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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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.

All Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

High Desert Summer

I’ve put this post off long enough that the prospect of chopping up the past few months seems like a huge commitment, but I fear if I wait any longer I won’t post until the fall. I’ve also noticed this blog’s visitor count has increased dramatically, which is bizarre: I don’t find my own life particularly interesting, and I mostly write in here because it auto-sends to close friends I don’t speak to or see as often as I’d like, and writing has always been pretty therapeutic for me. I threw in some food porn that is completely irrelevant to the content, but props to Barolo Grill and Fifth String for many amazing meals in the past few months. I’ve also explored a lot of nearby Tennyson Street and found a few places I really like.

I set aside some time to post about Myrtle Beach & Alaska, but I’ve been all over outside of that as well, most recently Dallas last week. I’m hoping July is mostly uneventful for me as I will be away for most of August and some of September, October and November. baroloI was surprisingly invigorated by my Texas trip: it was a pretty quick trip, but it reminded me of my old life, Life Before COVID, always en route, packing or unpacking. I shared with my boss that I’d like to find a way to get more of that back; I have never been the settling type and I’d like to ping-pong around more in the fall (and I will, starting in Chicago in August, 3 days after I return from Prague). My road warrior life — the life I lived for many years without complaint — was exhausting, but so rewarding. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost more than I realized initially, the free-wheeling that has collected this cloud of COVID doom in these past few years: what if I test positive? What if I get sick? What if I get stuck? What if the hospital is full?

Ironically, perhaps, while I picked up salmonella last fall, I have yet to test positive for COVID, and I’m unsure of how or why, though it’s improbable that I’ve never caught it, and I don’t own a thermometer, so I wouldn’t have bothered to do anything if I felt like shit anyway. I have not worn a mask since the mandate dropped here, and I’ve been to a ton of concerts, parties, Costco, restaurants, and the office. My phone dings at least once a week with exposure alerts, and I calmly test, wait for the result, and move on with my life. I have not caught so much as a cold despite my many travels and social events, nor have I managed to pick up the flu everyone else had. I am the kind of person who, after a streak of luck, I’m waiting for lightning to strike, so I imagine it’s only a matter of time before this winning streak comes to a probably very inconvenient and ill-timed end.

My friends from New York hidivecame to visit in May, and that has been one of the highlights of the past 7 months: first, virtually all of my favorite pre-AK life people live in New York. These two guys came in to see our other friend’s band one night (they are based in San Francisco). I talk frequently to another friend here about how thus far, Colorado people aren’t really my cup of tea (or his), but it was glorious to have more friends in town: we ate amazing food, watched sci-fi movies, listened to metal and drank on my porch. We managed to get into In-n-Out 5 minutes before they closed at 1:30am the morning they left, and the entire trip was amazing. Apparently there are dirt cheap Frontier flights from Albany to Denver, and I’m hoping my people keep taking advantage of the relatively inexpensive airfare. Bonus round, the headliner for this show was a Canadian post-hardcore/metalcore band that gave me massive throwback vibes.

Otherwise, this settled down, in-the-office-twice-a-week life is not without its hectic parts: fujiI beat myself up for being pretty introverted, but I’ve built a fairly robust community here in a short period of time, and while I’m spread thin, it’s nice to have the option to do things. Today was the first day in awhile that felt like what a weekend day should feel like: yesterday I hustled to hit the gym and walk the dog before making a giant broccoli salad and heading up to a BBQ in the mountains. I spent today cooking a week+ of food to save myself the hassle next week, and I’ve been taking Fuji on 2 long walks a day (1 with a 16lb weighted vest, which I thought would be heavier and challenge me more than it has). The dog spectacularly failed her boarding interview a few weeks back; I figured I’d at least see if she’d be happy hanging out with other dogs and the answer is hell no, she was having none of that, so I finally gave up and found pet care on Rover for my lengthy trip. She’s turning 9 this year and has not slowed down at all. I am thankful. Having a dog and wanting to be on the go all the time is a pain in the ass, but she has been an anchor for me and it has been more than worth the trouble and expense.

