Leaving Entropia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return to the World

Well, this morning my 7-day course of ciprofloxacin ended without one single hurling episode (thank you, Zofran), and I am happy this experience is now behind me. I will be spending the next however-long-it-takes recolonizing the mausoleum of my digestive system with friendly bacteria: antibiotics are amazing triumphs of science to be used in extreme moderation, and I have not used a broad-spectrum antibiotic since I was in college. Yesterday, feeling a bit nauseous, I decided to chance the gym (I chose the machine with a garbage can within barfing distance); I ate solid food for the first time in 10 days and even had a few cocktails. Today I survived my full hour on the stair mill. It feels good to be healthy again, friends. That was a close one. 

Given I no longer feel as though my days are numbered, I am ecstatic that I am wrapping my life up and transporting myself and my dog (I hope) to Denver in a few short months. It’s only Tuesday and it’s already been a hellacious week; I’ve already been added to my new team’s channels, boards, calendars and meetings, and I still have a few days left with my former team, which is not really how this was supposed to go, but it is what it is, and I appreciate their eagerness to have me on board. 

The next two weeks are filled with travel, and when I get back I expect to start figuring out my timeline for getting my stuff moved out of here. I am grateful for the months I have to find a place to live, though I will probably have to head to Denver for a few days after Thanksgiving regardless. I am anxious about this piece, but I am sure it will work out. 01My dog’s bully breed is a major struggle, as it always has been, which is tragic and ridiculous, and it will cost me thousands of dollars on top of my own costs to situate her. I’m torn, to be honest, on taking her with me, as she has a family she knows well that would happily adopt her here, and she’d have far more frequent company with a family than she’ll have with me working from the office half the week. It is extremely taboo to say things like this, I realized months ago, as people anthropomorphize their pets and think they’re crying themselves to sleep at night when they’re apart, which is not typically the case, and certainly not the case for mine. That said, I’ve had this dog for 6 of her 8 years of life, and she’s bonded to me, so she will probably be coming with me at my expense anyway. I can’t imagine parting with an animal that was my sole companion through the pandemic, and if you can be proud of a dog for what it has become character-wise in the time you’ve owned it, I am proud of her. This dog would not even let people near her when I took her in; she loves everyone now, and everyone loves her.

Regardless of how that transpires, I am fairly sure Fuji will be my last pit bull; my years of trying to do the right thing and taking in behaviorally fucked-up adult shelter dogs to turn their attitudes around and make them normal are probably over and I am tired of the price I’ve had to pay over the years for reforming the lives of these animals. A few months ago I came across a breed that will probably end up being perfect for me in the long run, and asked my sister to find me a breeder in the next 3-5 years so I can get on a wait list: the dogs look like huge muppets but are extremely protective and powerful, and excellent for security training.

Alas, we’ll see how it goes. There’s a lot to do.

Rewinding a bit, my vacation was fantastic. I spent a week in Myrtle Beach with my parents, and a week in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort. dadMy family has been traveling to Myrtle Beach since I was born, though I have only very vague memories of the place. A bunch of years ago my parents purchased a condo in the building we always used to stay in, which was a huge deal for them, and it has pretty much become their Shangri-La. I was skeptical at first, as MB is known as the “Redneck Riviera,” but the area has changed unbelievably since we were kids, and is now one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country. My parents’ building is well operated and maintained, and the ocean is so loud you can hear it inside, which I love.

My relationship with my parents has improved markedly over time, due to various factors, and I actually enjoy spending time with them, which was almost never the case until 2-3 years ago. I also just love their condo, I was over the moon at the prospect of swimming in the ocean every day, and I had an amazing time. (Yes, I blurred out my dad’s nipples. Ya welcome.)

