains area, which used to be very sleepy and beautiful, is now just inundated with people. Goddamn city people.

Driving is also good reflection time for me, but it sucks when you’re a perfectionist and ruminate over how much you aren’t up to your own impossible standards: fresh off the annual convention in Vegas, I spent most of the day beating myself up for being so different from everyone else, for being so overwhelmed by 3,000 hotel partners and probably 1,000 employees and struggling to stay present in so many iterations of pleasantries and small talk. After three gin & sodas one night, I told my boss I don’t plan to stay in this job for any longer than it takes me to master it. While this seems like a stupid thing to tell your supervisor, my company is pretty devoted to helping people who have put in their time find somewhere better suited to their strengths. It will take time; I am in no rush and I need to feel confident I’m good at every aspect of this job before I leave. I explained this to him. Having descended from Carpathian coal miners, I wonder when things changed in the world – when it became a right to have a job you like. In any case, I refuse to move on until I feel content in my own performance. Again, determination, and a love for suffering. My entire focus in my life has been range, and I shared the famous Heinlein quote with my team when I first started:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

I have no desire to be exemplary at any one thing; I am interested in improving in many areas of my life where I lack natural talent and/or ability. That single desire has remained a theme throughout my entire adult life. I continuously jump head-first into things I know I will have to struggle to learn and ultimately master, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s no better feeling than realizing you’ve become good at something you sucked at, or knew nothing about, and that extends to everything. People live their entire lives in the comfort of what they know, what they can excel at easily, I have never been able to live that way. It gives me nothing.

On paper I’d call this trip a wash – mbI only took Friday off after failing to swim M-Thu (riptides, rain and other trash weather disrupted my plans), and Friday was windy and cloudy, but I did end up in the ocean, thankfully. I had the mornings to myself (in EST, working on MST), and I loved chilling on the balcony reading: I finished four books (more on that in my next post), and got enough down-time to sustain me for awhile. I went out there to swim as much as possible, as whatever micro-creepy crawlies the ocean has to offer do wonders for my skin, but I loved my time down there anyway and I’m grateful to have access to a beachfront condo to visit any time I please. One of the two happiest moments of my life was as a young kid, lying awake on a twin bed in my grandparents’ house on Long Beach Island while my sister slept in the bed next to me, smelling the bay breeze waft in through the windows and thinking to myself, “let me hold onto this.” Even as a kid I knew life was fleeting, years pass in an instant. Every time I’ve eaten an oyster in its salty water or walked out onto a dock in Alaska I’ve remembered those nights, gratefully awake, the smell of the sea.

My other happiest memory was pulling out of the driveway of my parents’ house to leave for Alaska, and for these reasons I wonder often if the best years, and best moments, are behind me. I wonder if my hopes and dreams have already actualized, and I wonder what’s left that will fulfill me. Conversely, it’s all I’ve experienced in my life that allows me the freedom to be happy to bite the dust at any time, with no regrets. I’ve chased a lot of dreams and done what I’ve loved. I’ve sacrificed a lot: life is full of trade-offs. But in giving up Alaska and returning to the lower 48, I feel loved and am gradually feeling content in my life despite the mediocrity of the city life and my job. I’m honored to have collected such wonderful people. I can’t say that enough.

After driving BACK through goddamn Kansas, I was even overjoyed to get home, to my beautiful little home, and neighborhood full of huge trees that popped while I was away, and where all the sidewalks were sunny when I left, there are now tunnels of shade, and canopies of leaves I have not lived around in many years. fuji2I think I am fully out of whatever dark place I was trapped in for months, if not longer, feeling hopeless and empty and devoid of any direction, any value, any purpose. I took that trip to remind myself of who I was before the pandemic: a road warrior, a lone wolf, someone who just wanted to be out and immersed in the world, someone who rarely stopped moving, who wanted to see and experience everything. I have unbelievable appreciation for this country, for the different landscapes and people and histories of the different regions, and I have always been so fascinated by how other people live. One of the top pros of moving back down here was to be able to drive anywhere again, and I’m happy I prioritized that for myself: it’s still a huge part of who I am. I’m even grateful, seeing so many cars with blown out tires or broken down on the side of the road, to have a reliable vehicle, and a furry little derp to come along for the ride, and the funds to afford to take such a trip.

It’s taken many months to shake off the stress and sadness of the last two years. I worked really hard to do whatever I could to limit anxiety, afraid to trigger an existing or new autoimmune flare, or spend months shaking, insomniac, heart palpitating. I finally went in for a physical today in order to get a new primary care physician on the books here: I picked a guy with a Slavic last name (I thought he was Ukrainian, but he’s Polish, though I suspect he’s from Galicia by the spelling of his name); these people don’t sugarcoat shit or waste time with pleasantries, and in attempting to find some explanation for my heat syncope and my weird but rare hypoglycemic reactions, I was told I was simply dealt a bad hand, and to stop searching for answers and live my life. I have a drunk immune system, and it is what it is, so if something doesn’t work, or makes me sick, stop doing it. The end.

He’s not wrong; I wish I could amass a bit more information to further help myself live as healthily as possible (and continue my familial tradition of living past 90). He then referred me to an immunologist, I then asked him to reconcile telling me that doctors don’t understand autoimmunity with the recommendation to see a specialist, and he told me more insight is better than less, so fair enough. I appreciate his honesty, and I think I’m doing well given my losing the genetic lottery in my family and sprouting more autoimmune issues as I go through life. All to say, it’s easy to look at someone and say they’re lucky: I’ve busted my ass for every day I wake up feeling good. I work hard to compensate for extra annoying hurdles, and I’m doing quite well all said and done.

Life has checked me these past few years: self-care is a thing. Boundaries are a thing. PTO is a thing. Gratitude is a thing, but that has come more naturally to me than to others. It’s amazing the damage people can do to one another, toxicity can crush someone emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically, and I’ve learned some hard lessons over the past few years of my life. I wonder if the stubborn determination that has propelled me through life will ever be noteworthy to anyone but me, if anyone will ever scratch the surface of understanding what I have put myself through to be the person I am, but I at least think I am back in a place where I feel good about myself, where I am, my value in relation to myself and others, and all it took was months/years of struggle, moving across the country, crushing despair and hopelessness, and a 3500 mile drive. It took kindness and love from countless friends I’m grateful to have held onto throughout my many years in the hinterland, my sparse visits, e-mails, Zoom calls, all bringing me to this place and time where despite it all, the pandemic, the tragedy, the misfortune, the flakiness of people, I still can put my paltry struggles in a box and appreciate the world around me and the people who have traveled with me in time, and are still here.

The end.

April Showers

April has flown by. Time is moving much more quickly these days; my weekends have been spent primarily with visitors, events and local adventures, and I seem to careen pretty rapidly through the workweek now that I have my schedule nailed down. There’s a beautiful lake up the street from my house and I’ve loved walking the dog around it in the evenings, spotting so many birds I haven’t seen in years. lakeThe nicest things about moving back down here have been the small pleasures: how comfortable the weather is, the herons and cormorants, the constant sunshine, even the wind. I still would put sitting outside in the sun with a book and slamming cocktails as among my top 5 favorite things to do; my house is comfortable, my neighborhood is quiet, Fuji is happy. My gym routine is working out well for me, and I’ve got 4lbs more to shave off before I hit my target range. I still feel pangs of… something, when I think about what I left to be here, and what those things meant to me over a decade of my life. Alas, it could all be a lot shittier here, and it’s not. I spent $100 on a set of baller wind chimes that I can hear from inside and you’d think it’d take a lot more to make someone happy in the moment. Not so.

fujiIt seems that it was a long time ago I was thinking about driving to South Carolina, and flying back up to AK, and those trips are coming up fast. I still feel a deep sense of ‘what’s next?’ in my life, but it’s slowly dissipating as I ramp up socially and make more plans. I moved here, more than anything else, to be closer to people, to see familiar faces more often, to have more people to talk to, and I have in 4 months managed to turn that into a pretty excellent reality. Maybe it’s OK to not know what the future holds. Maybe things just need to not be lonely and depressing af first. Everything was so epically beautiful where I was (this is not ‘the grass is always greener’ rationale, because a lot of things sucked up there) – but in returning to the lower 48, I’ve become a willing participant in a kind of lifestyle I hate: 9-5, commute to the office, etc. This is not my long-term plan. I do not want this kind of life with any kind of permanence. I am making the best of it, for now.

I met up with a former boss earlier in the month and once again cried in public (this dude has a special talent for making me weepy in absolutely inconvenient situations), but he ended up sending me a book called Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents that gave some more concise explanation to this prevailing feeling that I am always alone, and I have no one to blame but myself. It’s a special kind of frustration to realize that despite many years of therapy you’re still fucked up, but somehow reading that book allowed me to add some context and to address some phantom threads of some of my core feelings and how I (often fail to) relate to the world around me. I’ve channeled some effort into building more training modules for work, specifically around curiosity and assertiveness and what they’re worth in terms of character traits, so I still don’t love my job, but I don’t hate it as much as I did in the beginning. I still sometimes feel like I am required to insert myself into a clique, which has pushed me more than once to start looking for other opportunities. I’m hard-wired to struggle through things and I committed to a year in this role, so I shan’t be giving up for now. I’ve received pretty glowing reviews from above and below, but if you asked me if I truly enjoyed this role, my answer would be mostly no.

