Month No. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving Entropia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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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.

April into May: Great Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cheating Culture

I read an article in the New York Times recently about the experience of being single in the pandemic. The article itself was unexceptional, except for one small paragraph:

Mr. Fein, who lives by himself, said he had learned he was “a lot more resilient than I thought I was,” but all the time he spent alone invited uncomfortable questions: What decisions led him there? What could he have done differently? When will things change?

I have thought this many times over the past months (not the last question, because who the fuck knows) but I have not asked myself this question as it relates to my relationship status. Mine is a broader question, about how I arrived here, where I am, morally. Mine is a question of values, and if anything my reflections on the topic have led me to believe that, at least for me, relationship status is the least of my worries.

I came across a Washington Post article recently as well about the pandemic forcing people to reevaluate their friendships. And I think this is largely true, for many people. But beyond that, I’d say the combination of Trump’s departure, the numerous stimulus payments and the pandemic have presented an amazing opportunity to see people for who they are. And while I’m caught in the now-daily dichotomy of seeing people post anti-“rich people” memes on Facebook and hearing about how those who received stimulus checks squandered them on vacations and electronics, something more interesting unfolded recently, for me, that has bothered me so immensely that I figured I’d blog about it. In fact it pissed me off so much that I talked to my parents about it… and I’m not a “talk to my parents about what’s bothering me” kind of person, but given their long history of witnessing my stubbornness I figured they might assuage my displeasure by telling me I’m wrong, or it’s not that bad. I was raised by brutally honest people, and there were no platitudes for me. As a kid, I hated this; I always felt they could have been nicer. As an adult, I appreciate and have inherited their pragmatism and disinterest in bullshitting.

I have a very small friend group here in Alaska. It’s not that I don’t like people; I do, or more specifically I am very interested in people. But anywhere I have ever lived I have maintained a small, close circle, because to put it plainly I have always had a hard time choking down other people’s often-shitty values. I have been — I would say, at this point — cursed by an inability to roll over when I feel like someone else is in the (morally) wrong. It explains so much of my life: my career trajectory, my other friends pursuing work in finance and big pharma and me going to work in hospitality (not to say there isn’t corruption everywhere). I have kept working for the same corporation for six years now, not because I am afraid to be unemployed or I could not find another job, but because they have not done anything shitty enough for me to not be a part of their enterprise, and I still believe in their mission statement. I could never work for anyone whose purpose I did not believe in; I could not peddle pharmaceuticals as part of an industry I despise; I could not marry a person for the wrong reasons no matter how much financial security I stood to gain. And I could never keep friends with shady morals around… and people are fucking shady these days, everywhere, all the time, so I have few friends. I cherish the people who have remained my friends for many years and have never crossed the line, and I have so pared down my social interactions that I did not expect to have to toss one of my few friends out of my life recently, but it happened anyway. Few things in my life are black and white, but I have nearly abandoned decade-long friendships over people crossing this one line. No one has immunity.

This person lied in a fantastical way, and will be paid handsomely for it for the rest of his life. Worse, he called me to gloat. And I am a big picture person: I don’t so much care about his individual choices as I care about the “why” — why is this behavior acceptable? (I also care about the fact that I invested time and effort into our friendship over many years only to be shocked by this, and it undermines my confidence in people as a whole). But I feel a more pressing need to make sense of the world I live in… and in talking to numerous other people, it seems like this behavior is far from surprising. In fact, it’s almost completely normalized. I for one am horrified by this, despite the rampant cheating and lying I’ve seen in my 36 years. And over the past week I’ve oscillated between wishing I were different and wondering how the fuck we got here, where it’s okay to lie and cheat and get paid for it. And brag about it.

