Everything Everywhere

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

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

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

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2022, Year in Review

This is a very long post. Sorry not sorry.

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

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

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And just like that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dispatches from Rahway, NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, the year grows old,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life at 5279′

It’s been a strange but productive month here. While it’s a daily struggle to not be consumed by Russia’s savagery, I am gradually acclimating to my new life. General excitement to be here is not a byproduct of this acclimation, and I won’t lie and say I love this job, but I certainly don’t hate my core responsibilities, and my team is slayin’ it. I believe in the long run, what will keep me here for however long I remain will be loyalty and devotion to my team, and it will have to offset the many, many frustrations in the leadership space. At this juncture, the return of my actual supervisor in two weeks will either help me or nothing will change, and I will start surveying the market at the end of the year/beginning of 2023.

I do believe this transition has cemented the idea that people can only lean into discomfort to a certain degree before the frustrations outweigh the gains; ultimately I am a person who wants to fix things and drive efficiency, and based on what I’ve seen thus far, I do not think I am a good fit for the org I am presently in, as there is far too much duplication and unnecessary busy-work. People want to own projects and rubber-stamp initiatives even if they make no sense, and I think this desire in other leaders will remain an uphill battle for me. It’s unfortunate, as I love my team and their ambition and hunger to learn and succeed are highly enjoyable for me, but I sometimes feel an undercurrent of tension in my peer group. I have found a sense of reward in helping people grow and “round out.”

I’m definitely not the world’s most agreeable person, and one of my primary strengths is this: it’s fairly easy for me to see whether an idea is going to work or not, and as a result one of my informal responsibilities is to address processes that do not work, to find more efficient ways to do things, to push back on things we do that we just do because we’ve always done them that way; that’s fine until you realize you’re trampling on someone else’s idea, and pushing back in general doesn’t make you many friends in the long run. So I’m in a weird place. While I don’t care on a personal level whether people like me, I do need general cooperation and goodwill to get things done, and I wish I didn’t feel like I was caught between doing my job and trying to smooth out the tension that sometimes creates. I’ve never been married to my ideas: I have far more curiosity than sense of ego, which is somewhat atypical. I believed up to this point that it was a function of maturity, but it doesn’t seem that is the case. So coming in as a new person shaking up a bunch of shit doesn’t exactly make me everyone’s favorite.

I spent a long time this past weekend on the phone with a long-time mentor of mine who works at Google. He is East German (thus very rational and level-headed), and has a pretty good understanding of me after all these years: the advice I received is that it’s on me to bend to the group, as cognitive flexibility is based in brain chemistry, not personality, and if I want things to be better I’ll have to use my overabundance of that particular trait. I’m torn; I have spent many years leaning into what I suck at in order to improve, but I will reach a point in the not-so-distant future where I no longer want to sacrifice my own personality to get along with everyone else. I am surprised by the sometimes even petty feelings in the leadership space; surprised, and disappointed. People usually stay in their lanes in terms of strength and competence, I’ve always wanted to chip away at my flaws and get better at things that are outside the bounds of what I’m naturally good at, and as a result I end up having to try harder in some ways than others. I force myself to adjust to suit a job so that I can develop broader range in abilities, but it may eventually be time to find a job that suits me. Additionally, I am intuitive, and also hard on myself, so I am aware of what’s happening around me and how people feel about me – and I beat myself up for it.

On a positive note, one thing that’s surprised me as time has gone on is that my direct communication style seems to be deeply appreciated by my team: I continuously check on this, and am told to keep doing what I’m doing, as I quickly course-correct people if they veer off-course, and there is a lot of accountability and expectations are clear. I went so far as to tell someone crying in a Zoom call that she needs to get it together, and if she allows complete strangers this much influence over her feelings, she will be miserable daily. She thanked me for this, which was insane to me. I did not expect this level of acceptance, but I am really pleased, and it’s at least given me some small sense of validation. I may not be the friendliest, most empathetic person on earth, but my curiosity and individualization have helped to compensate. I also continually use my position to knock down barriers for them, which is an expectation, but also helps them feel insulated from additional bullshit.

In any case, next week we return to offices on our hybrid model, which to my team means 2 collaboration days in the office. This is another initiative I’m on the fence about, and I’m unsure of why “50% of the time in the office” is top-down and applies to all teams. I would go so far as to say I believe the days of office-based work are largely behind us, and it’s only a matter of time before they begin closing (more) regional offices. Being together benefits my team, but ultimately when they reach the appropriate level of competence, I’m not sure what difference it makes where they work from. It took me some time to decide whether I would want to take the bus or drive, and driving takes 10 minutes versus ~45 to/from/on the bus, so I will be paying for parking for the time being. You can always make more money… you can’t make more time.

