Rambling in West Asheville

Turtles in a half-shell

Yesterday I breathed a sigh of relief as I returned to civilization and could finally take a proper shower again. I spent some time at my new digs—a basement apartment a few blocks off Haywood Rd—before venturing up the hill to do some flâneuring along Haywood.

West Asheville reminds me a bit of Seattle and a bit of Portland. It's gritty, derelict, and industrial. There's a unique mix of old-world shops and new-world gentrification.

I stumbled upon another kava bar after having spent the afternoon across town at Sovereign Kava. Elevated Kava Lounge is situated on the upper level of an old brick building on Haywood.

Elevated Kava Lounge

This morning I woke up and originally intended to find a cafe called Izzy's that I had read about the day before, but my desperation for caffeine was too mighty for me to find it. So I settled for a quaint coffee shop called Bean Werks just a couple blocks down from Elevated Kava.

Bean Werks

When I travel, I love to notice subtle differences between the place I came from and the place I am. The thing I notice here compared to in St Pete is that people are a bit more earthy. That's not to say I haven't met my fair share of earthy folk in St Pete, but there's a mountain town feeling here that reminds me a bit of the Pacific Northwest.

Today I'm hoping to make my way to the Moogseum—the Moog synthesizer museum downtown. And there's a bookstore I've heard is worth visiting as well.

I'll always be a mountain man

Working out at a viewpoint near
Asheville

The past few days have illuminated a truth that I think I've known since I moved to Florida, but that I tried very hard to escape: I'll always be a mountain man at heart.

This morning I awoke at Black Mountain Campground an hour's drive northeast of Asheville. The temperature upon waking was a brisk 58 degrees Fahrenheit and there was a gentle mist lining the treetops. The forest floor was moist from a combination of the rain during the night and the morning dew.

I had yet another glorious night's rest—probably the best I've had in months since the brilliant, dry, cool Florida winter gave way to its horrid, sticky summertime cousin. Which is a bitter irony, considering I sleep in a luxurious king-sized pillow-top bed in my apartment, but on a paltry twin-sized home-made couch conversion in Vincent's belly.

As I made my way through the winding mountain pass back toward Asheville this morning—with its hairpin switchbacks and crisp air, I giggled with a feeling of conviction that this is the environment in which I thrive. Perhaps not Asheville or North Carolina; the south has a political undercurrent to which I still cannot acclimate. But the mountains, generally, will always have my heart.

The next couple days I'll be spending in a rented room in West Asheville so that I can finally take the time to soak up the local culture and perhaps meet some of the locals. I'm eager to take a shower, to shave my head, to make a triumphant return to urbanity, at least for a little while.

Waking up at the Cracker Barrel

Woke up like this

Yesterday I barreled (haha, get it?) through the swamps of Florida and Georgia and into the forests of South Carolina. Last year, I stopped somewhere south of the North-South Carolina border for a night's sleep at a cheap motel. This year, however, I persisted and made it all the way to Asheville.

I pressed the button on Vincent's dashboard until the temperature displayed below his speedometer, and watched it drop precipitously, from 91, to 88, to 83, to 79, to 72. I remember that incredible feeling when I'd traverse the mountains out west and could feel the temperature change after only travelling a hundred miles.

Exhausted from the day's travels, I scoured West Asheville for a reasonably stealthy place to park, but couldn't find anywhere that wasn't either directly in front of a residence or on a busy commercial street. So I searched for the nearest Cracker Barrel and made their parking lot my home for the night.

To be honest, my night's sleep outside that Cracker Barrel was among the best I've had in months. The cool mountain air soothed me with its natural fragrance—so much more inviting than the stale, noxious fumes of recycled and conditioned Florida summer air. Whenever I take trips like this I'm reminded that the simplest changes are often the most profound. We spend so much of our lives chasing status and material goods, not realizing that often our contentment lies on the other side of a simple environmental shift.

So far, my trip has cost me only gas money and a few dollars for coffee on the interstate—my food supply has so far been commandeered from leftovers from my apartment. What bliss to know you're making the most of your earnings and stretching out the amount of leisure you can have by eliminating luxurious spending.

Now I'm sitting in Vincent's belly, enjoying a fresh cup of coffee I brewed in the parking lot of an Ingles grocery store. I somehow had five green propane bottles stored up at home that I thought I'd bring along, so I want to run my stove as much as I can so I can discard them to free more precious space.

I had forgotten, in my past year of domesticity, the thrill of not knowing where you'll sleep.

Preparing for departure

Morning Pages @ Black Crow
Coffee

There are only a few short days until I head northward from my home base in Saint Petersburg, Florida all the way to Montreal.

I'm very eager to get out of Florida and see some different landscapes and interact with different cultures, even if I'll only be traversing North America. I was stunned by how different Florida was when I arrived, and it will be equally as stunning I'm sure to once again witness the North through Southern eyes.

I'm so grateful for the friends I've made during my time in St Pete. I'm not sure I've ever been a member of such a dynamic group.

Because I kicked my smartphone to the curb, I'll be taking photos on the trip with a Nikon Coolpix camera I bought from Craigslist for $20. As you can see from the image above, it's of excellent quality!

Check back here for updates as I traverse this wild continent!

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.