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.

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.

First & Second Snow

Parts of Anchorage received over a foot of snow yesterday: we tied our 1981 record for earliest accumulation. It’s tough to admit this given my passion for cold weather, but I am pissed.4runner September is too soon for this. I was hoping to get out of here (for vacation) before this happened; I’m grateful I managed to  at least put studded tires on my truck in time (my aesthetic improvements are looking good so far, speaking of, though the only two fun aspects of driving this thing are 1. the feeling that I can run over other vehicles and 2. the dog sticking her head out the back window, which rolls down).

There is no guarantee of an autumn season in Alaska; some years you get a beautiful Indian summer… the yellow leaves stay on the trees, rustling in the wind day after day, and the smell of wood smoke lingers in the air… some years you get a cold, slimy monsoon, and then it snows a shitload and that’s that. Welcome to winter 2021/22.

I spent the final pre-snow beautiful day driving to Girdwood, sewardhwyand each time I’ve been down there in the last month I have seen our Cook Inlet belugas swimming alongside the road.  Regardless of how much I feel that my time here is coming to an end, can you even imagine driving down a highway and seeing whales swimming alongside you? Misfortune, poor choices, bad luck, pandemics nor loneliness have diminished my love for this unbelievable, awesome place, and no part of me is wanting to leave because I’m tired of you, Alaska. It’s just time.

The first snow has always been exciting for me… I have been obsessed with winter my whole life. I feel the years’ tidal waves of nostalgia; I love the cold, clean water smell of snow; the melting drips the next day; the squeak under your feet when it’s below zero; the dead quiet, the bright moonlight reflections. I love everything about winter.  Despite not being much of a holiday person, even the emotional warmth of that time of year is pretty palpable as soon as there’s snow on the ground. I feel all of those things this year… but I also feel deep anxiety. And deja vu.

This time last year, I had crossed back into Alaska after heading up the Alcan, filled with hope for my future, despite the pandemic. A year later, I am so tired and burned out that most of my emotions are severely muted. I am approaching month 4 of interview loop limbo, a level of uncertainty that would drain virtually anyone, though I still have a very good chance of being relocated out of here before the end of the year. I’ve had less time than I expected to enjoy my condo and hike in the slice of time post-Labor Day and before my lease begins due to the dog unexpectedly needing surgery and being on rationed exercise.

Tomorrow I’ll turn my house over one last time before my tenant arrives, which makes me very sad; I wonder if I squandered possibly my last summer up here trying to make up for a shitty financial year. I wonder if I squandered most of this year, or the past two, or five, or ten, if I should have done things differently, if I could’ve somehow made my life better than I have, if I made different choices. That said, if things fall into place in the next few months the way I want/hope/expect them to, this will all have been worth it.

This year has been so grueling for me that I’ve been thinking a lot about myself circa 2003/4, living in Boston, spending my insomniac nights sitting on benches around campus listening to music, ruminating over how I could possibly turn the ship of my life around at that point in time while watching people walk by and leaves rustle along Commonwealth Ave and Bay State Road. It’s been good to think back to that, it provides context; I was so lost and devastated, totally incapable of seeing any good way out of my predicament. I do not feel either of those things at this juncture, and it’s pretty astounding how much confidence grows with age.

I have continued to be productive, despite said fatigue. I picked up vaping a few years back, overjoyed that there was a safer way to enjoy nicotine (I had been a non-smoker for years, and even when I smoked it was never consistent), and I subsequently quit (nicotine) Sept 1, then ditched the vape gear September 15, so that’s done. It was easier than I thought it would be and I’m surprised I haven’t slipped or had any overwhelming moments of weakness. I didn’t actually quit for any reason beyond feeling like I wondered where my vape was too often and the sense of dependency was annoying. The only consequence of quitting I’ve noticed is that my resting heart rate has dropped further to 53bpm. My daily hour on the stair mill is slightly less exhausting. I seem to sleep better, so that’s a plus. I expected to feel more… something about giving this shit up; I feel mostly apathy.