My experience at my first all-inclusive resort in Mexico was also surprisingly good. mexicoSome things could have been better, especially the food, but given their typical audience I think the quality was acceptable, and they had a buffet, which was great. Despite not even being a pool person, the first three days there, we barely made it past the quiet, lazy river-ish pool outside our building. The beach was beautiful; the ocean was warm and amazing and there were huge fish swimming with us. I could’ve stayed for longer… a lot longer. cochinitaI had intended to spend a day or two off-property, so one day we went to Rio Secreto, which was mind-blowingly cool. The second day we went out to Chichen Itza, we swam in a beautiful cenote, which we inexplicably had entirely to ourselves. Dug up some cochinita pibil on the long drive back. I would go back to this resort in a hot second, though the 60% sale I booked with would have to be available… there is no way I’d pay full price for what we got. We got a killer deal at $370 or so a night… I wouldn’t pay $500. All in all total kick ass experience, no regrets. 

Quick rundown of what I’ve read this month, no summaries, just links to Amazon. Most of this stuff was good, nothing was great except for Cultish, which I really enjoyed. Woke, Inc. is worth a read, too. Age of Addiction was not really what I expected, but there was a lot of interesting history, which made it unique.

Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History | The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business | Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism | Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life | Woke, Inc.: Inside America’s Corporate Social Justice Scam

I also watched the HBO remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage, which I decided I didn’t hate as much as I thought initially. I do hate some of the modernizing efforts, particularly the open marriage that is their friends’ relationship in the beginning, but I am skeptical of this trend in society, which isn’t really a sufficient reason to disparage its presence in the remake. I also don’t love that they switched the genders in the original plot, but I could’ve gone either way I suppose. It’s as complex and emotional as the original, though I find the original to be timeless and not in any need of modernizing whatsoever. I still prefer the original, which is one of my favorite films of all time, but I think the remake was a good effort.

That’s all for now, but I imagine I’ll be writing again soon as things continue to develop.

First & Second Snow

Parts of Anchorage received over a foot of snow yesterday: we tied our 1981 record for earliest accumulation. It’s tough to admit this given my passion for cold weather, but I am pissed.4runner September is too soon for this. I was hoping to get out of here (for vacation) before this happened; I’m grateful I managed to  at least put studded tires on my truck in time (my aesthetic improvements are looking good so far, speaking of, though the only two fun aspects of driving this thing are 1. the feeling that I can run over other vehicles and 2. the dog sticking her head out the back window, which rolls down).

There is no guarantee of an autumn season in Alaska; some years you get a beautiful Indian summer… the yellow leaves stay on the trees, rustling in the wind day after day, and the smell of wood smoke lingers in the air… some years you get a cold, slimy monsoon, and then it snows a shitload and that’s that. Welcome to winter 2021/22.

I spent the final pre-snow beautiful day driving to Girdwood, sewardhwyand each time I’ve been down there in the last month I have seen our Cook Inlet belugas swimming alongside the road.  Regardless of how much I feel that my time here is coming to an end, can you even imagine driving down a highway and seeing whales swimming alongside you? Misfortune, poor choices, bad luck, pandemics nor loneliness have diminished my love for this unbelievable, awesome place, and no part of me is wanting to leave because I’m tired of you, Alaska. It’s just time.

The first snow has always been exciting for me… I have been obsessed with winter my whole life. I feel the years’ tidal waves of nostalgia; I love the cold, clean water smell of snow; the melting drips the next day; the squeak under your feet when it’s below zero; the dead quiet, the bright moonlight reflections. I love everything about winter.  Despite not being much of a holiday person, even the emotional warmth of that time of year is pretty palpable as soon as there’s snow on the ground. I feel all of those things this year… but I also feel deep anxiety. And deja vu.

This time last year, I had crossed back into Alaska after heading up the Alcan, filled with hope for my future, despite the pandemic. A year later, I am so tired and burned out that most of my emotions are severely muted. I am approaching month 4 of interview loop limbo, a level of uncertainty that would drain virtually anyone, though I still have a very good chance of being relocated out of here before the end of the year. I’ve had less time than I expected to enjoy my condo and hike in the slice of time post-Labor Day and before my lease begins due to the dog unexpectedly needing surgery and being on rationed exercise.

Tomorrow I’ll turn my house over one last time before my tenant arrives, which makes me very sad; I wonder if I squandered possibly my last summer up here trying to make up for a shitty financial year. I wonder if I squandered most of this year, or the past two, or five, or ten, if I should have done things differently, if I could’ve somehow made my life better than I have, if I made different choices. That said, if things fall into place in the next few months the way I want/hope/expect them to, this will all have been worth it.