July also seems to be maintenance month for my autoimmune stuff: in transferring my Mayo Clinic records to a local rheumatologist, I realized that it was three years ago that I ended up there essentially being told it was only a matter of time before my thyroid burned itself out, and my only options were irradiating it preemptively or just waiting for it to die on its own (I chose option #2). 1655610622963It’s actually pretty incredible to me that I survived this brutal move and all of the suffering that went along with it without having another hyperthyroid episode, but my most recent labs came back perfect and it’s difficult to express how grateful I am that this hasn’t gotten worse. For the most part, even with the heat, I seem to be acclimating fairly well here; the summer temperatures are horrible and I feel hot all the time, but my July goal is to shave off another 10lbs or so before I go to to Tbilisi, which is derived from an Old Georgian word that means “warm place.” Every pound I can drop is less I’ll be sweating through my damn clothes, in the land where “air conditioning” usually means a dirty old fan or a window that you can prop open with a water bottle. I also noticed today that Turkish Airlines once again fucked up my return flight with their schedule changes, so hopefully I can figure that out this week: Turkish is the only airline I’ve ever flown on where you almost never get the flights you pay for, because they constantly change shit and don’t even send you a courtesy e-mail.

My Achilles heel is stress, unfortunately, and based on my scale weight over the past week, I’m holding too much water, which means my cortisol levels are f’ed, which means I need to sequester myself at home and submit to my routine for a few weeks. I am not a great sleeper and an even worse relaxer, and I spent awhile poking around yesterday for new side hustle opportunities today before talking myself out of it. I’ll end up making about half what I did last year with my Airbnb gig, which is depressing, but it’s not easy to manage from 3,000 miles away nor is it ideal to cut someone in on the cleaning portion. I do pretty well and shouldn’t complain, but the looming fear of being older and digging half-eaten tuna sandwiches out of dumpsters is constantly hanging over my head. Is this totally irrational? Perhaps.

My birthday was last week as well, and for the past number of years I have been filling out a spreadsheet to track my annual wins and losses, travels, and goals. It’s been a bizarre stretch, I wanted to give myself a bit more time and take this trip abroad to really get away from my new life and enjoy myself before I hang myself out to dry in Microsoft Excel; I will complete in September.

Ultimately rainbowI am never satisfied with myself, and I think that is a blessing and a curse; people either drive themselves into the ground or are lazy as shit and don’t care about progression… I still believe I am somewhere in the middle (maybe a bit more driven than I need to be, but violently turned off by people’s lack of motivation). I did very little on my actual birthday; a friend from work decided it was unacceptable for me to spend it alone (she is young, she’ll understand someday), so she came over for tacos, a shitty grocery store lemon meringue pie (the only kind of pie I wanted, and could not find a better one on short notice, and I refuse to bake anything beyond keto muffins and key lime pies) and Netflix’s new FLDS documentary, and we had hit up a classical music outdoor thing the night before following a little BBQ at her building. This huge rainbow was a bonus.

In years past I’d make a point to do something crazy on my birthday (which shares the day with Swedish Midsummer): the northern tip of Newfoundland; Salzburg, Austria; Finnish Karelia; Swedish Lapland; off-the-beaten-path Alaska destinations… fifth_stringI’ll maybe pick that tradition up again by 40. I took the day off work and ran a bunch of errands, and that was enough of a gift for me. All in all it was awesome to not be working and have a second of three 3-day weekends in a row.

I was disappointed the first few months here that I couldn’t get into the swing of things with reading, but I’ve gotten through quite a few books, and I’m going to group them together by theme instead of yapping through each of them. I’d still like to be moving through books at a faster clip, but I have a huge pile I’m chipping away at, and I’m making some progress. I am currently reading Letters from an American Farmer, and I could not have started a more appropriate book for 4th of July. What an incredible read. More on that to come.

