Everything Everywhere

January has been a lot. I am feeling much better, which I suppose is the most important part. I managed to take someone else’s canceled endocrinology appointment in mid-Jan (every office I called was booked solid until the end of April, which was pretty nerve-wracking), and it was nice to sit down with someone who didn’t treat me like an idiot. IMG-20230128-WA0005Given my severe lack of sleep and puffy, greying raccoon eyes at that point, I was persuaded to give beta blockers a try, and they have helped a lot. I have always been afraid of this stuff, despite it being one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the Western world. 20mg of propanolol with 2mg of melatonin at bedtime has at least has allowed me to sleep over the past few weeks… and as of a few days ago, I am off both.

Last week I survived a heavy office week with multiple 12h days, and am happy that’s over. Our annual planning session seems to have gone decently enough – far less hectic than last year, although half our group is new, so it takes longer to come to agreement. There is a director position open in my office and I have decided to not apply: I actually informed the hiring manager earlier this week, and he was disappointed, although I suspect part of that is just trying to build the largest pool of applicants possible. I really don’t want to stay in this division beyond this position and I hate all the politics and am tired of feeling like an outlier. I am pretty sick of this org and everything we do; the only interesting part of this role is developing people: one of my people, who I confirmed will be offered a promotion on another team next week, was on the brink of being terminated a year ago. He was difficult to turn around, but I am impressed with him, proud of the outcome of the effort that went into that.

I did receive a performance review this month that was so good it even surprised me: the feedback from my peers and direct reports was extremely flattering and thoughtful, and have been assigned a number of additional responsibilities, which I am actually pretty excited about. There are multiple people on my team that will receive promotions and fly the coop, off to other NORAM-based teams where they will be leads, so there is a lot to be proud of in this year in terms of growing people.

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2022, Year in Review

This is a very long post. Sorry not sorry.

December is existential crisis month for me, and December 2022 has not deviated from that norm. Given my penchant for reducing my life to spreadsheets, I also look forward to this opportunity to chop up my year in numbers and lists: I analyze spending patterns, update budget spreadsheets, amass my tax paperwork and my rental property P&L. I update my annual good/bad/fail/goal summary tab, which has been helpful in giving me a more quantitative look at what I’ve accomplished in the previous year. I realized a long time ago I tend to look at my accomplishments very cynically, and kick myself for being a disappointment and waste of potential — a worthless meat popsicle — and I need to be able to look at what actually happened to alleviate this sense of utter failure. This feeling has always been with me, I am extremely hard on myself and my absolute worst critic 100% of the time, and living with this perception of my life day in and day out is a nightmare. 

My primary work-related goals in 2022 were to (a) master my new role in 3 months versus the 12-18 I was told I would need to fully absorb my responsibilities, and (b) survive employment at this company through the end of my retention bonus/relocation payout, which would be clawed back if I departed before November 1. Both were accomplished, and I took on a second team in July on top of my own team growing in leaps and bounds proficiency-wise. I certainly experienced some speed bumps along the way, but overall it was a professionally successful year where I found quite a few aspects of this role I really enjoy, namely upskilling/sales enablement and managing people in general, which was a surprise.

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And just like that,

Well, I was supposed to be wrapping up my year (mentally) this week in Austin with three hectic days of 2023 planning meetings with my leadership group. I woke up Sunday morning to a canceled calendar invite from my boss, who, along with the rest of his director crew, all seem to have contracted COVID at last week’s summit in Las Vegas.

I put so much time into the logistics, catering, planning, booking conference rooms, restaurant reservations, content and scheduling that I wanted to go anyway, but was overruled by the majority of my group, and fair enough. The larger frustration for me is that we’ll be “planning” for 2023 in 2023 which is a miserable thought for me. lakeOn the plus side, it sounds like the rescheduled event will happen here in Denver, which will make for a less insane January since I’ll already be spending the second week of the year back in Texas to hang over this team to their new manager (finally). My team also deserves the attention: I have the highest concentration of high performers of anyone in my group. In fact, I don’t spend enough time really taking in how insane it is that my team is so bad ass. We are actually beating most of North America in terms of key performance indicators. I hope I can promote at least 1/3 of my team in 2023: ideally half or more. They deserve it. They are not only good at their jobs, but they’ve become better-rounded, more cooperative, assertive but thoughtful people and I am proud AF.

I essentially have two more weeks of standard issue insanity, and I made a dinner reservation at a Spanish restaurant downtown with a girlfriend from work to really celebrate the winding down of 2022. While I gained back a few days, I still don’t want to travel, despite considering joining friends in Vegas, or my parents in Myrtle Beach. I am tired. I am approaching “burned out.” I want this year to be over. Any time I get time back in my life, it’s used doing shit I should’ve already done: today I got my flu shot, washed my truck and made an oil change appointment. Glamorous. I’ll be prepping my tax spreadsheets over Christmas break so I don’t have to deal with that hellscape in 2023, as per usual.