I’ve been pretty focused on maintaining/improving my health over the last year or two (to a more dramatic degree than usual), and no matter how shitty I sometimes feel, I have remained committed to this. Last year I planned to start lifting weights, I decided to wait until January, whether I’m here or elsewhere, particularly to continue to protect my hips: in the past few weeks/months I’ve started using collagen peptides, glucosamine/chondroitin and also visiting a chiropractor as a last-ditch effort to try to square up my right hip, which has been out of alignment for weeks and getting worse. I’m pretty skeptical about this medical profession, but I’ve seen some significant progress, so that’s been interesting. I think I will also ditch this Fitbit Charge 4 sooner than later, since it sucks at tracking high intensity exercise. This is a great device for walkers and hikers and people who aren’t sweating buckets every day… for higher intensity exercise, it’s worthless and incapable of consistently tracking heart rate.

I’m going to skip books for this post, though I may add them once I get to Myrtle Beach and have some down time. I haven’t read a ton, I’ve got 4-5 books down for September, none of which were overwhelmingly interesting (Cultish was pretty good, though). HBO just remade Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, one of my all-time favorite movies, so I’ll be watching that on my vacation as well… I do not suspect I will love the new one based on my deep affection for the original.

On a final note,carol one of my few remaining friends left this morning to move to Juneau, and I’m proud of him for making a change that will increase his quality of life. I will miss him. My aunt-in-law visited from NJ a few weeks ago, and my roommate got back from Iraq recently, so it’s been really nice to have some company after forever alone. I’ve tried to really assess what my social life situation is up here at this point, and it’s not getting any better (which makes sense, given my zero effort in making new friends); it’s something that will need to improve in the near future. In the meantime, hopefully the next few weeks will net me some ocean & beach time, sun, and sleep.

To be continued in another post, probably later this week. Alaska is a disaster on the COVID front right now on top of everything else, so I will be very happy to be on a plane out of here on Tuesday night.

soon cold rain and frost come in: September

We’re on the last legs of summer up here in Alaska, and I’m grateful. Labor Day is traditionally the end of peak season, though tourism will slowly taper off through the month rather than stopping dramatically. Peak season 2021 has been insane, with huge volumes and not enough operational support. We have no available ICU beds, a pretty low vaccination rate, and no one seems to care up here… they are tired enough to take their chances. The one thing I looked forward to toward the end of this summer — the Denali Road Lottery — was canceled due to part of the road eroding too much to safely traverse, so that’s been disappointing as well.

It’s been a good summer for me on paper, but I’m pretty ambivalent about the overall experience of this year’s season. I made a shitload of extra money, my close friends and parents visited, I got out of Anchorage a bit, but not much. I did very little hiking, I did not travel, I mostly hustled all summer managing my Airbnb rental, Turo and my job. I also spent this entire summer, from late June until this past Friday, in an interview loop for a role in Denver, which I didn’t end up getting (I was informed on Friday, and was not surprised given how long I had been in limbo, which led me to believe I was a backup candidate). I don’t feel particularly bitter about not having been chosen; I knew it was an extremely competitive role with a huge candidate pool. I also knew that in being honest about my personality in the interview, it would be reasonable for someone more submissive to authority to be chosen. I am bitter about how long this process took; I’m now at the end of the season where moving would be the least challenging. I have never been part of such a lengthy interview process in my professional life and I’ve lost some faith in my employer as a result of them taking forever in a time where there is so much attrition in tech already.

That said, I’m considering applying for a second open role in Denver, and also eyeing some other opportunities outside of my existing company. Ultimately I’d like to relocate with my existing employer; I’ve invested nearly 7 years with them and I do enjoy working for them, but I’ve made it a goal to exit Alaska in the next year… on someone else’s dime. My life is such that I can’t really lose either way: I actually make and save more money living here, and work fully remote, but COVID has forced me to reconcile some things, especially how little of a social network I have here. I had little intention of leaving Alaska prior to COVID, and while we are past the worst of it (the lockdowns, the travel restrictions, etc) it’s still difficult for me to envision myself being overjoyed to be here through another winter with virus surges. Thankfully, at the very least, my roommate is home, so there is some life in my house beyond me and the dog. I’m not married to Denver, either, it is just one our hub cities in which I wouldn’t hate living — I don’t love the idea of going back to the lower 48, but at this juncture it’s better for my career and would ultimately make my life easier. After spending so long in a single loop, I’m hesitant to jump back into another one, but I will figure out what to do with that in the next few days.