Work-related: Dare to Lead | Can’t Hurt Me | The Honest Truth About Dishonesty | The Dumbest Generation Grows Up | arielyI ended up grudgingly agreeing to read Brene Brown’s latest book, and it wasn’t bad, to be honest. I realized in refining my business/self-improvement book Excel sheet (yep. I have one of those) that I had read her previous book and enjoyed it. She says the same thing over and over again, which is annoying, but what she says is not untrue. David Goggins’ book Can’t Hurt Me was also not bad: a guy on my team loved it and I traded him for Jocko’s Extreme Ownership, which I definitely like much more, but it was enjoyable. The guy basically grew up in a dumpster and became a Navy SEAL+++, an ultramarathoner, etc etc. He has incredibly strong will and determination and also has beaten the shit out of his body, which will catch up with him sooner or later. As I said before you’re either lazy or you drive yourself into the ground, this dude is all the way at the “needs to hurt himself physically or he is depressed” end of the spectrum. Dan Ariely’s Honest Truth About Dishonesty was OK as well, it was suggested to me by another person at work, and I had read his others, I actually liked Predictably Irrational a lot more, and was already familiar with most of the studies in Dishonesty.

The biggest win in this category is The Dumbest Generation Grows Up. dumbest_generationI had not read this guy’s precursor, but I feel well versed enough having a team of millennials. The title is misleading in that it implies he blames millennials for being stupid, ultimately he puts a lot of blame on educators. I’m not even “dumb” is the appropriate word: I’d use “dull.” The Dullest Generation Grows Up. This book better-articulated a lot of my struggles than I could and has allowed me to outline more of a problem statement at work, which is that the people I’m managing lack a lot of history and knowledge, and as a result their daily lives, struggles and challenges are not placed in any context. It is a really, really, really hard problem to solve when you’re trying to develop young people who do not have the attention spans to read a single KB article in its entirety. I don’t want to be too general in grouping people by generation, and I am an older millennial myself, but there seems to be a distinction, and I see it every day at work: a lack of curiosity, an inability to connect the dots and link concepts together, a completely missing sense of imagination. It is very sad, and my company, and I’d imagine many other companies, are not equipped to upskill because they do not understand the entirety of the problem. Very strong recommend, although it’s quite depressing to see some of the results: the gradual plunge of SAT, ACT, ASVAB scores over time, the declining reading comprehension, the complete failure in STEM subjects. IQ increased over time for many decades, and it is now declining precipitously. Even worse from my perspective, people have lost their interest in the world, the awe of experiencing even the smallest joys, the ability to persevere through hardship by anchoring themselves to history. It is a tragedy.

Russian Classics: The Gulag Archipelago, Vol II | One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Darkness at Noon | darknessatnoonI’m not sure whether or not I had mentioned that I finished Vol 2 of Gulag Archipelago, but I did. I am patiently waiting my next Audible credit so I can pick up Vol 3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Gulag Archipelago is the most brutal, horrifying book I’ve ever read, and this is my second time through this series. While I’ve been waiting, I started and finished One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which was good, but had nowhere near the breadth. Darkness at Noon was another classic I had not bothered to read and finished it in about two days: it was good, but not high on my recommend list: it is too much like 1984, and not nearly as harrowing as many others. There were some memorable passages, though.

Misc.: A Brief History of Inequality | Hooked: Food, Free Will and How the Food Giants Exploit our Addictions | picketty2I somehow managed to make it all the way through Picketty’s Capital in the 21st Century years ago, and while a lot of his data ended up being disputed, I actually really enjoyed the anecdotal material, and his ideas. A Brief History of Inequality was a lot shorter, obviously, and easier to digest. Quillette reviewed it and has a lot more text than I’m willing to type out, so that review is here. I actually liked Capital in the 21st Century more, despite all its 800+ pages. Hooked was also good, if you’re into that kind of thing: I have a morbid curiosity with how the agro-industrial complex fucks us all over, and this book was well researched and had a bit of everything. Ironically reading books about the food system or dubious marketing practices to sell people garbage is my junk food.

Is this the longest blog post I’ve ever written? Not sure, but 6am will come early, and I’m off. I’m hoping to post a July roundup before I depart, but we shall see. I also plan to drag my heavy and inconvenience Canon 5D to take photos of Tbilisi’s Old Town and a abandoned sanatoriums, so photos to come.

Reprieve: Alaska

Thursday | I had planned to post more about May prior to this, cook_inletbut it’ll have to wait until I get back to Denver. I did want to carve out some time to write while I’m back up here in the North, though I selfishly thought I’d have a bit more time to relax, and that has not been the case. I’m not very good at relaxing anyway, so I suppose I’ll live. I had originally planned to be up here for two weeks, and cut it down to one, so it’s my own fault in the end. Alas, here I am, sitting on a floor cushion pecking away on my opium table, my favorite spot in my favorite spot.