I am an incredibly stubborn person. I have only ever met one other person as stubborn as I am, and I love him for it as much as we argue regularly. Many of my closest friends and my siblings are unbelievably stubborn as well. Stubbornness is a turnoff to a lot of people; I find it endearing more often than not, likely because I understand it. At any point in my life I would’ve rather lost everything than compromised my core values, and I have lost plenty for this: but I have always told myself that what I gain from being like this is that I like myself, and I respect myself. I hold myself accountable for being totally judgmental and unreasonable and sometimes totally insane at times, because I am just as fucked up as anyone else. I’ve lived my entire life the way I have to answer one question: how far can someone get if they are brutally honest, if they don’t lie, cheat or cut corners, if they are just as genuine as possible? I have gotten pretty far: not millionaire mansion far, but everything I have in my life I’ve earned myself and I have built my entire life on my own. Maybe more importantly, I truly like who I’ve become, which is a pipe dream for a lot of people these days, sadly. I have a lot of quality in my life. And I think that’s what’s most important.

I am where I am despite the unbelievable dishonesty and cheating surrounding me every step of the way: I still remember my classmates’ parents turning in fake doctors’ notes to get them more time to take the SAT. I remember being beaten out for valedictorian at my very small high school because someone else’s parents’ cried foul at weighted grading… so she graduated first in my class because her 100 in ceramics trumped my 96 in AP Calc (I had to teach myself the material, then pass the AP exam, because the teacher was not qualified and we spent our classes watching Lord of the Rings). This single episode in my life bothered me for so many years, it’s almost embarrassing to admit, because it was a day in my life I realized how fucking unfair life is even when you follow the rules… a bitter truth to choke down at 17 on the cusp of college. I won nearly every scholarship my modest high school offered that day, including an enormous annual award that paid most of my tuition… but I could not be #1 because I chose harder courses. Fucked up. 

I remember showing up at my shiny private university, one that I had sacrificed equally attractive and much more affordable options to attend, and my roommate telling me her father had called in a favor for her to get in despite her shitty grades; he was an alum and had sent a hefty donation. She spent her weekends at her family’s beach house in Gloucester: I stayed in Boston, ripping dollars in half to take the T to work and trying to figure out how to graduate early because I could not afford to do all four years (spoiler alert, I graduated a year early, ironically thanks to Harvard). I always tell people that no one will admit this, but we’re all flailing through life with no idea what we are doing, and so many times throughout my own I’ve just stopped and asked myself, “WTF am I doing?” Most act like they always knew what they were doing… they didn’t. No one does.

College was followed by years of supervisors stealing credit for my work to move up the ladder, or undermining me because they were threatened; attempts further down the road at being plied with money and bonuses and heliski trips to turn the other cheek all foiled because I just could not roll over or submit; fast forward over a decade, and I remember being passed over for the promotion I was up for, after grueling years for this company, because I didn’t kiss enough ass or play the game the way the girl who got promoted did. I was the much stronger performer, the better technical expert. But she pretended… and I just can’t. That’s not to mention the multiple relationships ending in cheating and outright lies, men who I believed I knew only to realize I had always seen people as better than they were. I expected people to be honest, because I am. They rarely are. 

Perhaps that’s why I feel so let down when I realize one of my own — one of my carefully chosen friends — resorts to this behavior. And living in a world ripe with cheaters and liars is lonely to say the least. But if nothing else, this recent episode has shown me that I am still who I am, and I still refuse to waste time on shitty people, no matter how many months I have spent alone in this house. My mother had mentioned a book to me months ago that I actually read in its entirety today, The Cheating Culture, and I’d say after reading it I feel better but I also feel worse, because this is simply the world we live in. We live in an age of dishonesty, and those who participate reap huge rewards. 

I always felt that it’d be better to live surrounded by truth, no matter how shitty the truth can be at times: I have always desperately needed things to be real. It gets harder and harder as I get older to find where that truth exists. I shared with someone else that when I was talking to a therapist, he said something interesting — something I think about regularly — that he couldn’t find much of a pattern in my interactions with people and was stumped overall clinically, but that in every friendship or relationship I had been in, if the other person broke a certain rule, I was done and never looked back. It took me until the end of 2020 to figure out what that rule is: it’s an assumed alignment between who you portray yourself as and who you really are. If there is a disparity, goodbye forever. And so, goodbye forever to a friend of many years. Sorry not sorry.  