Dec 1 was my 8th year anniversary at this company, and it’s crazy to think I’ve been here for so long. One of my real Denver friends here took a contract job in Alexandria, Egypt and is departing in January, and I plan to just bide my time and see what happens with the path I’ve chosen to amble down in the new year. I booked my two weeks in Uzbekistan in April, I submitted my passport renewal app, I’ve completed all of my budgeting and goals/personal year in review spreadsheets early. Yesterday I got a wild hair and decided to throw out the expired food in all of my cabinets, of which there was more than I had anticipated, and that’s a shame. I also dropped off a giant garbage bag of clothes and shoes at Good Will today: items I’ve been lugging from home to home for the past decade thinking I’ll wear them again. Clearly I won’t. I’m not necessarily the kind of person who never gets rid of things, but I do seem to be the kind of person who overprepares, and I woefully overestimate the amount of food I can eat before it expires.

I continue to idealize a week or two of doing nothing here during Christmas break, but I’m pretty shitty at doing nothing, since I manage to over-administer my own life even when I’m doing two people’s jobs instead of one. thanksgivingIn the past few weeks, my parents visited, I went to Dallas, I had an uncharacteristically festive Thanksgiving and decorated for Christmas (this is the first tree of my adult life, and it’s quite nice, actually). We also watched Dahmer during the long weekend, which was surprisingly revolting but very good. High recommend if you like to watch serial killer docs on your holiday break.

I have a huge stack of books to read and a lot of stuff to watch as well: I started and finished the much-hyped 1899 series this weekend, which was disappointing compared to this production house’s masterpiece, Dark; My Brilliant Friend season 3 is out and I’ll be saving that for the break: the books (The Neapolitan Novels) were so incredible I’m going to start all over from Season 1, Episode 1. I’m chipping away at 3 books, but I finished one very lengthy one yesterday, The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, which was so freakin’ good. I also finished Tim Snyder’s On Tyranny (Expanded Edition) which was great, although sometimes it felt like he was definitely not talking to someone who knows much about Ukraine. I’d suggest it to anyone who is interested in tying history to present — it’s interesting to read the same history with varied (although, generally aligned) interpretations from different authors. I downloaded a few other of his books and will knock them out over the break. He tends to surface in the documentaries I watch as well, so reading all of his books is probably overdue.

I’ll be (unsurprisingly) reading extensively about Central Asia over the coming months, although I think I’d be able to hold my own over there without reading anymore on that area. I had looked into trying to get to Bishkek or Almaty or stopping in Baku on the way over as well, but there is so much stuff to see in Uzbekistan that there won’t be time to hit the other ‘stans in the same trip. Frankopan’s book confirmed as much. I don’t know that I’ll spend any time in Europe in peak summer in 2023; I am kind of tired of sweating my ass off over there (I’ve been tired of Western Europe for years; other than metalfests, I’d only ever spend any time there to show my parents Iceland or Spain) and may opt to just spend some more time in Alaska or road trip instead. There is still a 50/50 chance I am talked into Brutal Assault, but as it stands we are already going to Finland for Steelfest in May, and that may be enough. And, I will of course be returning to Mexico for 9-10 days of doing absolutely nothing.

I also spent many hours watching TraumaZone, a lengthy documentary(ish) about peoples’ lives in Russia during the fall of the Soviet Union. It was pretty awesome if you’re into that kind of thing, ie, random old footage strung together into many-hours-long docuseries. I also stumbled upon Turning Point: 9/11 and The War on Terror on Netflix, which was surprisingly good. I guess the narrative is finally changing and we’re all acknowledging the US wasted a shitload of time, money and lives fucking around in Iraq and going into Afghanistan and squatting there for 20 years with no discernible objective. It’s been brutal to watch the dipshit things we’ve done overseas in terms of the Middle East in my lifetime; particularly because everyone was so tired of pointless occupation by the time Syria needed help that we didn’t do jack shit for them, when we should have. There are cool things happening in the world: Ukraine is slowly but painfully gaining ground; Iranians are finally tired of oppressive theocracy. I’ll end up voting for whoever is going to keep the weapons flowing to Ukraine, as I care much more about international events than I do about the shit show that is American domestic policy at this time.

Otherwise, I got nothing. I have not resumed drinking alcohol with any regularity, but I have maintained my step streak and have dutifully gone to the gym 4x+ a week. I have 1-2 friends coming over for Christmas Eve and am making a huge leg of lamb Persian-style and the standard Slavic accoutrements. I will deeply enjoy not thinking about work for days on end; my 4-day Thanksgiving weekend was actually spectacular for that reason.

That’s it for now. I hope to have accomplished more in the way of books by the end of December. If not, I’m not sure how I will pass the time.

Dispatches from Rahway, NJ

I have officially survived my sober and overscheduled October and am firmly into November.otto Soon enough, things will gradually calm down and I will spend the second half of December relaxing(ish) and, knowing myself, reflecting on a quite eventful year of change. It’s still mind-blowing to me that I’ve been here for nearly a year; I can’t believe how fast it has blown by, and I suppose at least part of it is that I have been too busy to be bored. Life is good, though, and while I am constantly grappling with what’s next, I have not ever felt I chose this step incorrectly. My father asked me if I still miss Alaska, and the answer is always yes, and will likely always be yes, but it was a good call to take a break and do something else. I also do not (yet) regret holding onto my house up there; I would be struggling a lot more emotionally if I had left nothing there to go back to.

