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.

Learning to be alone

Me, looking out the window

For years, I've actively battled my introversion. It has always seemed like I wanted to spend most of my time alone, but I denied this because I thought it would lead me to become antisocial. Extroversion is our culture's default mode, and sometimes it feels like I'm not supposed to want to loaf around doing nothing all by myself.

This past weekend I attended a music festival with my friends. It was three days and two nights of camping in close quarters and time engaging with groups. Within a few hours, I was exhausted. Several times I retreated into the tiny confines of my tent to read and think on my own. For most of the weekend I found myself sitting alone on the sidelines of the festival, not wanting to engage. I thought I was a loser, a recluse, a loner. It was a blow to my ego to think that I couldn't hang in this environment.

On my way home, I stopped at a cafe in Salem for some breakfast. There, I Googled "introversion" on my phone, and stumbled upon the /r/introvert subreddit. I suddenly felt at home! Here's a community of over 100,000 people who feel generally the same way I do about socializing. It's not antisocial to want to spend most of your time alone—it's introverted!

I usually shy away from actively pursuing labels to add to my identity, but "introvert" has become a label flag I'll proudly fly. For my entire adult life I've been trying to fight my tendencies to spend time alone, to have a deep internal life, and to avoid group situations like the plague.

I spent over a year in a relationship with a partner whose personality was so different from mine in this regard. In spite of our best efforts, we just couldn't make it work because I always wanted to spend more time "alone together" than she did. I really took that personally, thinking I was somehow deficient. Now I realize I really do need a partner who wants to make the relationship her #1 priority, like I do.

This week I've noticed a certain tranquility in moments spent alone in cafes reading or writing. Instead of feeling the typical guilt or shame I'd feel when I was alone and everyone else was gabbing away in the background, I realize now that I loathe small-talk and much prefer to have a few meaningful social interactions instead of constantly exhausting my social energy on mundane conversations.

If you're an introvert struggling like I was, I can assure you you're not alone! There are plenty of kind, intelligent, quiet introverts like us who can't wait to sit in cafes with you, headphones on, doing our own things, together.

I got rid of my home office

Today I got rid of my home office. I had a six-foot beheamoth of a desk in my living room with a giant monitor that pierced your soul.

I've spent the past several months quietly deliberating whether or not to pull the plug, and every time it came down to a sense of fear that I'd somehow be lost without it. That a laptop might not be enough. That I'd be a less serious engineer if I worked at the kitchen table.

Now a credenza stands where my desk once stood, its surface covered in plants, candles, a lamp, and a small speaker. Now when I have my morning coffee, I no longer look across the room overwhelmed at all the busyness I'll soon endure. Instead, I sit transfixed on the fractal nature of my spider plant, and realize why I'm here in the first place.

Anticulturalism

There's a lot of talk about multiculturalism these days. Well, I'd like to offer an alternative: Anticulturalism.

Multiculturalism is the idea that we ought to celebrate the cultures of the world and welcome them all into our communities. Anticulturalism is the idea that culture divides us from one another and binds us to arbitrary tradition, and that we'd be better off without it.

Where the culturalist will do as the group does, the anticulturalist will follow their own intuition. They will forge their own path, produce their own traditions, and create their own ideas.

To be an anticulturalist is to reject the idea that we should continue doing things a certain way because that's how we've always done them. It's celebrating diversity not at the level of the group, but at the level of the individual. It is taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions.

The anticulturalist doesn't waste their time reading the news or following politics because they realize the inadequacy of policy to rectify the world's ills. Instead, their crusade is one of liberating those around them from the cultural chains that bind them, so that they too can become empowered to define the course of their own lives.

Usually in the name of pride, the culturalist blindly follows the norms and traditions handed down to them, even if they do not serve their own interests. While the culturalist talks about fictitious entities like "freedom" and "justice" and "purity", the anticulturalist realizes such abstractions aren't real. To be an anticulturalist is to reject archaic narratives that use abstract language to justify the wielding of power over others.

Culture takes us out of the animal body and reduces us to a matrix of loyalty and compliance through language. By refusing to participate, we become free.

