2018 year in review

I'm a few days late writing this, but I wanted to chronicle some of what I've done, what I've learned, who I've met, and how I plan to spend 2019.

I learned a ton about yoga and my body. Although I feel like I exhausted the "self-help" portion of the yoga practice, the physical movements have followed me into the rest of my life, aiding in my balance and overall physical strength.

To begin a new chapter in my fitness journey, I started a new fitness program called Academy at my friend Mike's gym, Eastside Strength & Performance. His emphasis is on teaching how to answer your own questions during your training, which I really appreciate. If you're in the Portland area I can't recommend Mike's approach to fitness enough.

I continued working on Formbot, my HTML-form-submission-to-Slack app. It's technically profitable, but definitely not enough to quit consulting. If you love building static sites but always cringe when you need to set up a web service specifically to drive your contact form, Formbot might be for you.

The thought of buying a house soon continues to enter my brain, but I just can't make the numbers work. Portland's price-to-rent ratio is almost 30, meaning it's actually a renter's market (versus buying a house). Plus I'm not really sure I want to own a house in the first place.

Being that somehow Portland didn't have a FIRE (Financially Independent, Retired Early) meetup on Meetup.com, I took the liberty of starting one. Portland FIRE has grown to over 100 members!

In 2019, I want to write more. I've found that I'm often discouraged writing and publishing things here because I judge myself too critically. Instead of judging myself so harshly, I want to throw things against the wall and see if they stick. That's been my modus operandi for decades. Why stop now?

Is work a virtue?

Yesterday I came across Bertrand Russell's essay In Praise of Idleness in which he persuades the reader that the idea work is virtuous and is an end in itself is a fabrication by powerful people who want convince others to do work for them and maintain their power.

Having grown up in a family that prided itself on hard work and in a society that praises the sacrifice and dedication of those who rose to great success and fame, it's difficult to see outside the prevailing cultural narrative that work is a virtue and ought be encouraged no matter the cost.

"Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do"—this sounds reasonable, doesn't it? I know from my own experience that, when presented with nothing to do, I tend to gravitate toward my vices. But is this a symptom of idleness, or of our cultural discomfort with the idea of not working? Is the tendency in idleness toward self-destructive behaviors like drinking, indiscriminate sex, or gambling actually a manifestation of our shame and guilt surrounding our prevalent cultural narrative that work is good, and if we're not doing it, we're bad?

For me personally, it's been a struggle to see that doing work for work's sake is not virtuous. It is not a virtue to toil for a cause you don't believe in for sake of a higher "standard of living", if your current living standard is satisfactory. I'd enjoy the security of financial independence and that's the main reason I work as much as I do, but at the same time, spending all of one's time in pursuit of a secure tomorrow discounts the beauty and spontaneity available only in the present moment.

This isn't to say that the causes one advances through work are not virtuous. But if the same causes, through technological per-capita productivity increases, can be advanced at the same rate with less work, how is it virtuous to continue working at the same pace? Isn't our eventual goal in productivity increases to permit everyone to have abundant leisure time? Why have we instead decided work ought fill a specified amount of our day, instead of a specified quota of productive output?

Analysis is not action

Have you ever spent a whole day trying to make a decision?

We all sometimes suffer from "analysis paralysis", right? That nagging feeling that we're not doing the so-called right thing. The idea that if we choose to open one door, all the others will be locked forever. Opportunity cost.

And that's true... to a point. We cannot do everything. And our decisions do matter. But sometimes our inability to make decisions quickly hurt us even more.

Perhaps then it could be said that it is wise to carefully consider big decisions, but wiser still to set limits on the duration of your analysis.

When you choose wrong, it hurts. But when you don't choose at all, you don't grow.

I sold all my self help books

When I woke up this morning, I glanced at my bookshelf. Almost every book was a book about how to be happier, how to be healthier, how to love myself, how to love someone else, how to have sex, how to be more emotionally stable, how to be more productive, how to stop being depressed, how to get rich, how to stay rich, and how to find God.

But then I decided I'm happy enough. I'm healthy enough. I love myself plenty. I love my friends, family, and partner a ton. I'm decent in bed, I think. Sometimes I'm a bit of a handful, but I'd say I'm pretty darn emotionally aware. I'm definitely productive. Sometimes people get depressed, and I'm a person, so I'll probably get depressed again. I'm getting rich my own way, and it'll stay that way. Or it won't; I don't know. And God is the beauty in everything and everyone. I see it. Right. There.