This month’s story begins with my former roommate from Anchorage visiting. I had not seen him in a year. fifthstringHe is more of a brother to me than a former roommate, or even friend, and conveniently one of his defense contractor buddies relocated to Denver at the same time I did, which meant he was visiting both of us here. Even more conveniently, we have become good friends in this past year, so we had a blast together. Matt (Anchorage) is in Djibouti now, and if I’m lucky I’ll see him again in the spring or summer.

An affinity for high-end meals is something we share, so we ate a ton. manhattanWe also drove up to Leadville, a little mining town that quite a few people have recommended to me, and it was an all around awesome day. Leadville is very Alaskan; remote and quite rough around the edges. There was a bar for sale on the main strip when we visited that the guys later chased as a lead for our imaginary future together, where we all live on a compound, they never have to grow up or assume any responsibility, and I run the business to keep us all afloat. If only. The bar sold before we could grab it, so I guess we’re all stuck in our present lives.

Being a defense contractor or a member of the Armed Forces have never been attractive career paths to me, but the guys did finally talk me into taking the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). It took a few days of mulling and surfing the web, but after easily passing the practice tests, I decided to do it. The process is long and the amount of assessments and screens have months of wait time between them, but given the cost ($0) I figure I’ll give it a whirl and see what happens. I still have some legwork to do (you need to pick a track, and the one I will probably choose is the most competitive), but the only thing I lose if this doesn’t go anywhere is the $40 I’ve spent on used study guides and a few hours of time.

It may look strange to abruptly change careers, but I’ve done so before and was never committed to one path in my life anyway. I bypassed a more focused specialization in college solely to ensure I had transferable skills that did not limit me geographically. I’ve had a pretty unbelievable experience thus far, and my experiences living in and traveling to bizarre backwater locales is an advantage. I shared with a family member last night that my life feels somewhat dull and ordinary; I am on the gerbil wheel. I have concerns about my future and my retirement and very few strings attached to anything here.

I talked a lot to some friends on this recent trip about what a hassle it is to feel like the world is your oyster – if that isn’t a first-world problem, I don’t know what is – I tend to try new things all the time and force myself into discomfort and end up excelling at most things I try (I think the excellence is a byproduct of being willing to really try to master new things instead of any kind of intelligence or talent), and maybe it’s time to start over and use my years upon years of devouring books and Economist articles to do some good. It’d also be an opportunity to serve; while the country devolves domestically into wokism, racism and other psychoses, it may be time for the rational and educated moderates to pick up some slack and make more deliberate sacrifices. We live in an age where even speaking of serving your country earns sneers and laughs, and that is pretty shameful to me. I also think there’s a decent chance of finding more people who are out in the world navigating complexity versus armchair quarterbacking on world events with minimal interest in experiencing it.

In any case, this potentially multi-year process starts on Dec 21, when I register for the FSOT in February. Then, we wait and see. In the meantime, now that I am off my retention contract and there is no penalty tied to leaving my company, I will be evaluating my options for next steps. I need a lot of friction and challenge in my life and have no intention of keeping this middle management job for very long, despite the fact that I seem to be quite good at it. I’ve never wanted an ordinary life. I don’t mean that as an insult to anyone else. I don’t know how or what that will translate to, but that feeling of constantly needing to be challenged has dominated my entire life and many of my choices. I know I have walked from many opportunities to lead a normal existence, and I reflect on that regularly (weddings definitely are a good opportunity to do so). While the idea of a life of routine fills me with dread, I am perfectly at peace in my skin with no concrete plan or commitment to one lifelong passion to rule them all. I think (wedding thoughts) especially as an unmarried woman pushing 40 surrounded by married siblings and cousins, it’s important to feel like you made your own choice, and I do.

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, the year grows old,

Returned from my very low-key trip to Mexico last Sunday, and still could not be happier I did that instead of the Jordan/Beirut trip I had initially intended to take. beachI never saw myself as an all-inclusive resort kind of person, but ten days of swimming, going to the gym, reading and getting 8 hours of sleep a night sound a lot more valuable to me than they might have ten years ago. This trip was just under a year from the last time I was down there, and it was a good way to close the door on the protracted adjustment period I’ve given myself here, during which I’ve only loosely employed intermittent fasting; I’ve struggled at times to figure out how to make it to the gym 4 days a week; and I’ve often slacked on truly getting enough exercise (as much as I need to not feel murderous).

I decided about halfway through the trip that as of Oct 1 I’d fully lay off alcohol for a month, if not longer (I will probably continue through the end of the year with a holiday exception or two), and I’d have to restart OMAD. I’ve tested many types of fasting: alternating between loose OMAD and 23:1 are the ideal types for me, and I figure I’ll use the rest of the year to reacclimate to it. 9 days in, I’ve had no trouble with either changes, and I have yet to break by 10K step a day streak despite being in the office and having a friend from LA visiting me this week. I suspect returning to fasting — which is something I’ve been doing for the past 5-6 years — and giving up cocktail time after work will unlock more time / energy, and I’ll need it. I haven’t been drinking much regardless, but I’ve come to look forward to my post-work G&T or glass of Tempranillo a bit more than is ideal.