My extracurricular revenue generation forced me to stay in or near town all summer, which mostly sucked and was super boring, but while I proceed with exploring some new opportunities I do plan to travel in the fall as well. I’m not much of a tropical island/beach/hot weather person, but I am planning to head to Mexico in October, after stopping in Myrtle Beach to see my parents. I’d ordinarily go to Hawaii, but their restrictions are growing by the week, so I’m a few days from pulling the trigger on an all-inclusive option in Riviera Maya. I’m tired and swimming in the ocean is on the top of my wishlist.

I know I’m experiencing something I’ve been through on a few occasions in the past: that my life is garbage, when it’s really not. I think more than anything, I need a break. I was never built for this level of routine, and I am not a person who enjoys being in the same place every day, or doing the same thing, so this has been a bit of a nightmare for me, and I am deeply bored with the rote quality of my current life. For the past few months, I at least got a lot of extra money out of it… as we get into October and my winter tenant is back in my condo, my life will become even more boring, so it’ll probably help me to get the fresh hell out of here for awhile. I have a ton of PTO to burn through, due to not having done anything for most of the year. I’m looking forward to cashing it out.

I funneled a lot of effort into work as well, and I’ve been rewarded in ways outside of being promoted. Despite the monotony I have accomplished a lot in the past few months. It’s been raining for weeks now, and it’s time to prep for winter, whether I’ll be here for all of another one or not.

I’ll post again re: books, but I haven’t read too many in the past month. For now, onward and upward.

Denali 7/28/21

It’s August 1, and the fireweed is up across the state, which means winter is 6 weeks away, according to Alaska folklore. I hope not, but the warmth seems to be waning lately, and there was already some yellow up north.  1627875928745My parents have been visiting, and it’s been nice to have them but also overwhelming in a way to have people around me all the time.

I’ve taken the shuttle into the park many, many times, and every time is different.  The scale of this park is impossible to capture with a camera. I’ve never understood why people freak out over Yellowstone and Yosemite: neither have the sheer scale or the ability to make you feel like a speck in the universe. We saw a ton of grizzlies – including the fattest bear I have ever seen in the Interior – but the clouds were way cooler. My new cover image is one. I can only hope if I end up cashing in my Road Lottery permit, the weather cooperates. The tundra turns red in the fall; it’s pretty magical.

It was nice to get out on the road again. I plan to get up to Fairbanks, Delta Junction and down the Richardson at some point in August or early September. It’s been tough to make plans to get out of town with everything happening here, but I realize a big reason I’m starting to feel like I’m over Alaska is because I’ve been stuck in shitty Anchorage for so long… this was not the kind of life I was living before the pandemic. And the pandemic is not over, as much as people seem to want to believe it is; I’m glad I held onto my masks, as it’s time to start wearing them again.

Year 37

It’s been a whirlwind week and change up here, and July came up quickly. It’ll be a busy month; I decided to add another level of challenge for myself and make it a dry month. I haven’t been drinking much in general, but figured I could use a month to focus on other things, read more, further increase my productivity, spare myself some calories, etc. Thanks to the sharing economy, Turo and Airbnb will net me a few thousand dollars extra this July… I finished both major house projects on time and have a few weeks vacant, I ended up deciding to turn on that revenue stream too. I don’t love vacation-renting my condo, and I exclusively list on Airbnb despite working for its competitor, but I have found Airbnb guests to be ridiculously clean and respectful.

I had a pretty great birthday / weekend. halibut_coveMy friends wanted to head out to Halibut Cove the following day, and I’m glad I went… my first trip there 5 years ago was underwhelming but we had a great experience and really good weather. I’ve spent quite a few birthdays down in Homer, and it never disappoints. Alaska is also overrun with tourists, which is frustrating for residents who have to jockey for meals and hotel rooms and deal with traffic, but much-needed here economically. It’s hard to believe we’re nearly halfway through the summer (July 15 is about the median). Much like every summer up here, it’ll be over before we all know it.

bathroomI’ll skip the retrospective on the past year of my life; it’s been a long and challenging one, but I’m on a gradual upswing. I am pretty pleased with the amount of tasks accomplished thus far this summer; my bathroom was completed before my friends got to my place and that was truly a miracle. Things are slowly falling into place, and hopefully that continues. My company unveiled some much-needed changes to our workflow that will guarantee a better experience in my present position if I don’t end up relocating.