Terrible employee

I'm a terrible employee. You don't want to hire me to work in your office. I'll show up late. I'll leave early. I won't attend meetings. Sometimes I'll take two hours in the middle of the day to go sit in a park or ride my bike. It's not that I'm not doing my job—I'll probably excel at whatever project you give me. No, it's just that I'm a terrible employee.

I love to work. In fact, it's been hard, over the course of the past month of sabbatical, to not compulsively look for gigs. I love the challenge of a new project. I love to sink my teeth into new technologies. I love to know I'm useful to somebody.

But I can't do that at your office. It's nothing personal. You probably built a fantastic company culture. You play ping-pong and have free snacks and give your employees excellent benefits. But it's not for me.

Sometimes I like to spend long, luxurious mornings writing and sipping coffee. I love midday walks, making myself lunch, and the serenity of owning my own time.

I love the creativity that comes in those moments sitting alone in my apartment. Ironically, the most valuable thoughts and ideas tend to come when we're doing the dishes or taking a midday shower. If I work in an office, I wouldn't do either of those things.

"But Teejay, don't you need a salary? You could make $XXX,XXX/year plus excellent health benefits if you took a job in your field!" I could, and I have. I was miserable. I lived to work. I was addicted to my salary and bought things in a misguided attempt to distract from my misery. I drank. It wasn't for me. I'd rather make half a salary per year consulting part-time and loving it than spend 50 weeks per year glued to a desk.

When you're addicted to recurring income, you acclimate to certain luxuries. You buy new things each month. You eat out constantly. You take exotic vacations. You justify all of these things in the name of "deserving it" or "enjoying yourself" or "living a little". But in reality, none of these things have ever brought me contentment. They might bring you contentment—and that's great. But they're not for me.

So, if you're thinking of hiring me to work in your company, don't. I'm a terrible employee.

Divide and rule

I don't usually write about politics on this site because I like to keep things constructive and jovial, but I had an epiphany last night that I thought was worth sharing.

Ever since the 2016 election here in the US, I've felt an increasing political divide amongst my peers and in society at large. I've also found that the mainstream political left in this country has veered in a direction which I cannot myself support, and that I've sought different perspectives across the political landscape. I won't mention what the specific policy positions are that have led me to this shift, since they're irrelevant to what I'm about to suggest.

This growing political rift has led to violent confrontations in multiple cities, including my own. It has led my partner and I into arguing about our political differences instead of uniting around our shared values. It has engulfed the country in an all-out culture war, wherein we disown and disavow those tribes who disagree with us.

Our nation's bitter disagreements are about moral issues over which people will almost certainly always disagree. Things like abortion rights, gay marriage, religious freedom, globalization, and immigration.

As well, they're often about our immutable characteristics: race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

But what if our squabbles are actually the ruling class's means of control and manipulation? What if, in all our fighting amongst each other, we're not speaking truth to power but actually giving it more fuel?

Divide and rule is a strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy.

According to Wikipedia, the technique involves:

  • creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign
  • aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign
  • fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers
  • encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for political and military spending

Applied to US politics in 2019, we see:

  • news media promoting issues which seek divide the populace according to race, gender, and sexuality
  • major political parties embracing this strategy of division, since it serves the ruling class
  • growing tensions between racial groups and between the genders
  • diverting political spending and energy away from real challenges to power (i.e., limiting campaign contributions and lobbying, financial system reform, and universal social welfare systems) toward those that distract and divide (i.e., racial and gender inequality, immigration)

This isn't to say race and gender issues aren't important. They are. But they're also divisive and breed resentment. They incite the worst tribal qualities within us. And the irony is that the strategies currently employed will never unite us because they're designed specifically not to.

This strategy works from both sides. For instance, take gender. In popular media, women are told they're part of an oppressed group in America. Whether or not that's true is irrelevant to our discussion. What's relevant is that they believe it. In believing this, an agenda is set: rectify the gender gap. But men might not see things that way. They might say women have been granted, by power of the legislature, all the rights men have. They won the right to vote, the right to own property, and freedom of movement. Men now resent women for their suggestion they are oppressed. Women resent men because they feel oppressed. Neither realizes they're being had by the real oppressor: the thumb of a ruling class who has all the money.

You see these corrosive dichotomies everywhere in society. Feminists fighting the patriarchy versus men's rights activists. Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter. Leftism versus classical liberalism. Antifa versus the Proud Boys.