With so many friends visiting, it’ll be a challenging month to do this, but I’ve navigated 1/3 of the month easily. My former roommate from Anchorage is visiting later this week and through the weekend; Juan is dropping into town for a show midweek next week, then a friend from RI is coming in on Friday. I then am returning to Austin, then Dallas before I head back to NY / NJ / PA to see some friends and go to my cousin’s wedding. The Texas team has a new manager who starts at the end of this month, and I’ll transition his team to him in December. I’m hoping mid/late December is a recovery month for me; I have no plans and no interest in going anywhere after a final work trip in early December, so it’ll be a nice opportunity to reflect, especially given at that time last year my life felt like a complete disaster and I made it here almost a month before my belongings did.  It’s been a long, strange, and yet ultimately fruitful year. I logged my 2022-23 rough fails / goals into my spreadsheet when I got back from Mexico as well; this year was so rough that I actually skipped my halfway/birthday check-in to accumulate more data points.

I burned through quite a few books on my trip, and I am making good progress at home as well.

Journey from the Land of No & Gourmet Rhapsody | royahI honestly didn’t love either of these: the former was OK. I shared with a colleague that my favorite Iran book remains Reading Lolita in Tehran; Journey was a good series of stories and I have a lot of respect for this author, so I may read her other book(s). HBO has a new miniseries called Hostages about the hostage crisis in ’79 that is actually pretty good, I am working my way through that (also seems appropriate to plug Escape from Kabul here, which was well done). The hostage crisis is the least interesting part of Hostages; I watched it because I was curious about the narrative they’d use around the Shah. I begin some of these docuseries with a bit of skepticism, but both are quite good and even Hostages is pretty balanced (so far). Escape from Kabul could never untangle the entire web of history leading up to Biden’s botched pull-out, but what it did cover, it covered well. Trigger warning for the Taliban commanders cheering about how they “defeated” America. We defeated ourselves in Afghanistan.

Gourmet Rhapsody was given to me by a fellow foodie, and while a lot of the food experiences resonate with me (particularly the author’s experiences with oysters), she was too arrogant for me to have really enjoyed what she was saying. She’s written at least one bestseller (not this one), but I’ll pass. I loved her thoughts on her grandmother’s cooking and I found that very relatable; regardless of not loving her ‘voice,’ a lot of the content was definitely relatable and had me thinking that I’ll surely be spending more time in the winter cooking more devotedly. I actually also bought a copy of the OG McCall’s Cookbook while I was gone so that’s sitting on my kitchen counter.

The Happiness Hypothesis | happiness_hypothesisI picked this up for two reasons: first, it’s written by Jonathan Haidt, and second, I’ve been struggling with this (‘happiness’) myself and I wonder at times why I feel so dissatisfied with my life and trajectory (this has changed a lot in the past few months). After a rough start down here in Colorado I am pretty happy with my life; I’ve lost some “friends” over the past few years for various reasons, but the quality of my relationships has increased, and the people I’ve kept are authentic and genuine. Any wishy-washiness at this point comes down to career path and feeling like I’m not sure what direction I want to go in. That said, this book was excellent. It is primarily philosophy and (mostly) ancient wisdom, both Eastern and Western. Change is difficult, especially when it’s forced (in my case, I forced myself), but I’ve again come out the other end on the upswing. Haidt is excellent and I’ve read a lot from him, so I was not disappointed in the least.

Plagues Upon the Earth | plaguesThis is the best infectious disease book I’ve read since Spillover. Infectious disease is another strange lifelong obsession, probably due to a combination of morbid curiosity and a fascination in complex systems theory. Despite my concurrent obsession with history, I found the sheer magnitude of death and disease in centuries past to be mind-blowing. The author starts in prehistoric times with schistosomiasis, continues with typhus, typhoid fever, shigella (dystentery), bubonic plague, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, HIV, etc. I will probably listen to this book again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Spillover was more grotesque in terms of details (Marburg and Hantavirus did not make it into Plagues) but I loved both and would strongly recommend to anyone who grew up pre-internet searching through Microsoft Encarta for radiation sickness photos like I did (yes, I have problems).

Cafe Europa Revisited | europa_rI was pleased to buy this after running out of Drakulić books to read: I’ve read everything she’s written, and this was not a disappointment in the least. Anyone who wants to glean an understanding of Eastern Europe and doesn’t want to read the lengthy & complex history to string ideas together should just read her instead. Slavenka Drakulić and Anne Applebaum have both done an incredible job conveying the nuances of Slavic culture: Applebaum is heavily historical and Drakulić is more focused on contemporary social issues and heavily focused on the Balkans and former Yugoslav region (Revisited is mostly Europe-focused and not Balkan-focused). I have even more admiration for her for covering the highly sensitive topic of immigration in Scandinavia and the ensuing failure of their expansive refugee programs. Speaking of which, I stumbled upon a really good Italian film, Terraferma, focused on similar challenges in Southern Italy.

I’m currently wrapping up Putin’s People, a highly acclaimed book about the rise of Putin and KGB-run Russia during and after Yeltsin’s departure. Having read so much of this stuff and seeing what happened with the Crimean bridge the other day, I’m waiting for Putin’s next false flag: I don’t know how this will all shake out, but I remain proud of the Ukrainians and ashamed of any Americans who doubted them (I also think Elon Musk is an absolute fool after his “peace plan,” and I’m glad he was told to shut his pie hole by a swarm of Ukrainian diplomats and officials). As I saw in a meme early on in this war, NATO should be asking to join the Ukrainian army, not the other way around. Putin could potentially have destroyed his own future with this, fiasco and I sincerely hope that is the case. Unfortunately the narrative he’s used around Zaporizhzhia’s nuclear power plant, his subsequent annexation of that region (which he does not control) and the plant’s waning power supply is a huge risk and sets the stage for him to blame the Ukrainians for a nuclear meltdown. I wish they’d close the Georgian border as well; Georgia needs to rethink their Visa requirements and I hope this is a learning opportunity for them.