Today and tomorrow are the calm before the storm this week, and early Wednesday I fly to Vegas for 37 hours for our annual convention. I have done my best to avoid attending over the years as it’s all just way too much for me in terms of fervent partying and drinking and the militant networking makes me cringe, but I decided to suck it up and go this year, though I will sneak out after my “look pretty and talk to people” responsibilities are over to hit a dive bar with a friend, preferably far away from my coworkers. I am departing a bit earlier than others to get back here, swap my luggage, throw the dog in the car and drive to Myrtle Beach via Kansas City & Nashville. This drive will suck in terms of scenery: driving through Kansas especially is the absolute worst (tied for #1 most visually boring US state with Nebraska), endless flat blandness, but I’m stocked up on podcasts and audiobooks and driving has always been a sort of meditation time for me, so I think it will do me good. The stairmill, planes and long drives are periods I deconstruct my life and process large swathes of information, so I think this is long overdue.

I am sure it will be bizarre to be crossing state lines; I’ve wondered many times how living in AK imprinted so heavily onto my life that everything afterwards has felt so unreal, but I think a lot of it is that I never thought I’d leave and I still feel some skepticism about being back down here. I told my mother a few weeks ago that while most people spend their 20s-30s finding a partner and settling down and I spent mine hurtling around in small planes, driving every dirt road in Alaska and vacationing in the Eastern Bloc, I’ve arrived in my late 30s as a single person with a particular richness of experience that sometimes makes it difficult for me to garner as much deep understanding/connection from others. This will be a lifelong challenge, and it will only grow as I become a weirder and weirder individual. I don’t feel better than anyone, but I do feel very different in many ways and the further you deviate from the mean, the harder it is to find multiple points of common ground.

I have, however, surprised myself once again in my ability to collect/attract good people.FB_IMG_1651417969249 I showed up here barely knowing anyone, and I’m charmed by how many solid people I’ve already collected, not to mention the many people who have already stopped in to spend time. My former roommate’s coworker relocated to Denver as well, shortly after I did, and we’ve been spending Sundays drinking Bloody Marys in my yard and I’m grateful one of my favorite people managed to gift me another quality friend.  I hosted a small-ish house party on Saturday to get to know some of the local metalheads, I’ve had a number of work and personal-life visitors, including my sister and her husband, and a close friend from the Catskills. Juan came in for the Amorphis show, a long-time friend from Albany is flying out for our other friend’s band’s show over Memorial Day weekend. There are many great bands coming through, and I love that aspect of being back down here.

sarah_mikeMy social life overall is pretty full… I cannot complain. I even have really enjoyed getting closer to the Ukrainian on my team, and we are navigating the fine line between professional and personal relationships. Before I know it, it’ll be July, I’ll be packing for Europe, and maybe… just maybe… this whole depressing pandemic ordeal is mostly over, and I’ve emerged from this pretty dark, fucked up period of my life. I even caught up on WhatsApp with some people we met last time we were in Georgia and we’ll be meeting up for drinks in Tbilisi. For a pretty introverted, private person, I somehow manage to connect deeply with certain people and keep them around for years. I don’t know why people go out of their way for me, or remember me, or put in the work, but I am always grateful and feel a lot of love in the social sphere after all this time. So thank you all.

I’ve forgotten how to pack multiple bags at once and string complex itineraries together, so I’m crossing my fingers for the muscle memory to return. It’s inconceivable to me that, before the pandemic, that was my lifestyle, and everything just stopped for a long time. baroloI’m signing over my condo to the heli-ski company full-time as of October, so this may be the first and last summer of remote coordinating vacation rentals. Depending on how my June trip shakes out, I may go back up there again before the end of the summer… we’ll see. I’m torn; I want to go to Jordan, I’d also really like to make an appearance in Sarajevo as it’s been a hot minute, so we’ll see. I’ve had some epic food adventures here in town over the months, and many more places to hit up, but all in good time.

I wrapped up two work books this past month for training/presentations: Never Split the Difference, which was awesome, and Cracking the Curiosity Code, which was also OK (the latter was more of a refresher, it’s very hard to turn this stuff into teachable content, so I have to spend long periods of time how to distill applicable pieces to convey to large groups.

I also finished re-reading (listening to, rather) The Gulag Archipelago: Vol I, which I’ve been chipping away at for a long time; I first read it when I was in high school. I can’t stand the audiobook reader’s voice, which is unfortunate as he also did Vol II and III. Gulag Archipelago is so twisted that it actually makes me laugh (I think I owe this to Solzhenitsyn’s dark sense of humor and sarcasm). This should really be required reading in high schools; I believe it is in some countries, sadly not the US. These books have helped me so many ways, they’ve added so much context and a sense of fortitude, they’ve helped me put my own bullshit in perspective. I remember reading Kolyma Tales as a kid and being amazed at just how tough humans can be, what they can survive.

I also finally read Vasily Grossman’s Forever Flowing, and I’m taking my hard copy of Life and Fate to Myrtle (what better place to read Soviet / WWII history than on a sunny beach?) Forever Flowing is incredible, another must-read, so fucking grim and depressing. There are some really beautiful passages I won’t soon forget:

He went through the Hermitage–to find that it left him cold and indifferent.  It was unbearable to think that those paintings had remained as beautiful as ever during the years in camp which has transformed him into a prematurely old man.  Why hadn’t the faces of the madonnas grown old too, and why hadn’t their eyes been blinded with tears?  Was not their immortality their failure rather than their strength?  Did not their changelessness reveal a betrayal by art of the humanity which had created it?

On that note, I’ll wrap this up. We are already into another month: Picketty’s new book is on my list, plus Douglas Murray’s War on the West (his interview on Rogan was excellent). I’m still not reading as much as I’d like, but I’m getting there.

Life at 5279′

It’s been a strange but productive month here. While it’s a daily struggle to not be consumed by Russia’s savagery, I am gradually acclimating to my new life. General excitement to be here is not a byproduct of this acclimation, and I won’t lie and say I love this job, but I certainly don’t hate my core responsibilities, and my team is slayin’ it. I believe in the long run, what will keep me here for however long I remain will be loyalty and devotion to my team, and it will have to offset the many, many frustrations in the leadership space. At this juncture, the return of my actual supervisor in two weeks will either help me or nothing will change, and I will start surveying the market at the end of the year/beginning of 2023.

I do believe this transition has cemented the idea that people can only lean into discomfort to a certain degree before the frustrations outweigh the gains; ultimately I am a person who wants to fix things and drive efficiency, and based on what I’ve seen thus far, I do not think I am a good fit for the org I am presently in, as there is far too much duplication and unnecessary busy-work. People want to own projects and rubber-stamp initiatives even if they make no sense, and I think this desire in other leaders will remain an uphill battle for me. It’s unfortunate, as I love my team and their ambition and hunger to learn and succeed are highly enjoyable for me, but I sometimes feel an undercurrent of tension in my peer group. I have found a sense of reward in helping people grow and “round out.”

I’m definitely not the world’s most agreeable person, and one of my primary strengths is this: it’s fairly easy for me to see whether an idea is going to work or not, and as a result one of my informal responsibilities is to address processes that do not work, to find more efficient ways to do things, to push back on things we do that we just do because we’ve always done them that way; that’s fine until you realize you’re trampling on someone else’s idea, and pushing back in general doesn’t make you many friends in the long run. So I’m in a weird place. While I don’t care on a personal level whether people like me, I do need general cooperation and goodwill to get things done, and I wish I didn’t feel like I was caught between doing my job and trying to smooth out the tension that sometimes creates. I’ve never been married to my ideas: I have far more curiosity than sense of ego, which is somewhat atypical. I believed up to this point that it was a function of maturity, but it doesn’t seem that is the case. So coming in as a new person shaking up a bunch of shit doesn’t exactly make me everyone’s favorite.

I spent a long time this past weekend on the phone with a long-time mentor of mine who works at Google. He is East German (thus very rational and level-headed), and has a pretty good understanding of me after all these years: the advice I received is that it’s on me to bend to the group, as cognitive flexibility is based in brain chemistry, not personality, and if I want things to be better I’ll have to use my overabundance of that particular trait. I’m torn; I have spent many years leaning into what I suck at in order to improve, but I will reach a point in the not-so-distant future where I no longer want to sacrifice my own personality to get along with everyone else. I am surprised by the sometimes even petty feelings in the leadership space; surprised, and disappointed. People usually stay in their lanes in terms of strength and competence, I’ve always wanted to chip away at my flaws and get better at things that are outside the bounds of what I’m naturally good at, and as a result I end up having to try harder in some ways than others. I force myself to adjust to suit a job so that I can develop broader range in abilities, but it may eventually be time to find a job that suits me. Additionally, I am intuitive, and also hard on myself, so I am aware of what’s happening around me and how people feel about me – and I beat myself up for it.

On a positive note, one thing that’s surprised me as time has gone on is that my direct communication style seems to be deeply appreciated by my team: I continuously check on this, and am told to keep doing what I’m doing, as I quickly course-correct people if they veer off-course, and there is a lot of accountability and expectations are clear. I went so far as to tell someone crying in a Zoom call that she needs to get it together, and if she allows complete strangers this much influence over her feelings, she will be miserable daily. She thanked me for this, which was insane to me. I did not expect this level of acceptance, but I am really pleased, and it’s at least given me some small sense of validation. I may not be the friendliest, most empathetic person on earth, but my curiosity and individualization have helped to compensate. I also continually use my position to knock down barriers for them, which is an expectation, but also helps them feel insulated from additional bullshit.