Archival as art

I've been making art and music since I was a child.

Because of the portability of digital media, I've managed to keep most of that work, transferring it from hard drive to hard drive over the years. I've always intended on sharing it with the world, but could never find the courage or perseverance to build a platform suitable for housing all of it.

I wanted a platform where I could tell a story. Where I could share the most intimate details of where I was when I recorded a song or made a video or sketch. These details are what make art meaningful; they turn my somewhat benign and technically unimpressive works into a part of a person's life worth thinking about.

That's why I built my new original art & music platform, art.teejayvanslyke.com. On it, I'm working to archive, chronologize, and annotate every last shred of my creative output from my life, as a sort of meta artwork. It's an effort that's more personally motivated than motivated by the idea that you or someone else might become captivated by my story. But I do hope that it inspires you to be unapologetically creative in your own life, to share your sacred self-expression, and to harness the power of your own godliness.

10 things I'm grateful for in 2018

  1. My friends. I returned to Portland after stints in both Seattle and Eugene, mainly to be closer to my friends during what was a rough period of last year. I've been humbled by the incredible support my friend have offered me this year and hope I've been as emotionally available to them as they have to me.
  2. My apartment. When I sought to return to Portland, I knew the housing market was crazy. Amidst the emotional turmoil surrounding a recent breakup, I did my best to find a new place to call home. Luckily I found a great fourth-story apartment in a newer building for below market rate. It's perfect for me in that it's minimal, has bicycle parking, in a great location, and quiet. I really lucked out.
  3. My brain. I can't offer enough gratitude for having been born with the brain I have. For whatever reason, I was blessed with the right biological makeup to navigate our insane modern world. Had I been born two hundred years earlier I don't think I would have made it. Sure, my brain is also responsible for causing some existential dread, but it's also helped me to where I am now. Thanks, brain.
  4. Yoga. To help curb the existential dread that comes with a brain that tends to think too much, there's yoga. I've practiced yoga in the past, but always found myself falling out of the habit. After several months of practicing several times per week, I can attest to its benefit in helping calm my mind's chatter.
  5. My bicycle. Any time I'm feeling down and out, a quick ride to the park or to the cafe seems to quell whatever's ailing me. My current bicycle is a Surly with an eight-speed internal hub and a Brooks saddle. I've never enjoyed riding a bicycle as much as I enjoy riding this one, and I treat it like a baby.
  6. My family. My family has been there for me through everything. They were there to care for my cat when I foolishly sent my ex-girlfriend across the country with him. They were there for the fallout from the 2016 election... enough said. They were there when I moved back to Portland and they're always there when I need someone to talk to. I'm forever grateful for their continued generosity and open-heartedness.
  7. A newfound sense of optimism. I think that in our increasingly secularized world, our faith has eroded and been replaced with skepticism. Being skeptical is practical, but only as long as it's productive. To me, optimism is believing everything will be okay, even if you don't have the evidence to prove it.
  8. The inventiveness of those who came before us. It's so easy to forget that even a modest modern lifestyle is more luxurious than that of kings a hundred years ago. We've eradicated so much suffering through technological advances and we take it for granted every time we flip a light switch or flush the toilet.
  9. Those who put their lives at risk to help others. The other day I asked myself how I would react if I were tasked with risking my life to save someone else's. I've never been much of a hero and I'm not confident in my bravery given a dire circumstance. I'm thankful there are people who are.
  10. Time. I'm most grateful for the time I'm afforded each day to live according to my own schedule, to pursue the things I want to pursue, and to live the life I want to live. Not everyone gets this much time. When I'm feeling boredom, I breathe and remember how lucky I am.

Every moment a lifetime, every lifetime just a moment

Like you, I've been busy aging.

My days now seem to go by as quickly as the hours of my youth. Have you ever watched a timer counting down to zero? I'm pretty sure the digits change faster now than they used to. It's haunting to imagine the last year of your life passing as fast as the day you were born.

If time really is accelerating, or, at least, our perception of it, then ought we give any meaning to our measurement of it? It might be more prudent to ignore the whims of our clocks and calendars and to realize the futility of our compulsive time-tracking.

This moment is one in a series of moments that will end in death. Within every moment is a lifetime of possibility. Every lifetime is a mere moment in the expanse of the cosmos. Let's cease ours.

The psychological shift of a penny saved

I've noticed that, since beginning my financial indepedendence journey, my psychology around risk has changed.