That’s it for now. I will probably not post again until I mid-November.

August+

I had wanted to put more effort into this photo gallery, and space them apart the way I did with the Balkan trips, but the truth is I’m short on time and patience. I contemplated sharing the entire Google Photo gallery I made for a friend, but that seems like overkill. So, I will just intersperse a few smaller galleries in somewhat random order throughout my text.

It already seems like this past trip was a long time ago; I have not stopped since I got back, and have, since my last post, recovered from COVID, been to Dallas, been to Austin twice, and am about to leave for Mexico on Friday. I feel strangely organized and in the zone considering everything I have going on (my heart rate variability score would disagree). I am a bit disappointed that I have not been to the gym as much as I’d prefer, but otherwise I am pretty happy with how I have managed, despite not having any kind of free time whatsoever. I have comforted myself by making numerous batches of random soups and stews, which is a definite throwback from living in New York, but still is oddly soothing to me. Butternut soup, my grandmother’s shrimp/okra gumbo and Thai coconut soup now fill my freezer, and I’ve managed to procure a few high-end ham hocks to continue this into the fall.

People at work regularly ask me if I’m managing OK, which always takes me a bit aback: I like this. This workload is not sustainable, but it’s interesting, and I feel there are many problems to solve right now. I am very grateful I had the foresight to book a trip to Mexico, as it’s given me something to look forward to. Forced relaxation time seems to be the only way to chill, and I’m happy I’ve learned that much about myself.

A few shots from Old Town Tbilisi:

I haven’t been reading as much as I would like, either, and most of my energy has gone into the experience of having one high performing team and one severely low performing team that is entirely lost and having to start them from zero, spread between Denver, Dallas and Austin. I am chipping away at some very interesting books, and hope to get through a few in Mexico. I am almost done with Plagues Upon the Earth, which is incredible, and I’ll be upset when I run out of pages.

My Airbnb rental season has ended as well, and that’s been a relief; I will be turning my condo over to my tenants shortly. I’m bummed I was not able to find time to return this fall, but it is what it is. I still feel regular pangs of sadness that I am no longer living up there, but Denver is slowly growing on me. I wouldn’t call it somewhere I love living, but I don’t hate it either, and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be outside of back in AK. My boss will be interviewing for a promotion soon, and if he gets it, I plan to apply for his job (I have no idea what my actual chances would be) to make up for lost time. When I shared my intentions with him, he didn’t laugh at me, so I think that’s an OK indicator.

I really hated my current job until around July, when I had a ton extra dumped on my plate. The many months of thought and effort I had put into building a healthy culture from a toxic, broken team also really began to pay off, and after getting through business reviews, I’m pretty happy about where everything is, although I still do not believe this job is for me in the long run. I am fairly sure after this most recent trip to Austin, they will not be joining my fanclub. Managing people is hard, but I am interested in how different people are, and what motivates them, as much as they all piss me off near-daily. In one month, I’m free of being indebted by contract to my employer, and it has taken me almost that long to enjoy what I’m doing and to wake up fairly eager to start another day. Going back and forth to Texas has been a lot of fun; having a good (metalhead) friend in Austin makes it even better. So does Velvet Taco. Overall I am better at this than I thought, and at this juncture it’s not as miserable as I expected. I’ll take it.

I plan to be pretty busy with this, friends’ visits, shows and travel for the remainder of the year, and will happily be staying home alone for Christmas. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that it’s been almost a year since I accepted this job and subsequently moved; I can’t believe how fast time has passed, and that changed so dramatically after watching the days ooze by like molasses during the pandemic.

Tskaltubo
I can’t understate what an unbelievable experience this was for me, and for that reason there are a lot of photos.  I would have preferred to stay there for much longer, as there is a lot to explore. I was really blown away by the unbelievable intricacy of some of these buildings, and the timelessness of some of them, even despite the complete disrepair. I was extremely sick one afternoon from the heat and I did not care at all. This was my favorite part of the trip despite the disgusting humidity. 

Apart from that, there’s not a whole lot to say. It was Fuji’s 9th birthday this past weekend, and I mostly kept to myself. I have multiple friends flying in to visit in October, then am going back to NJ/NY/PA, then my parents are visiting, and it sounds like the travel plans will just roll forward until Christmas. I plan to winter camp in Moab later in the winter/very early spring, and will probably return to Denmark and continue onto Finland in May. I am closely watching what else transpires in Central Asia, for many reasons, one of them being that I’d like that to be my next big trip (Tajikistan is not on my list, but Kyrgystan is). 

My life feels fairly normal at this point after a very large valley of despair. I had to take stock recently in how much success I’ve had in moving down here in terms of what my goals were: to have more people in my life, to challenge myself at work, to struggle more. To feel more like a part of the world again. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m proud of myself, but I made a good call by relocating, and I’ve worked hard to get to where I am now, as exhausting as its been.