This year has been so grueling for me that I’ve been thinking a lot about myself circa 2003/4, living in Boston, spending my insomniac nights sitting on benches around campus listening to music, ruminating over how I could possibly turn the ship of my life around at that point in time while watching people walk by and leaves rustle along Commonwealth Ave and Bay State Road. It’s been good to think back to that, it provides context; I was so lost and devastated, totally incapable of seeing any good way out of my predicament. I do not feel either of those things at this juncture, and it’s pretty astounding how much confidence grows with age.

I have continued to be productive, despite said fatigue. I picked up vaping a few years back, overjoyed that there was a safer way to enjoy nicotine (I had been a non-smoker for years, and even when I smoked it was never consistent), and I subsequently quit (nicotine) Sept 1, then ditched the vape gear September 15, so that’s done. It was easier than I thought it would be and I’m surprised I haven’t slipped or had any overwhelming moments of weakness. I didn’t actually quit for any reason beyond feeling like I wondered where my vape was too often and the sense of dependency was annoying. The only consequence of quitting I’ve noticed is that my resting heart rate has dropped further to 53bpm. My daily hour on the stair mill is slightly less exhausting. I seem to sleep better, so that’s a plus. I expected to feel more… something about giving this shit up; I feel mostly apathy.

I’ve been pretty focused on maintaining/improving my health over the last year or two (to a more dramatic degree than usual), and no matter how shitty I sometimes feel, I have remained committed to this. Last year I planned to start lifting weights, I decided to wait until January, whether I’m here or elsewhere, particularly to continue to protect my hips: in the past few weeks/months I’ve started using collagen peptides, glucosamine/chondroitin and also visiting a chiropractor as a last-ditch effort to try to square up my right hip, which has been out of alignment for weeks and getting worse. I’m pretty skeptical about this medical profession, but I’ve seen some significant progress, so that’s been interesting. I think I will also ditch this Fitbit Charge 4 sooner than later, since it sucks at tracking high intensity exercise. This is a great device for walkers and hikers and people who aren’t sweating buckets every day… for higher intensity exercise, it’s worthless and incapable of consistently tracking heart rate.

I’m going to skip books for this post, though I may add them once I get to Myrtle Beach and have some down time. I haven’t read a ton, I’ve got 4-5 books down for September, none of which were overwhelmingly interesting (Cultish was pretty good, though). HBO just remade Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, one of my all-time favorite movies, so I’ll be watching that on my vacation as well… I do not suspect I will love the new one based on my deep affection for the original.

On a final note,carol one of my few remaining friends left this morning to move to Juneau, and I’m proud of him for making a change that will increase his quality of life. I will miss him. My aunt-in-law visited from NJ a few weeks ago, and my roommate got back from Iraq recently, so it’s been really nice to have some company after forever alone. I’ve tried to really assess what my social life situation is up here at this point, and it’s not getting any better (which makes sense, given my zero effort in making new friends); it’s something that will need to improve in the near future. In the meantime, hopefully the next few weeks will net me some ocean & beach time, sun, and sleep.

To be continued in another post, probably later this week. Alaska is a disaster on the COVID front right now on top of everything else, so I will be very happy to be on a plane out of here on Tuesday night.

July, so far.

I’ve amassed so much content for July that I’m posting this before the end of the month; my parents are flying in on Tuesday night, and it’ll be only the second time this summer I’ve gone out and done any Alaska things, particularly the first trip up to Denali, which in previous years has always been in May/June.  Today was also the first hike up Alyeska, which used to be a daily affair… I’m surprised by my fitness level; while I spend nearly an hour on the stair mill most days of the week, it’s usually not sufficient training for hiking up an actual mountain. Surprisingly, today my heart rate barely rose enough for me to earn any Fitbit active minutes: a good and bad problem to have, good because you’re in decent physical shape, bad because you need to push yourself harder. It’s been raining a lot up here, and the humidity fucks with my joints, as much as I appreciate rain over wildfires. patio

It’s been a generally challenging summer for a number of reasons: we have no help in the hospitality industry, and anyone who is working in this industry is working twice+ as hard. Restaurants require reservations or have long wait times; everywhere is overcrowded. Alaska is crowded already in the summer, and over-tourism has become more of a struggle every year. That, combined with inadequate staffing levels and an unbelievable lack of patience of people visiting has created really unpleasant working conditions.