Viva Emptiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything in its Right Place

Just over eight years ago, I moved to Alaska. It seems like yesterday, and it’s felt that way the entire time. Yet, in these eight years, I’ve lived in 4 different houses in 3 different cities/towns, and two distinctly different neighborhoods in Anchorage. I bought a condo in Girdwood my second year here, and I’ve gained some pretty valuable experience being a landlord, vacation rental manager, and homeowner. I spent a winter in balls-ass cold North Pole, and then spent a year living in a spare bedroom of my friends’ place. I spent one entire summer with no residence and just bummed around with the dog. Most recently, in 2019, I relocated to the Eastside of Anchorage, which has a pretty unsavory reputation. As shocked as I am to say this, I’ll be moving out of this glorious house sooner than later, and I’ve been looking for where to live next: I recently found a huge new townhouse down the street off Muldoon, 2 miles from where I live now, and yet as is common in Anchorage, 2 miles is enough to see vast demographic changes around you. One of the most endearing things about this very aesthetically ugly city is that in most places, people of all socioeconomic walks of life are smashed together, and that is especially true in this part of town.

I was initially skeptical about moving here, though I had really disliked living on the Southside (I chose this, and my friends were kind to let me crash there, as I really didn’t need much more at the time than a bed to occasionally sleep in between travels). I also moved there out of curiosity; I felt I was becoming too spoiled with bourgie accommodations and should slum it for a bit with regard to interior amenities… the dog and I pretty much lived entirely in a bedroom for a year. The house was in a nearly all-white suburban neighborhood where all the houses looked (to me) exactly the same, and I got lost constantly, right up until the day I moved out. I had never lived in a place like this before, and there was something deeply unsettling about an area where people only reside, but can’t really do anything else (there are no stores, no bars, no nothing right there, just houses and houses and houses). It reminded me of learning about Levittown, NY in elementary school.

I didn’t think much about this for most of my adult life: I lived in rural (though diverse) downstate New York, and during that time I lived both “in the woods” and also in the heart of the town centers, where everything could be reached via walking. I also lived in Allston-Brighton, in Boston, which is the same; and even tiny Girdwood is completely walkable, and people commonly choose to walk instead of drive: to the store, to the post office, to the bar or restaurants. South Anchorage is not a walking part of the city, unless you are walking your dog. You can’t get anywhere to get anything; you can just go for a stroll (and hopefully not get lost, as I did also managed on foot, embarrassingly).

I came across this phenomenon in Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which explained that urban planning in the 60s destroyed what were neighborhoods of people fully living their lives (laundromat, grocery store, bar, hardware store, etc) by separating retail and business establishments from where people lived and slept. She explained (speaking of the North End, in Boston, a historically Italian neighborhood) that people used to linger where they lived, because things were there, and now people have to travel to run errands and accomplish the minutiae of living, which causes them to be less invested in the well-being of the community. This book and her critique of these policies and the resulting damage they did to communities blew my mind at the time. It suddenly all made sense.

I told my younger sister when she was visiting last month about a time that a woman called the cops in South Anchorage on two Latino kids riding their bikes in the neighborhood; they also reported a guy with a neck tattoo who wasn’t bothering anyone (they thought he was casing houses). She was has horrified as I was at the time, and told me she also would hate to live in a neighborhood like that, where people are up each other’s asses. She and her husband live in Belleville, an outskirt of Newark, and operate their business in a high-end zip code where they can cater to wealthy people. I asked her if she still likes living where she does, and she said absolutely yes: people leave each other alone, everyone is friendly, it feels like a level and non-judgmental neighborhood. For whatever reason, our preferences run parallel despite different experiences in our adult lives. Given the opportunity (financially) to live in “nicer” neighborhoods, we’ve both chosen to not. All said and done, Anchorage has high crime everywhere, and cars on the Southside were regularly rifled through at night and/or stolen.

Here on the Eastside, we can walk to multiple grocery stores, to food outlets, to the post office. Such is the case with Anchorage’s other “higher crime” neighborhoods: Spenard, Mountain View, Downtown, Fairview. In fact, the safest neighborhoods are ones where you can’t get to a whole lot of other places: Rabbit Creek, Hillside, Bayshore/Klatt, Oceanview. There are doubtless many reasons for this: affordability, welfare and public assistance, transportation, the eternal debate over whether cultural diversity will always cause conflict because people have competing values. Many parts of Anchorage run the gamut, with a shitty house next to a nice one, and then a trailer park and then high rise condos. There are pockets of wealth and poverty everywhere. I love this. I love that many wealthy people don’t flaunt, that you never know who has money, that people all live together in these neighborhoods. It’s certainly way more pronounced here, and of course inequality in and of itself opens up opportunity for crime.