Random photos from wherever (+Armenia, Czech)

Until next time.

August I: There and back again

I should be sitting outside during the coolest part of the day sipping my coffee, but I also need to organize my life in blocks of time, and I’m overdue for this post. berkeley_lakeI have many unanswered emails and other things to do, but instead of knocking them out, I started cold-stratifying bonsai seeds as I think growing a few different bonsai trees (obviously a very long-term project) will be fun and low-investment. I’ve always been pretty interested in plants, this is the first time I have enough real sunlight to do so. When I was a kid, I had a hydroponic vegetable garden (before hydroponics were cool) and a terrarium full of venus flytraps and pitcher plants, which are not the easiest plants to sustain, especially in upstate New York.

I learned a lot this summer about plants, heat, sun and altitude: my morning glories dutifully covered my porch, but they only flowered twice, and they drink too much water to be feasible in full sun in the future. My bougainvillea grew up to the roof of my house, but it never flowered, so either the days are too long or I overfertilized it. My sword lilies popped beautifully, and I will probably buy more bulbs for next year, even though their foliage is ugly and they take forever to flower. My dahlias bloomed but the colors were ultimately disappointing and I’ll probably buy cuttings next year instead of relying solely on seeds so the blooms are bigger.

To my delight, I have two beautiful elephant ears indoors. Of the three shitty-looking sprouted bulbs I got, two survived and one is huge. It took me a few months to find the right solution to tiny, annoying little aphids, and I had to spray everything down with Neem oil and buy sticky traps, but the combo worked perfectly. I walk past a house every day with HUGE tomato plants so I will be doing Jersey tomatoes next year, I felt unsure about my success this summer but I’m pretty confident now.

Keeping plants hydrated here in peak summer is a major pain in the ass. And I talk about next summer, I suppose, because I think there’s a reasonable chance I’ll stay here for a bit longer, given I still have no idea what I want to do next in my life. The job postings I was waiting for were posted while I was gone, but have restrictive office requirements that would require immediate relocation (again), which I think is stupid, and consequently am not applying. I hate the heat here and am growing more frustrated as these 90 degree days continue; I used to get crankier and crankier as the summer continued back East, but I suspect it will stay warmer longer here than in the Catskills. I hate it. I will never be a summer person, but I’d be a lot worse off if it was also humid. I will say life has been easier now that I’ve fully given up and begun wearing shorts, though I will not wear them to work.

Speaking of, I am actually pretty happy with where I’m at in my job. While I lost my peer group bestie to a promotion, I also lost the peer who annoyed me the most. Given my major complaint about this job has been the other managers in my group, I am almost out of the woods on that. Managing 19 people (soon to be 20) in 3 different offices across two states is not particularly easy, but I am definitely not bored. My primary team is performing well; this co-located Texas team is not. We (Denver) went through business reviews this week, and Monday I’ll head to Dallas, then to Austin, to prep the other team for theirs the following week. The process of onboarding new people, training them up, dealing with two very different levels of tenure and competence and assuring I provide support for all three offices is pretty interesting and forces me to be as efficient as possible.

I will probably continue to do this through the remainder of 2022, and potentially into 2023. To be clear, this job does not spark joy, but for an industrious person, doing the job of two people instead of one is very rewarding.

I realize I’m rambling about plants and work when ultimately I’ve been away for the most of the month; khachapurimy trip abroad began with (of course) a typical Turkish Airlines delay that forced me to run from one end of Istanbul airport to the other in 15 min to make my connection to Tbilisi (they literally closed the door behind me); my bag did not make it onto the plane, but showed up later in the evening. I was happy just to actually get there on time and feel like I was comfortably away from my life in what at this point is definitely my favorite foreign city (New York is still my favorite American city, sorry not sorry). I was slimy and exhausted by the time I got there, but I was over the moon to be there and we went straight to our standard breakfast spot to stuff our faces with khachapuri.

Departing from JFK was a good opportunity to drop in on my sister, and my parents ended up driving down for dinner. njMy sister and her husband finally moved out of their shithole garden level unit in Belleville and moved into a really beautiful, sunny apartment in Rahway. My sister and I are very different — she has very few hobbies, no college education and is mostly a homebody — but she got a second pug and has been showing her, so I’m pretty stoked she is busy and doing stuff she’s genuinely passionate about. I really wish they’d get the hell out of New Jersey, but as I said, we are very different people. I’d love for us to eventually live closer to one another: we hated each other when we were kids but we are very close now, and she continues to look creepily similar to me as she gets older.

My grandmother passed away the last day of my trip, which was incredibly sad but was not entirely unexpected. My parents were in Africa and I’m sad she died alone, but it seems like it happened pretty suddenly and no one would have been able to make it there regardless. I think a lot of people feel regret when their grandparents die: that they should’ve spent more time, paid better attention, learned more from their parents’ parents. I do not feel that way. I called her every weekend from the time I left for college until fairly recently (it was increasingly difficult to reach her, she had no phone and the facility was not always able to transfer me). I saw her in December when I was home, and every other time I went back to the Northeast, and I had a pretty special relationship with her. She was a very cranky person when we were kids (I’ve referred to her many times as the Slavic Olivia Soprano): I found this hilarious and endearing. I’ve learned to make all of our family’s food in my adulthood, from pierogies to cabbage rolls to Russian cutlets (they are like flat, pan fried meatballs). In the past decade, I’ve retrieved all of our family’s naturalization records, birth certificates and other documentation to nail down what happened and when, as many people in her community never talked about the “old country” and only ever wanted a fresh start in America. Every year of my adult life that I’ve been in the US for Christmas, I’ve done Ukrainian Christmas (Eve) dinner, whether I am with my family or (more often) not.

