Late February: I’m out. Here’s four weeks notice. Think I’ll take a sabbatical, see the world, move to Utah, live the life…
Early March: Uh… COVID-19? Hrm…
Late March: Leeeeeeeeeeroyyyyy Jenkins!
April: I guess I could do some consulting while the world sorts its shit out.
May: Man I would love to pull the trigger on the Utah relocation but shit is getting weeeeeird.
June: I did not know what weird was.
July: This is not getting any better.
August: I guess I have to thread the needle of ongoing pandemic and impending civil war…
September: Leeeeeeeeeeroyyyyy Jenkins!
January: I did not know what weird was.
February: Man I am really starting to feel a new depth of weariness.
March: *Brain Melts*
What a strange, intense, educational, and disorienting year it has been… For everyone, yes, but I can only tell you how I have experienced it, and in my reality a big part of that has had a distinct “wherever you go, there you are” flavor to it.
Much about this past year has been awful but I would be remiss not to note that much has been wonderful: I experienced a renaissance in my cooking, dove into the novelty of consulting being my primary work modality, reconnected with a bunch of people over Zoom, moved to the outdoorsman’s paradise of my dreams, and took the time to decompress and process after a comprehensively horrific 2019. The freedom has been wonderful, yes, but in many ways also overwhelming, the lack of structure and inversion of contexts inexorably wearing me out. I’ve had to pull the brakes, step back, and reflect.
Arriving in Utah mid-September I gave myself about two weeks to decompress, deploy, and re-orient. Then I dove in with both feet: I bought a mountain bike, a rifle, and paragliding kit and lesson-pack. I was going hard all the time, to the point that my body was screaming at me, playing outdoors whenever circumstances permitted, and packing consulting work into the cracks when weather, injury, or fatigue forced a break. October and November were wildly intense, unlike any other period in my adult life, and incredibly satisfying, that period culminating in the accomplishment of attaining my initial paragliding rating. And then I launched into skiing season, racking up in just December as many days at Alta and Snowbird as I might have reasonably hoped to get in a whole season in recent years.
Blowing into January, I… was starting to feel off. Then we found our capitol overrun by violent extremists and I felt really off. But maybe this was a convenient excuse to feel off, placing it on external events and ignoring what I was doing to myself. Yeah, the world is kind of fucked, perhaps especially fucked presently, but also wherever Andrew goes there he is, and despite changing so many variables I was doing to myself what I have always done, cycling through periods of mania and depression.
Cooking was transitioning from an artful love to an obligatory grind. My engagement with social media was turning from an augmenting reality to an ashes-in-mouth replacement for real interactions. I was seeking out opportunities to ski and paraglide so aggressively that I was risking converting the most magical parts of my life into chores. With my consulting work packing into all the cracks between my outdoors adventuring I was warping a freedom producing arrangement into a No Days Off one. And with all of this the constant optimization problem was generating serious Decision Fatigue and the Always On attitude was gradually scorching my brain. I was doing an increasingly poor job reasoning about Opportunity Cost and Diminishing Returns.
I enjoy leisurely brewing pour-over coffee from precisely ground fresh beans and carefully managed temperatures…
… and, perhaps not coincidentally, I’ve found recently that I enjoy watering plants, especially when done with a contraption not unlike the kettle I use for coffee…
… but it’s worth noting that in the course of developing my paragliding cadence I cultivated a routine wherein I would rise from bed and grab an energy drink from a mini-fridge I had placed in the path to the toilet sitting on which I would ingest the day’s first caffeine coincident with excreting the night’s waste products, after which I would head downstairs to pound water and swallow vitamins while feeding the cats, then shower and dress and right before leaving scarf down a bowl of yogurt that also facilitated my swallowing a 200mg caffeine tablet. #efficiency #jackedupandgoodtogo
You can do that for a while, but it’s not a good permanent configuration, and yet there is a real danger of it becoming permanent when you have set up your daily life in the place you used to vacation. Hrm.