I got choked up flying into Anchorage at 1:45am, right in time for the very brief dip below the horizon the sun makes in the summer before it comes up again. I think continuously of Robert Service’s “Spell of the Yukon”, one of my favorite poems, and one I will never forget:

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
   It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
   To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
   Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
   For no land on earth—and I’m one.
.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel being back here, and I still don’t know. I do know it feels like it was yesterday that I packed my shit and left. I went to my old ANC house and slept on a mattress for a few hours, got up, grabbed a breakfast burrito and some coffee and then some supplies and drove down to Girdwood. virgin_creekLeaving Alaska was bittersweet, being back here is like visiting your childhood hometown, the things you hate and things you love surfacing interchangeably. I feel more like that here than I do returning to the Catskills, which have changed so dramatically since I grew up there. The po-dunk mountain town I grew up in is basically a satellite colony of Manhattan and New Jersey now; Alaska will probably always be the same as I left it. AK is just too far for the hordes of city-dwellers from New York and California that have colonized Montana and Colorado and the other mountain towns of North America, and for that I am grateful. I think often of John McPhee’s Coming Into The Country, probably the most renowned read on Alaska history, and I think about all the people up here I’ve met over the years who talk about how different things are now. And they are, but subtly: change materializes slowly up here, excepting the weather.

I don’t want to romanticize too much: the first morning here, some cracked out girl wearing only a bra and leaning on her friend to walk keeled over in the spaghetti aisle, and I forgot the skin-crawlingly creepy looks you get from many men as a woman in this town; Anchorage is still a shit hole, and a dangerous one at that, but I miss Alaska all the same.

After 6 months in Denver, I’m still doubtful I’ll love anywhere as much as I’ve loved living at these latitudes, nor do I have any intention of staying in Colorado; I don’t like the culture and Coloradans don’t seem very authentic to me. The city is also wildly overpriced and the whole state is too freakin’ brown. I’ve been mulling over what’s next and I’m increasingly leaning toward the eastern seaboard, where there is actual lush greenery and the ocean is not so far. I wonder if I’m done with the West, and I’m not totally sure, but Denver is about as much “my thing” as I expected it to be: not very. Ultimately it’s not about Denver: I am just not interested in living in a city. I’ve done it before and I may have to do it again, but it’s not the way I want to live my life at all. That said, as long as I hold onto my little house up here, I think I’ll feel OK doing whatever, but the 9-to-5 corporate life is not one I wish to hold onto.

Unfortunately this is the second year I’ve returned to this condo to find it in relative squalor. I say relative because it could be, and has been, left in worse condition, but I made a mistake last year by issuing a warning instead of charging a fee for my trouble. While I’m tempted to align my experiences with the well-researched fact that conservatives are higher in conscientiousness, I’ll just say I don’t know what the hell is wrong with people these days or why anyone would have so little respect for someone else’s home, but it’s pretty depressing to come back to my house and see the state it’s left in. When I shared my disappointment with the owner of the company I lease this place to for the winter (and told him I’d be sending him a bill), he was super apologetic and shared that he feels self-centeredness is a hallmark of this generation. I’m inclined to agree. It doesn’t help that my house resides in a town of hippies and trustafarians who believe homeowners should “return their property to the commons” (direct and LOL-worthy quote).

Sadly most of the places I’ve loved throughout my life are being overrun with this hipster mentality: the Catskills and Adirondacks, especially… Asheville, Bozeman, Sedona, Santa Fe… and cities I don’t even much like: Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver. Pittsburgh and Savannah will probably follow in time.

I bought this place in 2013 and I doubt I’ll let it go anytime soon, 1654905724575despite the fact it’s appreciated in value by over $100,000. This little home is pretty special to me and I’ve renovated it piece by piece over the years from the wood paneling, laminate counters and cream-colored carpets it had when I bought it. It is now one of the nicest, most updated (and energy efficient) units in my complex. There are still things I want/need to do in the coming years: replace the washer/dryer, get rid of the dated textured walls and repaint, fix some of the trim… but every year I upgrade a few things to maintain its value.

