Arranging The Year

Last week was a productive one, and surprisingly I managed to button up final arrangements for this move. Now that I’m working through the packing process, I feel more confident about being able to make all of this happen without any egregious cost overruns. I probably own more things now than I have at any earlier point in time, though it’s not nearly as much as a typical person my age… nonetheless I have been freaking out about how to successfully move everything and stay under the weight limit on my freight quote. Beginning to pack has made me feel a lot better. I think I can actually do this, on this insane timeline, without any nervous breakdowns. Two weeks from today, in fact, my shit will be crated and awaiting a ship; one month from now I’ll already be in Denver to stay.

Unfortunately my end of year/holiday plans have been completely foiled by this process: after thinking about it for a long time and meticulously costing out various options, I decided to use Alaska Pet Movers to transport Fuji and my 4Runner instead of dealing with that task myself. The price tag on this alone consumes almost half of my relocation payout, which is a bit more than I had intended to pay; that said, it’s saving me almost two weeks of time to delegate it to someone else. Her ETA in Denver was the nail in the coffin of my Christmas: there is a mass exodus taking place in Alaska, combined with this supply chain crisis, and there is limited availability logistically, so I will be in Denver for good a few weeks earlier than I had originally anticipated. The dilemma of how-to the dog has been exponentially more stressful than worrying about myself and my own shit… I’m perfectly fine living out of a duffel bag, by the seat of my pants, for as long as I need to, though I realize I’m getting to an age where I prefer to sleep in a bed and eat off of actual plates instead of slumming it like I used to.

I believe I will enjoy this job more when I am not in Alaska working on Mountain Time, waking up well before the crack of dawn, and not having to juggle moving in tandem. My life actually feels nightmarish at times right now, I spent half of yesterday in Wasilla waiting for my truck to be winterized and it was depressing to come back in the dark and realize I blew one whole day off on another slew of administrative tasks.

I caught a lucky break in terms of transporting my belongings, after calling upwards of ten moving companies in Anchorage, all of whom told me it’d take 8-12 weeks for delivery. I found one moving company with space for a small load on a ship departing on the 8th of December, so loading day is December 6th. This date in turn will complicate the week I had planned to be in the office, so I will be flying overnight straight into the office on the 7th, then continuing onto the Northeast for a few days before I head back to meet the dog. I feel my hand is forced by all of these elements, I am definitely not leaving on my own terms, and I am pretty disappointed in my employer for showing such ignorance with regard to how far away I live from my final destination… expecting me to be in the office after a red-eye is pretty extreme for a company that prides itself on work-life balance. I’ve spent a fair amount of time articulating my boundaries but I will probably lose this singular battle and have to suck it up.

The long term gains of being fully settled in by 2022 are worth the short term disappointment: I’m hoping to fully maximize my time at the end of the year, and a part of that is my shit showing up in a timely manner, which is TBD. At the very least, given my early arrival, I’m hoping I can manage to time the delivery of a couch adequately, and acquire other items I need quickly, many of which have been pre-selected: I’ve enjoyed planning out my new living quarters after living with someone whose downstairs looks like a hotel… the only personality in this house I live in is (a) my bedroom and (b) the patio in the summer. I’ve loved my years living with my roommate and I’ll miss him, but I would be lying if I said I am not very much looking forward to living alone again. AND I’m moving back to the land of Overstock.com, Prime 2-day delivery and the unbelievable ability to order whatever you want without having to read fine print on the shipping page. You people have no idea how good you have it… and soon, I will have it too.

RE: my dog, she requires more paperwork for this move than the rest of it combined, and I’m hoping I show up to get her “Breed Restricted Permit” with everything I need so there is no drama there. I’m disappointed in Denver for showing such an absurd amount of prejudice for one breed category: the owner of a Belgian Malinois, a German Shepherd or a Rottweiler needs almost no paperwork, and requires no special permit. Because she’s a rescue, I have to really dig for some of her documents. The sheer cost in terms of time and money to transport a pit bull from Alaska to Colorado is unsightly and it’s given me quite a bit of empathy for people who have no choice but to leave their animals behind… I am pretty grateful I can afford to bring her with me, and not everyone is that fortunate.

I am annoyed by virtually all of these things, but I imagine that as more steps are completed I will feel less disheartened, and I’ll be happy to be there when I get there as long as I can create minimal comfort for myself prior to my belongings showing up. I hustled all summer expecting to have a few weeks with friends and family at the end of the year and that is definitely not going to happen, but I continue to remind myself that in the long run this is for the best. Absolute best case scenario, my belongings show up quickly (in 3 weeks instead of 4) and I am fully settled by the time the new year rolls around.

I expect to write again before I head out, and hopefully I can find some time to collect my thoughts on the last 9.5 years of my life up here. As I told a friend last night, I don’t really feel like this is a goodbye forever kind of thing; it actually feels pretty anticlimactic in many ways. I’m keeping my house, I’ll be back in June, it feels as though I am departing for a period of time that is at this point TBD. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I get there… maybe this will all feel like one enormous mistake.

Probably not, though.

Final Countdown

I rolled back into town around 2:30am on Friday after two weeks of sheer insanity. Two delayed flights, and sitting on the tarmac for nearly 30 minutes in Anchorage (for the first time ever, actually), I was simmering with frustration and fatigue until I opened the back door of my roommate’s truck and my dog popped out to greet me.

I have roughly two weeks to figure out the rest of the logistics of this move. While in Chicago, I signed an 18-month lease on an awesomely perfect place in the northeast-of-downtown Berkeley neighborhood. The exorbitant rent at least includes lawn care, trash, recycling, a sizable fenced yard for the dog, and a garage. It’s a 28 min bus ride to downtown, which will probably be my primary go-to option to spare myself the annoyance of paying for parking and sitting in traffic. Given that the corporate office policy is “work from the office roughly half the time,” I’m committed to creating a really nice space for myself at home as well. While many of my coworkers are bitching and moaning about being recalled to the office a few days a week beginning in mid-January, it’s amusing to me that I’m giving up my remote life to willingly do so. I did decide after a week or two of this new job that living with a roommate should be a backup plan at most; I will need a lot of quiet time to buffer the constant Zoom calls and social interaction required.