Weekdays are sometimes quite brutal, whether I’m home or in the office: by the time 5-6pm rolls around and I’m done, I have a drink and am regularly too tired to do much else with my life. Since my unfortunate salmonella episode last October, I’ve become accustomed to sleeping on a heating pad, so usually around 8-9pm I crawl into bed to read. Is this how life is supposed to be? Is this how normal people live? Fuck. I had intended to go see Leprous last night, but I’ve been feeling severe exhaustion for the past few days, and didn’t want to risk driving myself further into the ground immediately before my sister arrives. I took tomorrow off: the dog has a vet appointment, I need to hit the gym, I have a bunch of errands to run and need to clean/prep for their visit. That’s what a “sick day” means to me, and why I still get a C+ at best in this mystical thing I’ve slowly been painstakingly learning called ‘self care.’

I’ve been getting out a bit more. mtpMy work bestie came out from LA last week and I took two mid-week days off (this is only feasible with appropriate notice). We went out to Indian Hot Springs, which was a shit-show in the main pool, similar to my experience at Mt. Princeton, but I rented a private jacuzzi for us, so that was pretty great. I’m not sure why I end up investigating these hot springs in the first place, as I don’t love hot tubs or hot water in general and am prone to rapid overheating, but it’s been interesting to see what’s here in that vein.

We started the next day at the gym (God bless gay men, who want to work out on their vacations), boulder_dushanbethen went to Boulder. Boulder has a unique tea house that was shipped here in pieces from Tajikistan, and I was grateful to see it survived COVID. The inside is absolutely beautiful, and the food is amazing. Their tea menu, predictably, is also excellent. lambWe then met another work friend back in Denver at a Spanish place I’ve heard everyone rant and rave about, which was OK. I am sure there are better Spanish places here than that one.

I had planned to try a Northern Italian restaurant I had heard a lot about last weekend, but my plans fell through and I ended up discovering an awesome Australian grill. I finished three books over the weekend as well, so I was pretty pleased. My gym routine has vastly improved, and I’ve enjoyed many afternoons just sitting in the sun reading on my back patio. Before my friend from LA arrived, I had laser therapy on my face, so I looked like toasted shit all last week, but I’ve healed up pretty well and am pleased (again) with the results. While I refuse to brush my hair or wear makeup, skincare has been a priority for me, and laser technology is pretty incredible for zapping imperfections. It is also quite painful.

I had plans to take a week of PTO to spend in Myrtle Beach, but those have been foiled by having to attend our annual conference. This is another area I need to improve in: taking ample time away. I have no extended PTO until I head out in the end of July. I’m heading back to Alaska for a week in June, but doing home repairs doesn’t necessarily equate to vacation. And I will go to Myrtle after our convention… but I will work from there. I’m also considering earmarking a week to go to Jordan in October or November. I’ve always wanted to check out the Dead Sea. Why not?

In the meantime, I have quite a few guests and visitors scheduled, including my sister and her husband this weekend; three other upcoming weekends are earmarked for friends, and this has been really nice to see after living so far away for so long. The company and conversation is great for me as much as it stresses me out to plan for other people visiting – once anyone gets here, it’s awesome, and it rips me away from my job. I am really touched that as soon as I got here, so many of my favorite people made plans to come see me… I’m grateful that I have friendships that have survived a decade of living in the Great White North.

With the exception of feeling like shit for the past few days, things are gradually getting easier, at least in terms of what I can expect out of my life at this time. My calendar blocks have worked well to insulate me from being overscheduled, I’ve made time in the past month to find a dermatologist, get the dog her Colorado shots, get back to reading, go to the gym with more frequency. Amorphis is coming next month, which will rule, and while I’ve only hit one show out of three since I’ve arrived, I expect that to be better in the future.

Ultimately I don’t think I’ll have a very exciting life here, there will be no comparison to how I lived most of my years in Alaska, but I’m OK with that for the time being. I’ve begun sprouting seeds for the spring and summer, and in another month they’ll go outside. It was almost 80 this past weekend, which scares me; anything above 90 is difficult to deal with, as I have never had any heat tolerance, so we’ll see if I can get through an entire summer here without heat syncope/smashing my face on the pavement. I’m testing different electrolyte mixtures, and I wish I could find something cheaper that I like as much as Pedialyte AdvancedPlus packets, which cost MINIMUM $1 per packet.

In terms of books, I finally finished my colossal Gorbachev biography, which was excellent, and I want to read his autobiography at some point as well. I knew a fair amount about Gorbachev prior to reading this, but there is a ton of information in that biography and I would highly recommend it. I also picked up a copy of The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor… I’ve seen this book pop up repeatedly over the years, and while it’s outdated, a lot of his geopolitical opinions were spot on, as well as his forecasts: interestingly, he believed Ukraine would be in NATO long ago, and he underestimated the rise of China – but much of his opining on Central Asia and the Caucasus was (and still is) spot-on. I’m finishing two others this week, one of them has gained some great press: There is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century by Fiona Hill. I’m not far enough into it to really comment on her argument that the US is approaching the same opportunity deficit as Russia (and current events have probably complicated said argument), but it’s interesting so far.

