In which I partially change my mind about the Avengers

This post contains spoilers to Avengers Infinity Wars and Endgame. These movies have been out for a couple years, so if you haven’t seen them by now, well, I can’t really blame you.

Recently, someone told me that I haven’t been posting much lately. That much is true. My last post took many months to write, record, and edit. Concurrently, I hand wrote a lot of greeting cards for family and friends over the holidays. My greeting cards tend to be more of a stream of consciousness rather than season’s greetings. One theme that emerged time and time again was an expected friction or apprehension to return to normal as the pandemic wanes. Which brings me to the end of Avengers Infinity Wars and the beginning of Endgame.

I happened to watch Infinity Wars for the first (and only) time on the night before I went to see Endgame, the superhero-soaked conclusion to the decade-long Marvel Cinematic Universe saga—the conclusion until Disney realized that they could make more money by making more Marvel movies in the same vein. For those of you who haven’t seen the movies, a band of superheroes team up to stop the powerful Thanos from completing his goal of wiping out half of all life in the universe. They fail to do so.

At the end of Infinity Wars, Thanos had achieved his objective. He had collected all of the “infinity stones”, which granted him godlike power, and with the snap of a finger—literally, he snaps his fingers—half of people in the universe simply disappear. So when I got to the end of the movie, I was very surprised that there was going to be another one after it. Why would there be? The hero, Thanos, who was massively outnumbered by the Avengers and their allies, who’d struggled for ages to finally collect all the stones, was finally able to achieve his goal. What more story was there to tell?

Before you call me a monster, let me explain some of the backstory here.* As a child, Thanos lived through immense poverty and loss, the result of overpopulation in his world. In order to prevent other children from experiencing the same pain that he experienced, he sought to eliminate overpopulation and its deleterious effects from the universe by cutting every sentient population in half. This backstory only further solidifies Thanos’ hero’s journey, as someone who is righting a wrong from his childhood and overcoming hardships to do so and find his peace.

Alas, I am getting off track here. The purpose of this blog post is not to reveal that I am unable to correctly identify the heroes and villains in blockbuster films. Rather, it’s to point to the curious circumstances at the open of the next film, which takes place five years later.

At the beginning of Endgame, we see a decimated society. Apparently the disappearance of half of all people on Earth caused near-complete economic, governmental, and spiritual collapse. We see scenes with garbage piling up in the street, apparently because there are no services to collect it. We see empty sports stadiums, because…. I don’t actually know. We generally just see people downright depressed. At the time, it seemed a bit of an overreaction to the events of the previous film. After major catastrophes, such as world wars, there is a drive to rebuild and grow. Why would there not be a similar mindset here? The stadiums were nearly fully empty, not half empty.

One scene in particular has resurfaced in my mind during this pandemic, causing me to rethink some of my earlier notions. In the scene, Captain America is leading an emotional support group for people still strongly affected by the mass disappearances five years prior. One unnamed person in the group recounts his date from the night prior. He meets his date at a restaurant for dinner. It is filled with awkward silences. At one point, his date starts crying. At another point he starts crying. At the end of the date, they part their separate ways. “Overall, it was a pretty good date,” the man concludes to the support group.

Back in reality, as more the population gets vaccinated and we move towards herd immunity, we will begin to return to activities that were unremarkable before the pandemic that are remarkable now. I haven’t been inside a restaurant in over a year. I haven’t even eaten outside at a restaurant in several months. What emotions will flood forward when we return to previously mundane habits? How many people will cry in restaurants, cafés, gyms, airports, religious gatherings, parties, on a subway car?

Beyond overwhelming emotions accompanying a return to habits, how much friction will there be to return to them in the first place? When can social gatherings no longer be avoided out of caution for public health and safety but rather for a fear of returning to normal? In a recent XKCD comic, Randall Monroe touches upon this idea, with a character blaming the pandemic isolation for his inability to carry a normal human conversation.

I don’t have any answers here. All I have is a nervousness that a return to norms and to past habits will be harder than we all expect. I worry that despite us all saying we want to do nothing more than go out to see family or friends at a restaurant, the expected emotional toll of doing so after so long without may give us pause and trepidation. There’s nothing really to do with this nervousness or worry other than to acknowledge it and move on. Of course, the opposite could be true. I have heard some predictions that by this time next year, the world will have functionally forgotten about the pandemic, for better or worse. Time will tell. In any case, I have gone from finding the opening of Endgame as wildly unrealistic to finding it prescient about why I might cry when eating a taco inside.

*I may be incorrect in recalling some of the details from these films I saw once two years ago. You can try to correct me, but I won’t care.

The Anthropocene (Formlabs) Reviewed

Originally, I began this blog as a way to journal my six-week solo drive up the west coast. I posted daily, cataloging my adventures. Since then, I have posted far less frequently, with only seven posts in all of 2020. My first post in 2020 was a much longer one, reflecting back on the previous decade.

In a similar vein, this post reflects back on my nearly nine years at Formlabs. It takes the form of my favorite podcast, the Anthropocene Reviewed, in which the rating on a five star scale doesn’t matter and the review is not about what you’d be led to believe.

At twice the length of my previous longest post, I’ve been working on it for about four months on and off. The effort is dedicated to all those mentioned therein.

A Eulogy for the Before Times

I’m sure that you are as tired as I am of hearing the phrase “I hope you and your loved ones are well during these unprecedented times”. We are continually looking forward, thinking of what’s next, pondering the wane of the pandemic and the reopening of the economy. For the most part, we’ve stopped asking when things will return to normal, because we know that they won’t, but we now focus our thoughts on the “new normal”.