I’m still waffling on what to do with Fuji’s transport, though I’ve priced out doing the trip myself via road and road-ferry, and the upcharge for paying someone else to make this journey in my truck with her is not actually much. My moving quotes are coming in under my expectations, and every step of this that I knock out alleviates my anxiety. Arranging for my furniture, vehicle, dog and myself to arrive in Denver in the same 6 day period between two holidays is a pain in the ass, but I’m pretty sure I can (mostly) pull it off.

My first stop of the past two weeks was San Diego, where I got out and about less than I intended. Save the first night there, the trip wasn’t really worth the time or effort: I hate California, especially its cities’ downtown areas, which are full of hobos and crazy people, even in San Diego at this point. sfsickoI can understand the appeal of living in CA if you can live somewhere that allows you to conveniently ignore the gross mismanagement of the homeless, but I think this is one of the most poorly managed places in the country, filled to the brim with hypocrites who will lecture anyone about how to live and yet allow people to shit on sidewalks in broad daylight. California seems to operate on the assumption that homeless people have more rights than people who have housing, jobs and lack drug problems, and I find this both insane and revolting. I admit my perception is heavily influenced by trips to downtown San Francisco and LA. I find myself increasingly disgusted by the entire West Coast in terms of cities, and these downtown plights have spread to Seattle and most notably Portland, OR in recent years. Not going to say much more about the books I’ve been reading, but I started and finished Michael Shellenberger’s San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities while there, and it was a great read, albeit probably woefully unpopular with the progressive crowd. After all these years, I don’t see myself as a particularly political person, but I am a person who asks myself if things work, and what these cities are doing and have been doing for many years is not working. It is complete madness to me that this kind of wokeness broadly robs many groups of their agency with its victimology, and yet awards seemingly infinite rights to people who very often have little if any agency whatsoever (namely people with addictions and serious mental illnesses).

I continued to Vegas, which was absolutely overrun with people. You wouldn’t know the world was in the long-tail of a global pandemic. I did not expect it to be as insanely busy as it was, though it was awesome to be there. We stayed at the new Resorts World, which was way too far from the Strip in my opinion, but it was nice to stay in a brand new hotel. innoutI don’t do a whole lot of typical Vegas stuff; I like to wander around and watch people, dabble on the slot machines, eat good food. Unfortunately all of this travel quickly following being as sick as I was has created some annoying challenges over the past two weeks, and I unfortunately had a (somewhat rare at this point) syncope episode and hit the floor on day 2. I seem to be predisposed to passing out, especially from heat, so that was fucking embarrassing. It hasn’t happened for many years, so I am a bit rusty on catching myself; I was horrified at the prospect of people thinking I was drunk, when I was actually just hot and dehydrated, and as soon as I hit the floor I wake back up, so… oops. Unfortunately the consequence of that beyond having to explain to paramedics that no, I don’t need an ambulance, thank you, is that I’m afraid of it happening again, so I’m happy I was with my roommate and my other friend there. I think I still may have a bit of an electrolyte imbalance. It did not happen a second time, and I had a lot of fun regardless.

I had a quick ~24h turnaround in Anchorage, and then left for Chicago, which was awesome. chicagoWhen I started at this company, I had to go to a conference shortly after onboarding, and it was overwhelming (but fun). Virtually every role change is baptism by fire, and after being up here in AK alone for so long I was starting to doubt the breadth of my social skills leading up to a week in one of our giant metro offices. I was shocked by how stoked I was to be there and around other people, though there’s a limit to how much socializing I can take: I left our very large happy hour the last night a bit earlier than my peers after the volume and the sheer amount of people there started to feel exhausting. I’m grateful for my social muscle memory, and I think the week went well considering it was three long, long days of planning meetings and interacting with entirely new people. Especially after this past week (and signing my lease) I’m over the moon to press on with my life and my career. I can definitely do this, and cope with all of these changes. I love my new peer group: they are all extremely competent and, perhaps more importantly, different from each other, and from me. I feel like I am on an equivalent level of competence, and many of the challenges we have to solve together in 2022 are difficult ones. I will learn a lot, and will have to do so quickly.

This time next month, I’ll be in New York, with only tentative plans to return to Alaska after Christmas: I’d prefer to fly straight to Denver. I have in reality less than 3 weeks here, as I plan to also spend 4-5 days in Denver in the beginning of December. I genuinely hope my entire plan is buttoned up by the end of this coming week. The level of excitement I feel to move on is unexpected, but I am sure at times I will feel a lot more melancholy about this decision.

That’s all for now… I’m currently chugging through Steven Pinker’s Rationality, which is long-winded but good, though I’m familiar with most of this material already.

Return to the World

Well, this morning my 7-day course of ciprofloxacin ended without one single hurling episode (thank you, Zofran), and I am happy this experience is now behind me. I will be spending the next however-long-it-takes recolonizing the mausoleum of my digestive system with friendly bacteria: antibiotics are amazing triumphs of science to be used in extreme moderation, and I have not used a broad-spectrum antibiotic since I was in college. Yesterday, feeling a bit nauseous, I decided to chance the gym (I chose the machine with a garbage can within barfing distance); I ate solid food for the first time in 10 days and even had a few cocktails. Today I survived my full hour on the stair mill. It feels good to be healthy again, friends. That was a close one. 