I’m cracking open a few work-related books in April, aftermathbut I am also about to finish an unbelievably interesting book set in Germany immediately following WWII. Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955. I have never read anything like this (I’m actually listening to it, I had a bunch of Audible credits to spend) but it is very unique in its content and I am learning a ton. I consider myself fairly well-versed in WWII, but I have never come across a book on this topic and the glowing reviews are well-deserved.

That’s about it for this month; though I may end up writing more often than once a month… we shall see. April and May will be busy months, but hopefully good ones, as well.

EDIT: I completely skipped one of the highlights of March: attending Jordan Peterson’s talk here in the city. A lot of it resonated with me, particularly his addressing his belief that happiness comes from the attainment of goals. Given that I’m still fairly new here and just uprooted my entire life, and am still figuring out what this looks like, I was somehow comforted by realizing that feeling somewhat lost lately simply comes with the territory. Despite the many deliberate decisions I have made to completely change my own life, I’m at a juncture now where I’m not sure where I’m heading next, and I think that’s OK. I imagine I will feel like this for awhile. In any case, I was thrilled to see him in the flesh, and listen to him speak, and he drew an enamored audience, which was very nice to see.

Slava Ukraini (II)

I had grand visions for the second part of my rambling about Ukraine, but as time drags on, that vision becomes increasingly blurred. Quillette has been publishing some excellent content, particularly an article out today about Russian literature. I’ve shared many of their articles with many people. The US news is minimum 24h behind, and I’ve had better luck with Telegram, Reddit and WhatsApp group texts.

On the positive side, the world has not yet lost interest in this conflict, which absolutely blows my mind. At best I assumed people would care about some faraway country most Americans would be hard-pressed to point out on a map for a maximum of two weeks. The impeccable marketing prowess of the Ukrainians doesn’t hurt their cause; I have never seen advertising and social media used as such a robust component of war in my life. I suspect this skill is a result of two things: 1) a recent history as a democracy and adoption of Western values (and along with it, media) and 2) a lengthy history of exposure to propaganda, which they have used to their benefit as well. Probably an additional element is that the private sector has mobilized to help, Elon Musk finally becoming the savior he has always yearned to be. Of course, there is some imbalance: internet has been unreliable in the East for weeks, so there are a lot of people completely isolated.

The second aspect of their “help us” ad campaign — propaganda experience — is ethically dubious, as it’s questionable to use half-truths even for what we deem as a ‘good’ cause, and if they are caught in deeper lies, it will surely backfire. I further suspect that most Americans with little historical knowledge of this neck of the woods are drawn to the story arc, and the Ukrainians are the underdogs — the heroes fighting off an evil repressor, the David to the Russian Goliath — which is not incorrect, but also is far too simplistic. That story arc resonates deeply with Americans, and as far as that idea is concerned, I’m happy to accept whatever works to keep the West engaged. Another softer source of power here is that there are an awful lot of Ukrainian-Americans: their diaspora is enormous, particularly in the US and Canada. Even so, it’s important to note that a huge factor in how plugged in we are to Ukraine can be linked back to the classic hero’s journey and good vs. evil story arc that has shaped civilization as a whole, and secondarily to our national identity of overcoming our own oppressors during the formation of our own country.

I’ve also seen a lot of woke bullshit about how no one is standing for Yemen, no one stood for Iraqis (not true), no one was issuing sanctions for Afghans (Ethiopia comes to mind as well, though their civil war is not equivalent to Russia’s invasion of a sovereign nation). These vague comparisons are not only ignorant, but patently absurd: Ukrainians have the same values, the reside in Europe, and have been striving to join the West since the fall of the USSR. They have been thwarted repeatedly by Russian-backed leaders and Russia’s threats. A more contentious truth is that they mobilized to fight, where training troops who have been tribally organized for centuries was a constant uphill battle. There is not an Inclusion & Diversity angle here, and it’s annoying to see it so prevalently in the news (Q also featured a great article about this, this past week).

The West has failed to accept the threat of Putin, and Ukraine is paying in blood and guts. That includes America, although Germany shoulders a disproportionate amount of blame, for turning a blind eye to Putin’s agenda and squaring itself up to buy even more energy from Russia. This is a typical Western thing: to hold such a narrow view of the world that it is assumed all people think the same way we do, and possess the same values, and this ignorant approach to existence has backfired in many ways: prior to this war, a good example is the refugee camps that have sprouted up in Sweden particularly, and the shock of European citizens in the face of refugees self-sorting into ghettos and living off the welfare system for generations. This is a huge generalization, of course, but it is a persistent problem in Western countries that have taken tens of thousands of refugees with different cultural norms. By contrast, it is culturally and politically a much smoother transition to accept other people from within Europe who already understand how society works in the West. Finally, for all their Law & Justice bullshit in the past ten years, the Poles have been particularly kind to refugees, despite long-standing disputes over land between the two countries.