Resentment toward diversity quotas for putting aside the principles of meritocracy in the workplace in the interest of more racial equity. Anger at white men for the fact they hold most positions of power. Outrage at police brutality directed at young black men. Wanting to send all the immigrants back to where they came from because they're taking jobs. Resentment because you can't use the bathroom that suits your gender identity. Anger because there's a man in the woman's bathroom.

It is in the interest of those in power to keep us disagreeing with one another over issues that are inherently divisive so we don't focus on the burgeoning concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a few people.

George Carlin made light of this fact years ago:


They keep the lower and middle classes fighting each other. Now to balance the scale I’d like to talk about the things that bring us together.

Things that point out our similarities instead of our differences. Because that is all you ever hear about in this country is our differences. That’s all the media and the politicians are ever talking about, the things that separate us, things that make us different from one another. That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society.

They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the low and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich can run off with all the f*cking money. Fairly simple thing, happens to work. You know anything different, that is what they are going to talk about, race, religion, ethnic, and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything you can do – keep us fighting with each other so that they can keep going to the bank.

You know how describe the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keep all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle-class pays all of the taxes, does all the work. The poor are there just to scare the sh*t out of the middle-class.

Now, this isn't an appeal to conspiracy theory. I don't think there's some meeting behind closed doors where the ruling elites gather and discuss which incindiary news stories they'll publish in order to sow unrest. No, it's more sinister than that. It's all about incentives.

News media organizations, now more than ever, are incentivized to publish the most anger-inducing, crazy-making, Facebook-post-generating stories they can. They rely upon our clicking their articles so we'll see their advertisers' ads. Which headline would be more likely to get you to click: one about campaign finance reform or one about a racial or gender-based issue?

Okay, so if this is all true and we're being manipulated into fighting with one another over issues with no solutions, what do we do?

First, we must banish the sources of these corrosive ideas from our lives for good. The Washington Post, the New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC, and the like are owned by some of the most powerful people in the world. They don't care about us. The sooner we stop listening to them and heeding to their agenda, the better. We should start to see news media for what it is: propaganda.

Second, we must become more mindful when we're engaging in rhetoric about issues that will perpetually divide us. This doesn't mean we shouldn't speak truth to power about real oppression, but that we should frame issues in a way that does not alienate those who might otherwise be proud allies in our struggle. Engage more in discussion about issues that resonate with everyone, like poverty, healthcare, infrastructure, and the concentration of political power in the hands of the few.

Third, we must strive to engage with people whose viewpoints are different from ours. But, rather than engaging politically about our differences, we must seek to forge alliances apolitically. We must recognize when we're engaging in an unwinnable fight over abstract concepts and return our attention back to the real world. We'll never agree on whether one race is more oppressed than another, but almost everyone can agree that no one should live in abject poverty.

Fourth, we must continually ascend to take a bird's-eye view of our own behaviors and retrain ourselves to recognize when we're playing into the divide and rule game. One way I think we can accomplish this is by recognizing when we're feeling resentment toward other people who are different from us. Whether we're men feeling resentment toward women, gay toward straight, or black toward white, it's a good indication we need to take a step back and realize we're being distracted from the dark ruling class strategy of divide and rule.

GTD & The Artist's Way

This week, my partner handed me a copy of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I was a big fan of the book in my early twenties, and in 2013 filled four Moleskines with daily morning pages per the book's recommendations.

As I've been revisiting the book this week, something stuck out to me. The author suggests that, in the process of writing morning pages each morning, we clean the cobwebs out of our mind's attic and are more able to think and create as a result. To me, this idea is strikingly similar to the recommendations of David Allen in his landmark productivity book Getting Things Done.

The central argument of Allen's book is that we're walking around with all these ideas and tasks rattling around in our brains, and that our brains aren't suited to this task. It's better to get all those thoughts and ideas and tasks out into a tool you trust you'll come back to regularly.

Gee, doesn't that sound a lot like morning pages, only with a business productivity bent? What if instead of my todos being a repository only of the things I have to do, they also included all the things I've ever wanted to do as well? Wouldn't it be fun to have a running list of all the things, whether realistic or outlandish, that you've ever thought of doing?