Given I no longer feel as though my days are numbered, I am ecstatic that I am wrapping my life up and transporting myself and my dog (I hope) to Denver in a few short months. It’s only Tuesday and it’s already been a hellacious week; I’ve already been added to my new team’s channels, boards, calendars and meetings, and I still have a few days left with my former team, which is not really how this was supposed to go, but it is what it is, and I appreciate their eagerness to have me on board. 

The next two weeks are filled with travel, and when I get back I expect to start figuring out my timeline for getting my stuff moved out of here. I am grateful for the months I have to find a place to live, though I will probably have to head to Denver for a few days after Thanksgiving regardless. I am anxious about this piece, but I am sure it will work out. 01My dog’s bully breed is a major struggle, as it always has been, which is tragic and ridiculous, and it will cost me thousands of dollars on top of my own costs to situate her. I’m torn, to be honest, on taking her with me, as she has a family she knows well that would happily adopt her here, and she’d have far more frequent company with a family than she’ll have with me working from the office half the week. It is extremely taboo to say things like this, I realized months ago, as people anthropomorphize their pets and think they’re crying themselves to sleep at night when they’re apart, which is not typically the case, and certainly not the case for mine. That said, I’ve had this dog for 6 of her 8 years of life, and she’s bonded to me, so she will probably be coming with me at my expense anyway. I can’t imagine parting with an animal that was my sole companion through the pandemic, and if you can be proud of a dog for what it has become character-wise in the time you’ve owned it, I am proud of her. This dog would not even let people near her when I took her in; she loves everyone now, and everyone loves her.

Regardless of how that transpires, I am fairly sure Fuji will be my last pit bull; my years of trying to do the right thing and taking in behaviorally fucked-up adult shelter dogs to turn their attitudes around and make them normal are probably over and I am tired of the price I’ve had to pay over the years for reforming the lives of these animals. A few months ago I came across a breed that will probably end up being perfect for me in the long run, and asked my sister to find me a breeder in the next 3-5 years so I can get on a wait list: the dogs look like huge muppets but are extremely protective and powerful, and excellent for security training.

Alas, we’ll see how it goes. There’s a lot to do.

Rewinding a bit, my vacation was fantastic. I spent a week in Myrtle Beach with my parents, and a week in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort. dadMy family has been traveling to Myrtle Beach since I was born, though I have only very vague memories of the place. A bunch of years ago my parents purchased a condo in the building we always used to stay in, which was a huge deal for them, and it has pretty much become their Shangri-La. I was skeptical at first, as MB is known as the “Redneck Riviera,” but the area has changed unbelievably since we were kids, and is now one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country. My parents’ building is well operated and maintained, and the ocean is so loud you can hear it inside, which I love.

My relationship with my parents has improved markedly over time, due to various factors, and I actually enjoy spending time with them, which was almost never the case until 2-3 years ago. I also just love their condo, I was over the moon at the prospect of swimming in the ocean every day, and I had an amazing time. (Yes, I blurred out my dad’s nipples. Ya welcome.)

My experience at my first all-inclusive resort in Mexico was also surprisingly good. mexicoSome things could have been better, especially the food, but given their typical audience I think the quality was acceptable, and they had a buffet, which was great. Despite not even being a pool person, the first three days there, we barely made it past the quiet, lazy river-ish pool outside our building. The beach was beautiful; the ocean was warm and amazing and there were huge fish swimming with us. I could’ve stayed for longer… a lot longer. cochinitaI had intended to spend a day or two off-property, so one day we went to Rio Secreto, which was mind-blowingly cool. The second day we went out to Chichen Itza, we swam in a beautiful cenote, which we inexplicably had entirely to ourselves. Dug up some cochinita pibil on the long drive back. I would go back to this resort in a hot second, though the 60% sale I booked with would have to be available… there is no way I’d pay full price for what we got. We got a killer deal at $370 or so a night… I wouldn’t pay $500. All in all total kick ass experience, no regrets. 

Quick rundown of what I’ve read this month, no summaries, just links to Amazon. Most of this stuff was good, nothing was great except for Cultish, which I really enjoyed. Woke, Inc. is worth a read, too. Age of Addiction was not really what I expected, but there was a lot of interesting history, which made it unique.

Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History | The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business | Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism | Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life | Woke, Inc.: Inside America’s Corporate Social Justice Scam

I also watched the HBO remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage, which I decided I didn’t hate as much as I thought initially. I do hate some of the modernizing efforts, particularly the open marriage that is their friends’ relationship in the beginning, but I am skeptical of this trend in society, which isn’t really a sufficient reason to disparage its presence in the remake. I also don’t love that they switched the genders in the original plot, but I could’ve gone either way I suppose. It’s as complex and emotional as the original, though I find the original to be timeless and not in any need of modernizing whatsoever. I still prefer the original, which is one of my favorite films of all time, but I think the remake was a good effort.

That’s all for now, but I imagine I’ll be writing again soon as things continue to develop.

Highs & Lows

I knew before it was October that this would be an eventful month, but I failed to fully plan for the extent to which October 2021 will be etched into my memory for some time. I’m going to skip my travel recap for the time being, and maybe post again next week before I depart for San Diego & Vegas, because this past week has truly been an experience in extremes.

I didn’t feel so hot last Saturday. I’ve always had a bit of a finnicky stomach; it’s better now than it has been in years past, and is typically happier with less food, and fewer meals. I chalked it up to whatever, adjusting back to AK, stress, who knows what. I rallied, and on Saturday night we had a big dinner with another friend. Honestly, after a few glasses of wine, I was feelin’ aight.

I spent Sunday in bed. I managed to have some dinner. I sweat and shook through the night. I spent Monday in bed, getting up only for my final interview. Later on Monday, I was offered a promotion to a position in Denver, finally. I accepted, and went back to bed.