I, like anyone in a similar position, have heard many times about how “lucky” I am, which is insulting and dismissive of all the damn work I put into my side hustles and sacrificing in the short term for longer term gains. I finally felt taken advantage of enough this trip to charge a hefty fee for my trouble, and it sounds like a pilot or other typically-anal-retentive person will be placed in here for the next lease term, and I like the sound of that. I have had more than enough of irresponsible, self-centered millennials living in my house splashing wine all over my shit.

In any case, it’s Thursday and I leave late tomorrow night. alyeskaLast night I ventured up to the high-end restaurant atop the mountain with a close friend; when I worked in this town, our resort at least had a cool culture, but almost all of the high quality people have moved on, and there is a void where there used to be a passionate, fun-loving, hard-working culture. I was the first of us to leave in 2014; there now remains one of the 8-10 person exec-level dream team.

I have one more day of errands and tomorrow to tie up any loose ends and head out. Delta’s schedule changes foiled my plans to meet up with my dog/house sitter and swap keys in the beginning of this trip, so we had to adjust accordingly, but I’ll end up leaving having accomplished everything I needed to, including a dentist appointment (and another one tomorrow), training my housekeeper, one of two massages I pre-copaid for last year and fixing a few things at the Anchorage house. I dragged a Caucasian rug up here and am lugging a larger, more expensive one back to Denver, and I’m feeling very organized.

I’m tempted to come back up here over the summer or early fall, but I found $850 RT tickets to Amman yesterday and plan to nail that trip down when I get back. If that is the case, despite all the change and hardship, I’ll have hit Georgia (and Abkhazia), Czech Republic, Jordan & Lebanon in a year of low travel… not half bad all things considered (this excludes Vegas, Alaska, Dallas, Myrtle Beach and back to the Northeast for my cousin’s wedding in the fall).

Sunday | After a full blown panic attack to wrap up my trip on Friday night and two trips to Anchorage in one day to fix a chipped tooth, feeling like I had nowhere the amount of time I wanted to say goodbye for what is in all likelihood an entire year, I returned to Denver. For a few seconds at the Japanese restaurant, where I ordered and then felt too nauseous with anxiety to eat, I thought about what the repercussions would be if I just bailed out on my flight. The feeling of being trapped was pretty overwhelming. I also left a bag of salad mix and forgot to put out a hand towel in the bathroom before I left, which in my psychotic brain negated all the work I had done to prepare for the first guest’s arrival. I don’t visibly crack very often, and usually juggle a ton of shit with no complaints, but I was beginning to come unglued on Friday night. I carry a few tabs of Clonazepam with me wherever I go, and that was a rare night I dipped into my stash.

My dog sitter friend’s flight back to Anchorage was canceled Saturday evening and she ended up staying an extra night; I slept most of yesterday, and only woke up to build my P&L for rental season, update my Airbnb listing and create invoices for my winter tenant, including a $500 cleaning bill, which probably should have been more. My big-ticket maintenance jobs are fresh in my mind and I’ve already started scheduling for next spring/summer. She had a great time here and may come back and stay if I end up going to Jordan in September, so that rules.

I am a control freak (shocker) and am not in love with the idea of managing this vacation rental from afar, but I am also curious enough to try. This will probably be my last short-term rental season for awhile, as the winter leasee wants it full time year round moving forward. It was pretty hard to rush out of there and say goodbye to the place once it was finally clean, but I accomplished a lot in a very short period of time. All the items I had swapped between houses and made it back here safely, I am fully unpacked and I suppose I have no choice but to go back to work tomorrow.

The rest of this month is going to be pretty hectic, but I have quite a few bonus days off work. I’m a little sad to be back here, but I wouldn’t have been much happier up there slaloming through tour buses on the highway for the next few months. On the other hand, I am eternally grateful to have two beautiful homes (Denver is a rental, but inside it’s very “me”). On that note, the end.

