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.

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Toxic Psychiatry

A few months ago I ordered a hard copy of a book called Toxic Psychiatry. toxic_psychiatryIt took over a month to get here via Media Mail. I have since finished it, as well as The Book of Woe, and I happened upon a documentary called Letters from Generation RX (which conveniently features both authors) on Prime. I can assume it’s obvious where this post is heading.

Before I go further maybe it’s worth noting that it’s rare that I have any opinion about anything without extensive research. I have had often changed my mind doing this, which is how it’s supposed to work: I don’t read an article on CNN and then decide I’m right… 99% of journalism today fails to render any objectivity anymore, or to separate truth from opinion. I truly am interested in how the world works. It’s the reason I can take anyone through the last 500 years in the Balkans; I can tell you about the history of pollution in the Great Lakes; I can talk all day about the Farm Bill and the ills of the American agricultural-industrial complex; I could start a lecture series about the history of Communism, Nordic geopolitics and culture, the history of Arctic exploration and its effects on indigenous circumpolar people. The list goes on. Puking out headlines and sound bytes is worthless.

I also believe individuals have more agency than they think. When I was younger, I fell prey to this lack of confidence as well. Now well into my 30s, I have a strong internal locus of control. I also do not believe I am special in any way: I actually believe that every individual possesses at the very least the potential to get to this point, where they are bursting with agency within themselves. Feeling this way doesn’t mean I’m a control freak, or naively believe anything that veers off-course of my expectations is my fault, but it does mean I believe I can get through everything. This is a misunderstood quality in people like me: I like to solve problems in a world where people increasingly want plain sympathy (or a sort of inactivated empathy, where you understand where the person is coming from but don’t move to help them resolve their issue(s)). I feel that trying to help someone figure something out is empathy… many people have disagreed. To me, my time is valuable, and if I’m trying to help you resolve an issue, it means I care about you. My advice to my friends and loved ones is based on my belief in their human potential.

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Year 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s about it for the time being.

Last days of year 36: May/June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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