In any case, next week we return to offices on our hybrid model, which to my team means 2 collaboration days in the office. This is another initiative I’m on the fence about, and I’m unsure of why “50% of the time in the office” is top-down and applies to all teams. I would go so far as to say I believe the days of office-based work are largely behind us, and it’s only a matter of time before they begin closing (more) regional offices. Being together benefits my team, but ultimately when they reach the appropriate level of competence, I’m not sure what difference it makes where they work from. It took me some time to decide whether I would want to take the bus or drive, and driving takes 10 minutes versus ~45 to/from/on the bus, so I will be paying for parking for the time being. You can always make more money… you can’t make more time.

Weekdays are sometimes quite brutal, whether I’m home or in the office: by the time 5-6pm rolls around and I’m done, I have a drink and am regularly too tired to do much else with my life. Since my unfortunate salmonella episode last October, I’ve become accustomed to sleeping on a heating pad, so usually around 8-9pm I crawl into bed to read. Is this how life is supposed to be? Is this how normal people live? Fuck. I had intended to go see Leprous last night, but I’ve been feeling severe exhaustion for the past few days, and didn’t want to risk driving myself further into the ground immediately before my sister arrives. I took tomorrow off: the dog has a vet appointment, I need to hit the gym, I have a bunch of errands to run and need to clean/prep for their visit. That’s what a “sick day” means to me, and why I still get a C+ at best in this mystical thing I’ve slowly been painstakingly learning called ‘self care.’

I’ve been getting out a bit more. mtpMy work bestie came out from LA last week and I took two mid-week days off (this is only feasible with appropriate notice). We went out to Indian Hot Springs, which was a shit-show in the main pool, similar to my experience at Mt. Princeton, but I rented a private jacuzzi for us, so that was pretty great. I’m not sure why I end up investigating these hot springs in the first place, as I don’t love hot tubs or hot water in general and am prone to rapid overheating, but it’s been interesting to see what’s here in that vein.

We started the next day at the gym (God bless gay men, who want to work out on their vacations), boulder_dushanbethen went to Boulder. Boulder has a unique tea house that was shipped here in pieces from Tajikistan, and I was grateful to see it survived COVID. The inside is absolutely beautiful, and the food is amazing. Their tea menu, predictably, is also excellent. lambWe then met another work friend back in Denver at a Spanish place I’ve heard everyone rant and rave about, which was OK. I am sure there are better Spanish places here than that one.

I had planned to try a Northern Italian restaurant I had heard a lot about last weekend, but my plans fell through and I ended up discovering an awesome Australian grill. I finished three books over the weekend as well, so I was pretty pleased. My gym routine has vastly improved, and I’ve enjoyed many afternoons just sitting in the sun reading on my back patio. Before my friend from LA arrived, I had laser therapy on my face, so I looked like toasted shit all last week, but I’ve healed up pretty well and am pleased (again) with the results. While I refuse to brush my hair or wear makeup, skincare has been a priority for me, and laser technology is pretty incredible for zapping imperfections. It is also quite painful.

I had plans to take a week of PTO to spend in Myrtle Beach, but those have been foiled by having to attend our annual conference. This is another area I need to improve in: taking ample time away. I have no extended PTO until I head out in the end of July. I’m heading back to Alaska for a week in June, but doing home repairs doesn’t necessarily equate to vacation. And I will go to Myrtle after our convention… but I will work from there. I’m also considering earmarking a week to go to Jordan in October or November. I’ve always wanted to check out the Dead Sea. Why not?

In the meantime, I have quite a few guests and visitors scheduled, including my sister and her husband this weekend; three other upcoming weekends are earmarked for friends, and this has been really nice to see after living so far away for so long. The company and conversation is great for me as much as it stresses me out to plan for other people visiting – once anyone gets here, it’s awesome, and it rips me away from my job. I am really touched that as soon as I got here, so many of my favorite people made plans to come see me… I’m grateful that I have friendships that have survived a decade of living in the Great White North.

With the exception of feeling like shit for the past few days, things are gradually getting easier, at least in terms of what I can expect out of my life at this time. My calendar blocks have worked well to insulate me from being overscheduled, I’ve made time in the past month to find a dermatologist, get the dog her Colorado shots, get back to reading, go to the gym with more frequency. Amorphis is coming next month, which will rule, and while I’ve only hit one show out of three since I’ve arrived, I expect that to be better in the future.

Ultimately I don’t think I’ll have a very exciting life here, there will be no comparison to how I lived most of my years in Alaska, but I’m OK with that for the time being. I’ve begun sprouting seeds for the spring and summer, and in another month they’ll go outside. It was almost 80 this past weekend, which scares me; anything above 90 is difficult to deal with, as I have never had any heat tolerance, so we’ll see if I can get through an entire summer here without heat syncope/smashing my face on the pavement. I’m testing different electrolyte mixtures, and I wish I could find something cheaper that I like as much as Pedialyte AdvancedPlus packets, which cost MINIMUM $1 per packet.

In terms of books, I finally finished my colossal Gorbachev biography, which was excellent, and I want to read his autobiography at some point as well. I knew a fair amount about Gorbachev prior to reading this, but there is a ton of information in that biography and I would highly recommend it. I also picked up a copy of The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor… I’ve seen this book pop up repeatedly over the years, and while it’s outdated, a lot of his geopolitical opinions were spot on, as well as his forecasts: interestingly, he believed Ukraine would be in NATO long ago, and he underestimated the rise of China – but much of his opining on Central Asia and the Caucasus was (and still is) spot-on. I’m finishing two others this week, one of them has gained some great press: There is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century by Fiona Hill. I’m not far enough into it to really comment on her argument that the US is approaching the same opportunity deficit as Russia (and current events have probably complicated said argument), but it’s interesting so far.

I’m cracking open a few work-related books in April, aftermathbut I am also about to finish an unbelievably interesting book set in Germany immediately following WWII. Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955. I have never read anything like this (I’m actually listening to it, I had a bunch of Audible credits to spend) but it is very unique in its content and I am learning a ton. I consider myself fairly well-versed in WWII, but I have never come across a book on this topic and the glowing reviews are well-deserved.

That’s about it for this month; though I may end up writing more often than once a month… we shall see. April and May will be busy months, but hopefully good ones, as well.

EDIT: I completely skipped one of the highlights of March: attending Jordan Peterson’s talk here in the city. A lot of it resonated with me, particularly his addressing his belief that happiness comes from the attainment of goals. Given that I’m still fairly new here and just uprooted my entire life, and am still figuring out what this looks like, I was somehow comforted by realizing that feeling somewhat lost lately simply comes with the territory. Despite the many deliberate decisions I have made to completely change my own life, I’m at a juncture now where I’m not sure where I’m heading next, and I think that’s OK. I imagine I will feel like this for awhile. In any case, I was thrilled to see him in the flesh, and listen to him speak, and he drew an enamored audience, which was very nice to see.

Slava Ukraini (II)

I had grand visions for the second part of my rambling about Ukraine, but as time drags on, that vision becomes increasingly blurred. Quillette has been publishing some excellent content, particularly an article out today about Russian literature. I’ve shared many of their articles with many people. The US news is minimum 24h behind, and I’ve had better luck with Telegram, Reddit and WhatsApp group texts.

On the positive side, the world has not yet lost interest in this conflict, which absolutely blows my mind. At best I assumed people would care about some faraway country most Americans would be hard-pressed to point out on a map for a maximum of two weeks. The impeccable marketing prowess of the Ukrainians doesn’t hurt their cause; I have never seen advertising and social media used as such a robust component of war in my life. I suspect this skill is a result of two things: 1) a recent history as a democracy and adoption of Western values (and along with it, media) and 2) a lengthy history of exposure to propaganda, which they have used to their benefit as well. Probably an additional element is that the private sector has mobilized to help, Elon Musk finally becoming the savior he has always yearned to be. Of course, there is some imbalance: internet has been unreliable in the East for weeks, so there are a lot of people completely isolated.

The second aspect of their “help us” ad campaign — propaganda experience — is ethically dubious, as it’s questionable to use half-truths even for what we deem as a ‘good’ cause, and if they are caught in deeper lies, it will surely backfire. I further suspect that most Americans with little historical knowledge of this neck of the woods are drawn to the story arc, and the Ukrainians are the underdogs — the heroes fighting off an evil repressor, the David to the Russian Goliath — which is not incorrect, but also is far too simplistic. That story arc resonates deeply with Americans, and as far as that idea is concerned, I’m happy to accept whatever works to keep the West engaged. Another softer source of power here is that there are an awful lot of Ukrainian-Americans: their diaspora is enormous, particularly in the US and Canada. Even so, it’s important to note that a huge factor in how plugged in we are to Ukraine can be linked back to the classic hero’s journey and good vs. evil story arc that has shaped civilization as a whole, and secondarily to our national identity of overcoming our own oppressors during the formation of our own country.