Amidst all that has happened and is happening so fast, it feels like we have not stopped to look back on what has been lost, lives and livelihoods, connections and experiences. Because of the physical isolation, people have been mourning, but they have been mourning individually. We are prevented from mourning together, and no national or global leader has stepped up to the role of addressing our grief.

So I want to take some time to pause and reflect back on the past, good and bad, the things that have been lost, whose return may never come. I do not claim any uniqueness in my experience, nor do I claim that my grief is any worse than anyone else’s. In fact, I suspect that I have loss less than most. I suspect the same is true for most of my readers. But the fact that there are others who have worse grief than our own is not a reason to discount or neglect our own. With that in mind, I pause and reflect…

At the beginning of the year when the coronavirus was devastating Wuhan, I found myself dizzy and struggling to catch my breath when reading articles about the utter destruction wrought by the crowned plague. Perhaps my body knew before my brain that virus would travel halfway around the world and lay waste to the United States in a way dwarfing its impact in China.

When the lockdowns began, we were too busy to notice. We were distracted by our mad rush to buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. We were distracted by our awkward transitions to working from home or not working at all. We were distracted by our compulsively looking at the numbers and news about the pandemic. Our crippling fear kept our thoughts on the virus and the new aspects of our lives it created. We didn’t think about the aspects of our lives it eliminated. And we didn’t think we had to, with the naive expectation that the virus would be gone in four weeks and that life would return to the way it was before. And as the lockdowns and changes continued to get extended, bit by bit, to today, we still didn’t stop and look back.

We are now three months into the pandemic lockdown. In addition to the health crisis, there is the economic fallout and a racial reckoning four centuries in the making, with mass protests triggered by police brutality. We are often unable to focus on anything. With the future so unknown, it’s difficult to find things to look forward to. We fill with despair, feeling so hopelessly and helplessly alone, isolated from the world just like everyone else. Dante or Sartre would struggle to conceive of a hell as psychologically oppressive as the present state of things, where so much appears to have been needlessly squandered, gone without a trace.

The city is empty. Friends look like strangers. Strangers look like aliens. The false gods of the screens reveal faces in much the same fidelity (or lack thereof) of the shadows in Plato’s cave. Despite these difficulties in finding connections, we still seek them out anyways.

In reopening, whether prudent or not, we think we are getting back to a sense of normal. But as we once again try to do things we once did without a care, we are uncovering how much we have lost and how much longer this new way of living will persist. Reenter an office and barren desks are spaced apart, with disinfectant and signs everywhere. Go to a store and find (spaced) lines to get inside and cashiers behind plexiglass counters. Go to a restaurant and find you have to sign your receipt with a pen from a “clean” jar that you then put into a “dirty” jar for disinfecting. Walk the streets and see other pedestrians wearing masks and keeping their distance.

For me, I think it first really hit when I received an email from the operations team at work, requiring that I go into the office and take home any personal items that weren’t strictly necessary. The logic was simple: if someone tested positive, the office needed to be closed for disinfecting. A desk with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor would take a few minutes to clean. A desk covered in trinkets and other items would take significantly longer. I was on a video call with my manager discussing the logistics when I made the connection: wow, this is going to last a really long time and things are going to be permanently different.

The things on my desk were tokens of my experience at the office, collections from and for interactions with my coworkers for fun and for work. Tea leaves for a break in the kitchen, talking with whomever happens to be there. A glencairn for Whiskeylabs or Club Whiskey. Little 3D printed and painted geese from goose paint night. A lab coat to keep my clothes clean while around resins or solvents or oils. All of these experiences would be gone for a while longer, postponed until the world emerges and collects itself. I would not see or talk to a lot of coworkers and friends for a very long time. Passing in the hall, passing at the water cooler could no longer happen. Many faces I saw outside my direct work group would effectively disappear.

Finally realizing all that had been missing up until that point, previously distracted by adjusting to a different world, and realizing that the loss would continue indefinitely, I found myself almost crying. Talking to my manager, I stopped mid-sentence, having lost my train of thought, another thing lost but in this case recovered within a few seconds.

Recently, I was scrolling through photos on my phone. Knocking on doors, canvassing with friends. Poker nights. Ax throwing for a friend’s birthday. Sharing cookies with my team. Holiday parties. Ringing in the new year at a bar with friends. Family get togethers. Traveling across the country. Traveling across the world. These things may not happen again for another year, or at the very least they will be drastically different in practice.

The world is different now. While there may be opportunities to craft a better world in the future than we had in the before times, the world we have now is worse and will continue to be for some time.

A lot has been lost. We are in a dark moment together, apart. And while it is important to mourn our losses individually and collectively, it is also important to take stock in what we still have and what silver linings have come from this pandemic. Communities have banded together to support one another. Americans of all stripes are becoming aware of racial (and other) injustices that have existed for some time and are rising up to do something about it. People have given their time and effort and money support those who need it most.

And while in this kind of a pandemic it is easy for a small number of bad actors—from the selfish citizen not wearing a mask or not social distancing to the president of the United States doing all he can to further spread the virus without a plan—to destroy the efforts of those doing their part to limit the spread of and mitigate the effect of the virus, nonetheless the actions of so many are in the right direction. We persevere because we must, and we work to emerge stronger so that our losses are not in vain.