Later on Monday, I told my roommate he might need to take me to the ER in the morning. Lying in bed, again sweating through all of my clothes and sheets, I decided going to the ER was not an option; all of our hospitals are on rationed care, and I couldn’t wait a whole day for help and risk getting COVID on top of whatever else was wrong with me. I’m one of those people who isn’t going to go to the hospital until I’m about to die, so this was pretty bad. I was fading in and out of consciousness. I was sleeping with my heart beating at 120bpm. Not good. I was in horrible, mind bending pain I had never experienced before.

At 8am I called the clinic down the street where I go for primary care and begged them to let me come in immediately. They said yes. I was there for four hours, and they were amazing… they ran all kinds of tests and CT’d my abdomen. Went home, went back to bed. Doctor called a few hours later and told me I saved my own ass bringing myself in for help: I had a severe salmonella infection, and concurrent overgrown e.coli (everyone has e. coli, but some strains are bad, and a malfunctioning biome can cause a harmless strain to overgrow and become harmful, apparently). Seeing as I don’t eat out of dumpsters, or dine on shit sandwiches, I’m kind of stumped as to how this happened. People I’ve shared this with tend to blame Mexico, but I’ve been to Mexico a bazillion times and I’ve never gotten sick, so I doubt it. You know what? I really don’t even care. The level of pain I have been in destroyed any curiosity I might’ve had over where I acquired this. I’ve never been this acutely ill in my life, and I’ve been pretty fucking sick a few times. I leveled up this time around.

My pharmacy’s incompetence caused me to wait a further 6 hours for the antibiotics, antiemetics and other unpleasant medications I needed to turn this ship around. For me, there are two parts to this nightmare, because antibiotics make me hurl, so it’s been a tenuous few days trying to keep them in my stomach and balance that with the rest of the symptoms. I am slowly starting to feel better, and I am surprised by how long any improvement has taken: given that I began a high dose of Cipro on Tuesday evening and it’s Friday, I figured I’d have bounced back by now… I figured wrong. I am still in a lot of pain, I can’t walk fast, and I can’t eat much beyond plain soup and cereal. I think it will take some time (weeks, at least) to fully heal from this.

I’m eternally grateful that for the first time in what feels like forever, timing worked in my favor: my roommate was home this week. I’m not sure what I would have done without him, considering that I spent days unable to even walk down the stairs. He has been wonderful (and is always wonderful).

Now, at the end of the week, and rejoining the work world (I took the entire week off, which makes me sad for my team, which will be informed of my impending departure on Monday morning), I am starting to wrap my head around the many, many moving parts that will comprise my move out of Alaska and into Denver. Thankfully, I have three months, and I don’t plan to show up until January.

The extent to which I will be forcing myself to adjust is difficult to comprehend, but I’ve had all year to consider these things. It came up in my final interview: that I needed to be sure I wanted to give up the level of freedom I have in my life now, and the level of control I have over my own life, to work in an office part-time, manage a team (of mostly brand new people), to live in a city again. It will be interesting for sure. My new boss is convinced I will think Denver is a crowded shit-hole and regret leaving Alaska, which is entirely possible. I told him I’ll figure it out. I’m holding onto my house up here and it’s a direct flight away… I’m not worried. Time for a change.

More on all of this in the weeks to come. Despite this unfortunate salmonella episode, I am so fucking stoked I managed to make this happen for myself, and to secure myself an all expenses paid ticket out of here and a promotion with a hefty raise. Fuck yes.

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.

July, so far.

I’ve amassed so much content for July that I’m posting this before the end of the month; my parents are flying in on Tuesday night, and it’ll be only the second time this summer I’ve gone out and done any Alaska things, particularly the first trip up to Denali, which in previous years has always been in May/June.  Today was also the first hike up Alyeska, which used to be a daily affair… I’m surprised by my fitness level; while I spend nearly an hour on the stair mill most days of the week, it’s usually not sufficient training for hiking up an actual mountain. Surprisingly, today my heart rate barely rose enough for me to earn any Fitbit active minutes: a good and bad problem to have, good because you’re in decent physical shape, bad because you need to push yourself harder. It’s been raining a lot up here, and the humidity fucks with my joints, as much as I appreciate rain over wildfires. patio

It’s been a generally challenging summer for a number of reasons: we have no help in the hospitality industry, and anyone who is working in this industry is working twice+ as hard. Restaurants require reservations or have long wait times; everywhere is overcrowded. Alaska is crowded already in the summer, and over-tourism has become more of a struggle every year. That, combined with inadequate staffing levels and an unbelievable lack of patience of people visiting has created really unpleasant working conditions.

After opening my condo up on Airbnb, I’m sold out for most of the summer season; I’m grateful for the opportunity to compensate for lost wages during COVID, but because I manage, clean and maintain it myself, I now have even less free time than I usually do. I’ve made a few thousand dollars on Turo as well, though I don’t expect to continue that at this time… after weeks of mulling, 10986964_10103331468477270_2700687044414104837_o_10103331468477270I sold my beloved STI and bought a Toyota 4Runner, if for no other reason than to (a) capitalize on the high resale value of my car before the odometer was too high and (b) because my Alaska exit strategy will require a larger turbo-free vehicle that won’t blow a (literal) gasket on me on the Alcan.

I’m surprised by how unemotional the entire process was; I bought my first WRX in 2008 in New Hampshire, and bought my STI in 2015 up here. They are the only two cars I have ever outright owned, both manual transmission, and I have loved every moment of driving each of them. I nearly cried when I turned in my WRX for the STI; that car had been with me longer at that point in time than any person had; I had driven it to the easternmost tip of the continent (St. John’s, Newfoundland; photo to the right is the Bonavista Peninsula, where John Cabot landed in 1497) and then drove it to Alaska. It had 140,000 miles on it. I still see it on the road in Anchorage. I have covered virtually the entire road system of this state with those two vehicles, and the STI was a wonderful companion for my years as a road warrior. It is truly the end of an era. But it feels like the end of a lot of things is on the horizon.

