Turning 31: Surfing in Solitude

Thoughts on comfort and the inculcation of being extraordinary.

January 2019

Notable from 2018:

  • Left New Medio to take a year off
  • Iceland and Amsterdam with friends in April
  • Copenhagen and Stockholm by myself
  • Moved to Seattle via a six-week summer road trip
  • Joined Alo Moves in December

Two years after setting out to write this second annual letter to myself, I am just now finishing it at the beginning of 2021. It was close to done, but ironically enough I let the very thing I was trying to write about get in the way. There was a lot I wanted to communicate given so much change for me in 2018 and I got stuck overthinking yet again. It may not be as cohesive as I’d like, but let’s allow it to be good enough.

Hello again.

One year ago I wrote a letter that I claimed to be to myself and for myself, but that letter longed to be published so there's been a slight change of plans. I'm still writing for myself, but it shall be as though I'm speaking from this stage of sorts to myself sitting out there in the audience next to you.

Okay, so what else has changed since then? A lot and nothing at all. I left the country, came back, moved across the country on a six-week road trip and have landed in Seattle. My hiatus from web development is also over, and for the record, software engineering interviews are weird.

Past that, I've managed to bring along all the same habits I had in Tulsa, which isn't surprising. And although they didn't take up in room in the car while packing, their weight is just as heavy.

Forgo comfort to find your groove.

Last year around this time, I would spend my mornings at a coffee shop in Tulsa sipping slowly and typing even slower as I distilled many years of thoughts into not-so-novel philosophies. Turning the corner of 30, this great millennial urge was bubbling up to positively disrupt my life and perhaps finally pursue some things I had merely made lists about for the past decade. And I did—at least to a degree.

Today, approximately 2,000 miles away from that coffee shop, I sit looking out at the Olympic mountains just beyond a Puget Sound still asleep under a blanket of fog from a place I now call home. But getting here wasn't easy for me. Remember Resistance? That thing which opposes any and all of your creative acts and motions to improve? Well it goes by another name, comfort, and that's not something I had much of in 2018.

Dallas → Reykjavik

I can escape other people, but I can't escape myself. — April 12

Iceland is so beautiful and surreal it can mess with your mind. It's another world that feels like fantasy as you wade through the bluest waters and scramble across the blackest sands. Waterfalls are as common as creeks and you'll feel every drop of rain in the wind hit you like a thought from your subconscious you'd rather not acknowledge. And yet you'll want more.

This of course is compounded by spending every waking hour with the same three friends you're traveling with. So when you're in the car for hours at a time unnecessarily pondering your impact on social dynamics, the pressure will continue to build as you keep seeking a false escape in the solitude of your mind.

Amsterdam → Copenhagen

Sometimes it feels like my brain is unraveling, like a spool of yarn. — April 26

It was therefore somewhat ironic to desire being alone yet also have huge separation anxiety as I parted ways with my friends at the Schipol airport terminal in Amsterdam. Now with an ocean between myself and everyone I know, I lie in bed wondering what the hell I'm doing and laugh at my intent to put myself in this exact situation.

Stockholm → New York City

There was nothing left to do but crumble and cry in utter weakness. — May 6

To be fair, I watched Lion and Human Flow on the flights back home. If you care about people at all, those films will probably get you too. But that's not exactly what my crumbling like a scone was all about. It was the weight of unknowing that broke me. Unknowing of every "Why?" you could possibly ask that, if you are so brave and humble to admit you cannot be certain, will leave you with an incredible sense of lostness. Moments like this are the valleys at the bottom of peaks you've been on top of before and will return to again—valleys that present you with a blank canvas prepared for any story of beauty you wish to paint.

Tulsa → Seattle

I got my ass kicked, but at least I got in the water. — June 26

Never have I felt more imprisoned inside my own mind than on the day before I said goodbye to Tulsa. What can fit in my car and what do I leave behind? Oh but I don't want to leave these things behind! And I don't want to leave my friends and my home behind. What if I just don't leave? What if all I'm really doing is running away? It's comfortable here, but I know if I don't go the pain of regret will soon be greater.

So after one last beer with friends, I left.

And for the next six weeks I wouldn't know where I'd be sleeping more than a week in advance. From frosty mornings in Telluride to dreaming in the deserts of California, I camped my way out of a climate-controlled bubble into something that never let my mind wander for too long because my whole being was doing the wandering instead.