After opening my condo up on Airbnb, I’m sold out for most of the summer season; I’m grateful for the opportunity to compensate for lost wages during COVID, but because I manage, clean and maintain it myself, I now have even less free time than I usually do. I’ve made a few thousand dollars on Turo as well, though I don’t expect to continue that at this time… after weeks of mulling, 10986964_10103331468477270_2700687044414104837_o_10103331468477270I sold my beloved STI and bought a Toyota 4Runner, if for no other reason than to (a) capitalize on the high resale value of my car before the odometer was too high and (b) because my Alaska exit strategy will require a larger turbo-free vehicle that won’t blow a (literal) gasket on me on the Alcan.

I’m surprised by how unemotional the entire process was; I bought my first WRX in 2008 in New Hampshire, and bought my STI in 2015 up here. They are the only two cars I have ever outright owned, both manual transmission, and I have loved every moment of driving each of them. I nearly cried when I turned in my WRX for the STI; that car had been with me longer at that point in time than any person had; I had driven it to the easternmost tip of the continent (St. John’s, Newfoundland; photo to the right is the Bonavista Peninsula, where John Cabot landed in 1497) and then drove it to Alaska. It had 140,000 miles on it. I still see it on the road in Anchorage. I have covered virtually the entire road system of this state with those two vehicles, and the STI was a wonderful companion for my years as a road warrior. It is truly the end of an era. But it feels like the end of a lot of things is on the horizon.

Another reason I switched vehicles is that I’m not convinced this microchip shortage will end anytime soon, despite what we’re told by the media. I had originally planned to hold out for the 2022 STI, which I do not believe will be released anywhere near its target date. So, that’s done. I wish I felt more enthusiasm about it, but meh. I am making some modest changes to the 4Runner that will get it to where I want it to be aesthetically so that may help. I tell myself if I feel too much FOMO in the future, I can go buy another STI… and tow it with the 4Runner if need be. Win win.

I think this is also part of a continuing process of divorcing myself from material possessions with any meaning; it happened naturally with my condo, and I think is largely a consequence of my closest friend up here moving to Idaho… it does not feel the same to be there anymore. I think to some degree I also stopped caring about the car, at least to the level I had in the past; I hit a point where it became more of a source of anxiety than a pleasure. I realize this is something suicidal people do (give away all their worldly possessions): that is definitely not the case with me. I shared how emotionally dissociative I’ve been lately with a friend of mine in Fairbanks and he suggested that I may have transcended in a way, and as absurd and funny as that sounds, I think there is some truth in that. I have been in the zone 24/7 lately. I feel mostly nothing but the process itself, the accomplishment of individual tasks that are part of a larger series, and that might not be such a bad thing.

And so, alongside the juggling of various endeavors, I have been chugging through books, podcasts and even some good video content. I have struggled to get into podcasts, and it’s taken months of forcing myself to listen to them to really adapt, but I think I am finally there.

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Toxic Psychiatry

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

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

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

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Last days of year 36: May/June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livin’ on a Prayer

We’re now halfway through May (also exactly 6 months from November 14, noteworthy to me) and I finished this whack ass book called Think and Grow Rich that I thought I’d share an excerpt from… because when I started reading it I was like WTAF is this and as I progressed I decided that it’s actually (mostly) just good general life advice. thinkThe book is supposedly about increasing your income, but a lot of its content is relevant to being a halfway decent human being. I’ll link to this Forbes article (even though it forces me to turn off my adblocker) and also the Wikipedia page… this is the maximum plug I’m going to give this book, but I’m passing it onto a colleague who is into self improvement because I think he’ll enjoy it as well. It’s a quick read, and some of the chapters are a bit over the top for me, but I really like his lists. Worth noting, I feel like if this book had been published in the last 10 years it would’ve been called “ableist” or found offensive in some other way, which is a poorer reflection of our culture than of the content of this book.