This past Thursday I spent a bunch of time cooking then had a really nice backyard dinner with friends…
… sufficiently nice that I drank just a little too much, the consequence of which was my first hang-over in longer than I can remember, definitely mild enough not to be debilitating, but real enough that flying would have been stupid, skiing probably would have felt gross, and working would have been inefficient. And so, quite by accident, I unexpectedly had “permission” to do fuck all with my day.
I wondered what I might do with this situation that would be out of the recent ordinary and thought I might play a computer game which apparently I hadn’t done for almost four (!) months…
I fired up my old friend Rocket League, ensconced myself in a large LoveSac, and… almost immediately the game crashed. And then I remembered part of the reason why I had fallen out of this habit. My PC has been a bit flaky since a nearby lightning strike shortly before I left Ohio and Rocket League became especially flaky after it migrated its back-end from Steam to Epic in the fall. I guess I was deep in the experience of getting my P2 paragliding rating when I gave up on Rocket League and the coping mechanism of computer games evaporated from my reality.
In this moment, however, I persisted, feeling a deep conviction that my present funk required a change in approach to escape. After trying a bunch of things the Internets suggested, only to have none of them fix the crashing problem, I found myself rolling up my sleeves and reading Rocket League’s debug log file, thus converting what was supposed to be a fun bit of decompression into something that felt lamentably like what I get paid to do. #nodaysoff Eventually I saw something that looked promising: “timed out while waiting for GPU to catch up”. Sonofabitch. I cranked down Rocket League’s graphics settings, the crashing stopped, and I got to playing for a bit.
I would take a break from gaming for a few hours to wrangle an assortment of stuff but then return for a pre-bedtime session and… wow I must have blacked out afterward the instant my body hit the mattress because I woke up at ~0200 feeling like I was being sous-vide’d because I had forgotten to crank down the Chilipad Ooler, then could not find my iPhone to do it, then went to ping my iPhone with my Apple Watch only to discover that it was not on my wrist (I would the following morning find it on the floor by the bed which has never happened previously), thankfully found my iPhone somewhere in the blankets which allowed me to dial down the heat, and then I blacked back out for another six hours of the deepest sleep in longer than I can remember.
That was a powerfully stark indicator that I’ve been kind of an asshole to my brain, depriving it of the care it needs, instead push push pushing all the damn time. I remarked to a friend at one point during this mini-journey that “I find myself wondering on why I allow things like this that I love to slip away” and that “maybe I get so busy doing the things I think I’m supposed to do in service of the person I think I’m supposed to be that I forget to be happy”.
And so on Saturday I plonked down the cash to buy a new high-end pre-built gaming PC. I’m realizing belatedly that I let my new Utah reality consume my whole being when really what I want is to integrate it into a larger collection of activities that in concert give me balance and happiness. And none too soon as I’m entering a particularly crazy part of the year where the mountains still have the snow for skiing but the hills are becoming ready for biking and thus the opportunities to play outdoors are truly overwhelming.
Early in my paragliding training Ben got into the habit of saying “you live here now” but the import of that has taken a while to really sink in. I would have to go turbo for several more months and reach a breaking point to really appreciate the meaning.
I don’t have to go paragliding just because the wind is perfect. I also don’t want to feel agitated when the wind is uncooperative for a long time. And I definitely don’t want to make exploiting the bounty Utah has to offer feel like a job. But I also don’t want an overly structured routine with an extremely smooth and predictable flow. I would like, rather, to find a way to surf seamlessly between an assortment of modalities and intensities and feel like they’re all OK.
That feels like my big overarching project for this year as I continue to re-invent my life, both personal and professional, and not fry my brain in the process, a very real risk for someone who spent most of his adult life living on the east coast and working a very conventional and predictable schedule. These are good problems to have but it would be folly not to accept that they are problems. Wherever I go, there I am, and this has been a very strange year indeed.