Love

I'm on a mission to change the way I love. Maybe you'll join me.

Our culture has taught us that love is a romantic fairytale, and that it is normal and healthy to expect your partner to live up to all of your wildest dreams. This leads us to harbor unrealistic expectations that inevitably lead to resentments and misery.

These expectations can be socially constructed, such as in marriage. A spouse is expected to behave differently from a casual romantic lover. A different set of norms and expectations arises out of the new social contract, which the person might not be capable of fulfilling.

Expectations can also be about our partner. We expect them to conform to our needs and wants, and believe we've been victims to injustice if they don't meet those expectations. Even if we have the best of intentions when we express our unmet needs and do not indulge in blame or shaming, our grievances break the bounds of trust with our partner and place us in a position of victimhood to our emotions.

But most subtle and sinister of all, we craft expectations about ourselves in our relationships. We believe we need to live up to the version of ourselves we think our partner needs and wants. We become performative, acting out the role we believe will garner acceptance and validation. We deny our own limitations and boundaries, losing what makes us us in the process.

The fact is, the culturally sanctioned version of romantic love is not love: It is infatuation. It places the ego at the center of the relationship, and insists that we make satisfying our own selfish desires a priority over being a present, grounded, reliable partner. The trouble with the ego is that we often don't recognize clearly when we're being selfish, and sometimes mistake our own selfishness for selflessness.

We play the role of the fixer. We try to resolve our partner's problems without asking, or insist on "being there" for them, becoming disappointed when they don't want or need our help.

While on the surface, this behavior might seem sweet and accommodating, it's actually self-centered and insecure. It seeks not to help the other person, but to validate our ego. Instead of being grounded and available, we place our desire to be recognized and validated by the other person above all else.

Love starts at the source: Within ourselves. We cannot love another without first trusting and confiding in ourselves. When we try, we project the love we ought to have for ourselves onto the other person. We deny ourselves attention and care, and expect the other person to make up for it.

Our misguided cultural notion of romantic love has deluded us into believing that when we enter a relationship, it is normal and healthy to make that person the center of our lives. We are led to believe that constantly tending to the other person is compassionate and caring, and that constantly making your needs known is vulnerable and sensitive. The irony is that this is the most self-centered and ego-driven way to live out a relationship. Our identity suddenly becomes defined in terms of the other person. We lose our footing and become dependent on the other person for meeting our needs.

Instead, we must recognize that the truly compassionate path is the one of self-love, self-sufficiency, and groundedness. By taking responsibility for our own lives, learning to manage our own emotions, and grounding ourselves in our own self-love, we are able to arrive to our partner with our needs already met by the only person who can meet them: Us.

Crying

When was the last time you had a good, long cry?

We've been socialized, especially as men, to believe that crying is a sign of weakness. And, while there is value in controlling the expression of one's emotions, there's also immense value in the catharsis of a good cry.

The other day, I spent a morning doing an exercise that might sound crazy. You know those painful memories you have stored up? The ones where you were bullied, or you got dumped, or a loved one died? I made a long list of all of those.

And then I added to that list all of my worst fears. My parents dying. Someone I love receiving a terminal diagnosis. A car crash. Nuclear war.

I looked up and down the list. Had I truly felt the pain experience of all of these past occurrences and future possibilities and certainties? How often in my life did I avoid feeling that pain, through drugs or sex or intellectualizing or media or shopping?

So I went down the list and forced myself to confront the pain of each experience. I lay in my bed crying, alone, for hours. I allowed the flood of emotion to overcome me. When it felt like it might be too much, I breathed into the experience and reassured myself that I could press on.

And then, I confronted the ultimate ego pain: my own death. I've spent my life avoiding the truth that one day, I'm going to die. So I focused on it. I pushed my ego off a cliff. You're going to die. One day, some day, is going to be your last. I bawled my eyes out.

Afterward, I felt a divine calm wash over me. The only other experience that offered me a similar serenity was in the aftermath of a psilocybin therapeutic retreat. I held my own hand. I hugged myself. I felt, in that moment, self-love and self-acceptance. I realized that, in spite of all my painful experiences, they don't define me. I came to understand that by embracing my mortality, I could access an inner peace I didn't know was possible.