Nordstream II was a nail in the coffin of a (relatively) peaceful Ukraine, and Russia using its additional leverage to blast Ukraine into oblivion was predictable. The West also did almost nothing when Putin began chipping off pieces Georgia, followed by Crimea (where Crimean Tatars were all shipped out to Uzbekistan in the 40s and the region was resettled by ethnic Russians) and Donbas. (Meskhetian Turks were deported from Georgia to Uzbekistan in the 40s as well… seeing a theme here?) Watching the laziness and ineptitude of the West over the years has made me unbelievably resentful toward Europe especially; I am sure this has played into my transition from traveling in Western Europe to my primarily traveling to the former Eastern Bloc, Balkans and Caucasus over the past decade+. I had said from the beginning of the Nordstream II construction that once it was up and running, I would never go back to Germany, and that may happen anyway, unless Putin provokes NATO and is subsequently crushed by the West. For years and years, the warnings of Poland, the Baltics and other former Soviet countries has been scorned as “paranoid”… not so much.

The West has also been terrified forever by Russia’s military might, and their power lies only in their nuclear arsenal and their leader’s sociopathic delusion: Russia’s military is a rusted, non-functioning piece of crap, like everything else made in the USSR. Totalitarian regimes capitalize on creating a façade of terrifying might, and they have done that well all these years. The Chechens have done this well too, though the fear they inspire originates in the sheer brutality they exert on innocent civilians. If Kadyrov could bite the dust soon too, that would truly be a gift from God.

What has also surprised and depressed me is the portrait of Zelenskyy as a leader possessing near-superhero status, and I think that says a lot about the low standard of governmental leadership we’ve come to expect. I was ashamed that he was offered an escort out: it cemented even more how goddamn pathetic life has become in terms of politics in the US and Western Europe: it is now assumed you will govern in exile and not stay on the ground with your shelled citizens: you will scurry out and hide. If nothing else comes of this on a domestic level, I hope it’s at least obvious that we should stop electing cowards, that you do not need an Ivy League education and a career in politics shaking hands with the right people to be a leader. That anyone can be brave and courageous, even a comedian-turned-president. I have been long-surprised by the scorn his experience has received, even well before this: Vaclav Havel, one of the most prominent politicians during the fall of the USSR, was a playwright. Courage and integrity are not taught at Yale, nor do they naturally occur in the wealthy or aristocratic. In a world of inequality, those traits are likely evenly distributed.

In some ways, watching this unfold is like living in an advent calendar, waking up every day to a new gift of dissent: separatists from other repressed parts of Russia have joined in the common struggle to knock down the world’s biggest bully. Belorussians, Georgians, Chechens, Dagestanis, Azerbaijanis, Bashkirs from the Urals, not to mention other Eastern Europeans have joined in what is already a proxy war, as much as people do not want to admit it, unified by their common hatred of Russian oppression. The sanctions, the contempt, the shaming of companies still doing business in Russia, the repossessing of oligarch yachts are all music to my ears: in my perfect world, Putin is dead, and whenever that comes to pass in my lifetime, it will be one of the happiest days of my life. Putin is playing the long game that Lenin and particularly Stalin set the groundwork for: where Stalin ripped ethnic minorities out of their ancestral homes to crush their sense of identity, Putin continues to capitalize on this by using the democratic framework to hold elections, in which ethnic Russians vote: hence Crimea voting to break away from Ukraine. This has always troubled the Baltic countries: it’s not paranoia. It’s history and, to be fair, brilliant manipulation of said history to show the West in their own language that Russia stretches beyond its current borders. In that sense, his misstep here is incredible: he clearly chose the echo chamber over history.

None of the good deeds completely cancel out the mistakes the West has made: sheltering oligarchs, buying cheap energy, politicians assuring themselves and their people that this will never come to pass. As much as Putin miscalculated how much we would rally around Ukraine, the West has amassed years if not decades of grave miscalculation that has brought us here. I’ve been alternating between wrapping up my Gorbachev biography with Zbignew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard and it’s been interesting to see that he projected that by 2010 Ukraine would be a member of NATO and/or the EU, and yet here we are.

The West has failed Ukraine, and I hope we make it right.

That’s all for now. Next post, soon to come, will be a standard one.

Slava Ukraini (I)

Stepping out of my “one post a month” routine, as there is certainly plenty going on in the world to warrant some additional thoughts and words. You wouldn’t necessarily think so in some circles, given Americans’ penchant for whining about gas prices instead of having much geopolitical interest. Considering fewer than 40% of Americans have passports, it’s not entirely surprising.