They say people always revert to what they know, and this preference likely traces at least partially back to our childhood: we spent a majority of it in a (rural) town in one of the poorest counties in New York State… but everyone was roughly socioeconomically equal, so it didn’t feel like anyone was suffering. Everyone had the same experience. At a friend’s wedding years ago, another attendee spoke of growing up poor among rich people, and how hard it was for her– we had no such experience. I’m not sure that not having money is what causes the problem, it’s not having money when other people have a lot of it. I had no sense of having a modest upbringing until I went to a private university and had to rip dollars in half and quarters to ride the subway. I never saw a rich person’s house when I was a kid. Going to a fancy college and having this realization at 17, 18 years old was the beginning of one of the most brutal reality checks of my life. For many years I agonized over where I’d end up, how far it should be from where I came from, and how far it should be. I read about this many years later in Hillbilly Elegy, and that book was a huge comfort to me (though somewhat demonized in the media): it wasn’t the societal reflections in the book that resonated with me, but the very personal experience of feeling completely lost while moving up in life (it even makes me uncomfortable to call it “moving up,” because it seems disparaging to people who choose to stay put).

It’s been interesting to intersect with so many different kinds of people and their preferences as I grow older and move around (and move “up” in my career): a good friend of mine told me recently he’d love to live in South Anchorage because people look out for themselves and that’s how he grew up in Oklahoma. I have other friends who have also admitted they’re more much more comfortable living around like-minded people. I’m actually not entirely sure what this means, to be honest. I’m not sure I ever felt like I lived around like-minded people, nor wanted to/should. Based on my life choices, I seem to have a somewhat contentious relationship with familiarity. When I was a kid, I wanted to bail out of our one-horse town and live a cool and interesting life; when I lived in the city I missed the woods. I now live in a grubby city hub in the most sparsely populated state in the country, I’d say I’ve finally found a good balance and the grass is no longer greener on the other side.

As I see people self-sort in my life, my aversion to the ‘burbs has found a bit of a moral stronghold. I’m no champion of the poor, nor am I on board with excessive public assistance, housing vouchers or affirmative action, but I do believe sequestering ourselves with people who look like us and act like us has helped create more microtears in the American identity. And maybe it’s just that life was always this way in America, and I never really lived in a place like that, but I’d always choose an immigrant neighborhood over a suburban one. And I don’t know much about the culture of the South; I can’t speak to ingrained racism and segregation as I never have been exposed to anything like that. I told my roommate recently that the diversity I saw even just walking through the next house I’ll live in and its immediate neighborhood warmed my heart and reminded me of New Jersey. It’s certainly not as “safe” as the ‘burbs, but as someone on the Anchorage subreddit said, if a “nice place to live” is living in a homogenous, white neighborhood, move to the Southside. If it’s diversity you want, come to our neck of the woods. There has been quite a lot released over the past handful of years about the surprisingly diverse demographics of some Anchorage neighborhoods.

I’m not sure how people make peace with one another in the long run. If you look at a place like the Balkans, you see that divisions are not always ethnic: they come from propaganda and belief systems that pit people against one another. Whether it’s being from a very plural part of the country (plural on all accounts: ethnicity, religion, race, socioeconomic status) or having a litany of competing experiences growing up is unknown. Perhaps part of it is feeling like an alien having done fairly well in my life while my siblings have stayed on the same (equally respectable) rung of the ladder. I think a lot about familiarity and difference and I’ve always tried to check myself when I feel I’m snubbing my roots. Further, in a time where the political climate is getting crazier and crazier, and people are becoming angrier and more suspicious, I’m pretty pleased to be staying on the humble Eastside, and eternally grateful to continue to eek out a life up here in Alaska when a lot of people are leaving / going home / returning to the familiar in times of unbelievable uncertainty.