You know that feeling when something funny happens in a quiet setting where it would be inappropriate to laugh, and you have a hard time holding it in? You cover your mouth and try to hide your smirk, but your laughter still permeates through the gaps between your fingers. And if it doesn't and you do manage to hold it in, you'll be gasping for air laughing maniacally as soon as you're able to leave the room.

Holding in your pain is a lot like that. Except when you hold in your pain, releasing it tends to hurts other people. Whether by emotional abuse or by actual violence, it's true that "hurt people hurt people". Our stored pain becomes a ball and chain weighing us down. We carry our pain wherever we go. It's heavy and burdensome. It keeps us from opening up. It damages our ability to trust—both in ourselves, and in the people we love.

We recede into childish validation seeking, neediness, and addiction in order to get what we perceive to be our needs met. They're not our needs: They're the pain of not feeling okay in the world because we internalized our past mistakes and traumas as a reflection of who we are. In choosing to feel our previously unfelt pain, we open ourselves up to a more adult modality of relating with others and ourselves.

So don't be such a baby. Cry more.

The nature industrial complex

Ever stop to think about how much we consume just to be outside?

There's an entire industry that relies on the idea that we're all just a bit too urban, that going into the woods is good for us, and that to do it, first we need $300 boots and a $200 jacket.

But it's not just the outdoor apparel industry that uses the narrative "nature is good for you" to peddle its wares. The tourism industry, with more than a hint of irony, develops previously "natural" land into hotels, restaurants, and resorts—all in the name of "getting back to nature."

And it's not that nature isn't good for us. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence from my own life that when I take a walk in the woods, I feel better afterwards.

But perhaps the outdoor lifestyle is actually just another machination of the advertising industry. What if the outdoorsperson's desire to drive a Subaru Outback, shop at REI, wear KEEN shoes, and go backpacking is actually a manufactured desire, planted by advertising which alleges the benefits of going outside in order to sell expensive outdoor products?

The truth is, you don't really need that much equipment or special clothing to go outside. A decent pair of boots and a windbreaking jacket are a good start. Walk into your local REI though, and you'll be surely convinced otherwise.

Buying nothing in 2020

I forgot to tell you about my New Year's resolution: This year, I'm not buying anything.

Okay, maybe I'm going to have to buy food, toiletries, and the odd article of clothing out of necessity. But every time I catch myself thinking "wouldn't it be nice if I had X", I'm going to pause, smile, and divert my attention.

So far, it's been a wholly liberating experience. I wear the same outfit every day (black shirt with blue jeans), so I'm not fazed by the birdsong of advertisers or storefronts beckoning me to look differently.

Priorities shift when you elect not to buy anything. Instead of focusing on the next acquisition, the attention shifts toward creativity, stillness, and community. I've spent so much more time among friends than in the self-imposed prison of work-and-spend.

As well, a life with less stuff is less work to maintain and less space is required. An inner peace is reemerging out of the knowledge that I have an abundance—not of stuff—but of time and space.

We're constantly fed messages that we ought be busy, that we ought work and consume and work and consume again. But what if we practice refusal? What if, instead, we all stopped buying and started smiling more, loving more, and learning more? How would the world change?

I'm not buying anything in 2020.

How I'm staying youthful in my thirties

I'm a few months into my 35th year of life. And, in the past five years, I've noticed a trend in my behavior and outlook toward more conservative values. Where once I was the spry idealist, I've noticed myself recoiling at the thought of change. The stakes are higher, or so they seem.

But are the stakes truly higher? Must we enter midlife with the sense that the decisions we make matter more than they did when we were younger? And does the idea of a "midlife crisis" represent a less-than-graceful attempt to refute the idea of "growing up"?

Most people in their mid-thirties have children. I've always thought children were interesting, but I'm still in no rush to have them. If you don't have children, ironically, it's a lot easier to maintain your youth. Children are expensive, stressful, and severely limit your mobility.

Most people in their thirties carry some sort of consumer debt. They're burdened by the hastiness of their past financial decisions, and throw up their arms, surrendering to "the way things are".

Generally, debt is the result of ever-increasing anxieties about one's status in society. In order to be treated with respect, we think, we need to look the part of someone worth respecting. And so, we buy the markers of respect, not recognizing that the work of being respected lies mostly in improving our behavior and demeanor rather than our material possessions.