This statistic used to fill me with scorn for my fellow Americans, although the US is so enormous it’s somewhat easy to find many destinations within our borders before leaving them. I’m not sure if that’s a valid excuse over the term of someone’s entire adult life, though: traveling is often fairly inexpensive and takes courage and more importantly some level of curiosity, which seems to occur at roughly the same rate as passport issuance does in this country. It’s taken some time abroad to realize these things:

  • Americans idolize multilingual people, but most of those people speak multiple languages because they live closer to other countries than we do, or had to learn English secondarily.
  • Western Europeans are not exotic by any means, they can barely function outside of cities, for the most part, and have little survival instinct. Their entire lives are built around civilization: American life is not.
  • Many Europeans are better-traveled than Americans solely due to planes, trains and sharing of borders with multiple other countries.

These are, of course, not excuses to not travel, but when looking at Americans vs Europeans, it’s not exactly apples to apples. That said, I had a minor meltdown yesterday seeing my parents’ friends whining about the cost of gas to drive from one of their homes to the other on Facebook: my mother told me I “need to understand that not everyone is as lucky to be so well traveled,” which is not helpful and also completely absurd. My parents’ friends vacation to Disney and own a second home in a beach community, so that strikes me as more of a personal choice than “luck.” In fact, I did not travel abroad until I was 18, and no one in my family went farther than Canada until I dragged them overseas. The first ten years or so I spent going abroad, I made almost no money (seriously, my paycheck was around $400 a week for my first job out of college). So not being wealthy is not an excuse, especially not all these years later when affordable travel is even more accessible than it was back then.

As for my own good fortune, I totally imploded my first semester in college and happened upon a study abroad program through Harvard, to which I was accepted and subsequently took out a few thousand dollars in student loans to make ends meet overseas in 2003. I stretched my paltry $6,000 pretty far: completed two semesters in Sweden, and also went to Copenhagen, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Vilnius, Riga, Warsaw, Prague and Kiev (now Kyiv). I returned multiple times per year, winding my way through Scandi-land, Eastern Europe and Russia, and I never stopped pushing further East.

I enjoyed Scandinavia and spent many, many months there. Sweden is OK… Norway is better. Finland is awesome (I have a tattoo of the view from a cabin window in a birch forest in Karelia on my back), but I became bored with the Nordic area: life in terms of people and culture is too tame, to contained, to orderly. I originally went there as an homage to my mother’s mother, who grew up in Ekerö, in the Stockholm archipelago. We still have family in Stockholm, and we continue to keep in touch to this day. I could talk forever about Scandinavian cultures, and I say cultures because those countries have surprisingly different cultural norms, and I dislike Swedish ones the most. Karl Ove’s My Struggle series actually covers a lot of this, and his observations are perfectly symmetrical to mine. I will return to Iceland sooner than later, and have taken many friends around the island — the rest, probably not. Very yawn.

I knocked out every (other) country in Western Europe except for Greece over the years as well, and most recently I’ve traversed the Balkans and the Caucasus. My plan was to push into Chechnya, Dagestan and the Don region of Russia in late 2022, as that is now delayed for obvious reasons. It occurred to me yesterday that I have spent most of my free time over the past 20 years either in the Far North or among Slavs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For a little more context and some indication of how little people change, I’ve spent my entire adolescence and adulthood steeped in Arctic expedition novels/accounts, and Russian literature. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky have kept me company over the years, beginning when I was a teenager. As a kid I was horrified by the Bosnian war, and it gave me a deep disgust and also appreciation for the power of propaganda (essentially the route I took with my undergraduate degree)… that interest is very much alive today, and has motivated me to read probably thousands of books at this juncture about the USSR, the Caucasus, the Eastern bloc, the Balkans, the World Wars.

I’ve mentioned in the past that all of this reading has helped bring these countries to life for me, and there is no better example than being in the Balkans a few years back having read probably 100 books on the region, including all of the folklore and epic poems, including Montenegro’s The Mountain Wreath (I did the same for Finland with The Kalevala, Iceland with their sagas). I was flipping out in the Caucasus having read Tolstoy and Lermontov over the years. I make fast friends abroad, and part of it is because I go in armed with reference material and have taken the time to think about their experiences and the history and folklore that has shaped their countries. Most recently, it was And Quiet Flows the Don that sealed the deal on finally moving Rostov-on-Don up my list, in addition to currently reading a lengthy biography of Gorbachev, which makes me want to visit Stravropol. They are not far apart.

I have always so deeply loved the disarray of Eastern Europe, and the nostalgia I feel there, especially when it comes to food, decor and culture; I remember blogging years ago about the way Prague was beginning to look like any other Western European capital, which I found troubling, as it’s traded some of its Eastern Bloc character for the prosperity of department store billboards and too many H&Ms and magnet vendors. Life is a series of trade-offs: Prague was an epicenter of resistance from the Prague Spring to the Velvet Revolution, I hope it retains its importance in terms of struggling to break free of the USSR (I’m too lazy to link all of these references, but Wikipedia has all the answers).