I’ve also seen a lot of woke bullshit about how no one is standing for Yemen, no one stood for Iraqis (not true), no one was issuing sanctions for Afghans (Ethiopia comes to mind as well, though their civil war is not equivalent to Russia’s invasion of a sovereign nation). These vague comparisons are not only ignorant, but patently absurd: Ukrainians have the same values, the reside in Europe, and have been striving to join the West since the fall of the USSR. They have been thwarted repeatedly by Russian-backed leaders and Russia’s threats. A more contentious truth is that they mobilized to fight, where training troops who have been tribally organized for centuries was a constant uphill battle. There is not an Inclusion & Diversity angle here, and it’s annoying to see it so prevalently in the news (Q also featured a great article about this, this past week).

The West has failed to accept the threat of Putin, and Ukraine is paying in blood and guts. That includes America, although Germany shoulders a disproportionate amount of blame, for turning a blind eye to Putin’s agenda and squaring itself up to buy even more energy from Russia. This is a typical Western thing: to hold such a narrow view of the world that it is assumed all people think the same way we do, and possess the same values, and this ignorant approach to existence has backfired in many ways: prior to this war, a good example is the refugee camps that have sprouted up in Sweden particularly, and the shock of European citizens in the face of refugees self-sorting into ghettos and living off the welfare system for generations. This is a huge generalization, of course, but it is a persistent problem in Western countries that have taken tens of thousands of refugees with different cultural norms. By contrast, it is culturally and politically a much smoother transition to accept other people from within Europe who already understand how society works in the West. Finally, for all their Law & Justice bullshit in the past ten years, the Poles have been particularly kind to refugees, despite long-standing disputes over land between the two countries.

Nordstream II was a nail in the coffin of a (relatively) peaceful Ukraine, and Russia using its additional leverage to blast Ukraine into oblivion was predictable. The West also did almost nothing when Putin began chipping off pieces Georgia, followed by Crimea (where Crimean Tatars were all shipped out to Uzbekistan in the 40s and the region was resettled by ethnic Russians) and Donbas. (Meskhetian Turks were deported from Georgia to Uzbekistan in the 40s as well… seeing a theme here?) Watching the laziness and ineptitude of the West over the years has made me unbelievably resentful toward Europe especially; I am sure this has played into my transition from traveling in Western Europe to my primarily traveling to the former Eastern Bloc, Balkans and Caucasus over the past decade+. I had said from the beginning of the Nordstream II construction that once it was up and running, I would never go back to Germany, and that may happen anyway, unless Putin provokes NATO and is subsequently crushed by the West. For years and years, the warnings of Poland, the Baltics and other former Soviet countries has been scorned as “paranoid”… not so much.

The West has also been terrified forever by Russia’s military might, and their power lies only in their nuclear arsenal and their leader’s sociopathic delusion: Russia’s military is a rusted, non-functioning piece of crap, like everything else made in the USSR. Totalitarian regimes capitalize on creating a façade of terrifying might, and they have done that well all these years. The Chechens have done this well too, though the fear they inspire originates in the sheer brutality they exert on innocent civilians. If Kadyrov could bite the dust soon too, that would truly be a gift from God.

What has also surprised and depressed me is the portrait of Zelenskyy as a leader possessing near-superhero status, and I think that says a lot about the low standard of governmental leadership we’ve come to expect. I was ashamed that he was offered an escort out: it cemented even more how goddamn pathetic life has become in terms of politics in the US and Western Europe: it is now assumed you will govern in exile and not stay on the ground with your shelled citizens: you will scurry out and hide. If nothing else comes of this on a domestic level, I hope it’s at least obvious that we should stop electing cowards, that you do not need an Ivy League education and a career in politics shaking hands with the right people to be a leader. That anyone can be brave and courageous, even a comedian-turned-president. I have been long-surprised by the scorn his experience has received, even well before this: Vaclav Havel, one of the most prominent politicians during the fall of the USSR, was a playwright. Courage and integrity are not taught at Yale, nor do they naturally occur in the wealthy or aristocratic. In a world of inequality, those traits are likely evenly distributed.

In some ways, watching this unfold is like living in an advent calendar, waking up every day to a new gift of dissent: separatists from other repressed parts of Russia have joined in the common struggle to knock down the world’s biggest bully. Belorussians, Georgians, Chechens, Dagestanis, Azerbaijanis, Bashkirs from the Urals, not to mention other Eastern Europeans have joined in what is already a proxy war, as much as people do not want to admit it, unified by their common hatred of Russian oppression. The sanctions, the contempt, the shaming of companies still doing business in Russia, the repossessing of oligarch yachts are all music to my ears: in my perfect world, Putin is dead, and whenever that comes to pass in my lifetime, it will be one of the happiest days of my life. Putin is playing the long game that Lenin and particularly Stalin set the groundwork for: where Stalin ripped ethnic minorities out of their ancestral homes to crush their sense of identity, Putin continues to capitalize on this by using the democratic framework to hold elections, in which ethnic Russians vote: hence Crimea voting to break away from Ukraine. This has always troubled the Baltic countries: it’s not paranoia. It’s history and, to be fair, brilliant manipulation of said history to show the West in their own language that Russia stretches beyond its current borders. In that sense, his misstep here is incredible: he clearly chose the echo chamber over history.

None of the good deeds completely cancel out the mistakes the West has made: sheltering oligarchs, buying cheap energy, politicians assuring themselves and their people that this will never come to pass. As much as Putin miscalculated how much we would rally around Ukraine, the West has amassed years if not decades of grave miscalculation that has brought us here. I’ve been alternating between wrapping up my Gorbachev biography with Zbignew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard and it’s been interesting to see that he projected that by 2010 Ukraine would be a member of NATO and/or the EU, and yet here we are.

The West has failed Ukraine, and I hope we make it right.

That’s all for now. Next post, soon to come, will be a standard one.

Slava Ukraini (I)

Stepping out of my “one post a month” routine, as there is certainly plenty going on in the world to warrant some additional thoughts and words. You wouldn’t necessarily think so in some circles, given Americans’ penchant for whining about gas prices instead of having much geopolitical interest. Considering fewer than 40% of Americans have passports, it’s not entirely surprising.

This statistic used to fill me with scorn for my fellow Americans, although the US is so enormous it’s somewhat easy to find many destinations within our borders before leaving them. I’m not sure if that’s a valid excuse over the term of someone’s entire adult life, though: traveling is often fairly inexpensive and takes courage and more importantly some level of curiosity, which seems to occur at roughly the same rate as passport issuance does in this country. It’s taken some time abroad to realize these things:

  • Americans idolize multilingual people, but most of those people speak multiple languages because they live closer to other countries than we do, or had to learn English secondarily.
  • Western Europeans are not exotic by any means, they can barely function outside of cities, for the most part, and have little survival instinct. Their entire lives are built around civilization: American life is not.
  • Many Europeans are better-traveled than Americans solely due to planes, trains and sharing of borders with multiple other countries.

These are, of course, not excuses to not travel, but when looking at Americans vs Europeans, it’s not exactly apples to apples. That said, I had a minor meltdown yesterday seeing my parents’ friends whining about the cost of gas to drive from one of their homes to the other on Facebook: my mother told me I “need to understand that not everyone is as lucky to be so well traveled,” which is not helpful and also completely absurd. My parents’ friends vacation to Disney and own a second home in a beach community, so that strikes me as more of a personal choice than “luck.” In fact, I did not travel abroad until I was 18, and no one in my family went farther than Canada until I dragged them overseas. The first ten years or so I spent going abroad, I made almost no money (seriously, my paycheck was around $400 a week for my first job out of college). So not being wealthy is not an excuse, especially not all these years later when affordable travel is even more accessible than it was back then.

As for my own good fortune, I totally imploded my first semester in college and happened upon a study abroad program through Harvard, to which I was accepted and subsequently took out a few thousand dollars in student loans to make ends meet overseas in 2003. I stretched my paltry $6,000 pretty far: completed two semesters in Sweden, and also went to Copenhagen, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Vilnius, Riga, Warsaw, Prague and Kiev (now Kyiv). I returned multiple times per year, winding my way through Scandi-land, Eastern Europe and Russia, and I never stopped pushing further East.

I enjoyed Scandinavia and spent many, many months there. Sweden is OK… Norway is better. Finland is awesome (I have a tattoo of the view from a cabin window in a birch forest in Karelia on my back), but I became bored with the Nordic area: life in terms of people and culture is too tame, to contained, to orderly. I originally went there as an homage to my mother’s mother, who grew up in Ekerö, in the Stockholm archipelago. We still have family in Stockholm, and we continue to keep in touch to this day. I could talk forever about Scandinavian cultures, and I say cultures because those countries have surprisingly different cultural norms, and I dislike Swedish ones the most. Karl Ove’s My Struggle series actually covers a lot of this, and his observations are perfectly symmetrical to mine. I will return to Iceland sooner than later, and have taken many friends around the island — the rest, probably not. Very yawn.