It was nice to have people visiting who give a shit about things other than fishing and coasting through life… every so often I’ll reach an oasis of deep conversations in this existential and intellectual desert. It’s bothered me for some time that the shock of Trump has yet to wear off. I’ve reflected a lot over the past few years, watching my own family fall prey to this ‘us vs. them’ stuff blaring on the news… I think I’ve largely been spared because I gave up on fitting in early in life, and I completely reject ideology and really resist the urge to stereotype people. I regularly give a girl on my work team a bunch of shit for generalizing “Republicans” as the overarching enemy… I do the same with my conservative friends who bitch about every Democrat being woke. People are unbelievably tribal (for good evolutionary reasons) and we’re hard-wired to draw lines in the sand and think this way about each other — especially people who are different in some measurable way — I really hate it. I am even more resistant to this stuff after living in Alaska, a place deemed a major Trump-land which in reality is probably the most tolerant place I’ve encountered in my life, perhaps because most people up here have realized that life is for living, not arguing about politics. What’s happening across society makes me particularly sad for younger people, who seem to have so little sense of personal identity that they’ve adopted these political affiliations as the core of who they are. The amount of progressive ex-friends I’ve collected simply by disagreeing is pretty astounding and disappointing (this is a pretty well researched phenomenon: article here). Thankfully most of my closest friends are still in my life, I’d imagine because we’ve all come to the same conclusion — that political views are not a be-all, end-all, that a vote cast for another candidate or party is still a vote cast by a human being, and it’s absurd to try to peel complex, multifaceted and often confusing humans down which lever they pull in a voting booth. My juxtaposing interests and hobbies seem to have set me up to not fall prey to this to the same extent it seems to hit a lot of other people, and I like listening to contrarian points of view, whether they’re woke af or ultra conservative. I especially appreciated an apparently oddly timed birthday conversation about diversity and inclusion and what seem to be two separate generations of women in the corporate world, so I felt like that really shed some light on some of the stuff I struggle with presently (I tend to agree on the problem statements, but not so much the solutions chosen). I’m also really blown away by their experience living in the Catskills/Hudson Valley; and maybe I should accept growing up there I was just totally blind to whatever racism existed in that region, because I never heard or saw a damn thing, despite the fairly diverse makeup of my own school. If there was any kind of skepticism about diversity where I lived that I witnessed, it was toward the Hasidic Jews, who often left garbage out for the bears instead of taking it to the transfer station, resulting in constant frustration for everyone who lived there full time. That’s the full extent of anything even close to racism I ever encountered, though I also admit that I grew up with parents with two different religious and political affiliations. As kids we had to figure out what to believe 100% of the time. I often think about the clip in one of the Indiana Jones movies where he’s separated from his group and he stops and says “everyone’s lost but me!” Maybe that’s more relatable than I realized years ago.

I did knock out an extra book over the last week and I also dream_poolfinally pulled the trigger and bought 5 prints from Jared Pike’s Dream Pool series which I can’t wait to receive and hang up… I saw these online months ago and have been totally obsessed with them. I want to stare at them all day.

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement | noiseI don’t have much good to say about this book, to be honest… I was surprised by how bored I was with the material, possibly because I’ve read a lot about this before. The Economist reviewer was equally unimpressed, but it got a good review in the NY Times. I loved Thinking Fast & Slow, and am a huge Kahneman admirer overall… I also loved Nudge and Conformity (Cass Sunstein) and will probably listen to his Audible lectures at some point. They put forward a ton of interesting examples of noise and decision making in different disciplines and there’s a lot of info in this surprisingly long book for what is really a pretty simple idea. The book just seemed very long and overly detailed, but completely devoid of mind-blowing moments.

That’s about it for the time being.