I’ve persuaded many friends over the years to head to these glorious countries, and they’ve all hopped on board as well. Some countries are more frequented than others, namely the Baltic countries and Poland. Bulgaria and Romania less-so, though we had a blast in Bulgaria years ago and the Carpathian wooden villages and Transylvania are worth a trip to Romania. I’ve been pleased to hear my friends are enjoying Riga, Bucharest and Dubrovnik over the years rather than toiling in line at the Louvre.

Which brings me to Ukraine, an unfortunately non-EU country that has been fighting for its right to exist peacefully for longer than people realize. Ukraine is particularly interesting, even for Eastern Europe: it resides at a convergence of cultures between Europe and Russia; settled by Vikings en route to Byzantium, who blended with Slavic tribes and the Kievan Rus was born. The area has been partitioned, crushed, rebuilt, trampled, starved, collectivized and been reborn as independent over the last few hundred years. Despite what you see on the news, Ukraine has rarely been unified as a country throughout time: particularly over the last 100 years, parts of it fell under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then the USSR. The country is split in religion as well, with swathes of Western Ukraine belonging to the Eastern Rite Catholic Church (aka Greek Catholic aka Byzantine Catholic Church) and the rest being Ukrainian Orthodox (which also split off from the Russian Orthodox church recently, not without a fight from Putin). This country has been home to Crimean Tatars, Cossacks, Carpatho-Rusyns, Volga Germans, Russians, Jews and many others. It is home to three particularly historically significant and completely contrasting cities: Kiev, the ancestral home of Ukraine and the Kievan Rus; Lviv, the Byzantine Catholic center of the Carpatho-Rusyns and capital of the old provinces of Galicia and Volhynia; and Odessa, on the Black Sea coast, home to many Crimean Tatars, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians and others. Ukraine also has black soil, and as we (maybe) all learn in Elementary School, it is the “bread basket” of Europe. The land is extremely fertile; it is worth invading for its natural spoils. And it has been.

Worth noting perhaps that my grandmother is Lithuanian, and my grandfather was Carpatho-Rusyn. My father grew up speaking Lithuanian in heavily-Slavic Northeastern PA, and my family went to Byzantine Catholic Church; my deceased family members are all buried in a Byzantine Catholic cemetery. These were curiosities to me as a kid, and I only really began digging into our history when I was in my 20s. While I find Scranton to be bleak and ugly, I admire its roots, and how much it’s kept alive even to this day: so much so that when I moved to Alaska, I was horrified that I could not find the food I grew up eating, as even as an adult I thought it existed more commonly everywhere. My grandfather died when I was in college, but I wanted to track down our entire family history before my grandmother died (she is still alive, gratefully). I found a Carpatho-Rusyn scholar who assisted me in putting my records together, and like anyone who came over from that part of the world, our records are a wreck: my grandfather’s family all came from Lviv Oblast, but it says Czechoslovakia on our documents (many Carpatho-Rusyns ended up in modern-day Slovakia after borders were redrawn). Our name was Americanized, yet still manages to confuse people. I don’t know if I believe in being “proud” of your heritage, as you do nothing to earn what you get, but I do know that as an adult I cherish my multifaceted childhood: I had one grandmother who spoke Swedish, one who spoke Lithuanian, my siblings and I went to Lutheran, Byzantine & Roman Catholic mass, as well as Ukrainian Orthodox church, and the town I went to high school in was and still is heavily Jewish, with a lot of Hasidic Jews at that, who live (mostly) peacefully alongside everyone else (the Catskills were actually called the Jewish Alps at one point in time). My parents are also members of two different political groups, so I’d like to think that’s contributed to me growing into a fairly open-minded person.

All this to say we have roots in this part of the world, though arguably my love and admiration has more weight: though admittedly if Putin had invaded Latvia I would be equivalently enraged. My loyalty lies with the Eastern bloc and the Caucasus, some, like Chechnya, which have yet to break free of Soviet shackles. I often feel more alignment with this part of the world than I do with my own country full of countless spoiled idiots, and I have little intention of living out the rest of my life in the US: for the most part I’m here for the higher base salary and tax benefits of being an American, and if I hear one more person bitch about gas prices I’m going to accelerate my plans to disappear permanently. I don’t know that my own heritage has anything to do with anything beyond what growing up in that culture gave me in terms of familiarity with Slavic countries. I’ve spent my whole life reading about their tortured history under the Soviet Union. It is probably one of my most significant obsessions, and has been from the beginning.

I’ll skip the part where I yap about Ukraine and how it has changed before my eyes in the past 20 years: it seems disingenuous, and I’ve spent a shitload of time in all of these countries except Belarus (my choice). But what is happening here and now in the world is unbelievable in many ways.