The 30 Major Causes of Failure
I had to search for QUITE A WHILE to find another blog that had the author’s list typed out verbatim… since everyone is keen on summarizing shittily what was said perfectly the first time around. This blog post has the explanations of each, directly from the book.

  1. Unfavorable Hereditary Background
  2. Lack of a Well-Defined Purpose in Life
  3. Lack of Ambition to Aim Above Mediocrity
  4. Insufficient Education
  5. Lack of Self-Discipline
  6. Ill Health
  7. Unfavorable Environmental Influences During Childhood
  8. Procrastination
  9. Lack of Persistence
  10. Negative Personality
  11. Lack of Controlled Sexual Urge
  12. Uncontrolled Desire for “Something for Nothing”
  13. Lack of a Well-Defined Power of Decision
  14. One or More of the Six Basic Fears
    • Fear of: Poverty; Criticism; Ill Health; Loss of Love of Someone; Old Age; Death
  15. Wrong Selection of Mate in Marriage
  16. Over-Caution
  17. Wrong Selection of Associates in Business
  18. Superstition & Prejudice
  19. Wrong Selection of a Vocation
  20. Lack of Concentration of Effort
  21. The Habit of Indiscriminate Spending
  22. Lack of Enthusiasm
  23. Intolerance
  24. Intemperance
  25. Inability to Cooperate With Others
  26. Possession of Power Not Acquired Through Self-Effort
  27. Intentional Dishonesty
  28. Egotism & Vanity
  29. Guessing Instead of Thinking
  30. Lack of Capital

That’s all for now… it’s been a crazy month so far, and there’s a lot to still accomplish and more books to read. Stay tuned, stay safe!

April into May: Great Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comping over COVID-19: March

Amusingly enough, one day after my personal campaign to catch a leftover shot commenced, I received a call from a little hole-in-the-wall clinic down the street from my house, and on March 2, I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. I’m relieved to have managed to grab an mRNA vaccine; the mRNA vaccines seem to be the least risky with regard to autoimmune bullshit.

There are risks, of course, anyway, and there are a lot of unknowns; I received my second dose on Tuesday at 10am; by midnight or so, I woke up in the fetal position, teeth chattering under my heavy down comforter. A few hours later I woke up marinating in my own sweat (I preemptively slept on a towel… wise choice). The next day I remembered how much the flu can suck… I thought, many years ago, that people who had the flu were being giant babies: then I got it, one year in New York, and could barely walk (I actually fell down the concrete stairs trying to take my dog out when my legs decided to mutiny). I woke up every morning in a puddle of sweat. The flu is awful. The reaction to the second shot is more like a bad drug trip: you know it’s ending sooner than later and just have to ride it out. Wednesday I was completely useless; I’m glad I took a sick day.

But, that has passed. And a week from now I’ll be home for two weeks to see friends and family, so what I said about getting an earlier shot not influencing my plans turned out to not be true: I need to check in on my parents, see my sister, and I deeply miss my friends in NY. I can’t wait for all of those things (and Marshall’s, and Aldi, and Wegmans, and we’re even dipping into the Jersey Shore for a night). I further booked a long weekend in LA with my work husband in May, and Memorial Day weekend with one of my bffs who moved to Idaho last summer. Maybe… just maybe… my life will feel a little more normal. I’d like to get a few trips under my belt before I sequester myself up here for the majority of the summer.

Things are looking up either way: the days are growing longer. springThe snow is melting. This is break-up, a season of mud, grime and pot holes, but evening sunshine. It doesn’t get dark until after 9pm. COVID winter is coming to an end, and while the media is determined to stick to a solid rotation of doom and gloom on a daily basis, there is a lot to be hopeful for. Unfortunately, spring brings some real bummers in the ski world: with all the snow we’ve received this winter, some of our heliski operators have suffered tragic losses (last week, an avalanche killed a woman in the Talkeetna Mountains), and I was particularly horrified by last weekend’s heli crash near Knik Glacier; one of the people who died was someone I’ve known for years, and was a world-renowned guide and just an all around awesome dude. Helicopter crashes like this almost never happen in this industry, so this has been a tough one to choke down.