Last days of year 36: May/June

It was easy to conceive of being able to post in this thing once monthly when life was moving at a COVID pace; it’s unbelievable how quickly some things have gone back to normal, and how my life has gone from chill af to a hectic hellscape of shit to do. In the past month, idahoI’ve visited friends in Los Angeles and Idaho, work has ramped up precipitously, my condo has again been relinquished by my tenant, and I’ve been otherwise overwhelmed with externalities. My trip to Idaho was one of the highlights of the past few months… I’ve really missed my close friend who moved there last July, and it was awesome to slam through some hikes with her. The Sandpoint / Coeur d’Alene area is awesome. Even took some frigid dips in multiple lakes.

It feels amazing to get out and do things. It feels amazing to not wear a mask everywhere and to be able to see peoples’ faces, to not have to maneuver around everyone’s anxiety. The fog of fear and paranoia is slowly lifting, and I am really pleasantly surprised; I expected this crisis to drag on for a few months longer than it has, at least up here (and in the US). 

It’s been a cold spring in AK, and only in the past few weeks has the weather warmed up to normal temperatures. My Anchorage plants haven’t exactly been thriving, and I’ve been hustling back and forth in an attempt to complete two renovation projects by the time my first batch of friends/family visit… unlikely to happen thanks to a long wait for materials. I chose to paint my ugly wood cabinets this summer, and I’m torn on whether it was a good choice or not. Painting cabinets is a famously challenging and tedious ordeal, even for people who love painting (not me. I hate painting). cabinetsThat said, as I slowly reassemble them, I’m reasonably happy with how they look. One of the reasons I’ve chosen to do these things myself is because I know they won’t be perfect and I have to learn to accept my own fuck-ups and not obsess over them forever. I’ve come a long way from being a control freak perfectionist to being (as I am now) mildly frustrated with the fact that the output isn’t professional-level quality. Also, a pro-level cabinet job costs around $5000. While my time is valuable, my materials cost has been approximately $200.

My life (and its locale) may be changing sooner than I expected, which is adding onto my pile of anxiety, but could potentially be really exciting and cool, and I feel ready in my head and otherwise emotionally to jump ship up here if the opportunity is offered to me. For the time being, the next few months will be filled with friends and family, and a lot of time outside in the sun. Managed to spurn a new side hustle or two, including listing my car on Turo for a surprising amount of money, thanks to the national rental car shortage.

The transition from managing a fair amount of down time to what was previously normal has been pretty draining, to be honest. I’ve been staring at this unfinished blog post for weeks now, and my book blips will be even shorter than usual, but I have read some great ones lately. I’ve done a lot of shit lately.

It’s my birthday next week: never a particularly exciting thing for me, but this year I truly feel like I’ve aged. I feel fucking old. It’s a strange dichotomy as I also like myself more every year as my confidence and wisdom grow. I’ve really enjoyed the experience of aging, which in this country is more often than not seen as a process of falling apart in a multitude of ways. I also somehow feel as though I’ve been through hell and back this year, and I suspect many people feel that way: it’s a year that I’m very glad has passed, filled with disappointment and bummers and even a few small disasters. I’ve made quite a lot of the collective misfortune of COVID, and I’ll be stepping away from the worst of this era with a lot of lessons learned.

2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything | 2030I feel like I read this book so long ago at this point that I don’t even remember all of the chapters, but it was a good one a friend and I read together. No particularly big surprises. I skipped the last chapter on crypto, because I am super tired of reading and hearing about cryptocurrency. Review in Publishers Weekly here.

Alone | aloneThis is a circumpolar classic that I began in the winter and then set down and lost track of; I love the writing style, and a lot of it is in the form of a journal, sometimes written while Byrd is sick from carbon monoxide poisoning. His experience underground in Antarctica taking instrument readings sounds horrible and definitely puts being stuck at home watching Netflix during COVID in perspective. After many, many years of reading Arctic and Antarctic expedition novels (and others, even stories of Everest climbers, explorers, etc) it’s crazy to really conceptualize how tough people were back then. There was simply no alternative.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know | thinkagainI’ve loved everything Adam Grant has written, particularly Give and Take, and Think Again is as good if not better than that one (his other book, Originals, was also OK. A good OK, but not as compelling, though I may reread it sometime soon). A lot of the source material and anecdotal information is worth following down the rabbit hole: I watched Accidental Courtesy as well, a documentary about a black guy who befriends white supremacists and ends up changing their opinions. I sent myself a few quotes to include, both for quality and to avoid having to write more, but I recommended this book to my work team, our leaders, many of my friends, etc. Further, I was pleased to see this book covered in Quillette, so linking to that here.