I knocked out every (other) country in Western Europe except for Greece over the years as well, and most recently I’ve traversed the Balkans and the Caucasus. My plan was to push into Chechnya, Dagestan and the Don region of Russia in late 2022, as that is now delayed for obvious reasons. It occurred to me yesterday that I have spent most of my free time over the past 20 years either in the Far North or among Slavs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For a little more context and some indication of how little people change, I’ve spent my entire adolescence and adulthood steeped in Arctic expedition novels/accounts, and Russian literature. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky have kept me company over the years, beginning when I was a teenager. As a kid I was horrified by the Bosnian war, and it gave me a deep disgust and also appreciation for the power of propaganda (essentially the route I took with my undergraduate degree)… that interest is very much alive today, and has motivated me to read probably thousands of books at this juncture about the USSR, the Caucasus, the Eastern bloc, the Balkans, the World Wars.

I’ve mentioned in the past that all of this reading has helped bring these countries to life for me, and there is no better example than being in the Balkans a few years back having read probably 100 books on the region, including all of the folklore and epic poems, including Montenegro’s The Mountain Wreath (I did the same for Finland with The Kalevala, Iceland with their sagas). I was flipping out in the Caucasus having read Tolstoy and Lermontov over the years. I make fast friends abroad, and part of it is because I go in armed with reference material and have taken the time to think about their experiences and the history and folklore that has shaped their countries. Most recently, it was And Quiet Flows the Don that sealed the deal on finally moving Rostov-on-Don up my list, in addition to currently reading a lengthy biography of Gorbachev, which makes me want to visit Stravropol. They are not far apart.

I have always so deeply loved the disarray of Eastern Europe, and the nostalgia I feel there, especially when it comes to food, decor and culture; I remember blogging years ago about the way Prague was beginning to look like any other Western European capital, which I found troubling, as it’s traded some of its Eastern Bloc character for the prosperity of department store billboards and too many H&Ms and magnet vendors. Life is a series of trade-offs: Prague was an epicenter of resistance from the Prague Spring to the Velvet Revolution, I hope it retains its importance in terms of struggling to break free of the USSR (I’m too lazy to link all of these references, but Wikipedia has all the answers).

I’ve persuaded many friends over the years to head to these glorious countries, and they’ve all hopped on board as well. Some countries are more frequented than others, namely the Baltic countries and Poland. Bulgaria and Romania less-so, though we had a blast in Bulgaria years ago and the Carpathian wooden villages and Transylvania are worth a trip to Romania. I’ve been pleased to hear my friends are enjoying Riga, Bucharest and Dubrovnik over the years rather than toiling in line at the Louvre.

Which brings me to Ukraine, an unfortunately non-EU country that has been fighting for its right to exist peacefully for longer than people realize. Ukraine is particularly interesting, even for Eastern Europe: it resides at a convergence of cultures between Europe and Russia; settled by Vikings en route to Byzantium, who blended with Slavic tribes and the Kievan Rus was born. The area has been partitioned, crushed, rebuilt, trampled, starved, collectivized and been reborn as independent over the last few hundred years. Despite what you see on the news, Ukraine has rarely been unified as a country throughout time: particularly over the last 100 years, parts of it fell under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then the USSR. The country is split in religion as well, with swathes of Western Ukraine belonging to the Eastern Rite Catholic Church (aka Greek Catholic aka Byzantine Catholic Church) and the rest being Ukrainian Orthodox (which also split off from the Russian Orthodox church recently, not without a fight from Putin). This country has been home to Crimean Tatars, Cossacks, Carpatho-Rusyns, Volga Germans, Russians, Jews and many others. It is home to three particularly historically significant and completely contrasting cities: Kiev, the ancestral home of Ukraine and the Kievan Rus; Lviv, the Byzantine Catholic center of the Carpatho-Rusyns and capital of the old provinces of Galicia and Volhynia; and Odessa, on the Black Sea coast, home to many Crimean Tatars, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians and others. Ukraine also has black soil, and as we (maybe) all learn in Elementary School, it is the “bread basket” of Europe. The land is extremely fertile; it is worth invading for its natural spoils. And it has been.

Worth noting perhaps that my grandmother is Lithuanian, and my grandfather was Carpatho-Rusyn. My father grew up speaking Lithuanian in heavily-Slavic Northeastern PA, and my family went to Byzantine Catholic Church; my deceased family members are all buried in a Byzantine Catholic cemetery. These were curiosities to me as a kid, and I only really began digging into our history when I was in my 20s. While I find Scranton to be bleak and ugly, I admire its roots, and how much it’s kept alive even to this day: so much so that when I moved to Alaska, I was horrified that I could not find the food I grew up eating, as even as an adult I thought it existed more commonly everywhere. My grandfather died when I was in college, but I wanted to track down our entire family history before my grandmother died (she is still alive, gratefully). I found a Carpatho-Rusyn scholar who assisted me in putting my records together, and like anyone who came over from that part of the world, our records are a wreck: my grandfather’s family all came from Lviv Oblast, but it says Czechoslovakia on our documents (many Carpatho-Rusyns ended up in modern-day Slovakia after borders were redrawn). Our name was Americanized, yet still manages to confuse people. I don’t know if I believe in being “proud” of your heritage, as you do nothing to earn what you get, but I do know that as an adult I cherish my multifaceted childhood: I had one grandmother who spoke Swedish, one who spoke Lithuanian, my siblings and I went to Lutheran, Byzantine & Roman Catholic mass, as well as Ukrainian Orthodox church, and the town I went to high school in was and still is heavily Jewish, with a lot of Hasidic Jews at that, who live (mostly) peacefully alongside everyone else (the Catskills were actually called the Jewish Alps at one point in time). My parents are also members of two different political groups, so I’d like to think that’s contributed to me growing into a fairly open-minded person.

All this to say we have roots in this part of the world, though arguably my love and admiration has more weight: though admittedly if Putin had invaded Latvia I would be equivalently enraged. My loyalty lies with the Eastern bloc and the Caucasus, some, like Chechnya, which have yet to break free of Soviet shackles. I often feel more alignment with this part of the world than I do with my own country full of countless spoiled idiots, and I have little intention of living out the rest of my life in the US: for the most part I’m here for the higher base salary and tax benefits of being an American, and if I hear one more person bitch about gas prices I’m going to accelerate my plans to disappear permanently. I don’t know that my own heritage has anything to do with anything beyond what growing up in that culture gave me in terms of familiarity with Slavic countries. I’ve spent my whole life reading about their tortured history under the Soviet Union. It is probably one of my most significant obsessions, and has been from the beginning.

I’ll skip the part where I yap about Ukraine and how it has changed before my eyes in the past 20 years: it seems disingenuous, and I’ve spent a shitload of time in all of these countries except Belarus (my choice). But what is happening here and now in the world is unbelievable in many ways.

What I told people prior to this invasion is that Ukraine will never roll over, Slavs always go down swinging, and I have not been wrong. During the Holodomor in the 1930s, Stalin starved over 7m Ukrainians to death during collectivization. Ukrainian Jews died in droves during the second World War, most famously in Babi Yar. The Western part of the country has been home to resistance movements since that time, particularly the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and Russian forces have gotten nowhere near Lviv yet. Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in 2014 was a clear cultural end of their time as a Russian satellite, and they have paid dearly for it over the years while the west has done absolutely nothing.

I’m not sure where to go from here, as I never plan these blog posts and I just let them take me on whatever inspired tangent I wish. That said, I’ve run out of steam today and this all means a lot to me, so I’m going to post this with a “stay tuned.” I’ve laid a foundation of love and respect for these unbelievable people, and a very brief history of Ukraine. Next up, how the world reacted.

I haven’t said much about this to most people outside a few close friends and a Ukrainian from Transnistria I manage (I have a Russian starting on my team in a week as well); I also have a group of friends who live in Kharkiv, Odessa and Kyiv, and none of them have any intention of leaving their country, so if you’re into prayers, say a few for them: they are as of today all still alive and staunchly remaining in Ukraine (my friends in Kharkiv have relocated to Lviv for the time being). Odessa is next up on the shelling list. Fuck Putin, to be continued.

Month No. 2

I seem to have turned a significant corner over the past few weeks, and while I still feel like I am living in the Twilight Zone, I’m gradually getting more of a handle on different parts of my life and transitioning toward more of a routine.

I’ve accomplished a lot in February: my work goal is to have this job down entirely by the end of Q1, and I am pacing healthily toward that outcome (I was told it takes 6-12 months to figure it out, I think I can do it in ~4). I have already had to give someone a final warning (pre-termination), recruit and subsequently hire someone, split up my territory a second time to allocate a 9th portfolio, and complete many other processes that typically arise gradually, so the ‘baptism by fire’ continues within this role. Company-wide, we are also returning to the office via our hybrid work model as of April 4, so I have been transitioning to that by spending 1-2 days a week in the office. All things considered, I do feel like I am providing tangible value at this time, and the constant challenging of my peer group on how they do things (and whether they do things the way they do solely because that’s the way they’ve always done it) has at least at this point been buffered by other contributions that create less tension. Each of us have a strategic priority, mine is rapid upskilling and technical training, I’ve done some good shit in that realm in the last month.

My team is cool, though emotional (they are young); I admire the extent to which they want swift, direct feedback and are gunning for improvement. Occasionally their extreme extraversion and emotionality frustrates me, but overall I like each one of them and they have unique strengths. It’s been a challenge to build any kind of real team culture or deep cohesion with corporate COVID restrictions and everyone working from home, but I think this will change as we continue to spend more time together in person.