My grandmother only got so far as elementary school: she started working as a child and worked hard her entire life. She had my father at 17, and my grandfather was significantly older. She lived a very modest life; she never flew in an airplane, never left the US, my parents had to drag her kicking and screaming on any adventure farther than the grocery store. She lived in two houses as an adult: the one my parents live in now, and the one across the street. She never tasted a drop of alcohol or smoked a cigarette. She lived vicariously through all of us as we grew older and began traveling (especially my parents, who did not venture abroad until I went with them the first time, and now have been all over, from the Amazon river to Galapagos to Greece and Africa). My one regret is that she lived through my cousin dying of a heroin overdose (and was lucid enough to suffer emotionally as a result), and my piece of shit aunt — her fuck-up daughter — calling to try to collect his modest life insurance policy payout. My parents buried him. Conversely, I’m happy I went to the trouble to have the beautiful French chairs I always wanted from her house reupholstered and shipped here so I can look at them every day. I have a piece of her life in my house and will for the remainder of mine.

My trip also concluded with me getting COVID. It took me 2 years and 8 months and going overseas to test positive. I actually believe I ended up with the lightest symptoms of anyone I know, though I just may have higher tolerance for suffering. Razorblades in my throat, a very mild dry cough and a VERY runny nose, with a half day of feeling like my own voice was bouncing off the insides of my skull and some severe nausea/clamminess. I recovered quickly, though I had a lingering wet cough and congestion and was sleeping 8h+ a night for awhile, which is not typical for me. I sadly missed out on my trip to Chicago, but recovered with negative results in time to get back into the office later into the week after I returned. Having COVID actually forced me to chill out and recover from the trip, so it was ultimately a mixed bag.

My trip was wonderful, and it was equally wonderful to get home. foojI had hired a dog sitter off of Rover to drop in on Fuji 3-4 times a day and while he has the best reviews of anyone in the area on Rover, I was not impressed: he did not walk her once despite committing to do so, he failed to show up one night and never communicated that he was not coming (according to him, he was in a car accident, and yet showed up the next day in the same car which was unharmed), and he spent very little time with her. Thankfully my neighbors were around to pop in periodically and we’ve decided to just trade off on drop-ins for each other’s pets for the foreseeable future (I am taking care of their husky and cat now, and they’re on Fooj duty next week). This was an ambitious experiment to determine whether the dog was better off just staying home alone for 3 weeks, and despite my dog sitter not meeting my expectations, she was in a much better mental state than she would’ve been if I had kenneled her the entire time. I checked on her couch-lounging regularly and tossed her many Furbo treats, and she was just fine, so I will definitely opt for her staying here alone overnight versus worrying about putting her in a kennel or boarding facility. Fuji’s dog aggression is annoying AF but otherwise she’s pretty much perfectly behaved.

The time away helped me further appreciate my living situation, and while it still pains me to pay so much to live here in this neighborhood (there is nothing for sale in my neighborhood under $800K except for a $570K empty lot, to give you an idea of the insane prices in Denver), I’ve spent a lot of time and money making this place somewhere I want to be, and it’s paid dividends. I can’t say I’m in love with Denver by any means, but it’ll do for the time being, and it was actually pretty fantastic to have so many of my new friends at Brutal Assault and in Prague to end the trip. Last weekend, two excellent people got married at a Czech bar here and it was a blast. I think my life is set up pretty nicely all around… it took some time, but my priorities were spot-on and everything is how I want it to be.

My FitBit Charge4 somehow broke into about 6 different pieces when I got home, and while I was tempted to buy another fairly inexpensive FitBit (well, first, I tried to superglue it back together, but too many springs popped out and I gave up), I was intrigued by Juan’s Garmin watch and figured I’d cough up the $ for something that will actually track my exercise (the FitBit never reliably tracked the stairmill workouts). I ended up with the fenix 6, which retails at $549 and was on sale for $350. I am extremely pleased so far, and it’s been about two weeks. No ragrets, and this thing actually tracks my workouts correctly. It is kind of a manly watch for me, but what it lacks in femininity it makes up for in data quality.

I also noticed yesterday that I’ve logged 35 days of PTO for the year, which is a vast improvement over the 10 I took last year. I bunched my time into the middle/end of the year as I wanted to master my responsibilities first, but I’m coming up on a trip back to Mexico in a few weeks and I am really looking forward it. Heading back to NY/NJ in November, then my parents are visiting, and I’m considering on dropping in on a friend in Vegas for a weekend in December. Outside of that, I plan to stay home alone for the holidays and relax… I have always hated flying back to the NY metro area at the busiest time of year.

I’m actually going to stop here, and drop in some photo galleries and thoughts around the destinations in the next few posts, coming soon (possibly tomorrow and/or Monday).