I’ve spent the past month shoveling (of course), cooking baller Saturday night dinners with a friend of mine… watching trash television… exercising, sleeping well, cleaning like a psycho, putting in a lot of extra hours at work, walking my dog, and reading. And trying to resolve (or, at least, conceal) my eye allergies, to no avail. I’m not sure how or why this has happened; I’ve never really had this issue before last spring (or any allergies, ever), but whatever is melting with the snow has given me a months-long bout of allergic conjunctivitis and extremely puffy, shitty looking eyes.

This is already a wordy post, so I am going to ramble about a few books here and there and then save the rest for April.

jp_2Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life | I preordered this book months ago, and was concerned that all of the SJW outrage was going to disrupt its publication. That did not happen, and after his trip to hell (and Russia, and Serbia) and back, Jordan Peterson’s new book might even be better than his last. Or, maybe not — maybe some chapters just resonated so deeply with me because I have really, really, really been struggling with the pandering, disruptive, often absurd inclusion & diversity initiatives at my workplace. I actually (professionally, and tactfully) lost my shit a few weeks ago and sent my litany of complaints up the chain in a thoughtful enough way that it seems to have stopped the constant barrage of woke bullshit that is teetering on becoming compulsory. This has occupied a lot of my headspace in the past few months; and because I am a rational person, I have often wondered if I am insane, or if I have just become more conservative as a result of living in Alaska, but I’ve come to discover that that is not true at all: my friends from college and elsewhere, who live and work in East Coast cities or in California or the Pacific Northwest feel exactly the same about their companies’ I&D policies; further, many of my colleagues feel the same and are afraid to say so. This has been a really challenging ordeal for me; I am avidly against virtue signaling, or talking about any of these things in any capacity whatsoever at work. I don’t want to be involved in any of these conversations, and thus far I have refused to do so, and will continue to do so. The amount of lip service and utter hypocrisy I’ve witnessed in the past few months has been revolting. I keep hearing that these “ideas” are “good intentions.” As was Communism. Hitler would tell you he had good intentions, too. Good intentions are relative. “Good” is relative. My plan at this point is to ride this out for the time being and continue pushing back against these shenanigans becoming required conversations; I have no qualms whatsoever with other people passionately trading their thoughts and ideas regarding these topics, but the creeping sense of it being required is deeply troubling. Further, I would say I’m old school: I just want to show up and do my job. Why is that so hard these days? I have observed, to my frustration, that “inclusion and diversity” does not include diversity of opinions on this matter.

But, I digress. JP’s new book is wonderful; I bought the Kindle version originally, and then opted to buy the Audible version so I could hear him read it. 12rulesThen I bought a copy of his first book, 12 Rules for Life, which I am revisiting at night. I also spent a better part of March listening to his podcasts; in one of them he mentioned that he’s been overwhelmed by how many people grew up with no encouragement and found that in him, and I am one of those people. If anything happened to this guy, I really don’t know who could fill these shoes. He is just such a brilliant, thoughtful, insightful person and such an unbelievable role model for people who don’t drink the woke Kool-Aid. What I love above all is that in some sense, he ignores all of that in a sense — the monster people make him out to be — and continues to push people to push themselves to be better. These are his next 12 rules (and his first 12 are here, on his Wikipedia page). I recommend both his books to anyone and everyone who will listen; his first one has many more Biblical references, but it is worth the trouble even if you don’t (yet) appreciate what you can pluck out of the Bible:

beyondorder

The only chapter I was a bit disappointed in was 10. Romance — I thought he could’ve said a lot more. This book seemed a much more abridged than his first one. And 12. Be grateful is probably the most appropriate considering everything that’s transpired in the world over the past 12 months. I love that I have both Audible versions, and can listen to them whenever I want to. If I had to make a list of the things that have kept me striving over the past few years, Jordan Peterson would be one of them. It’s surprising how much you can feel a little less alone in the world as a result of someone you don’t know personally, and never will.