Before accruing substantial savings and learned the art of frugal living, I would constantly wonder if I'd become destitute should I lose my income. This would drive me to remain in jobs I didn't enjoy, work for people I didn't like, and take whatever work came my way in order that I continue to service my status quo lifestyle.

But now, I know I'm free to walk away. I'm not driven to go get a "stable" job in order to maintain a cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck spending. The idea of taking a month, two, or three, away from client work, doesn't terrify me. It excites me because I know I have the resources to continue living normally through that time.

In the financial independence community online, there's a tendency to measure financial independence as a binary state: You're either ready to retire or you're not. I think this distinction makes sense if you work a salaried 9-5 job; in this case you don't have a choice in when you work, for how long, and under what conditions.

But for those of us who have built consulting businesses or otherwise have escaped the industrial-age idea of a 40-hour workweek, financial independence is more of a continuum. We ask the question "What percentage of my expenses could be paid with passive income from my investments?" Framed like this, it's easier to see how much freer you are if you have an invested nest egg, even if you're a ways off from true "retirement."

And those among us who pursue financial independence so fervently are, ironically, those who will probably work until we die—at least in some capacity. It requires an entrepreneurial spirit to save a million dollars. That spirit doesn't die upon hanging your spurs, but it sure feels good to know that each day you can hang them a few minutes longer than yesterday, if you so choose.

Reflections on sobriety

For the past few years I've been on a journey to become sober.

It may come as a surprise if you know me; I have what most people would call my "shit together." I have a vibrant career, I pay my bills, I save money fervently, and have an incredible support network of beautiful friends. He mustn't have a problem.

By most accounts I don't have a problem. I've historically drank far less than most of my peers. I go to bed early most nights. I don't find myself saying "let's get one more" or "I could use another." I haven't kept alcohol in my home in years.

But I do have a problem. I have a problem with living this one precious life with anything less than my full attention. I have a problem with the idea that I might spend several hours one night in a state of malaise and stupor, engaged in conversations about nothing around a table doing nothing at all, only to wake up covered in my own sweat recovering for hours the next morning.

I have a problem with spending a single moment more of my life in that faded state. I have a problem with constricting my mind and poisoning my body and drowning my spirit all in the pursuit of muting the voice deep down within me that's screaming up and out for love and connection and touch and intimacy. That voice that's begging me to be more vulnerable. To show myself to others.

I have a problem with the idea that ingesting a poison is normal. That it's how we socialize. That it helps loosen us on dates. That it gives us courage. That it's fun to drink. It's not. It's fun to spend time with friends. Alcohol hitches itself to your fun experience and drags its feet along the ground screaming at you:






But it's not easier. Alcohol forges a path of hardship, confusion, emotional distress, poor physical health, abusive behavior, malaise, lethargy, and financial ruin. It was never fun.

The diminishing returns of seeking behavior

Have you ever noticed how, after accomplishing something you've sought to accomplish for a long time, you quickly find yourself feeling underwhelmed by the happiness you feel?

How, in spite of achieving what you set out to achieve, you find yourself still restless and longing for more?

I've been experiencing this recently. When I first moved back to Portland in October, I was fresh out of a relationship and feeling lonely. I thought that, if only I exercised my dating muscle a bit and started dating a few women, I'd feel a sense of gratification and completeness. I've now done that—some might say in excess—and yet the void I sought to fill remains. That's not to say we should stop dating—but we ought to ask ourselves our motives. Do we hope to fill the radio silence of our lives because it's uncomfortable, or are we striving to forge relationships that enhance our already blooming sense of community?

And then there's the dining table I found on Craigslist for a fifth of its retail price. I found chairs to match the next day! They're lovely and fit my apartment wonderfully. But I think my expectation ahead of their purchase were that, if I could just fill the void in my kitchen, I'd fill the void in my heart. Not so.

Have you ever left the house—not because you had to fulfill an obligation or a plan with a friend—but because you thought there might be something better waiting for you outside if only you looked hard enough? I've spent hours in cafes hoping for another interaction with a stranger, hoping for a connection. It's natural to hope for connection, but I'm not sure whether it's healthy be addicted to looking for it.

The truth is, whatever your circumstance right now, you're reading this article on a computer (or phone) and so you probably have everything you need. You have your own set of unique problems and you probably suffer a fair amount. I do, too. We may endure different suffering, but we have something beautiful in common: We can dramatically reduce our suffering not by seeking something outside of us, but by radically appreciating what is within ourselves.

Have a beautiful day.