All Abroad

It’s hard to believe that this time next week, I will (hopefully) be sweating my ass off in Tbilisi. I say hopefully because I have a one hour connection in Istanbul, and I can only hope the gates are not too far from one another. After my Turkish Airlines melodrama, fujiI decided I’m too old and impatient to spend 28h getting from Prague to JFK, so I coughed up another $1100 for a direct flight back to NY to catch my unlinked flight to Denver. I am never flying with Turkish Airlines again; while I still got a decent flight there, they’ve managed to pilfer enough money and time from me that I will avoid them in the future.

I’m hoping everything goes according to plan and Fuji doesn’t burn the house down or find a way to chew through the wall. I’ve waited for 3 years to get back there: we left a few things undone and I hired a private guide to take us to Abkhazia, the Black Sea and Armenia. I wish we had decided to spend more than ten days there, but it’ll be nice to get back to Prague as well, which is typically an annual pilgrimage. Quite a few bands we wanted to see have fallen off Brutal Assault thanks to a variety of logistical issues in Europe, but we decided this year that if we’re over it, we’ll split and go somewhere else. Maybe I can show Juan around Odessa before it’s leveled by missiles… that’s probably a hard nope for him.

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Unfortunately it’s been tough over the past two weeks to feel like I’ll be able to unplug: two of the three other managers in my peer group have given their notice and are leaving immediately, and now it’s me and one other manager over roughly 40 people, with many new people starting. Still worse, the other remaining manager told me weeks ago she’s planning on turning in her notice sooner than later, so I’m hoping she can hold out for a few weeks while I break out of here for a bit. Two of the three are transferring internally, which is cool: my company isn’t a total dumpster fire, but my org wears people out fast.

I’ve now inherited the co-located Dallas/Austin team, which is not the worst thing ever, and I happily accepted the challenge, although the timing is awful. I will return from Prague and then go to Chicago, return to Denver for my own team’s presentations, then to Dallas and Austin a week later, then return to Austin the following week for that team’s business reviews. I will probably have these two teams for the remainder of the year, and if the other (Atlanta team) manager quits, that will be interesting. The timing is bizarre considering I had recently shared with my boss that I need a bit more chaos, so I can’t complain about that.

The one saving grace here is that my own team is impressively productive at this point, and I can throw a lot at them and know they’ll manage. I told my boss today that when the opportunity arises, I will move onto a different line of business, but I think this will keep me busy for awhile. I’d also like to kick 2-3 top performers off my team by the end of the year, which is a rough ride for an over-stretched manager, but it’s time.

I’m working on three books right now, but I have finished two work-related books, and I loved both of them:

  • Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness | dohardthingsThe running analogies in this book were not relatable to me, but this book really made me think about the checks and balances I have in my own life, and how to inspire people to move faster and embrace the suck. I’ve had to have a few tough conversations at work over the past few months, and this book will help me choose even more effective words. Both these books gave me some good ideas related to efficiencies and empowering people to do better. It also made me reflect on the things I do to help myself suffer, and why it works: the rules that unfold in my head when I am dying at the gym, and refuse to quit until I hit a ten minute interval, at which time I end up feeling fine, only to dip into misery halfway to the next ten minute interval. This is a great book for many reasons, not least because it puts forth plenty of research around the complete worthlessness of calling people pussies and berating them until they do a better job. There’s a lot around planning for contingencies, breaking things down into measurable pieces, controlling your reactions to externalities, being self-aware enough to know that things will be hard, and setting yourself up for success. I’ve learned to do a lot of these things by trial and error (ie, smuggling my Caucasian rug down here to Denver so my empty-ass house felt a little familiar for the month before my belongings showed up), but a lot of people could skip a lot of fuck-ups and fails by just reading this and taking the advice.
  • How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be | howtochangeThis is a lot of the same kind of material, around setting yourself up to actually change permanently. This one also gave me some good ideas for work, and can be credited for some of the leaning I’m doing on my own team while I’m away. For many years I’ve managed my personal goals via spreadsheet, and I credit this book for helping me realize I am not actually insane: that people actually do think of their lives in terms of chapters, and my milestone updates actually make sense. I thought this book was going to be super boring, actually… but it wasn’t. High recommend on both.

In other news, it’s been so goddamn hot here that I finally gave up and submitted to the indignity of wearing shorts. The weather has only recently normalized to 80s after weeks of it being over 100 degrees… it super sucks. I am slowly acclimating, but I don’t think I will ever enjoy hot weather.

That’s about all I’ve got. My annual “am I circling the drain” medical checks went better than expected, although I ended up getting a second Moderna booster, which sucked and was probably unnecessary, but we’ll see. We’re approaching another surge, which means nothing to me apart from the surging hysteria and reimplementation of rules, particularly in Europe, but we will mostly be on the fringes of Europe proper. I’m pleased I decided to go back to Mexico and that will be a welcome respite from work.

I also booked tickets back to NY/NJ for November, and my parents are coming to visit shortly after. I have no intention of going anywhere for the holidays, and I am sure by that point I will be very happy to stay put and take in everything that has transpired in this very expensive and strange year. I thought hard about how to make this work for myself, how to acclimate to the city again, how to make this less than miserable, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job. I don’t even hate it here.

Until next time.

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.