I’ve built some efficiencies into my schedule that have made my life less stressful as well, and now that I have a handle on how the weeks will unfold (though I still start each week aiming to survive through end-of-day Friday), I dragged myself to Planet Fitness yesterday for the first time in two months, and went back this morning. I really thought I’d be disappointed by how woefully out of shape I am, as the most I’ve done over the past months is move/lift stuff/move stuff/clean stuff and walk the dog, and I expected the altitude to blow more wind out of my sails, but I had no issues whatsoever. This week’s experiment will be hitting the gym on two week days. If I can find 3-4 days a week to go to the gym moving forward, I’ll be happy enough. After peeling the Butterfinger frosting off a cake donut in the office on Friday, I pledged to go 5 days before the end of February. 2 down, 3 to go.

I went to see Dark Tranquillity on the 10th and met a lot of people, so that was also a step in the right direction. Omnium Gatherum will play on March 8 and that’s the next show; I’m still shocked and amazed there’s a great venue within walking distance (especially because it was completely unintentional and I didn’t realize this when I signed the lease on this house); I’m also seeing Jordan Peterson in ~3 weeks, as well as Leprous/The Ocean Collective and I have a work friend visiting toward the end of March, and next month will start with a trip out to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for a few days (I actually took two days off of work to make this happen for myself). I want to hit the art museums around the city, but I will get to that in time.

It will take time to fully integrate all of these things into my life: friends, shows, going out, fitness, exploring the area, reading, whatever else. I still don’t feel like I fully live here, but I imagine that will start to stick over time. I’ve been enjoying this house and having all of my stuff, particularly in the kitchen, and have been cooking a lot. Yesterday I woke up pretty early, went to the gym, then came back and updated all of my budget spreadsheets for a real idea of what my life will look like in finances as a standard (no idea presently since there have been so many extraneous purchases related to this move), and was pleasantly surprised: I’ve been tracking expenses for many years to prevent myself from wasting money on subscriptions and I thought I’d end up with a few bucks every month after paying for Denver and Alaska, but I have more spending power than I expected, so that’s encouraging. I changed my cost of living dynamic significantly moving here: I have much higher general operating expenses than I did previously, and I will not be doing anything exotic for some time: I want to tuck another few tens of grands away to buy another house.

Over the past few weeks I’ve also hammered out my travels for 2022: I had a Turkish Airlines voucher I could never manage to convert to a cash refund, so I finally redeemed it for a ticket from JFK-Tblisi and a ticket back to JFK from Prague. oranssiI had initially planned to start that trip in Romania at Dark Bombastic Evening, but it ends up being too much time off, so I am starting in Tblisi, continuing to Brutal Assault (where many Denver people will be as well), closing out with a few days in Prague, and then heading home. I also bought my tickets to Alaska on Delta credits, so my trips thus far in 2022 were essentially paid for in 2020. Not bad. If I play my cards right, the accommodations portions will also be covered under work benefits.

I notice here as well that I am in a lot less general pain at this altitude, and that was my experience years ago when I came here. There is a negligible amount of research surrounding this, so I am actually not sure why I am not creaking and cracking when I walk around. My right hip, which was killing me in the fall and forced me to go to a chiropractor, has not bothered me since I got here. Finding the right mix of environmental conditions is a challenge; I will suffer significantly in the summer, but the dry, thin air seems to put a lot less pressure on my body. We’ll see if it holds up, but a combination of the sunlight and the altitude are helping me far more than they’re hurting me.

I still have to find a dentist, a primary care doctor and a vet; I did find a dermatologist who hopefully can take my life’s worth of records and just give me the meds I ask for without giving me too much trouble. I do plan to eventually return to Mayo to see if they can figure out why I have had numerous bouts of reactive hypoglycemia, though based on what I can see it seems unlikely they’ll be able to tell me why this happens (I am not pre-diabetic, all my bloodwork is perfect, etc.) After 2-3 episodes in the past 18 months, it’s at least clear to me that I can never, ever drink on an empty stomach and then chase booze with carbs, as I would like to never experience the extremely unpleasant symptoms of low blood sugar ever again, thank you. Hopefully all in all the change of scenery and altitude will make me feel less like I am living my life in a piece of shit malfunctioning body, having lost the genetic lottery within my family in terms of hereditary diseases by somehow having every single one between both my parents bestowed on me. My siblings take the luxury of not having to deal with this shit for granted, and neither of them care much for their own health. I have to bust my ass to avoid any of these comorbidities getting worse or a new autoimmune disease awakening. I also sound to myself like a hypochondriac, but after years of neglecting whatever issues arose, it’s ultimately easier to just figure them out swiftly and learn to manage them instead of allowing them to disrupt my life when they finally boil over and incapacitate me.

That’s about it for February. I haven’t been particularly adventurous and am focusing on slowly getting comfortable here and building a routine, and not sucking at work. Still haven’t really read much, sadly, though I have purchased 2 more books, and have been keeping up on The Economist. Hoping to knock out 2-3 books in March at the very least, but we shall see.

The first & cruelest month

I think I’ve accepted my annoying habit of allocating feelings into blocks of time occasionally pays off, and I am very much looking forward to it being February, as January mostly has sucked and been hugely challenging in many ways. I know I’ve referenced this before, but I always think of T.S. Eliot’s line in The Waste Land, “April is the cruelest month,” and, no, probably not. Not this year, not last year.PXL_20220131_020531460.NIGHT

For starters, the rest of my belongings weren’t delivered until January 18, which left me with a grand total of 29 days living in this house with barely anything in it. I had a full blown crying meltdown upon hearing that my crates were sitting in Denver the week prior, but could not be transferred to the moving company. Many bottles of wine got me through that weekend. I then had to deal with checking off the inventory list during a work day when I was covering for someone else all week on top of my own responsibilities, so I piecemealed my unpacking into evenings. It was an exhausting week on many levels. I felt then and I’ve felt often before and after that I simply let everyone down. And like a total fucking loser in general.

I honestly have not felt so powerless in my entire life as I have during this move. 2022-01-30_18-09-25Every day is another tidal wave of pressure, anxiety and uncertainty, some of it created by me, and I constantly feel like I am not meeting my own expectations and not upskilling fast enough for this job, in addition to the rest of my life only just recently coming back into focus. I think a colleague articulated this better than I could have, as despite being very intuitive, I sometimes have a poor grasp of my own feelings: he explained that the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have not been met since I began moving — that there has been zero sense of safety — and I think he nailed it.

Reflecting on this over the past week, it explains why someone who typically wakes up early ready to seize the day (me) wakes up these days with a feeling of impending doom and an overwhelming desire to crawl into a hole and never come out. Alas, it will get better: I’ve told myself through all of the hardest parts of my life that life is generally filled with pain and all kinds of people are suffering all the time from similar or worse afflictions (this has helped me particularly through breakups, where I reassure myself by remembering that the second guessing is just a side effect of change). It’s been hard to get myself into the state of mind where I can generate anything of value when there is such unbelievable disorder and uncertainty; I am a very organized person who is very in control of everything at all times and I have not felt like I have any real grasp on my life until about the last 3 days.

I think where I struggled in 2021 mostly with profound loneliness, in recent weeks I’m awash in self-doubt, which is also typical of a challenge of this magnitude (I have always had horrible impostor syndrome; I never dreamed as a kid I would get this far in my life, and I admit sometimes I wonder if I deserve any of it). It’s taken me a long time to gather enough context and observations in my new job to put the pieces together and understand how to show up for my peer group; initially I felt I had nothing to offer. I’ve learned (or, maybe, re-learned) it takes me a long time to articulate certain ideas, particularly how to assist in teaching a group of 40+ people things I do naturally, and breaking those things down into digestible, applicable bits of information that hold interest and inspire lightbulb moments. I have very often had to push back and ask people to slow down and explain, which I hate, and makes me feel like I am learning-disabled. I am an assertive person, but doubting your own ability to succeed makes it very difficult to insert yourself, raise your hand, to share your ideas.

Further, after being alone so consistently, it’s been a challenge to open up to people and to forge strong professional relationships on my level and above, especially in tandem with wondering so often if I can even do this. I have a horrible, hateful inner critic that is constantly shouting at me in my head to just give the fuck up. For this reason, I’ve spent a limited amount of time with anyone, or talking to anyone, or socializing outside of work. I have a pretty cool network of people who are patiently waiting for me to show up… I am almost there. I did go into the office this past week, a work dinner and a concert, so I’m getting there. Considering that when I left for my trip to Chicago in November I wasn’t even sure I still had the social aptitude to interact with other people in the flesh, I’d say I’m moving in the right direction.

I bailed out of work early on Friday to head to Colorado Springs with friends for Tool, tooland having a few hours to really enjoy myself and socialize and see a band that has eluded me my entire adult life allowed me to catch a glimpse of my old self. Earlier last week I had managed to isolate actual, tangible obstacles at work, some which will be resolved as of this week via adjustments to my work calendar. I continued to try to break down my anxiety into individual issues that I can tackle (some are already in resolution as a result) and my brain seems to be waking up to what I need to do in this role — I built quite a few training modules today and I guess I feel ready to start another week.

I told the rest of the Denver leadership group at dinner last week that I’ve accepted that things will be uncomfortable for me for the foreseeable future. Things will be hard. I will embrace the suck. I think it would be difficult to ever be able to explain how crushing these last few months have been. I want to say I am finally on an upswing, but we’ll see.