And finally, when we feel stuck, when the pressure to "succeed" becomes suffocating, we cover up the difficult feelings of inadequacy with alcohol and drugs. We allow our bodies to atrophe and soften. We "let ourselves go".

Back in 2005, Steve Jobs gave a commencement address at Stanford, where he quoted the back cover of the final issue of the Whole Earth Catalog:

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I remember watching his address on YouTube way back in 2005, way back when I was a hungry, foolish twenty-year-old. And I remember thinking how I would never allow the winds of a crazy world to blow me into a state of fear and paralysis. I would always be hungry: For knowledge, for love, for adventure. And I would always be foolish: Always curious, a dopey fool in love with waking up in the morning, with an unwaivering faith.

But then, as my twenties progressed, I veered off course. I harbored deep insecurities. I took high-paying jobs that offered me little in the way of deeper meaning, and spent all my money on consumer purchases—the very opposite of the ethos I had espoused in my college years. I drank. I became so focused on my own petty problems that I couldn't see beyond them.

And now, in my mid-thirties, I've been busy unravelling the horrible wet blanket I knitted over myself. The blanket that looked like it kept me warm but actually only made me shiver. A false security. A hollow existence. I'm cultivating my beginner's mind—my sense of wonder, curiosity, and courage.

When I inevitably feel the fear piercing through—when I'm confronted with invasive thoughts about how I'm not enough, how I'm going to run out of money, how I'm going to die alone—how I ought to "grow up", whatever that means—I gently remind myself that I don't need to listen to that. Instead, I breathe in that wonderful mantra: Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

My perfect next gig

Hello everyone! I'm currently looking for my next web engineering gig. I know there's no perfect job out there, but I thought I'd outline what my ideal gig might look like in case you or someone you know has a role for which I'm a good fit:

  • 15-20 hours per week: I love engineering, but I find that beyond 20 or so hours per week, my personal health suffers and I become burnt out. That's why I'm looking for a project that accepts a half-time commitment.
  • Remote: I've worked remotely my entire career, and I can't imagine working a tethered position. I love going to client sites for occasional meetings and for team building, but I do my best work at home and in cafes.
  • Long-term product-oriented development: While I enjoy the occasional short-term subcontracting project, I really want to find a position on a product team which takes pride and ownership over a product for the long haul.
  • A good mix of both proven and emerging technologies: I love to learn new and emerging technologies, but I also enjoy working with what works. I'd love to be able to leverage my years of experience with technologies like Rails and React while also learning new languages and frameworks like Rust and Svelte.
  • A culture of managers of one: I'm a bona fide self-starter and want to find a culture which incentivizes people to self-organize.
  • A skill-diverse team: It's so rewarding to work among people whose skills are different from mine. I love both teaching and learning opportunities, and hope my next gig surrounds myself with people whose aptitudes are different from mine.

If you or anyone you know need to add another engineer to their team, head over to my About my services page to see how I work, and send me a message so we can chat about the possibilities.

Darkness

Steeple

I've spent the better part of my life avoiding darkness and suffering. Maybe you have, too.

I'm learning to love my rough edges: to confront them lovingly as I would a friend, and to nurture them just like I nurture my lightness.

Without shadows, there is no light. Without war, there is no peace. Without evil, there is no good. Without fear, there is no love.

Feeling fearful is unpleasant, but is there not joy in knowing you have enough to lose that you're feeling that way? How elated we could be to interpret fear as a sign we're already blessed.

Transgressions against someone we love can evoke within us feelings of guilt and shame. But our misdeeds are opportunities for growth and learning. Is there not beauty in messing up? How lovely we have the opportunity to fall and get back up again.

A capacity for darkness exists within each of us, and yet we deny it or excentuate our lighter qualities in the interest of appeasing others. True, it's more noble to love and to do good, and we ought strive to pursue these ends. But to be in touch with our darkness is to acknowledge our deep, complex humanity. It is to admit to ourselves and each other that we're alive, feeling, reeling, confused, and alone.

And that's okay. You're beautiful—shadows, light, and all.

Rise of the digital flâneur

An apartment building in Northwest Portland

You've heard of the digital nomad: people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and conduct their life in a nomadic manner.

I've worked remotely for nearly as long as it's been feasible. Way back in 2007, only a year out of college and into my first job, I took the plunge into remote working and never looked back.