So I made a task list in OmniFocus called "Someday". I started small: Start a personal wiki. Then I got a bit more lavish: Take a trip to San Francisco. Eventually, I dreamed bigger: Renovate an old church to live in. Take a rustic cruise to Alaska. Get a doctorate in computer science.

Wow! I'm not sure I've dreamed that big since I was in college. It's so easy to get caught up in the duties and responsibilities of our day to day life and miss out on the romance of our imagination in the process. By giving myself permission to dream big and let go of my preconceptions of what is "realistic" or "responsible", I'm expanding my horizons and regaining my sense of imagination and creativity.

My hope is that eventually, I'll feel confident enough to promote these imaginings out of my "Someday" list and into my "Current" list. Time will tell.

My analog summer

Last week, I packed up my (virtual) things and waved goodbye to my last bit of consulting work before the summer begins. It's been a very long time since I had a good, long block of time with no real plans. I'm excited at the possibilities for personal enrichment and renewal.

In exploring what it will mean to take a true summer vacation, I've been thinking about how my digital devices often take center-stage in my mind's eye, and how I'd like to spend the summer exploring the tactile and the sensory, out here in the real world.

With that, I've been re-evaluating how I use technology and whether there are ways I can more often cross the digital-analog divide.

As well, I've been re-evaluating my relationship with giant tech companies and seeing whether there are some David alternatives to my current Goliath service providers.

My hope is to re-ignite the magic of computing and creativity I remember from the mid-2000's. There was a certain spirit about that time—one of decentralization, of do-it-yourself hacker activism—that I think has been lost in the age of big tech.

Gave away my Apple Watch

I bought an Apple watch a few months ago because it looked neat and I thought it'd be cool to track my activity. But I found that it only ever served to further distract me from the present moment. I'd receive text messages directly to my wrist, which would distract me from whatever I was doing and provoke me to dig into my bag for my phone to reply. I'd be in my workout class and get a text, only to ruminate over it for the duration of the class and know I soon had to respond.

When my parents came to Portland to visit me last week, I thought I'd send my Dad home with my Apple Watch, since he enjoys the Apple ecosystem more than I do. So far, I've really not noticed that it's gone.

Phone optional

Generally, I've carried my phone everywhere I go, and you probably do too. The expectation that we're always reachable has become part of our social fabric. When did we ever agree that it's not optional to carry a device that enables anyone to reach us at any time?

I've been experimenting with leaving my phone at home most of the time. It has required a bit of extra planning with my family and friends, but so far the results have been generally positive. I feel more present and attentive to the details of the outside world. I have to ask others for directions or the time because I don't have a device in my pocket with all the answers.

When I do bring my phone out into the world, I try to keep cellular data off and make sure it's always in my backpack, so I'm not constantly tempted to check it. I also keep my text message notifications off so I treat texting more like email and don't get distracted. Phone calls still get through, in case someone needs to reach me due to an emergency.

Pen & paper notetaking and todos

Does anyone remember the Hipster PDA? My friend Alex Weber introduced me to the concept during college way back in 2004. The idea is simple: Carry a stack of index cards held together with a binder clip and use that to take notes and log todos.

I've been a die-hard OmniFocus user for years, but it bothers me that I rely upon proprietary software for a basic life function. So far, I'm enjoying the simplicity of carrying note cards, and the versaility of always knowing I have some paper with me for notetaking.

No more paid streaming services

The pursuit of art is half its charm. I have fond memories of feeling victorious when I'd bought a CD I'd been looking for or trading music and movies with friends. Scarcity, while inconvenient, also encourages collaboration and community. By being forced to go out into the world to find new media, I interact with more creative people and get to support them directly.

As well, there's something magical about owning your own media. The fact I cancelled my Spotify account this month and now have nothing to show for it speaks volumes to how these services seek rents from users for limited access. When you buy DRM-free files directly from the artist, you both support the artist directly and get access to their work forever.

I'm excited to continue to question the way I use technology and hope my journey inspires you to do the same!

The thing about extremism

The thing about extremism is that if you're an extremist, you'd never call yourself that.

You'd think your views to be well reasoned, good intentioned, and moderate.

Extremism isn't something other people do. It's something we all do, in varying frequency.

To fight extremism, begin by looking in the mirror.