Running concurrent to my work issues, my sister has been struggling with many realizations regarding how we grew up and extent to which we were all abused as kids. She is very angry and confused, and I hurt for her, as I was aware of this all these years while everyone else lived in denial and pretended it was normal. In wanting to show up for her, I came clean and admitted to her that while I have mostly had my professional and social life in order, I have failed in ways she has succeeded: she married someone who loves her and believes in her. I have too often in my life been drawn to men who could not have cared less about me, who will never make me a priority in their lives, who are allergic to commitment, who are cruel, hateful, contemptuous, insecure, bitter, angry, selfish, immature.

I was aware of this years ago, the unconscious desire to mirror the criticism, contempt and dismissal of my feelings in my childhood in adult intimate relationships, but I think it still managed to creep up on me until I cared so much about my future that I figured I’d block any and all bad juju from Denver and sever all ties with anyone who I knew didn’t truly want the best for me so I could just flail miserably on my own, and/or occasionally around people who I felt earnest care, love and kindness from. When I first learned about how this works — that people are always trying to unconsciously resolve issues from their past by hopping on the same gerbil wheel over and over and hoping if they can fix it, it’ll negate the hurt in their past — it really, deeply depressed me and was indisputably true. I also thought that being aware of it would absolve me of any future errors, but that has not been the case. JP’s third rule is “Make friends with people who want the best for you”… make sure your romantic partners want that, too. And when you’re in a relationship with someone who consistently resents you and you feel lonelier with that person than you would without him or her, when you know for a fact you would never, ever call that person if you needed someone because their interactions with you have robbed you of every shred of your humanity and made you feel like a non-existent zero, it’s definitely time to bounce. My departure was a slow glide into the end, the truth emerging over the previous year while I felt myself unplug more and more emotionally, my trust dissolving, the realization emerging that there was nothing where I thought there was something. What has honestly surprised me about myself over the years is that I probably should’ve lost all faith in other people a long time ago: and yet, I find that in hindsight I am too slow to lose hope. Live and learn.

In happier news, Fuji is enjoying her sunny new life here, PXL_20220131_020559246.NIGHTI have friends and family visiting in March and April, I’ve booked PTO to check out some hot springs, head to Myrtle Beach and then return to Alaska; I am hoping 2022 will also finally include a return to Georgia (and Romania, and Czech Republic). I am happy my sister is coming to visit, and I’ve persuaded her to learn how to cook for her husband (she hates cooking, cleaning, and anything between those two things), so we made enchiladas together on video chat tonight. It was pretty cute.

My house is adorable and I finally am beginning to feel settled. I noticed last week that the venue down the street from my house has many metal shows coming up, including Dark Tranquillity, Omnium Gatherum, Amorphis and Pain of Salvation. Despite the suffering, it’s occasionally difficult to comprehend that I have access to pieces of my old life I’ve missed so much. On the way back from my friend’s house on Saturday, I stopped at the most awesome Asian market I’ve been to in a long time. I spent forever in there, and bought (among other things) kumquats, which I never saw in AK. The work-related anxiety has not depleted my sense of joy and gratitude for these small triumphs.

I have not read much this past month, but I will start back up in February. I end up in bed listening to podcasts and The Gulag Archipelago, but I have a big pile of books to get through. Reading has been another victim of the disorder of my life; I’ve spent a lot of time I would ordinarily be reading just thinking through how to resolve my anxiety. On the plus side, I am sleeping really well, which is surprising for me.

That’s all for now. Onward and upward.

Post-script: I share a lot in this blog, and while a lot of strangers read it, very few of my close friends do. Radical vulnerability has worked well for me these past few years, in my professional and personal life. Owning my feelings and being honest helps me cut through the bullshit with other people (and internally). These posts are maybe emotional TMI, but it’s important to be accountable to myself and somehow writing this and putting the truth out into the universe helps me sleep at night. There’s a lot I struggle with, but I do my best to take responsibility for it and be genuine, especially considering how many times in my life I’ve been told I make things look easy. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Leaving Entropia

It seems appropriate that I throw one more post into the mix before the year ends. It’s Dec 31, and while I’ve gained a couch and a TV, PXL_20211230_180514496my belongings are still sitting in Seattle due to bad weather. I’ve been wearing the same 10 items of clothing for roughly 2 months now, and I am super tired of eating off of paper plates and drinking wine out of a jar I shoved into my bag before I left my parents’ house. I’m disappointed but not surprised, and my compartmentalization-friendly brain is very sad at the prospect of finishing this move in the new year instead of coming into the new year with the process completed. Since the moving company has not fulfilled their contractual obligation, I’m going to begin processing delay claims on Monday and squeeze them for every penny they’ll reimburse for. All said and done, my stuff is scheduled for delivery on Jan 8. I can only hope these pussies can find some snowflake-free days to get moving. I’m not a materialistic person, but it’d be nice to put my stuff in my house and have the rest of my clothes and real dinner plates ffs.

I could complain about the experience of being here alone for the entire holiday period, but in the grand scheme of things, I only have first-world problems at this point. I’ve spent many holidays alone, and this is just another one; the fact that I’m waiting on someone else is what is the most frustrating part. houseofbreadI wake up every morning and take the dog for a long walk iN tHe SuNsHiNe which blows my mind. After all the hassle of getting her paperwork in order, we walked out of her breed evaluation with a “mixed breed” categorization, which will save me a lot of trouble in the long run (she is not a “mixed breed,” but if they say she is, I’ll take it). I’ve hit Costco twice, which is only a few miles from me, and despite not being an electronics-oriented person, I marveled at the prospect of owning what to me is a giant (58″) TV for under $500. I bought patio furniture, since it’s sit-outside weather 90% of the year. I bought morning glory seeds for the spring, since that will come sooner than I am accustomed to. I spent some time browsing European delis in Aurora, and I made it to House of Bread, where I found some OK Adjarian khachapuri and some meat-stuffed khinkali. I learned a hard lesson in Anchorage: that I am woefully homesick without a deli where I can get the weird shit I grew up eating (primarily golubtsi), and I’ve hit half my list already, with excellent results. One of the girls at the second one I stopped at (Black Sea Market) told me to just call her and ask for what I want: each employee is from a different country and they’ll make whatever I need. I nearly burst into tears.

The flight cancelations forced my former roommate from Anchorage to be stuck here overnight last night, and we spent the afternoon and evening together, and in typical fashion had an amazing — foodtruly amazing — meal right down the street. It also was a good excuse to drive around a bit: for whatever reason, every time I come back down here I feel anxiety about driving, which is absurd after spending the first 28 years of my life in NJ, NY and Boston. It was good to get out on the road, though the 4Runner will mostly stay parked until I can swap my tires.matt

I’m very grateful that he was laid over here, and another long-time friend of mine has been in town for the holidays visiting his family; he’s helped me put some shit together and fix my washing machine and it’s kind of amazing the extent to which a small bit of familiarity can be so comforting. I’m lucky to have had both of these guys here: the latter has been working in a remote area in Alaska for the past few years and I have not seen him nearly as much as I used to (he, my friend who moved to Idaho and I were inseparable when we were all living in the same town). I feel very loved. One thing I noticed about Alaska is especially in the past few years, it takes a trip down here to realize what kind, loving people I have in my life; people who truly make me feel special. Now I am “down here” to stay.

Maybe it’s that aspect of this week — how much just having a small amount of human company is worth — that has forced me to reflect on 2021, which has been the loneliest year of my life. It took me some time to really evaluate that designation as I have come up on some seriously hard times over the years. I think I could draw a parallel between being lonely and being poor (I hate that word, “poor,” so we’ll use “growing up modestly”). We didn’t have much when I was a kid; for whatever reason it was totally fine because that’s all we knew, and everyone else around us was in the same boat. We were happy with what we had. And maybe it’s that when I think back to the other lonely periods of my life, I didn’t know how much better it would get for me: I didn’t know that in my 20s and 30s I’d develop friendships with people who were closer to me than my own family. I didn’t know that I would meet people I would want to call when I was hurt or sad or afraid; I had no idea what it was like to be close to people, to want people around, to ask people for help, to want anyone near me for comfort. I learned that much later than is typical. And I think the lack of comparison took the edge off those hard times.

2021 was a brutal year. The end of 2020 was horrible, too. You can really only find so much silver lining without contending with how horribly depressing life is at times. On paper, everything was fine; I kept myself entertained with projects, I held onto my job, and I channeled all of my grief and suffering into being exemplary at work, which certainly paid off. None of those things lessened the emotional toll of being as isolated as I was; I worked from home, I did not see another human for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Last winter was so cold I could not even walk the dog regularly. I developed horrible insomnia that doubled my waking hours, and every day was the same. That kind of routine, being home all the time, not being able to go anywhere, feeling trapped, being cut off from my close friends (most of whom lived thousands of miles away) was hell for someone like me. My roommate, who became one of my closest friends over the past few years, was in Iraq for months at a time, and only came home for a few weeks before he was recalled. I was afraid for my parents’ health, as well, and felt helpless.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been told many times in my life that I make hard things look easy: I am a pragmatic person, and rarely show much emotion to people I don’t know. This has cursed me with a lack of empathy and consideration from other people, as it’s easy to forget I have feelings when I don’t express them. I think many people — even people who truly care for me — just assumed I was OK and would get through it. I am not sure how to address this or to resolve it in the future. I tried to articulate this issue with my new leadership team peers at my company, and despite expressing this meticulously, they still made the same mistake, and in I went to the meat grinder during this move, with zero concern for my feelings or what emotional toll it takes to conduct this kind of move alone in such a short period of time.