I remember being among the first wave of remote workers in Portland. It was becoming more common to see laptops in cafes, but it wasn't as normalized as it is now. I remmeber thinking that this style of work was going to change the landscape of cities and the way we think about work. It has.

I never gave it much thought, but for the tenure of my remote work career, I've appreciated and enjoyed the sense of adventure that comes from the freedom to work anywhere. There are days—workdays—I spend walking from cafe to cafe, exploring, taking photographs, joining friends for meals, cycling, shopping, and experiencing the beauty of the city. This is a beautiful privilege for which I am deeply grateful.

When my friend visited from Seattle over the weekend, she mentioned Portland was the perfect city for the budding flâneur. I couldn't think of a better word to describe the essence of this lifestyle.

dig·i·tal flâ·neur (n): A person who uses digital technology to earn a living in pursuit of experiencing beauty in the everyday.

The joy of an experiential life

Scorpio Summit

I've noticed, over the course of my adult life, a tendency to oscillate gracefully between flaneur and entrepreneur, bon vivant and businessman, bohemian and industrialist. There seem to be within me threads from each of these cloths, vying for my time and attention.

I've spent the past few months as an idle lounger, but am squarely ready to get back to work. I know though that, within a few months of returning to work, I'll be longing for the tranquility and freedom of moments spent in stillness.

This weekend, a college friend visited from Seattle. We spent the better part of the weekend indulging in our own subjective experience. We drank coffee and tea, ate local cuisine, consumed cannabis edibles, took long walks, and shared our current favorite music. It was the best of times.

Something strikes me whenever I feel deeply connected to another person and myself: It's never a result of industriousness, money, or power—although these do play a role in our privilege to spend our time this way. No: the greatest amusement park and entertainment device is between our ears.

Do thoughts create reality?

Ever since I watched the oh-so-vulnerable-to-skepticism movie The Secret back in 2007, I've been fascinated, in varying degree, by the central premise of the film that our thoughts create our reality. This idea is much older than The Secret. Napoleon Hill wrote about the causality of thoughts in his seminal self-help book Think and Grow Rich way back in 1937. And before Hill, Phineas Quimby wrote about the idea after having been diagnosed with tuberculosis and believing in the idea of mind over body in his miraculous recovery.

From a skeptical perspective, the idea that our thoughts influence or produce reality is untenable because it's not falsifiable. If I begin with the premise that our thoughts are creating the reality around us, there's no way for you to disprove it because I can always cite examples that will support my claim. And similarly, there's no way for me to prove it to be the case that thoughts are causal, since you can always come up with counterexample narratives.

But the scientific perspective, to me, isn't valuable when considering the causality of thoughts. That's because the idea of the law of attraction is much more like faith than science. We can debate whether or not God exists from a scientific perspective until the end of time, but whether or not God exists does not negate the value billions of people derive from believing. It is this faith mindset—the idea that there is a force beyond ourselves at work—that makes the idea of causal thoughts powerful.

If you, for instance, believe that you are doomed to forever be unattractive to the opposite sex, and carry that belief with you throughout your days, there's a good chance your behavior will match that perspective. You'll likely slouch and suggest lack of confidence with your body language. You might overeat or abuse alcohol in order to cope with your poor self-image. And you certainly won't be smiling at or approaching anyone. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean your thinking you're unattractive to the opposite sex has directly caused you to be unattractive, but it does imply that your thoughts translate into behaviors which then result in your belief coming true.

Conversely, if you choose to believe that you are abundantly attractive to the opposite sex and work to carry that belief with you, it's likely that your behavior will align to match. You'll stand up straighter, smile more, and be more willing to engage with others. All of this lands you a much better chance at success. Again, this isn't a direct causal relationship between thoughts and reality, but a causal link from your thoughts, into your behaviors, into reality.

Prayer and meditation are the practiced manifestation of these types of positive thoughts, and have been around for millenia. We sit in stillness and contact a higher power in order to manifest something different in our lives, whether that's as simple as a better mood or as profound as reversing terminal illness.

I'm a lifelong skeptic, but I often invoke prayer and the law of attraction in my own life because I recognize the value in maintaining focus on a goal. Whether there are peer reviewed papers on the efficacy of such a technique, to me, is missing the point.