I’m Turning 30 Soon

Too many people have been asking me what I want for my birthday lately. And “too many”, here, for me, is any number greater than zero. It is a big birthday, they say. They want to get me something special, they say.

Originally, my plan was to be in the middle of nowhere in Montana for my birthday with two cousins. Well, originally before that I had other plans, but I will decline to share them here. In any case, my plans to be in Montana or on an airplane for the bulk of my birthday have been canceled. Because of this pandemic. Canceled like so many other things.

And I’m not planning on traveling anytime soon. So gifts for travel are out of the question. And I just moved to a new apartment where I downsized a bit and got everything I need to outfit the place. So I don’t need things. In fact, I probably need fewer things, as is evident from the half dozen boxes still residing in the basement of my former landlord’s apartment.

As we collectively see what fresh hell 2020 has in store for us next, there is no dearth of people and organizations that need gifts more than I do. So I will list some here, and ask you to make contributions in my honor.

If you are thinking “but no, I want to get you something special”, I will respond that you should take whatever you were thinking of spending on me, double it, and give it to some of the organizations below…or pick your own.

As much as we Americans may be done with coronavirus, the coronavirus is not done with us. Lots of organizations are providing relief in different ways, locally and globally, economically and medically. Here are some organizations that I’ve given to lately:

  • Somerville Cares Fund for COVID-19 Assistance ” in partnership with United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS), is mobilizing resources for expanded food and supply access and emergency assistance to households who are financially impacted, with a focus on those who are most economically vulnerable during the pandemic. This fund will deploy resources through CAAS and other nonprofit partners to address the essential needs of Somerville community members facing the many challenges brought on by the crisis.”
  • COVID Rapid Response Team Chicago “broadly supports a range of hospital systems, coalitions, partnerships, and collaborators on the ground. We are proud to say that we work in community with many grassroots efforts to do what we can to mitigate harm in the midst of the Covid Crisis.”
  • DirectRelief “is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.”
  • Doctors Without Borders has a terrible website without a quotable “about us” section… they are an organization that sends doctors and medical resources to underserved places that need them most.
  • The Greater Boston Food Bank “works passionately to end hunger across Eastern Massachusetts by providing our neighbors in need the healthy food and resources they need to thrive.” The coronavirus pandemic is a great threat to those facing food insecurity.
  • Be in Union… support my yoga studio by donating directly or buying classes (under the rates section) for those who cannot afford them.
  • Restaurant Strong Fund “The Greg Hill Foundation and Samuel Adams have teamed up to support those from the restaurant industry across the country who have been impacted by the Covid-19 closures”.
  • Donate directly to support the staff of your favorite restaurant or café or bar. See if they have a gofundme or Venmo account or some other fundraiser to support their employees. On average, restaurants in Massachusetts are doing about 1/3 of their average sales, pre-COVID, where they typically operate with a ~5% margin. Giving directly is one of the best ways to provide economic security to those furloughed or unemployed or underemployed right now.

We are more than three years into the Trump presidency, and the world is looking far worse than any of us could have expected. In addition to the coronavirus pandemic that has needlessly killed more than 100,000 US citizens, transformed lives and livelihoods, and now poses the greatest economic threat since the Great Depression—in large part due to the federal government’s failure to take the virus seriously, failure to respond in any meaningful way, and tendency to promote falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the virus—our government institutions and basic freedoms are under attack like never before. Support these organizations and more:

  • American Civil Liberties Union “dares to create a more perfect union — beyond one person, party, or side. Our mission is to realize this promise of the United States Constitution for all and expand the reach of its guarantees.” They’ve been taking Trump to court since day one, and they’re also doing a lot of work to demand racial justice and defend our right to protest.
  • Planned Parenthood “is a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world.”
  • Warren Democrats “are voters, candidates, and leaders who believe in the power of bold, inclusive reform to root out corruption in government and put power in the hands of the people.” Elizabeth Warren’s plan may no longer include being in the White House in 2021, but she has a plan to protect voting rights and support candidates for public office with similar visions.
  • The Intercept “is an award-winning news organization dedicated to holding the powerful accountable through fearless, adversarial journalism. Its in-depth investigations and unflinching analysis focus on politics, war, surveillance, corruption, the environment, technology, criminal justice, the media, and more. The Intercept gives its journalists the editorial freedom and legal support they need to expose corruption and injustice wherever they find it.”
  • Wikipedia “is an online free-content encyclopedia project that aims to help create a world in which every single human can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. It is supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on a model of openly editable content.” I read Wikipedia every day.
  • Committee to Protect Journalists ” is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. We defend the right of journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal.”

You’d have to live under a rock to be unaware of the protests and calls for racial justice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by the Minneapolis Police. Police brutality and systemic racism are nothing new in this country, but events of the past couple weeks have ensured that more and more Americans are aware of these issues. Real change may be beginning to happen. Protest if you can, donate if you can:

  • Campaign Zero to end police violence in America. “We can live in a world where the police don’t kill people by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability….Over 1,000 people are killed by police every year in America. We are calling on local, state, and federal lawmakers to take immediate action to adopt data-driven policy solutions to end this violence and hold police accountable…Funds donated to Campaign Zero support the analysis of policing practices across the country, research to identify effective solutions to end police violence, technical assistance to organizers leading police accountability campaigns and the development of model legislation and advocacy to end police violence nationwide.
  • Black Visions Collective “believes in a future where all Black people have autonomy, safety is community-led, and we are in right relationship within our ecosystems.”
  • Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation “is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by state and vigilantes. By combatting and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”
  • A crazy high number of people have been arrested at protests. Consider supporting your local bail fund (MA). Bail should be abolished; it’s basically a poverty tax.
  • Donate to local makerspaces in underserved communities. BUILD in Boston and Possible Project and Fab Lab Boston are some examples.
  • And more…

Since June is Pride month, I want to give a shoutout to the Trevor Project, “the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.”