What I told people prior to this invasion is that Ukraine will never roll over, Slavs always go down swinging, and I have not been wrong. During the Holodomor in the 1930s, Stalin starved over 7m Ukrainians to death during collectivization. Ukrainian Jews died in droves during the second World War, most famously in Babi Yar. The Western part of the country has been home to resistance movements since that time, particularly the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and Russian forces have gotten nowhere near Lviv yet. Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in 2014 was a clear cultural end of their time as a Russian satellite, and they have paid dearly for it over the years while the west has done absolutely nothing.

I’m not sure where to go from here, as I never plan these blog posts and I just let them take me on whatever inspired tangent I wish. That said, I’ve run out of steam today and this all means a lot to me, so I’m going to post this with a “stay tuned.” I’ve laid a foundation of love and respect for these unbelievable people, and a very brief history of Ukraine. Next up, how the world reacted.

I haven’t said much about this to most people outside a few close friends and a Ukrainian from Transnistria I manage (I have a Russian starting on my team in a week as well); I also have a group of friends who live in Kharkiv, Odessa and Kyiv, and none of them have any intention of leaving their country, so if you’re into prayers, say a few for them: they are as of today all still alive and staunchly remaining in Ukraine (my friends in Kharkiv have relocated to Lviv for the time being). Odessa is next up on the shelling list. Fuck Putin, to be continued.

Shots! Shots! Shots!

February tends to be an upswing month in the far north, and this year didn’t disappoint. While the Lower 48 is still reeling in pandemic turmoil, Alaska is nearing 30% of its age-eligible population vaccinated, and we’re moving quickly through the eligibility tiers. I decided over the past few days to participate in the vaccine Hunger Games, hoping to catch a shot on its way to the trash, as many of my friends have. I even called our state hotline to ask them if this was an acceptable thing to do, and they said yes. So, here’s hoping. All in all, my parents have received their second shots and my siblings caught COVID early on, so I’d say everyone else is in a good place. Here in Anchorage, our positivity rate is hovering around 2%, which isn’t half bad and has made it seem somewhat reasonable to occasionally have dinner at a restaurant and see a friend or two regularly. At around 30 degrees, my cold-wimp of a dog can run happily outside as well, so I’d say the past month has been a win. 

I won’t gain much from an earlier shot; I’ve surrendered to not traveling extensively for some time. My parents are visiting this summer, and I don’t want to go back to the Northeast until most of everyone I’d want to see has been vaccinated and thus comfortable socializing. My company’s travel ban still stands; so whether I am vaccinated today or a month or two from now changes very little if anything for me. After a year of not seeing my closest friends or my family, the only real source of any value in my life has been whatever I do alone: working out, reading, etc, and the very brief periods of time I spend with a very small handful of other people. Maybe somehow it doesn’t feel all that horrible full-time because I’ve been here before; feeling like I have very little other than myself is more of a normal feeling than an abnormal one. Some days, like today, I wake up and wonder if the way I’ve structured my life has been a massive error in judgment… but generally, I am just chugging along. Nothing meant anything prior to the pandemic and I’m not sure that has changed for better or for worse.

The insomnia and “blah” feeling that punctuated my winter seems to have largely passed, though I haven’t quite been able to pinpoint its cause. While a lot of people up here struggle with some level of seasonal affective disorder, I’ve always enjoyed the dark days of winter, and the ensuing excitement of spring. The sun is strong, and the days are growing longer rapidly; we’ll be getting tans in no time (I typed this up yesterday, and as I hit “publish” it’s pukin’ outside, brah). The vaccination timeline doesn’t leave much room to travel before it’s summer up here, and I plan to stay put for most of it and bounce around the state; I’ve spent too many Alaskan summers careening through other countries. Sadly, most of the countries on my to-do list will not be open or vaccinated for some time regardless, so I expect to not go far until 2022. And New York is too hot in the summer to be bothered; my pilgrimage to the homeland will take place in the fall or winter. While our tourism industry will take another huge hit this summer, the state of Alaska will be wide open to Alaskans and people who DIY their trips, and I’m looking forward to that. What money I (continue) to save on international travel will be pumped into the remaining upgrades to my house.

Further, in an increased effort to help myself feel better, I’ve been using my FitBit to help me sleep (did you know caffeine stays in your system for hours and hours and you should probably cut that shit out by 3pm? Well, I didn’t, but it’s made a huge difference); I added the oh-so-popular 10,000 steps to my daily regimen (tough when you barely leave your house); I tried kencko, which isn’t bad but I’m not sure evaporated fruit and vegetable flakes are worth the money… and a friend and I jotted down a bunch of food ideas on scraps of paper and put them in a jar, and we draw one a week for our Saturday dinner & movie night. This very simple thing has been a lot of fun and given me something to look forward to and provided a small outlet for much-underutilized creativity. I haven’t been much for cooking this entire time, as it’s been just me, but the small spurts of company I have have given me a reason to do so. 