Another reason I switched vehicles is that I’m not convinced this microchip shortage will end anytime soon, despite what we’re told by the media. I had originally planned to hold out for the 2022 STI, which I do not believe will be released anywhere near its target date. So, that’s done. I wish I felt more enthusiasm about it, but meh. I am making some modest changes to the 4Runner that will get it to where I want it to be aesthetically so that may help. I tell myself if I feel too much FOMO in the future, I can go buy another STI… and tow it with the 4Runner if need be. Win win.

I think this is also part of a continuing process of divorcing myself from material possessions with any meaning; it happened naturally with my condo, and I think is largely a consequence of my closest friend up here moving to Idaho… it does not feel the same to be there anymore. I think to some degree I also stopped caring about the car, at least to the level I had in the past; I hit a point where it became more of a source of anxiety than a pleasure. I realize this is something suicidal people do (give away all their worldly possessions): that is definitely not the case with me. I shared how emotionally dissociative I’ve been lately with a friend of mine in Fairbanks and he suggested that I may have transcended in a way, and as absurd and funny as that sounds, I think there is some truth in that. I have been in the zone 24/7 lately. I feel mostly nothing but the process itself, the accomplishment of individual tasks that are part of a larger series, and that might not be such a bad thing.

And so, alongside the juggling of various endeavors, I have been chugging through books, podcasts and even some good video content. I have struggled to get into podcasts, and it’s taken months of forcing myself to listen to them to really adapt, but I think I am finally there.

Continue reading

January 2021

January is a shitty month. I haven’t felt that way about this particular month prior to this year: I always hated grey, cold, soggy November more than brittle, dark January… but January 2021 seems to have earned discontent from nearly everyone I know. I’d imagine fresh off the pandemic-fueled loneliness of the holidays, January has felt as much like forever for many others as it has for me… days feel like weeks. Weeks feel like months. Add a brushstroke of insomnia and every day feels month-long. This month is also odd because I and two other friends have had parents in the hospital for complications of congestive heart failure… not a fun thing to go through when your hands are tied by a pandemic and your parents are old and unvaccinated. It has been nearly a year of being home-bound… and I am grateful for my friends and the comforts of my life, but holy fuck this just feels neverending at times. 

I’ve been pretty focused on work lately, and more attuned to streaming television than books, which is not ideal. In an effort to turn that around, I bit the bullet and bought an awesome reading chair, and restarted my habit of listening to audiobooks prior to falling asleep. Over the past months, only classics and non-fiction were interesting to me, but I am a hard reset person and the turning of the year and individual months helps… in 2021, I resumed reading business, political & personal growth stuff, which people roll their eyes at, and yet I often find pretty insightful. My little derp face dog has had a long procrastinated surgery, I’ve checked many items off my to-do list, and all said and done it has been a productive but difficult month.

I’m actually going to keep this post fairly short as I have a different one wholly dedicated to one book coming up later, but here’s January lite in “stuff.” One theme stands out among the books below: all four have incredibly high ratings and 5/5 reviews, and I disliked all four. How did I pick four unlikeable books in one month? January. 

The Interpretation of Dreams & A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis | I’m not sure what inspired me to listen to these two books, but I had never read any Freud before and now is as good a time as any. Unfortunately, I found them both somewhat boring: Interpretation of Dreams, despite being groundbreaking in its time, was mostly dull; you can learn more in a Wikipedia article at this point. The General Introduction to Psychoanalysis audiobook I listened to was a series of 30 lectures on the unconscious, dreams and neuroses, some interesting and some not so much. I wouldn’t discount Freud as much as I just am not particularly interested in this stuff; I am actually interested in neuroses in general (I see a lot of them in others) but I don’t feel like these lectures dove in as deeply as I would’ve preferred. Both books have near-perfect ratings across the web; I think this was more a matter of preference. 

Giants in the Earth | This was another book I had heard many good things about and found very boring: a story of Norwegian settlers pushing their way across the Dakota Territory to settle in the 1800s. Nothing particularly interesting happened minus a locust swarm toward the very end; reading about the Gulag and the Bosnian War has really raised my bar for suffering and tragedy: this was not that grim. Comparatively, these guys did alright, though it was a lonely and arduous journey and the locusts ate all their wheat. Boo hiss. I’m actually surprised I didn’t like this more as I will always remember reading Grapes of Wrath and thinking that was a hell of a horrible story.

Principles | Yet another let-down, though Ray Dalio’s advice is good, the dude spends WAY too much time talking about how brilliant he is. Probably just skip the entire first 1/3 of the book or find a YouTube lecture on what the actual principles are… no one needs to read a bio of another hedge fund guy. I downloaded this because it was in a list that contained other books I loved, namely Thinking Fast and Slow, How to Win Friends & Influence People and The Power of Habit. Principles was not 10% as good as any of those.

HBO: My Brilliant Friend & In Treatment | I indulged in seasons 1 and 2 of My Brilliant Friend after reading the Neapolitan Novels last month, both seasons of which are incredible, and I can’t wait for the remaining two. I would never tell a man to watch this show… I honestly don’t think men can possibly understand or identify with 90% of what happens in this long story. Everyone is amazingly well-cast, the story is near-perfect and all around the television rendition of this series is about 100x better than I had hoped. In Treatment I found browsing through HBO series (most of which is trash these days)… I’ve somehow been sucked in, despite the fact that I find all of the characters so brutally flawed. The episodes are short but the first few seasons are pretty interesting, as you watch a series of people go to therapy and speak with a guy whose own life is falling apart while he’s trying to help others. I’m taking a break from In Treatment because it depressed the fuck out of me to watch people sabotage their own lives over and over… but I do plan to finish it.