‘Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe. Values are your core principles in life—they might be excellence and generosity, freedom and fairness, or security and integrity. Basing your identity on these kinds of principles enables you to remain open-minded about the best ways to advance them. You want the doctor whose identity is protecting health, the teacher whose identity is helping students learn, and the police chief whose identity is promoting safety and justice. When they define themselves by values rather than opinions, they buy themselves the flexibility to update their practices in light of new evidence.’

‘The ideal members of a challenge network are disagreeable, because they’re fearless about questioning the way things have always been done and holding us accountable for thinking again. There’s evidence that disagreeable people speak up more frequently—especially when leaders aren’t receptive—and foster more task conflict. They’re like the doctor in the show House or the boss in the film The Devil Wears Prada. They give the critical feedback we might not want to hear, but need to hear. Harnessing disagreeable people isn’t always easy. It helps if certain conditions are in place. Studies in oil drilling and tech companies suggest that dissatisfaction promotes creativity only when people feel committed and supported—and that cultural misfits are most likely to add value when they have strong bonds with their colleagues.’

The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago, and How We Can Do It Again | upswingI’m not completely finished with this book yet, but this also gets a standing ovation for the inclusion of data instead of just anecdotes and hypotheses with no hard backing. To be clear, this book does not offer solid answers, nor does it contain solutions to the decisiveness in modern American society; and some of the data (like searching Google’s book databases for uses of “we” vs “I” over time) is a bit dodgy. That said, for someone who constantly wonders why things happen and where we’re all heading together, this is well worth the time (his first book, Bowling Alone, is a prerequisite, only in the sense that if you haven’t read it and care about this kind of stuff, you should, and then read Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities). Review of The Upswing in Harvard Magazine here.

The Fall of Hyperion | fallofhyperionMy Bolt Thrower software engineer buddy from NY and I are still chipping away at Hyperion, and we’re on book 2, though I am only about 1/3 of the way through, this one is far less appealing than the first. I suspect the rest of this series will be a let-down versus the first book, which injected all of the context and built the characters and plot. But I’m (slowly) enjoying it, for the most part.

Otherwise, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts from Jordan Peterson, Jocko Willink, Quillette. Have watched Sharp Objects (A-), Mare of Eastown (A+) and getting through The Night Of on streaming. Quiet Place 2 was great. While I was in LA, we saw the new Saw movie (solely to see something in the Chinese theatre), which was also surprisingly good, though Chris Rock isn’t really suited for serious roles. 

Up next in books will be Noise by Daniel Kahneman; Outline by Rachel Cusk (reading by request of someone else); The Frontlines of Peace, about the failures of UN peacekeeping missions; a biography of Gorbachev and some others. Also planning on reading Thomas Picketty’s latest; I read Capital in the 21st Century despite a lot of skepticism and feeling that it was largely against my values/beliefs. It gave me a lot to think about. I’m curious about his new one as well.

April into May: Great Expectations

T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land that April is the cruellest month, but I beg to differ. April 2021 has been pretty good to me. I landed back in Anchorage at 2am on Sunday after two weeks in the Northeast, suitcase chock full of crap I can’t buy here, feeling like a million bucks after seeing my friends and family for the first time in 1.5 and 2 years, respectively. catskillsI had really only gone back because I was concerned about my parents’ mental and physical health and wanted to check in on my people — most of my loved ones live in the Tri-State area, and months sitting here by myself left a void of conversation, advice and moral support. That void is now overflowing and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to get back there, despite the shitty weather (rain, snow, hail, the typical schizophrenic Northeast trifecta).

I wish I had same the sense of community and the loving friendships here in Alaska, but for the most part I don’t; I’m not sure what that means for the rest of my life, but I’m glad I have that depth somewhere, even 4,000 miles away. I always come back from that time back reminded of how valuable I am to people and how much people care for me, and that was a sentiment that has been lacking up here during a long winter of COVID solitude.