Fathers and Sons | I’ve been working through some Russian classics I had missed as a teenager, and this was a great one. I found the theme pretty timely given how polarized everyone is, although in Fathers and Sons it’s between generations, with the backdrop of significant social and political change in Russia. This novel is the birthplace of “nihilism,” at least in the context it’s used today, and you watch the characters marry and separate from their chosen beliefs; the rifts those beliefs cause in their families and in themselves and the friction toward one another. It of course ends in relative tragedy, after love challenges the belief systems of both the “sons” and they proceed in different directions. This is the first more contemporary novel I’ve enjoyed (contemporary in its subject matter) — of the somewhat-recently read Russian classics, I didn’t love The Master and the Margarita, but I have really deeply loved And Quiet Flows the Don and A Hero of Our Time. Bazarov is a Byronic hero, as well, which is one of the many reasons this book was so enjoyable; it’s an easy read in a way versus something like A Hero of Our Time because so much of Fathers and Sons is about characters who outwardly explain their belief systems.

Big White Ghetto | My mother saw this author on the news, told me this sounded “right up my alley,” and she wasn’t wrong. This book is an informed rampage through what to me (and the author) are often well intentioned and nonetheless stupid ideas. The title is to some degree misleading, as he also talks about inner-city blacks, but his focus is on how policies have allowed people to retain their victim mentalities and foster poor health and often poorer financial decisions. I was particularly pleased by the chapter about casinos, which have become an absurd “solution” to Alaska’s budget deficits recently (and I’ll be writing a lengthy op-ed for one of our local outlets about that sooner than later). This is not an insane right-winger read: he can’t stand the tail end of either party. It is more than worth a read, and his solutions aren’t warm and fuzzy by any means. His own backstory gives this book special credence; he’s not someone who hasn’t lived in the world of learned helplessness. On top of offering a ton of variable content and subject matter, he’s a gifted (and often darkly funny) writer. Review in Forbes here.

Oblomov | I was sure I wouldn’t like this, but I ended up loving it. I initially hated the slothful, worthless Oblomov, but he becomes an incredibly sympathetic character really rapidly — when his friend arrives to dress him down about wasting his life taking naps — and he explains that participating in the trivialities of society seem utterly worthless and he doesn’t want to spend his life pretending and talking about stupid shit to people who don’t really care about one another. Some parts of the book are really long and tiresome, particularly the part about his childhood, which gave more context to why Oblomov became the person he was but was also a bit boring. I actually loved the way the ending wrapped up with basically “and there lies Oblomov, and I wanted to tell the story of his life, and it’s the story I just told you.” Goncharov is probably the easiest Russian writer to read; he writes totally matter-of-factly, and most of the book happens in dialog, which makes it super easy to follow. I found a lot of it to be about picking your battles; grappling with meaninglessness versus ambition and purpose; tradition versus modernity. As much as I really detested his character, his laziness, his indifference, his lack of motivation, I found him to be one of the most sympathetic lazy characters I’ve encountered.

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error | I heard a lot of mixed reviews on this book — mostly that it was good but had a lot of fluff — I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. She offers a ton of historical and biological context; she paints a picture with a lot of different but all entirely interesting information. There’s some behavioral econ, some evolutionary biology, some anthropology, some philosophy. I’d say it’s more of a mish-mash than a book that concludes somewhere, but the material presented adds a lot of context for anyone and she does a good job of fleshing out why it’s difficult to accept being wrong, and why humans try to avoid it at all costs, and how we do so, whether consciously or not. NY Times review here.

March’s audiobook project is Ulysses, which is hard for me not because it’s hard but because I don’t love stream-of-consciousness writing at all, though I will take this opportunity to plug probably the best modern SOC book I’ve read that was never included in this blog: Ducks, Newburyport. It’s tough to even call Ducks, Newburyport a book, when it reads like more of a project, an entire book in a single sentence, but it is unbelievable in its style and imagery and the sheer volume of emotion the author can cram into a single sentence. I will not finish this book for a very long time; I read bits and pieces here and there, but it is pretty extraordinary and well worth the read even if this narrative style is not your thing. My plan is to finish Ulysses and take another pass at Infinite Jest before the summer, thanks to two contemporary SOC works I’ve loved: Ducks, Newburyport and many years ago Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (I loved this book so much I’ve read every single one of his other books, and found that very sadly none of them are even remotely as good). Jonathan Safran-Foer’s Everything is Illuminated was pretty OK, too. Not my favorite, but not bad. New Yorker review of Ducks, Newburyport here.

That’s all for February. We’re now comping over COVID-19; so the next 12 months in comparison should be better than the last, month:month. 

April, May and into June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kul'chytsi, approximate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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