Fitbit Charge 4 | A little over a month using this FitBit Charge 4 and I’m mostly impressed by how much data this thing can churn out. I’m not wholly convinced on the sleep metrics; I notice if I fall asleep, then wake up and then go back to sleep, it seems to change the entire night of sleep data, which is odd; I also noticed that a common problem with this device (and all FitBits it seems, based on hundreds of complaints) is that it does not read your heart rate consistently during strenuous activity, which I noticed early on. I had initially ordered another HRM, but then managed to mostly solve the problem by taping the band of my watch to my arm about 3″ from my wrist bone. I have gotten fairly consistent readings during strenuous exercise since. I am a big fan of its Active Minutes, which was not a feature of the last FitBit I had. Being home nearly all the time, I rarely cross the 10K steps a day threshold; but I do clock 80-100 active minutes daily.

 

I have a large pile of books for February, and I’m setting the bar fairly low, at 5. So we will see. 

Viva Emptiness

Last time I posted was 10 weeks ago, and I was preparing to move into a huge house down the street and begin another stage of my life. Somewhat bewilderingly, I find myself here and now moved back into my former abode (I moved out, got completely settled in, and then moved again… fun). Some of my former aspirations have been dwindling for some time (weeks, if not months), so I feel less devastated than I expected. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t feel a whole lot of anything these days other than a stubborn enduring to keep myself occupied churning out anything worth something.

I’ve thought often of the book Alone, by Richard E. Byrd, chronicling 6 months alone in a bunker in Antarctica, and if another lockdown comes (almost guaranteed at this point), I don’t imagine I’ll feel too differently. I at least have a cute dog and the Internet, amirite? I quietly entertained myself this summer and slowly tucked money away, which turned out saving my skin during this most recent set of unforeseen circumstances. The truth is, I find I’ve become a person who amasses more strength and calm after every hardship; as Albert Camus wrote, “blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.” Is it that, though? Or are people like rubber bands, stretching and stretching, becoming ever more brittle over time before their inevitable snaps?

I’m pretty committed to personal growth and enjoy learning things (even hard lessons), and this moving and moving again drama has been a difficult situation for me because I don’t feel I caused this very unexpected outcome in any way whatsoever. Where I find other people wanting to deflect blame, it’s always seemed easier to me to accept responsibility and move on.

I am, at least, moving on. Again I find myself fortunate to have a nice house to move back into; the wherewithal to negotiate out of an expensive and lengthy lease; and a strong sense of resilience punctuated by already-tepid expectations of people (and life, to a somewhat lesser extent). I’ve also ducked yet another round of layoffs at my company; I’ve switched teams and regional hubs.  Perhaps most importantly, or at least top of mind during the holidays, I haven’t seen my parents, brother or any of my out-of-state friends in soon to be one year. Hell, I’ve barely seen my in-state friends in the past year; and I know many people are in the same boat. I still remain pretty overwhelmed with gratitude for how nice my life is, even when it sucks, too. Shit has been a lot worse for me, and I won’t ever forget that. That said, when it rains it pours, that’s for sure.

And so I’ve begun my winter reading marathon. I’m still moving a bit slowly due to work and life, and I’ve had more of a hankering for fiction than non-, so there will be a pretty solid mix in the months to come. The skills I’ve acquired over the summer remodeling will suit me well as I slowly patch all the earthquake cracks in the walls of this house. My survival strategy is to channel my frustration into making things beautiful/better, and it’s this house’s turn to receive its dividend. 

I’ve never been much of a holiday person, but seeing as how I will be spending the upcoming ones alone, I figure as the winter drags on I should figure out how else to healthily entertain myself (the pantry is already stocked with wine and gin, for less-healthy entertainment purposes). I’ve contemplated beginning to write in a real journal again… not quite sure I’m there yet, but I have sent a few cards to friends whose faces I haven’t seen in what feels like forever. Nearly a year after last returning to New Jersey and New York, I miss it, the feeling of having a foot in each world. My feet have been immersed in Alaska all summer, and lately, a shitload of snow. Watching the incredibly cheesy Smithsonian special Ice Airport Alaska, a guy on the show mentioned that there are two kinds of people who live up here: those who love winter and those who don’t, and the latter should probably leave. I’m inclined to agree… this winter will likely be a long, cold one. 

As someone who spent a lot of time flying for hang-time with friends prior to this pandemic, I’d say a lot has changed for me. I wonder why I’m not faring worse, or if I am and it’s just bubbling under the surface and I can’t feel it yet. More likely, my life has been so chaotic and unpredictable over its duration that I simply feel there’s no alternative to pressing on and making the best of all of this. As I told my work team recently (we do a lot of psychometric stuff), my #1 Strengthsfinder is Context, and I think a lot about the much worse things others have been through in the past: I told my manager recently that when I think about how hard life is for me/us all currently, I immediately feel that it could be worse: I could be hammering railroad spikes in Siberia at -60 in felt slippers. All of the morbid literature I’ve read over my life has paved a reasonably smooth road through 2020.

I feel for people who are deeply hurting after all these months; or the people who, in ignoring it due to COVID fatigue, will get sick. People who are developing real depression and anxiety. People without health insurance. Me, I’ve been alone for a long time, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. I graduated from the Acceptance stage on this one many years ago.

And so, let’s close out November with a few recent reads:

The Erratics: A Memoir | This memoir of return trips home to Alberta to deal with the author’s narcissistic whacko mother and starving, despairing father made for a grim but wonderful tale that will definitely hit home with anyone who has a screwed up family (possibly anyone who has to deal with ailing parents and the squabbles that come with). The winter weather and the dread made it all the more appropriate for this time of year in Alaska. NY Times review here.

Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town | This book has been all over the internet lately, often with a lot of praise. Part of the reason is due to there not being a whole lot of visibility into Tibet (thanks China). I actually found the human interest stories throughout to be below my expectations based on what I had read online, though it gets progressively better (especially when you get into self-immolation). The Tibetans have been fighting China for a long time, as many marginalized people have been fighting their evil Communist overlords for decades; a lot of this book seemed somewhat tame compared to most of the stuff I read, and perhaps that’s why it lacked the gut-punch its given to many others. I would go so far as to say I was even discouraged having bought two of her books at once, though amassing this information and the set of experiences that led her to write this is pretty amazing considering how tightly China controls this fledgling territory. Much more positive NY Times review here.

Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood | Eat the Buddha ended up letting me down, but Logavina Street was far beyond what I expected could be fit in 250 or so pages. I further was skeptical about how well anyone can explain much of what happened there in any cohesive way. I love the way this book is constructed, detailing the lives of the families who live on one street in Sarajevo through the four-year siege. There is a lot of explanation in here without too much confusion, and she manages to wrap it all in the complete identity crisis that was suffered individually and collectively during this war. She touches on the UN’s failure in Srebrenica and Žepa; the partitioning in the Dayton Accords; the complex circumstances that beset Sarajevo’s ethnically mixed populace. You can go in a lot of directions with the war; it remains overwhelmingly complex to most. Unfortunately she draws the same conclusion I’ve come to myself after many years deep-diving through Bosnia’s history and people… that another war, someday, is a likely outcome. While I wouldn’t rank this among my favorite books on the topic, I’d pass this first to anyone who wanted to learn more in simplistic terms (I would also pass along a copy of Sarajevo Daily, which she cited in this book). This was a really spectacular read, even for someone who has read 382398723842384 books about the Balkans already. LA Times review here.

My next read will occupy December and beyond… I’m diving into The Neapolitan Novels, which have apparently been turned into an HBO series.

April, May and into June

And so, the pandemic rolls on, and here in Alaska it’s a mixed bag. I’ve found myself excessively grateful to be living up here, as summer is approaching here, and almost no tourists will be crowding us out of our parks, trails, lakes, rivers and roads in peak season. GirdwoodThe solace we’ll all find as Alaskan residents in peak season comes at a steep price: it will be a seemingly endless bloodbath for small businesses and operators up here, as many businesses live on their summer proceeds all year. My travel plans, including a much-anticipated return to the Caucasus, have all been canceled, as have any summer concerts/festivals I had planned on attending. I’ve done a good job in my life with managing my expectations, so I find I feel less disappointment than many others whose lives have been completely disrupted by this.

I began this post in early May, and we’re well into June now. It’s taken me forever to finish the last two books in this list, and it’s primarily because I’ve been adulting hard over the past few months; I’m in the middle of refinancing, I’ve been remodeling my awesome ski condo, and hiking season has begun. I made the unfortunate decision years ago to join my Homeowners Association Board, so I will be increasingly inundated with horribly boring tasks there as well.

For someone who has spent the last decade flying all over the place and spending tons of time and money traveling and moving around (further, visiting many far-flung friends), I’m closing in on three straight months here in Southcentral Alaska, which is pretty unprecedented. Somehow I thought this would be harder — more crippling to my identity — it hasn’t been. In fact, I’ve used some of this time to further scrutinize some of my priorities and friendships, and really pare my life down to people who pull their weight. Reliability didn’t used to matter so much to me; I’m surprised by how much it’s taken a priority, likely due to such incredible (and prolonged) uncertainty, also I think partially because I am alone in a lot of ways up here. I still have yet to dine in a restaurant, despite the Municipality having been open again for weeks, which is definitely a personal record for me. I just don’t feel any desire. I don’t particularly miss flying all over the place; currently it just seems like an enormous hassle. I typically go back to New York a few times a year… I won’t be heading back that way until probably Christmas at the soonest.

And yet, I’m oddly pleased with my life: I took a 20% paycut, I work 4 days a week (I may opt to extend this if given the option… why did I ever think working 5 days a week was ideal?), having all of my summer plans quashed cuts my expenditures by a much greater percentage than the pay I’m losing. I’ve spent my weekends sanding, painting, cleaning, scrubbing, sealing, caulking. I’ve hated it, but I’ve made huge progress, among other things, I’ve eradicated all of the 70s ugly from my living room, including screwing up the mantle the first time and having to sand it down and do it all over again:

Our little Anchorage patio is also coming along nicely, despite a lengthy (cold) spring and a very sudden burst into summer. I admit I am exceptionally fortunate to have anywhere to go beyond where I live most of the time: I typically Airbnb my other place in the summer and have chosen (thus far) to spend my weekends there instead, basking in my own good fortune. Given the current state of the world, anyone who lives in peaceful quarters is fortunate, considering the amount of time people are spending cooped up in their homes. And while I would have probably never embarked upon home repairs if I weren’t stuck up here until further notice, it’s made me feel productive.

Many of my friends have spent this time reflecting on their lives and “looking at themselves,” as the saying goes, and I have as well. These opportunities are some of the silver linings of being holed up alone for so long. I’ve realized I have no desire to leave this state, despite years of waffling; I’ve acknowledged the sheer amount of time and effort I’ve squandered waiting for a few people in my life to wake the fuck up and show up for me; I’ve learned a fair amount of handy shit and it’s been a nice reminder that sometimes I’m a bit lazy and I shouldn’t be, because I can learn really fast. I had set sail my Northeastern-mindset career ambitions a few years back, which was oddly freeing. My life doesn’t have much purpose (at least not in the way workaholic Americans see ‘purpose’). Sounds grim, but it’s actually amazing to just accept it, make good choices and enjoy what you have. I like my job, I like the company I work for. I think an important turning point in my life was realizing one decent job is as good as another; what I do isn’t really any part of my identity. I would work at a sewage treatment plant or on an oil platform if it were the right kind of challenging and kept me interested.