Lastly, I want to shine a spotlight on a few other organizations that are near and dear to me that don’t quite fit into the categories above.

  • The Marfan Foundation “creates a brighter future for everyone affected by Marfan syndrome and related conditions.”
  • 350.org “is building a future that’s just, prosperous, equitable and safe from the effects of the climate crisis…We’re an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.”
  • Cool Earth… basically they work to prevent rainforest deforestation in an effort to stave off bad effects of climate change
  • Farm Forward “was founded in 2007 as the nation’s first nonprofit devoted exclusively to end factory farming and our work improves the lives of 400,000,000 farmed animals annually.” Read board member Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent opinion piece in the NY Times “The End of Meat is Here” and check out his book Eating Animals.

Ways to Forget

In an episode of my favorite podcast, the Anthropocene Reviewed, host John Green describes an experience in his childhood of temporarily not remembering a friend’s death:

When I was young, a friend of mine died, and afterwards, I would wake up each morning and for a moment I would not be aware of her death, and I’d feel normal for just a millisecond before the great stifling curtain of grief descended. Sometimes, I would try to go to sleep just so I could wake up and have that precious moment of innocence, of relief.

John Green, Works of Art by Agnes Martin and Hiroyuki Doi

On our minds right now are focused almost entirely on the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts, keeping us disconnected, keeping us inside. It’s hard to think of much else. Unlike John Green, I do not have a brief moment in the morning after I wake up when I don’t yet recall the coronavirus ravaging through our society.

Until yesterday, I didn’t know anyone infected. I knew people with symptoms who tested negative. I knew people with symptoms who have since recovered and never got tested. I knew of friends of friends who had been infected. Now I know someone infected, a friend from high school.

Even though in the mornings, I wake up thinking about the pandemic—though still very comfortably in my bed, I must add—there are times when I can briefly forget.

On Friday, I had an hourlong program review at work. Despite being on a video call in separate locations, I was enough engrossed by the discussion and presentation that things felt normal again.

Yesterday, on my walk to an outdoor grocery market, I passed by a house with a Prius that I really like. It’s a quintessential progressive Prius, deep navy blue with a single bumper sticker about taking an adventure through reading books. In the small yard is a Bernie Sanders lawn sign. The owners were getting into the car. I’d never known who the owners were. They appeared to be a couple around my age. Interesting. That was it. I had momentarily forgotten and things felt normal again. Then I proceeded to the outdoor market with chalk circles on the ground 6 ft apart and a mandatory hand washing station at the entrance. They had paper towels to dry, but I brought my own.

Some of the best case scenario predictions, assuming strict social distancing and similar measures continuously, describe peak toll on Massachusetts on April 12. In two days from now, we will likely run out of hospital beds. If things go well, most cases should dwindle by mid-May. Perhaps as soon as early June, restrictions on movement and business closures may begin to lift. But after that, how long will it be before people are comfortable shaking hands again, hugging again, going to crowded spaces again?

It’s going to be a long few months. Find the things that force you into being unaware, at least for a few moments. They’re keep the dream of normal alive until we’re through this.

You Can Help

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped more than 30% in the past month

Things aren’t good right now.

We all know that the stock market isn’t the economy, but the stock market is down big. The Dow has lost about a third of its value in the past several weeks and other investment funds that I follow have dropped by about a quarter. More alarmingly, earlier today the New York Times reported that the number of jobless claims increased by 124% from 281,000 to 629,899 in just one week! All of the restaurants, bars, cafés, bakeries, gyms, theaters, clubs, and travel services who sent their workers home are showing just how big and how fast the impact to individuals’ lives and livelihoods is.

Just yesterday I went outside for more than a few minutes for the first time in five days. I went around the corner to a coffeeshop that was still open. The place was empty. Tables and chairs had been barricaded and a makeshift counter had been setup to deliver coffee to customers from more than six feet away. A line of tape on the ground, six feet from the cashier, informed customers to go no further forward. The employee backed away when I walked up to tap my phone to pay. The only other employee there made my coffee and set it on the makeshift counter before walking back six feet and allowing me to get the drink. There was no one else in the café. I asked, all things considered, with the place being take out only, whether business was still okay, at least during the morning hours where people begin to caffeinate. The guy behind the counter, with a look of quiet desperation in his eyes, said “no”.

The next day the café announced that they were closed later that afternoon.

The New York Times reports today that jobless claims jumped from 281,000 to 629,899 in just one week

These stories are everywhere. And I’m fighting back tears every time I venture outside to say goodbye to my favorite spots one last time before they close down. Every time, the employees and the owners look stunned and sad.

You can help. If you have a steady job and surplus cash on hand or if you have a tax refund, I implore you to help these people.

Many places, such as Backbar (@backbarunion), Trina’s Starlite Lounge (@trinastarlite-parlorsports), and Vinal Baker (@vinalbakery) have set up Venmo accounts where you can send donations to their staff.

Yoga studios like Be have set up donation pages and special 10 class passes to support them as they are closed and only offering online live stream classes.