April Showers

April has flown by. Time is moving much more quickly these days; my weekends have been spent primarily with visitors, events and local adventures, and I seem to careen pretty rapidly through the workweek now that I have my schedule nailed down. There’s a beautiful lake up the street from my house and I’ve loved walking the dog around it in the evenings, spotting so many birds I haven’t seen in years. lakeThe nicest things about moving back down here have been the small pleasures: how comfortable the weather is, the herons and cormorants, the constant sunshine, even the wind. I still would put sitting outside in the sun with a book and slamming cocktails as among my top 5 favorite things to do; my house is comfortable, my neighborhood is quiet, Fuji is happy. My gym routine is working out well for me, and I’ve got 4lbs more to shave off before I hit my target range. I still feel pangs of… something, when I think about what I left to be here, and what those things meant to me over a decade of my life. Alas, it could all be a lot shittier here, and it’s not. I spent $100 on a set of baller wind chimes that I can hear from inside and you’d think it’d take a lot more to make someone happy in the moment. Not so.

fujiIt seems that it was a long time ago I was thinking about driving to South Carolina, and flying back up to AK, and those trips are coming up fast. I still feel a deep sense of ‘what’s next?’ in my life, but it’s slowly dissipating as I ramp up socially and make more plans. I moved here, more than anything else, to be closer to people, to see familiar faces more often, to have more people to talk to, and I have in 4 months managed to turn that into a pretty excellent reality. Maybe it’s OK to not know what the future holds. Maybe things just need to not be lonely and depressing af first. Everything was so epically beautiful where I was (this is not ‘the grass is always greener’ rationale, because a lot of things sucked up there) – but in returning to the lower 48, I’ve become a willing participant in a kind of lifestyle I hate: 9-5, commute to the office, etc. This is not my long-term plan. I do not want this kind of life with any kind of permanence. I am making the best of it, for now.

I met up with a former boss earlier in the month and once again cried in public (this dude has a special talent for making me weepy in absolutely inconvenient situations), but he ended up sending me a book called Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents that gave some more concise explanation to this prevailing feeling that I am always alone, and I have no one to blame but myself. It’s a special kind of frustration to realize that despite many years of therapy you’re still fucked up, but somehow reading that book allowed me to add some context and to address some phantom threads of some of my core feelings and how I (often fail to) relate to the world around me. I’ve channeled some effort into building more training modules for work, specifically around curiosity and assertiveness and what they’re worth in terms of character traits, so I still don’t love my job, but I don’t hate it as much as I did in the beginning. I still sometimes feel like I am required to insert myself into a clique, which has pushed me more than once to start looking for other opportunities. I’m hard-wired to struggle through things and I committed to a year in this role, so I shan’t be giving up for now. I’ve received pretty glowing reviews from above and below, but if you asked me if I truly enjoyed this role, my answer would be mostly no.

Today and tomorrow are the calm before the storm this week, and early Wednesday I fly to Vegas for 37 hours for our annual convention. I have done my best to avoid attending over the years as it’s all just way too much for me in terms of fervent partying and drinking and the militant networking makes me cringe, but I decided to suck it up and go this year, though I will sneak out after my “look pretty and talk to people” responsibilities are over to hit a dive bar with a friend, preferably far away from my coworkers. I am departing a bit earlier than others to get back here, swap my luggage, throw the dog in the car and drive to Myrtle Beach via Kansas City & Nashville. This drive will suck in terms of scenery: driving through Kansas especially is the absolute worst (tied for #1 most visually boring US state with Nebraska), endless flat blandness, but I’m stocked up on podcasts and audiobooks and driving has always been a sort of meditation time for me, so I think it will do me good. The stairmill, planes and long drives are periods I deconstruct my life and process large swathes of information, so I think this is long overdue.

I am sure it will be bizarre to be crossing state lines; I’ve wondered many times how living in AK imprinted so heavily onto my life that everything afterwards has felt so unreal, but I think a lot of it is that I never thought I’d leave and I still feel some skepticism about being back down here. I told my mother a few weeks ago that while most people spend their 20s-30s finding a partner and settling down and I spent mine hurtling around in small planes, driving every dirt road in Alaska and vacationing in the Eastern Bloc, I’ve arrived in my late 30s as a single person with a particular richness of experience that sometimes makes it difficult for me to garner as much deep understanding/connection from others. This will be a lifelong challenge, and it will only grow as I become a weirder and weirder individual. I don’t feel better than anyone, but I do feel very different in many ways and the further you deviate from the mean, the harder it is to find multiple points of common ground.