A groovy story

One of my biggest Resistance-defeating moments happened on this road trip. I had been considering buying a drone for some time, and literally walked into a Best Buy in Denver at the beginning of my trip to do so but for one dumb reason or another walked out empty handed. It wasn't until I was driving through Monument Valley that the potency of this mistake made itself known. Anger turned inward with a breath, exhaling resolve to make amends for my creative sins, I desperately longed to capture the beauty of this place.

So I bought a drone in Flagstaff. After visiting my cousin in Prescott, I drove over four hours back to those natural monoliths to capture their essence from the sky as the sun set. Unfortunately I underestimed their size and wasn’t quite able to realize the vision I had (I wanted to fly over the tops), but it still felt good to have an idea and execute. It felt like the beginning of a creative block being overcome.

The pursuit of potential is a painful paradox.

The core of my overthinking may imply a sense of care. Care to find the best possible answer or solution, and exhausting all the options in order to find it—like solving a maze. But in the end, perfection can’t be found. There is no center to this maze. — Feb 22

The nature of asking a question is a very curious thing—both in our ability to even do so as well as the effect it has in revealing a potential hole in our knowledge that we may or may not be able to fill. This curiosity is innately human, the root of science, and precariously problematic when it comes to probing at matters unseen and unheard—matters felt only deep within ourselves.

But it's not actually the asking of a question that is problematic, it's the desire and demand of an answer. To make certain that which is unknown is a dangerous thing, as observed by many of the horrors in our history. Therefore, as I don't believe we have a right to certitude, this leaves us with an uncomfortable tension of not knowing.

Now, while your cosmic curiosities are fertile ground for this tension, how it applies at an individual level—that is, who am I and what am I going to do—becomes both liberating and crippling. It begins with feeling as though who you are or what you're doing isn't "meaningful", that you're just existing, directionless and drifting. Then you remember there is no bound to meaninglessness and receive a momentary liberation from "being somebody" as you resolve to accept where you are and improve where you're going.

But alas, meaningfulness has no bound either. You can never do enough. As you perpetually chase the carrot of unfulfilled potential all the way into the hands of death, you will leave this world with a thousand stones unturned, and still a thousand more unknown.

So then, what lies between not doing anything and not doing everything? Well, I propose simply doing something. That is the key to making progress.

An indecisive aside

I feel that I strive for a sense of perfection or certitude in knowing what I want, both as it relates to tangible decisions such as which lamp to get or life decisions such as which job to take. At first it feels noble and intentional, but it quickly devolves into overthinking and indecision which in turn leads to a restless anxiety.

It’s interesting to reflect on this tendency of mine, and I’ve come to realize that my greatest gift and greatest weakness are the same. I move slowly and observantly. I try to think my way through a lot of things, but am beginning to think I should lean more on my intuition to make the final decision. Usually I’m deciding between two good options anyway and ultimately I’d rather move on and enjoy either decision rather than languish in being stuck.

The Ego’s Fear: If I stop this strategy, if I stop figuring out what I need to do, the ‘ground’ will not be there to support me. The world cannot be trusted—without my mental activity I will be left vulnerable. Everything will fall to pieces—I will fall and be lost. If my mind does not keep ‘swimming’, I will sink.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram

To engage is greater than escape.

Does compassion exist without action? — Jan 9

One night long ago during my college days I was lying in bed at my parents' house listening to an As Cities Burn album on my click wheel iPod. On that album is a song that voiced something I've long felt guilty for and still struggle to redeem. It goes something like this:

All the love I want to give gets caught between every rib.

What does that make me?

I have good intentions but no exit for them to come out right through.

I'm in the wrong body. I must have stumbled in.

For someone who spends a lot of time in the rabbit holes of his mind, I think about other people a lot. And yet I remain at what feels like miles away from belonging. Much of this is self-imposed, as I often let my neurotic tendencies drive me into isolation. I don’t want to exacerbate any feelings of misfit-ness, I don’t want to feel annoyed by things no one else notices, and honestly sometimes I’m simply disinterested.

When we lose our built-in community, whether found in family or neighborhood, we must compensate. I've found this to be a difficult thing. To keep up with friends living in another state, to make plans with people busy with their own lives, to establish new friendships through common interests—it feels like a full-time job. It's much easier to distract myself with ridiculous theories and wishful projects, but even productivity won't satiate this desire for connection.

It seems we as a culture (and I am probably projecting here) are feeling increasingly alone. No wonder there has been such a boom in the world of self-help. But in the end, I don't think self-help is really about the self at all. Perhaps we should be helping each other instead.

To go in the dark with a light is to know light.

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,

And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,

And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Wendell Berry