Spots like 1369 Coffeehouse and Highland Kitchen have set up Go Fund Me pages to provide direct monetary relief for their service workers who are now without jobs.

Casting a wider scope, the Greg Hill Foundation has started the Restaurant Strong Fund, where restaurant, bar, café, and nightclub tipped employees who have lost their jobs can apply for $1,000 grants. (Click here for the grant application)

Someone in Somerville (I don’t know who) put together this list that shows the status of restaurants and other small businesses and what you can do to support them.

If you don’t have the funds to support with cash donations, consider signing up with Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville to offer to cook or clean or deliver or talk. But remember to take care of yourself first, otherwise you’re of no use to others.

And to all the medical workers out there, thank you. If you need COVID-fighting equipment 3D printed, Formlabs has a support network where they can hook you up with what you need. Conversely, if you have a 3D printer, you can sign up to offer your printing services there as well.

Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better. Don’t wait for the government to step in and help—you can begin helping now, if you are able to. Do what you can. Don’t do what you can’t.

Stay safe. Keep your distance from others. Practice good hygiene. Be kind to others. Know that hospitals in Boston and elsewhere are starting to fill up and deplete supplies, but don’t panic. Pledge to help however you are able. Do the best that you can. Take care of yourself and then take care of your communities.

Pandemic from Home

Like many people working in tech, I am fortunate enough that much of my work can be done remotely (at least for the next month or so within my project’s product development cycle). And I’ve asked my team to work from home as much as their job permits.

My reasoning is two-fold: first, there are many engineers on other teams whose work requires them to be at the office. We want to reduce the risk of exposure for them by keeping the office as empty as possible. Second, while most people on my team are young and in good health, several of them live with people who are not, so it is important to reduce their risk.

Aayla was pretty underwhelmed to have me working from home. She spent the first half of the day napping and the second half begging me for food.

Public health is a very different beast from personal health in ways that are difficult for human brains to understand. Dealing with an epidemic is not (primarily) about not getting sick: it’s about not spreading the infection. It’s not only about personal hygiene and staying healthy, but also, arguably more so, about statistics and growth rates. Though, yes, wash your hands and don’t touch your face. The difference between public health and personal health reminds me of the difference between climate change and weather change. Humans are horrible at understanding and responding to the former.

Things are about to get a lot worse before they get better. That much is clear based on the US response so far, especially at the federal level. Based on the news, people are panicked slightly more than they should be, or perhaps the right level of panic, but the prophylactic measures being applied currently are wildly insufficient.

Cattening the curve” is one approach used to communicate how staying away from other people benefits our healthcare system in times of extreme stress

If you are so fortunate to be able to do so, please work from home. Please limit travel. Please cancel plans to gather. It may sound silly or an overreaction, but isolating yourself as much as possible reduces the spread of the virus and reduces burdens on our healthcare system. It makes the world that much safer for those of us who cannot. It’s not panicking; it’s doing what we need to do so that we don’t need to panic when things get worse.

All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences

The Plague

For those of you expecting longer ramblings from me, I highly recommend the following reads:

Difficulties and Persisting

This past weeks has been the most difficult in recent memory. It’s not necessarily bad. There are always highs and lows, and local minima should always be expected. But it’s worth reflecting on the causes and the path forward.

The week started out on a high note. On Sunday morning I connected with two friends to canvass in Somerville ahead of Super Tuesday voting. I hadn’t canvassed in a few years, and I’ve never before canvassed on my own initiative—previously I’d always been asked. But over the past few weeks, I’d felt the growing urge to do more than donate and vote.

Recently I listened to a Hidden Brain episode positing that political engagement is more like hobbyism or a sports rivalry. Most people involved in politics, the podcast claimed, aren’t actually doing anything other than consuming the news, sharing outrage and gossip. To make change, it argued, one must go out and do something, especially at the local level. So I set out to do just that.

I arrived in the morning at the canvassing location in Somerville—someone’s home—and found that the vast majority of the volunteers were women. That podcast episode also noted that women overwhelming tend to participate in the political process outside of the hobbyist walls of Twitter. I grabbed a bunch of flyers and a route and headed to East Somerville.

Bailey — Dog (D), Massachusetts,

Canvassing is an excellent teacher of dealing with rejection, learning shamelessness, and finding your voice. I am terrified of rejection, docile, and shy, so canvassing is a useful exercise that pushes me out of my comfort zone. While some people aren’t excited to answer their doors, the vast majority of people I interacted with were happy to see me and talk—some enthusiastically so. I ended the route with a feeling of empowerment. Not to mention the fact that I had met Bailey before I started my route.

Afterwards, I got an excellent slice of pizza from Leone’s in Somerville, met up with some friends to make vegan dumplings from scratch, and won $35 at poker. So ended Sunday.

Recipe from the Woks of Life

Monday started out a mixed bag. A new person started on my team at work, someone whom I have been looking forward to adding to the team for about a month now. But one critical person on the project, who had been on the project longer than anyone else (myself included) on the team gave notice. An unwanted blow to the team effectiveness as well as my own morale. Add to this the growing fears of COVID-19 entering into the US and evading attempts at containment. That night I went to a restorative yoga class, finding hand sanitizer bottles everywhere. Usually, no matter what is on my mind, by halfway through the class my mind is emptied and relaxed. For the first or second time, that wasn’t the case. The entire class, racing through my mind were thoughts of Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and coronavirus.