I didn’t start my adulthood as someone who forged strong bonds with other people. In fact, I would say it took a lot of energy and effort to become the kind of person who could be vulnerable enough to let other people in. But given my challenging relationship with my family, it occurred to me that I needed to build some kind of support system of people who truly loved me for who I was. I found that in college and afterwards.

My father told me when I was visiting that he believes the pandemic was the nail in the coffin of my Alaska life. I would say that’s maybe partially true: I could not reconcile the isolation I chose and the additional isolation the pandemic foisted onto me. I will never forget the weeks and months I spent up there last winter wondering if anyone would even realize if I were dead, gone forever, and that wasn’t due to anyone’s dubious intent… I was just too far away. I felt like a ghost. I felt like the bus left and I was still standing at the station. Everyone else was gone.

In some ways the pandemic presented a lot of truth: some people I had maintained faith and trust in completely failed to materialize in any way whatsoever, or even reach back out to me when I reached out to them. Some others who should have shown up to be present in my life found more entertaining, fulfilling ways to pass the time. It reminded me of how resilient I can be, as I had a plan before it even got bad, and I managed to get through that first winter without getting fat or drinking too much or making life choices that would’ve made my suffering worse. I hearkened back to my childhood and drew a lot of comfort from books; I planned out my future. I saved a lot of money.

I realized I have a flaw that has created a whole world of suffering for me: I see people for their potential, not who they are, and as a good friend has said many times, “people will always let you down.” They will let you down a lot more if you see them as better than they are. This one flaw of mine has created so much suffering in my life, and the time I have spent waiting for some people to show up for me could have been invested in good people who already do. I am a pretty skeptical and discerning person, but I take people at their word and am excessively idealistic and it has led to such immense hurt and disappointment, and all of that has been needless. For that reason, one of my top priorities here is to recreate the strong bonds I had in my life prior to Alaska, which is not exactly a hub of the socially inclined.

I took a huge loss when my one friend moved to Idaho as well: moreso than the pandemic, that might’ve been the actual nail in the proverbial coffin for me, especially with all that followed after she had relocated. And most recently, after being so deathly ill (I was so sick, I shared with someone recently, that my fingernails all peeled off… I have not ever encountered such extensive physical degradation in my life, even during prolonged hyperthyroidism, I actually thought I might die and I was so delirious I didn’t even care… I played through the entire Game of Thrones series on my TV 24h a day just to feel like I wasn’t going to die alone in the dark), then accepting this job and doing this entire move alone have made this year so harrowingly, unprecedentedly lonely, I don’t even think I am capable of fully articulating it.

I am also sad to lose all of the PTO I didn’t use in 2021; I barely took any time off. I took a few days when my wonderful friends from New York were visiting for my birthday, and I took a week and change off to go to Myrtle Beach and Mexico… but I should have carved out more time to prioritize myself over my job. Instead I’ve squandered the holiday week waiting, and in lieu of any real vacation, I’ve committed to drive out to Myrtle Beach with the dog in March or April to enjoy my reclaimed privilege of driving to other states. Ironically I did what I hate in 2021: I surrendered personal time for money. If I hadn’t moved and needed that money to make my new situation exceedingly comfortable, I would feel more regret.

In any case, while this move hasn’t been quite as emotional as I might have hoped, and I feel neither triumph nor regret, I think I am moving in the right direction. I already feel I have more of a support network here than I did in Anchorage. As the days and weeks pass and I fully move in and get settled I believe I will be very happy here. I feel little beyond “I made the right choice,” and that’s good enough at this point; I think it’s important to recognize my mistakes as the year ends, and the instances where I’ve dragged things out hoping for better outcomes when I should have let them die. And maybe it’s important to assume some of the blame for my own loneliness: when my friend moved to Idaho, I gave up on forging new bonds, and I devoted too much time to trying to breathe life into things that were hopeless, and I feel I’m ready to excel in 2022 in my life in its entirety, at work, at home, socially, alone, intellectually, emotionally, etc.

Thanks to those of you who read this and have been here for me. The ones who truly care for me, who have gone out of your way to foster our friendship. I think no one will ever know how little I had at the beginning of all of this, but I know. Will & Hannah, I hope your little IGA repairs its roof soon… yikes. Alaska has been getting slammed with bad weather (real, legitimate bad weather), especially the Interior.

This is the post the end of this process deserved. I still wonder at what point I am totally going to break down and sob through the hardship of all of this… maybe when I am unpacking my own shit and it fully hits me that I just moved back across the country, and closed a hugely formative chapter of my life to begin another.

Hallelujah

I think I might finally be, roughly, in the right frame of mind to post something in here. It’s been awhile, and many nerve-wracking weeks have passed, but I’m typing this on a TV tray, from a camping chair, with radioactively bright sunshine streaming in all the windows of my awesome Denver abode.

Today, Dec 23, is the first day I don’t feel stressed out, and I have very little to actually accomplish for the rest of the year. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m grateful the pavement is too warm for my studded tires, and my dog won’t get her pit bull permit until next week, and I will be doing mostly nothing for the holidays. I finished building the final piece of furniture I had ordered this morning: yesterday I had booze delivered to my doorstep for the first time ever, which was pretty exciting, and had my internet turned on (which costs a fraction of what it costs in Alaska, and is at least 10x faster). I did what I could in advance to make my experience less frustrating, and that was a good call.

Departing Alaska was easy enough, or it seems so in hindsight… I left the same day my furniture was loaded into crates and flew overnight to Denver for a few days in the office, which were surprisingly pleasant. They were long days, but I accomplished a lot. I’m disappointed overall with the lack of support and understanding I’ve received from my employer through this relocation, but I do think I’ll be happy in the office, and will do well in this role. Their handling of my role transition & relocation has made me wonder if I really want to spend many more years working for this company, but we’ll see. The lack of comprehension of how far I was actually moving made the first 6 weeks particularly grueling and stressful. I feel I should have had more time, space and understanding, and in the end there was no room left for any emotion. My departure was anticlimactic. That said, I’ll be back in June, and it’s not a forever goodbye. I suspected that I have completely compartmentalized my feelings about this entire ordeal, and that was confirmed yesterday when a former boss of mine finally asked me how this all felt and there were tears via Zoom.

I actually don’t think anyone can really comprehend what it was like to do this so fast, in the winter, with massive headwinds, as a single person, with a dog who can’t fly, having to work the entire time in a different timezone, but it would’ve helped to feel like someone gave a shit. I haven’t felt much of that: my experience thus far in my life has been that the world protects, shields and empathizes with the weak, and strong people are just assumed bulletproof and often hung out to dry and/or left to fend for themselves. The single advantage I’ve had through this process is that no one has ever cared about my feelings, so I am used to it. I would say this experience also reminded me of my own life choices and what it’s like to do everything entirely alone.

After my office time, I continued back to PA, NY and NJ for a week+, where I worked every weekday I was there, but managed to see some friends and spend some time with my parents. 2021-12-23_11-49-19I flew back here on Monday. Fuji left Anchorage a day late, but showed up on time, and I met her in the 4Runner at the airport. She has been sleeping practically since we got here, and I think this was a pretty rough move for her. Despite the face-melting expense of her transport, I am really grateful she’s with me, and she will eventually benefit enormously from the much more mild weather.

I’ve slowly been settling in and letting derp face acclimate for the past few days, and I will be very happy here when I am fully settled. My cost of living has doubled, at least, as a result of this move, but my neighborhood is quiet (particularly at night) and working from home part-time (possibly more, as omicron could push our return to office plans back) will make the expense worthwhile.

I’ve missed living alone as well, and I am overjoyed to soon be surrounded by my own things again. lrI’ve spent the last few years with very low living expenses, and some of those savings have been invested in slowly acquiring nice things that will stay with me for many years. The smartest thing I did for myself during this move was to stow a huge Caucasian rug in the trunk underneath the cargo liner, and it’s amazing to have it spread out here now in this living room… I’ve been sitting on some of these items for years unable to utilize them. My landlord and a friend I have here from work were super helpful to me, dragging stuff that arrived early into the house or garage. Some other friends of friends have continually checked in on me, and I feel like I will eventually be able to build the kind of social network here I never was able to completely construct in Alaska.

I had expected to get here and have more to say about the nearly ten years I spent up there, and to have more emotions in general, but it’s all just too fresh to really have much to offer. I think I would feel differently (or perhaps would not have done what I did and left) if I didn’t own a house up there, and there is a sense of relief in still being rooted in AK.

For the time being, I’m enjoying how much easier life is down here, the quality of the roads and the friendly weather. I think a vast majority of Americans do not appreciate how much convenience they have built into their lives. I feel no self-pity over being here alone for the holidays… I have a thick biography of Gorbachev to read and plenty of podcasts and audiobooks. It’s been a crazy year, I didn’t take nearly enough time off and it has ended in a chaotic way, but 2022 should be pretty A-OK.