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.

There's beauty in 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.

My favorite teas

Awhile back I wrote about how I prepare coffee at home. Now, I love coffee, and it's hard to admit this, but I think it's been contributing to what has become a constant dull roar of anxiety in my life.

Last week, I decided to try something different. I boxed up all my coffee gear, and resolved to make coffee a special treat for when I'm out at cafes, and to make tea at home instead—especially first thing in the morning when usually I'd down a cup of Aeropress on an empty stomach.

So far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. I've noticed that I'm more present during my 7:30am workouts, and can drink green tea on an empty stomach without getting those horrid "coffee gurgles." I've also noticed that I crave carbohydrates much less often, which has a compounding positive effect on my mood since I'm not constantly spiking my blood sugar levels.

Because of my newfound appreciation for tea, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite varieties.

Japanese sencha

Sencha is the most popular tea in Japan, comprising about 80 percent of the tea produced there. It has a somewhat grassy taste and a cloudy, green-gold color. I love sencha for the fact I can drink seemingly unlimited quantities of it and not get jittery or anxious. That's because sencha, like all green teas, contains theanine, an amino acid analogue that counteracts some of the negative effects of caffeine. It also contains significantly less caffeine than a cup of coffee, meaning it can be consumed in much higher quantities than coffee. Additionally, green tea isn't acidic like coffee, having a pH between 7 and 10, with coffee having a pH of around 5.

Lapsang souchong

Literally translating to "coarse tea leaves from the Upright Mountains", lapsang souchong is a variety of black tea which is smoke-dried over pinewood fires, giving it a distinct smoky taste that I think is reminiscent of a fine scotch.

Because of the smoky flavor and higher caffeine content when compared to sencha, I've been drinking lapsang souchong in the mornings. Its smoky flavor is a delight for a reforming coffee drinker, since it gives the impression that you're still imbibing something, erm, rugged.

Cinnamon spice rooibos

And finally, for those glorious hours before bedtime, I love to relax with a cup of my favorite herbal blended tea variety. If you're in the Portland area, both Townshends Tea Company and Tea Chai Te have similar blends: Rooibos Cinnamon Spice and Rooibos Market Spice, respectively.

I love these teas because they taste like, well, Christmas. They're incredibly warming, naturally sweet, and you can drink as many cups as you have time for. I like to think it's a great non-alcoholic substitute for mulled wine in the autumn and winter months.

Autumn update

Autumn is upon us. It's time to pack away the sunwear and prepare for a more productive season. I'm always struck how ready I am to begin working again at the end of a hot summer. There's a certain energy abound in the autumn season that begets sitting in cafes, tap-tap-tapping away at your computer, doing the mental work that got cast aside in the throes of summer.

I've gone through several transformations in the past few months which have informed my perspective in autumn. Chief among these is becoming newly single, foisted into a period of my life where I once again am able to reunite with myself. At times, it's felt like an early midlife crisis. At others, it's felt like a rejuvination. Either way, it's been an incredible period of growth. If you're going through a breakup right now, just keep in mind that often the biggest strides are made when you're at your lowest.

Being single has taught me that no matter my relationship status, I still have to face myself. It's tempting to imagine that a partner can save us, but our problems persist in spite of them. In fact, sometimes being in love can inhibit our growth by distracting us from the difficult work that needs doing.

My career, for the past months, has been on a well-deserved and much needed hiatus. As I wrote back in March, I went on a self-imposed summer vacation in order to see what I could discover and learn during a period of no work. Surprisingly, it's at times been quite difficult to maintain my sanity without needing to be of service to others. The first few weeks were hell; my life had always been arranged around work. With nothing to fill the void, I tended to fill the time with bad habits. After a couple months though, I got into a routine filled with workouts, bike rides, novels, and drawing:

Street Art

That said, I think, as of today, I'm ready to go back to work. I feel like I've taken the time I need to decompress, redefine some things that needed time and space to redefine, and to explore and experiment with new lifestyles, ideas, cultures, and perspectives. It's funny how, in spite of resenting and renouncing the workaday world so much, I find myself returning to it for a sense of purpose and dignity. I'm not sure I'll ever feel at home in a nine-to-five traditional job, but I think it's imperative to feel needed and to have a purpose outside of myself.

If you or anyone you know needs top-notch Rails or React engineering help, head on over to read about my engineering services and send me a message.