Tuesday was going to be a busy day. I set my alarm early for 6:30am but failed to quiet my mind and fall asleep until after midnight. I arose and biked to north Cambridge to get to a campaign event (“Elizabeth Warren goes to vote”) before 8am. I’ve been to events with similar vibes once or twice before. It’s comforting to lose yourself in a crowd, cheering and chanting together. It brings a sense of togetherness.

“Dream Big, Fight Hard”

After going to vote with her husband and dog, Elizabeth Warren briefly addressed the crowd and then took photos with everyone who wanted one. To each person she passed, she said: “It’s so good to see you. Thank you for coming.” For the first few people, I thought she genuinely knew them—we were in fact in her neighborhood where she had lived for the past 25 years. Then I realized she was taking the time to stop and address everyone. I was moved by her authenticity. She spoke of her vision in a purely positive way. The energy was high.

Warren joyfully addressing supports after she voted

I biked off, not realizing that one of my gloves had fallen out of my jacket pocket, never to be recovered.

Much of the rest of the week was a blur. By Tuesday night, having biked an hour and not slept or eaten much, I was beyond exhausted. I was on autopilot at work. I met family for dinner one night, friends at a ramen bar on another. COVID-19 infections surpassed 100,000 people globally and was fighting with the primaries for the top of the New York Times homepage. Reality began to mirror events in my favorite book, the Plague, and a nervousness enveloped me and those around me. On Friday, I went to the office hours for my Somerville City Councilor. At some point I got an email telling my that my state and federal tax returns had been rejected (update: the issue has since been fixed).

Within a few minutes of getting home on Tuesday night, I was in bed before 10pm. I woke up Wednesday morning hesitant to check the news, but the results were far worse than I expected. Going into Super Tuesday, Warren and Sanders appeared neck-and-neck. The results not only had her finished behind Sanders, but the two of them were behind Biden. In her home state.

The disappointment was devastating. More devastating than I expected. And not just from me. I observed many others who were also shocked at the loss, both supporters and not. I thought back to the energy and optimism and excitement on Tuesday morning, the joy on Warren’s face and her supporters’ faces that we were about to make big structural changes, juxtaposed against the results on Wednesday morning, and I became crestfallen.

Voters wanted her to be president but they didn’t want to vote for her. Americans voting in the Democratic primaries are of split minds here: wanting to remove Trump from the White House and wanting to vote for who they think will make the best president. Somehow these two concepts are different for many. The idea that the candidate that a voter thinks will make the best president is not going to be electable nationwide is mind-boggling to me.

If you think someone will make the best president, you should vote for her.

She’s electable if you vote for her.

At her concession speech on Thursday, when the number of COVID-19 infections was surpassing 100,000 globally, Elizabeth Warren was asked by a reported whether sexism played into the election result. I’ll be paraphrasing here, but it’s hard to imagine a better answer could have been given. Warren said that if she claimed sexism played into the results, then people would call her a whiner. But if she had claimed that sexism had not played into the results, then every woman listening would throw up her hand and say “you’ve got to be kidding me!”

I’ve taken a few days to process all of this. Michelle Cottle of the New York Times tried to make sense of women with stellar credentials losing to less qualified men, pointing out that Warren was a better progressive candidate than Sanders and that Klobuchar was a better candidate than Biden. Megan Garber at the Atlantic echos similar sentiments, arguing that Warren was punished for her competence—that people who agreed with her policies couldn’t get behind her because they were holding women to a much higher standard than men.

And it’s rage-inducing and frustrating and upsetting. And it makes me so angry and so sad.

So I’m going to inject my politics in here for the next few paragraphs. Elizabeth Warren has a detailed plan for almost everything, including tackling income inequality, corruption in Washington, and climate change. She is a strong fighter with a proven track record. As president, she is best qualified to execute her vision to restore and expand the American dream. On practical policy, experience both in and out of Washington, and grit, she far outstrips her rivals in their quest for the Democratic nomination. Yet she still lost. Big time.

What happened? The best answer that I can come up with is that voters don’t believe that their vote counts. Remember when I said that she’s electable if you vote for her? People still don’t believe that. Voters believe that they need to vote for a winner, even if they want another candidate to win. It’s a game that’s impossible to win. Especially in the primaries, it’s a losing game to vote for someone other than the person you want to be president because are trying to get into the mind of someone from a different part of the US with different needs from you.

If you didn’t vote for Warren because you think that other Americans who you don’t know aren’t yet ready for a woman president or a strong progressive president, you should carefully consider the notion that it is actually you who is not yet ready for a woman president or a strong progressive president. Everyone voting against their own interests leads to a result that no one wants.

Today is International Woman’s Day, and it is disappointing that the three remaining candidates for president are three old white men. And after Tuesday’s defeat, I’m feeling confused. Historically, I remain quiet about issues about women in politics or women in engineering, entirely because I believe that there are enough white men in tech giving their opinion. I don’t want to be another one of these unnecessary and unhelpful voices. But simply getting out of the way is not sufficient. So if you are reading this and you have ideas on how I can advance women’s causes in politics and engineering and society at large, I would like you tell me. Because as you may recall me writing at the beginning here, it was overwhelmingly women volunteering and organizing at the campaign events. And we need more of those kinds of people empowered, people going out and making real change rather than sitting back, consuming the news and writing tweets.