richdad_poordadRich Dad Poor Dad | I’ve been looking for some easily digestible books to pass along to my sister and her husband to help them better manage their finances, and this one was OK. The first chapter was completely lost on me — I have no idea what he was trying to say — but the rest of it is good. A lot of it is about making your money work for you; investing wisely; paying yourself first. The author took significant financial risk in some cases and many of them paid off… he lost money too, of course. I think the other important takeaway was the way you should really look at assets and liabilities; in the US buying a house is still very much a cultural aspiration (less so than it was in past decades); not necessarily a wise choice for everyone. I don’t think all of these things are universally applicable, but his perspective on cash flow and visualizing the flow of money in and out could be very useful to a lot of people. I bought a second book to check out on the same topic that I’m eager to read. I appreciate the general premise of this book: that this guy had two dads giving him financial advice, and many people grow up with none. It’s difficult to teach yourself how to manage money when no one guides you or sets an example, so this is a good resource.

howdowelookHow Do We Look | For years now, Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome has been my sleep-to audiobook for long plane rides and insomnia (I didn’t sleep through the first pass, but I so love the book and the narrator’s voice that I’ve probably listened to it 10 or 15 times by now). I’ve also enjoyed How Do We Look: The Body, The Divine, and the Question of Civilization, though I wish I had bought a hard copy instead of listening to it. While I’m familiar with most of the works of art she addresses in this pretty short book (I think most if not all of them are in the new Civilizations series, which was excellent), it’s a pain for a visual person if you’re listening to this in the dark and you don’t want to look at stuff on your phone alongside the reading. Anyone interested in what art meant to its viewers and its creators over vast periods of time should grab this (a hard copy); it’s no SPQR but it’s a short and thoughtful read. Short Kirkus review here.

orwellWhy Orwell Matters | I traded How Proust Can Change Your Life to a friend for his copy of Hitchens’ Why Orwell Matters and this was a really great find as well; I’ve read a lot of Hitchens’ other stuff, though long ago, and was not aware he had written a book specifically about Orwell. There’s a ton of detail in here about Orwell’s experiences in Burma, the formation of his ideas and opinions, and the life of skepticism and ire he endured as a result of both ends of the political spectrum thinking he was stupid and/or insane. Orwell has been the most influential writer in my lifetime: reading his books in middle school truly changed my life and my perspective on the world, and reading his others later in life have only added to my admiration. Despite all of that I learned a lot from this book, and Hitchens was a gifted voice in his own right. Publishers Weekly blurb here.

hyperionI’ve taken a break from the exhausting Ulysses to read Hyperion with a good friend of mine in New York. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything cheesier in my entire life, but I’m actually surprised by how much I like it (it’s become a daily ritual for me to walk around my house finishing my 15,000 steps listening to one of the very long chapters. Apart from laughing out loud at some of the content, there are layers and layers of literary and historical references, and the book touches on some really interesting concepts. I actually told someone years ago that I hate sci-fi, which was probably the dumbest, most wrong thing I’ve ever said about myself… I love a lot of sci-fi. I don’t know that I love Hyperion, but I’m intrigued. And I’m happy to have a 2-person nerd book club for this one, since I read virtually everything else alone.

Everything else that has been occupying my time is boring and dull; I’ve amused myself and my close inner circle by buying one shitty food item at Walmart every week and reviewing it on Snapchat with the big mouth filter: I’ve gone through strawberry frosted donut Oreos, Cheetos mac & cheese, and various flavors of pudding and Jello (I can’t stand Jello, and pudding is pretty gross as well). I’ve also been reviewing the stupid beauty devices I’ve found on Amazon to help smooth out my raccoon eyes, including 24k gold gel eye patches and this hilarious rose quartz roller.

I also have fully taught myself how to “dry clean,” or, rather, to clean delicates by hand with the correct detergents. I decided to stop going to the dry cleaner out of laziness and pick up a new skill (which will be especially useful someday in the future when I start wearing my nice clothes again). I’ve managed to successfully wash and clean cashmere, silk, hand-painted silk, wool, suede and leather so far and I am pretty stoked on this. I’ve always been pretty interested in textiles (and fashion), but learning how to care for these fabrics has been really fun and interesting for me.

Last, I’m down nearly 15 lbs from this time last year, mostly due to drinking less, sleeping more, counting steps and sticking to one meal a day. After this pandemic year and a handful of other misfortunes, I feel pretty good, and I’m stoked to get back on a plane and get the fresh hell out of here for a hot minute.

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.