While I was in Albany, NY seeing friends, I drove past the hotel where a live-in boyfriend in my 20s had rendezvoused with escorts while I was visiting my sister in Florida… I’ve reflected many times on how that was a turning point in my life, because after the shock of that event it became apparent to me that it’s more fruitful to channel negativity into personal progress. And while I sometimes regret that I lacked (and still lack) the spite to have fully humiliated that guy at the time and ruined his reputation, I had enough foresight even in my 20s to play the long game: I decided to get hotter. And happier. And broaden my horizons. I started taking really long hikes with my dogs, I read more, I deepened my friendships by hosting amazing dinner parties with friends I will never forget (the friends and the dinners). I felt so awesome in almost no time.

Since then, over the last decade+, there have been many times I’ve felt hurt or angry… I’d even throw in depressed and aimless in a few instances. And every time I’ve reminded myself that living well is the best revenge. It takes a particular kind of person to be hurt and to pay him- or herself back positively.

The last 6 months have hurt me in many ways. Some people have let me down. I’ve been lonely, and sometimes devoid of the kinds of deep conversations I have always needed, about life, and purpose. I’ve realized I won’t get some things I want; I’ve realized some things I hoped would change never will. I’ve realized my job is even more a means to an end than I had accepted previously, and that I’ve sacrificed more to live here than I initially had expected.

COVID has also made me ruthless in a way that’s been difficult to wrap my head around: being here alone for so long and forcing myself to make the best of it has shown me how intolerant I find people who do nothing to better themselves, and how unsatisfying it is to interact with people who do not care to learn and grow as human beings. I’ve missed the experience of being pushed by my loved ones to improve, to broaden and fine-tune my opinions, to feel as though figuring out what life is all about is a shared experience instead of something that happens to us all. I’ve noticed over the past months that many people say they’ll do things and don’t; that destructive habits die hard and there has to be some kind of catalyst for a lot of people that drops on them like a ton of bricks before they choose to propel themselves forward, if they choose that at all. Even in the weeks before I went back to NY, still struggling to shake off some of the morbidity of the winter, I upped my fitness goals and dropped another 8 lbs; I ate really clean and drank very little; I got a lot of things done. I slept well. I was overjoyed to get back there and see many of my other close people had changed their lives for the better, despite the headwinds of the pandemic: my parents are back at the gym, and are happy, and feeling better. My friends all prospered in a variety of ways, and it made me look back at some of the people in my life up here and realize that the only gains made during COVID in their lives has been amassing more financial wealth. Otherwise, progress of any kind is nil.

My mentor at Google used to always tell me I needed to find “my people,” and I struggled with this idea. I have always been torn between many different worlds, but I think I finally realize the kind of people I want to be “my people,” and they’ve always been there: people who turn lemons into lemonade, as the saying goes, and persevere through dimensions of bullshit to come out the other end as better individuals, richer in character and self-awareness. When I visit my friends in New York, their homes and lives are so filled with the warmth of love and confidence… it always reminds me of what my priorities are. It reminds me that a long time ago I chose to take a path to be a better, more versatile, decent human over solely focusing on financial success, and it reminds me that especially recently, I’ve chosen to only associate with people on a similar path. “My people” aim for progress.

Jordan Peterson podcasts have also really helped me, and while most of his ideas are familiar, it’s helped me to putter around my house and listen to him talk through things that are important to me. I’m not discounting financial security — and that’s been even more of a concern to me lately — but money isn’t everything.

I don’t have much in terms of books for this month: I finished Hyperion and my audiobook buddy wants to complete the series, so I’ll be starting on The Fall of Hyperion in a few days. I can’t say I’m in love with this level of dorky science fiction, but the series is so revered and there are so many references back to it I’m noticing (even in modern life) that it’s worth the time. While I’m juggling many things this month in preparation for summer, I do hope to finish 2-3 other books this month as well.

The weather is warmer and the snow is melting fast up here… yesterday was my first sunny evening out on my back patio. There’s a lot to be done to prepare this house and my other house for the next 3-4 months, which will be filled with a lot of friends, family, hikes, road trips and oysters. I’m also dropping in on some friends in LA and Idaho later this month, so despite all the monotony of being here for months, there’s a lot to look forward to.