I think over the past few months I’ve stopped striving for some things in my life: stopped waiting for other people, stopped waiting for things to change when I know deep down they won’t, stopped making an effort when it’s clear it gets me nowhere and I will only be disappointed again in the end. I’ve channeled virtually all of my time and effort into things (and people) that will work and pay dividends, and it sounds like a cold and calculating way to live, but it has made me feel a lot more secure and even less reliant on others (wasn’t sure that was possible, but it is). My birthday is around the corner, and last year I was grateful that despite having to cancel my birthday trip to Peru, I could afford to be seen by amazing doctors and obtain relevant information without going broke… this year, 3+ months into a global pandemic, I still feel a lot of gratitude for the life I have. I’d venture to say I even feel some mild pride: I don’t know that there has ever been a time when I’ve felt like the many bizarre decisions I’ve made in my life have paid off so well, and so broadly, and set the stage for a really comfortable, pleasant, mostly un-emotionally-strained experience. We, up here, are watching the rest of the world from very far away; we are an outpost… one that feels incredibly safe considering what is happening in the world’s cities. That doesn’t mean stress doesn’t creep in: many people with autoimmune diseases are having issues with flaring right now, whether they feel emotionally stressed or not, that anxiety manifests in their bodies. It does for me, as well.

Who knows what will happen in the future, and things will surely get worse before they get better, but to an astounding degree I’ve realized that nearly everything I want in my life is here already, or en route, and I’m thankful to be able to give up a lot of extraneous shit (at least, for the time being) I thought was really important to me and still be pretty fulfilled. Our Turkish Airlines tickets will be turned into vouchers, so I’m not about to wander off into the woods and never travel again… for now, I’ll wait. Happily.

And so, the shamefully few books I’ve managed to read lately:

With Their Backs to the Mountains: A History of the Carpathians and Carpatho-Rusyns | This is an unbelievable read. I don’t know that there is any more comprehensive collection of the history of Carpatho-Rusyns than the one in this book, complete with detailed maps for each period and after every border change. It has taken me YEARS to track down all of the information for my own family (my great grandparents emigrated from Kul’chytsi (now in Western Ukraine) in 1913 (good timing, amirite?). My grandparents almost never spoke about it (my grandmother is the Lithuanian Livia Soprano and my grandfather was quiet, kind and died when I was in college). I spent years searching for all of our records; this book definitely filled in the gaps: it’s additionally annoying to track down information as Carpatho-Rusyns are not Ukrainians, and they’ve been absorbed by a slew of empires and borders over the centuries.

Kul'chytsi, approximate

Journey to the End of the Night | This incredible book is filled with loathsome, miserable characters and yet the story is worth reading. From WWI to Africa to factoryland USA, this grotesque journey is somehow both grim and amusing. I laughed out loud at many points… this is a great quarantine book, to be honest. You think your life sucks? Check out this guy. Wikipedia here (it’s a classic). Would definitely recommend.

When: The Secrets of Perfect Timing | I actually loved this guy’s book To Sell is Human, so I decided to throw a business-focused book into the mix. I actually thought this would be more about coincidental good timing and “why” versus doing things at a certain time for better results (pro tip: if you’re having surgery, do it in the morning). This one was not nearly as interesting, but I read it in a few hours so I’m not sure it was a total waste of time. If you’re about living life efficiently, it has some cool pointers, but not his best work. NPR review here.

The Border Trilogy | Jury’s still out on Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy. He has a very distinct style; I loved the first part of the second book in the series, with the wolf. The rest was good; none of them would rank among my favorites of all time (I think culturally this landscape, the people, the values and lifestyles are too far from my own), but I don’t regret reading them for a moment. They’re all unbelievably tragic in different ways. There are some sentences and phrases in these books I’ll never forget… I can’t understate how beautifully he can churn out prose. The section of the second book about the wolf could have been its own separate book. He can paint incredible pictures if you have any kind of imagination, and his books are steeped in beauty and really horrible, soul-crushing solitude.

Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine | This is the second Robert Conquest book I’ve read, and Harvest of Sorrow is no more exciting of a read than his one on resettlement (he’s incredibly dry), but his information is so meticulous I have a ton of respect for him and especially the numbers he managed to compile at the time these books were written. I would only not recommend this book to someone because there are a number of others on the holodomor that are easier to digest (Anne Appelbaum’s Red Famine is by far the best). Conquest has a lot of personal accounts and also a shitload of numbers to look at, which makes it worth diving into if you’re wondering about the sheer scale by region or time period. There are all kinds of numbers in here and it’s pretty astounding he managed to piece it all together at a time when the information was not readily available. Wikipedia here.

I’ve been watching a bit on streaming lately and reading less than is typical for me. I revisited an oldie but goodie (Black Mirror) and while no show for me will top Netflix’s German series Dark, I’ve found a few random things I’ve really enjoyed (these are things I watched at the front of the pandemic, I haven’t been watching anything special lately… mostly revisiting old movies I love).

Red Queen (Prime) | I started watching this on a whim because Amazon kept pushing it on me, and I actually loved it. A lot of the show is made up, as there is not sufficient real information about the main character, Regina Zbarskaya, probably the most famous Soviet model of all time. Because it takes place in the ~60s in the USSR it’s a pretty amazing period piece, and it’s really well-done. Her life was, no surprise, totally tragic. This show is entirely in Russian and TOTALLY worth it.

Manhunt: Unabomber (Netflix) | I actually really liked this, too. I watched another Unabomber documentary (In His Own Words) and that one was pretty lame, but this one was worth it.

Waco (Netflix) | This was another incredible watch; I didn’t get into it at first, but after a few episodes I was hooked. Every American should watch this; for people who aren’t politically inclined, it explains a lot about the bipolar disorder America has in its politics.

Westworld, S01 (HBO) | I was surprised by how much I loved the first season of this show as well; I always considered watching it and never got around to it. Unfortunately I heard the next seasons sucked, so I probably won’t be continuing.

My next post will actually be about intermittent fasting for autoimmune disease, which is a bit boring I suppose, but I started it awhile back and I’ll wrap it up sometime this week.