I have, however, surprised myself once again in my ability to collect/attract good people.FB_IMG_1651417969249 I showed up here barely knowing anyone, and I’m charmed by how many solid people I’ve already collected, not to mention the many people who have already stopped in to spend time. My former roommate’s coworker relocated to Denver as well, shortly after I did, and we’ve been spending Sundays drinking Bloody Marys in my yard and I’m grateful one of my favorite people managed to gift me another quality friend.  I hosted a small-ish house party on Saturday to get to know some of the local metalheads, I’ve had a number of work and personal-life visitors, including my sister and her husband, and a close friend from the Catskills. Juan came in for the Amorphis show, a long-time friend from Albany is flying out for our other friend’s band’s show over Memorial Day weekend. There are many great bands coming through, and I love that aspect of being back down here.

sarah_mikeMy social life overall is pretty full… I cannot complain. I even have really enjoyed getting closer to the Ukrainian on my team, and we are navigating the fine line between professional and personal relationships. Before I know it, it’ll be July, I’ll be packing for Europe, and maybe… just maybe… this whole depressing pandemic ordeal is mostly over, and I’ve emerged from this pretty dark, fucked up period of my life. I even caught up on WhatsApp with some people we met last time we were in Georgia and we’ll be meeting up for drinks in Tbilisi. For a pretty introverted, private person, I somehow manage to connect deeply with certain people and keep them around for years. I don’t know why people go out of their way for me, or remember me, or put in the work, but I am always grateful and feel a lot of love in the social sphere after all this time. So thank you all.

I’ve forgotten how to pack multiple bags at once and string complex itineraries together, so I’m crossing my fingers for the muscle memory to return. It’s inconceivable to me that, before the pandemic, that was my lifestyle, and everything just stopped for a long time. baroloI’m signing over my condo to the heli-ski company full-time as of October, so this may be the first and last summer of remote coordinating vacation rentals. Depending on how my June trip shakes out, I may go back up there again before the end of the summer… we’ll see. I’m torn; I want to go to Jordan, I’d also really like to make an appearance in Sarajevo as it’s been a hot minute, so we’ll see. I’ve had some epic food adventures here in town over the months, and many more places to hit up, but all in good time.

I wrapped up two work books this past month for training/presentations: Never Split the Difference, which was awesome, and Cracking the Curiosity Code, which was also OK (the latter was more of a refresher, it’s very hard to turn this stuff into teachable content, so I have to spend long periods of time how to distill applicable pieces to convey to large groups.

I also finished re-reading (listening to, rather) The Gulag Archipelago: Vol I, which I’ve been chipping away at for a long time; I first read it when I was in high school. I can’t stand the audiobook reader’s voice, which is unfortunate as he also did Vol II and III. Gulag Archipelago is so twisted that it actually makes me laugh (I think I owe this to Solzhenitsyn’s dark sense of humor and sarcasm). This should really be required reading in high schools; I believe it is in some countries, sadly not the US. These books have helped me so many ways, they’ve added so much context and a sense of fortitude, they’ve helped me put my own bullshit in perspective. I remember reading Kolyma Tales as a kid and being amazed at just how tough humans can be, what they can survive.

I also finally read Vasily Grossman’s Forever Flowing, and I’m taking my hard copy of Life and Fate to Myrtle (what better place to read Soviet / WWII history than on a sunny beach?) Forever Flowing is incredible, another must-read, so fucking grim and depressing. There are some really beautiful passages I won’t soon forget:

He went through the Hermitage–to find that it left him cold and indifferent.  It was unbearable to think that those paintings had remained as beautiful as ever during the years in camp which has transformed him into a prematurely old man.  Why hadn’t the faces of the madonnas grown old too, and why hadn’t their eyes been blinded with tears?  Was not their immortality their failure rather than their strength?  Did not their changelessness reveal a betrayal by art of the humanity which had created it?

On that note, I’ll wrap this up. We are already into another month: Picketty’s new book is on my list, plus Douglas Murray’s War on the West (his interview on Rogan was excellent). I’m still not reading as much as I’d like, but I’m getting there.

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.

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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