Speaking of news, COVID-19 is everywhere in the news. It’s scary and hard to get the facts. Is it just like a cold or a modern day equivalent of the bubonic plague? And even if it’s not much worse than the flu, what will the media-induced panic have on the world? Will we enter another recession? How many people will lose their jobs? How many people will die as a result of economic downturn? (The stock market is not the economy, but economic downturns have real effects on health and mortality.) How difficult is quarantine on an individual, a community, a society? In terms of human travel and supply chains, our world is as connected as ever. Disruptions have real impacts on human life.

After speaking to a couple doctors, my understanding is that COVID-19 is not much different from the flu and that we should be doing everything we can do protect the elderly, the very young, and the immunocompromised, and that everyone should practice good hygiene by washing hands often and keeping them away from faces—as should happen during any flu season. Nonetheless, we are soaked in non-stop frightening news where misinformation proliferates more than anytime in history.

I sit here fragile—yes fragile is the best word I can find—at the end of a long week. It’s OK. Like I said, there are always ups and downs. I knew going into 2020 that it would be a fighting year. And so it is. And I am prepared.

What’s next? First, we must take some time to feel empathy for ourselves. We say “I’m having a hard time right now. Everyone feels this way sometimes. I am allowing myself self-compassion“. And then we keep going, as we always do.

I will leave you with this image. A few days ago, a friend shared this poster about proper hand-washing technique with me. It sums up next steps pretty well. I hope it will make you smile as it made me.

I don’t know who created this, but thank you and sorry for the lack of attribution

A Decade in Retrospect

As we enter a new year and a new decade, it seems as good a time as any to send out greeting, updates, and reflections to friends old and new. I’ve never sent a message like this before, but I always enjoy receiving them. Yesterday, I got a comprehensive and heartfelt decade-wrap from a friend and was inspired to do the same.

My first pass at this post was a high level recap of the past ten years. It seemed to be more boastful and less authentic than I wanted…which is really the case for any list of accomplishments over a period of time. Not much meaningful is communicated. I tried to add a “bad” section, but I realized that life isn’t so dichotomous that I can cluster things into simple bins of good and bad. And while it is not always the most popular opinion, I believe that often times bad things can be opportunities for growth and positive change, even (especially?) if they are terrible oh-so-terrible in the moment.

So after my first attempt at this point, I decided to start again, where I just have a stream-of-consciousness list of experiences, milestones, events, and feelings from the past ten years that I am sharing here with you. I have probably missed some things, but I hope you can appreciate what is here.

At a high level, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks and gratitude to my family and friends who have been with me on this ride over the last ten years. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you and your impact. So thank you for being you and for being in my life. This especially goes for my family. Though they are not frequently mentioned in the list below, it’s nearly impossible to separate them and their support from the things I describe. It can be hard to describe a constant presence in discrete chunks.

Before we dive in, it might be worthwhile to ground ourselves back in 2010, where this all begins. In 2010, I was just about halfway done with college. It had been nearly a decade since my sister’s death. Barack Obama was in his second year of his first term and Osama bin Laden was still alive. The term “fake news” was only used on the Daily Show, and it had a very different meaning than it does today. The iPhone 4 and Instagram launched that year. Scrubs was ending its final season.

OK. I think we are ready to start. Here are some things I have done or learned over the past decade:

  1. I spent the summer of 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland, which instilled in me a travel bug and a deep appreciation for other cultures. Before that, I didn’t really have much interest in seeing the world. I most recently found myself back in Zurich last January for a 12 hour layover, where I serendipitously ran into a friend on the plane there.
  2. I graduated from MIT in 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 2010 I got my Brass Rat, MIT’s class ring. I still wear it every day, though I don’t know why. I don’t particularly like to broadcast that I went to MIT because it’s not relevant to most conversations.
  3. I started working at Formlabs, a 3D printer company that I’ve seen grow from 5 to over 600 employees from a small startup to a global leader in 3D printing. Formlabs has been like a second family to me, where I’ve grown both personally and professionally.
  4. I moved from Cambridge to Somerville. Not particularly far. I like Somerville. I also liked Cambridge, though.
  5. Sometime around 2014-ish, I stopped eating meat. I had toyed with the idea for a while. One of my coworkers at the time had been a vegetarian for several decades. We talked a lot and went on frequent coffee runs. So I decided to try cutting out meat, limiting myself to five meals with meat per week, tracking each instance. It was much easier than I expected, so I gradually cut it out entirely. First, I limited myself to several exception conditions in which I would eat meat—when traveling, for instance. Eventually I eliminated all of the exception conditions.
  6. I adopted the snail as my spirit animal, also sometime around 2014. Friends always send me pictures of snails or snail things they come across. Sometimes I am asked whether I get tired of getting those messages. The answer is unequivocally no, I do not get tired of those messages. To the contrary, I always love receiving a snail greeting. Some advice from a snail: take it slow, build up a hard outer shell, and make sure you always stay soft and gooey on the inside. And, no, I have never eaten a snail.
  7. In 2013, my cat Aayla came to live with me. I’ve known her since she was a kitten nearly 15 years ago, and she’d lived with my mother until that point. The first few days she hid under the bed and didn’t come out to eat. She is very polydactyl with seven toes on each paw and she had stomach surgery as a kitten. She loves to lie on my belly, purr, and drool. Over the past seven years, Aayla and I have grown incredibly close. Every day I look forward to coming home to Aayla and snuggling with her. I was never expecting to learn so much about love from a cat.
  8. I learned to read, or more specifically to enjoy reading. OK, so I knew how to read before 2010, but I never really enjoyed it or did it for fun. Since then, I’ve been reading more and more. Mostly I read non-fiction, a lot of behavioral economics, quirky investigative journalism, lighthearted memoirs, essays on workism, and food culture books. I especially like Jon Ronson, David Graeber, and Michael Pollan. And Susan Cain’s Quiet left quite the impression. The main exception to non-fiction is my favorite book the Plague, which I read every fall.
  9. I discovered forms of fitness and mindfulness practices that I actually enjoy: yoga and biking. If receipts are to be trusted, I started practicing yoga in the fall of 2016. I just go to one place, with a warm community and warm studio. No matter what is going on in my day, as soon as I am on my mat my mind is cleared. That time is dedicated to me and my practice alone and can always be treated as a space where the worries and expectations of this world cannot find me. Biking I have done since 2012 or so, though only on the weekends in good weather. There are two kinds of bikers in this world: people who bike for ice cream and people who do not. I am the former. Typically I will bike the Minuteman trail to Kimball Farms (33 mi) or Bedford Farms (26 mi). Twice I’ve gone to Walden Pond. Usually I go alone, blasting music in tiny earbuds, though sometimes I go with friends. A warm bath is usually called for afterwards.
  10. Baths are great in all ways, shapes, and forms: bubble baths, jacuzzis, and bath houses from Zurich to Budapest. They are relaxing and rejuvenating and a great place to read. I will share one story here. Several years ago, I was visiting a factory in Hungary. A coworker was picking me up from the airport in Budapest. Upon arriving another coworker, who I thought was in Boston, was there to greet me along with him. He asked me “do you have a swimsuit? We’re going to the bath house”. So straight from the airport we went to Rudas Baths. Once we were in, much to my surprise, I see another ten or so of my friends and coworkers. One of them was ending his bachelor party, where they journeyed from Bucharest to Budapest. I just so happened to show up on the last day when things were quite a bit tamer, or so I’m told. I enjoyed the bath house, dinner, and subsequent factory visit with them.
  11. In early 2018, I developed an alcohol intolerance. I remember clearly the night I noticed it first: Wednesday, March 21, 2018. I had gone to Café du Pays with a friend for two cocktails after dinner. I had something with gin and green chartreuse. On the walk home, feeling particularly buzzed, I listened to the Spongebob Musical soundtrack. I didn’t sleep that night. I just rolled around in bed, writhing with stomach pains and a headache. I felt like I’d been poisoned. The next morning I went to urgent care. What felt like a hangover lasted for weeks. I had always enjoyed making and drinking cocktails as well as enjoying a good scotch. By that point I had been a vegetarian for a few years, and I’d rarely felt social isolation from not eating meat. For this new restriction of not drinking alcohol, I had never felt so isolated or out of place when with friends or family who are drinking. Today, I can tolerate a little bit of alcohol—maybe one drink per 8 hours—but anything more than that makes me feel terrible. Sometimes just one drink gives me a headache and exhaustion immediately. It’s not that I don’t want to partake in celebratory imbibing; it’s just that my body doesn’t like it.
  12. I saw Taylor Swift and Billy Joel in concert. Not at the same time. Camila Cabello opened for Taylor Swift and no one opened for Billy Joel. I don’t remember who opened for The Neighbourhood when I went to see them.
  13. I also saw the Spongebob Musical. Twice.
  14. A friendly face can mean the world to someone. The morning after a big breakup a few years ago, I drove to Curio Cáfe to get coffee and a waffle because that seemed like a good idea. It usually is. My longest relationship, roughly two and a half years, had ended. At that point, we had lived together. I felt great uncertainty about the future. On the drive to get my waffle, I stopped for a pedestrian in the crosswalk and saw that it was one of my yoga instructors running with her dog. She gave me a big smile and wave and I returned the smile and wave. I knew then that everything was going to be okay.
  15. I battled weight issues in 2015. It was the generally uncommon weight issue of being rather underweight with little to no appetite most of the time. When my doctor raised the alarm (she was quite unhappy with me), I got a calorie tracker (which I promptly confused with my goal to gain weight) and steadily gained weight to a healthy amount. Fast forward to today and I am at my heaviest (healthy) weight and I am sometimes-to-often hungry.
  16. I ate a lot of ice cream and pesto. I have yet to make this pesto ice cream, but it is on my to do list.
  17. A couple years ago, a friend called me the most social person he knew. Never in my life would I expect anyone to say that about me.
  18. Over the last decade, I’ve seen three and a half therapists. Not at the same time. Usually with years in between any two. Each was different and helpful in different ways. Except for the half. That was a waste of time for both of us. Though a massive generalization, I will say the first helped me navigate anxiety in a world that appeared to be growing bigger and scarier, the second helped me deal with death and feeling lost, and the third helped me process sickness and frustration.
  19. Lost Michael. It’s hard for me to write much here. The few attempts I have given have been too much to share. Let me just say that his death and thinking back on it unleashes a lot of visceral memories and emotion. It has developed deep neural connections to so many different things in my mind—many bad, some good. I almost immediately have many flashbacks in rapid succession to all sorts of memories and emotions from all parts of my life.
  20. I learned that writing is good for me…as it is for most people. Several times over the past decade, when I was in a bad place, I would start a journal. It’s a clear way to describe and better understand what is going on. Reflecting back on the entries I could always see growth.
  21. I’ve been to rallies and protests. My first rally was Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity in D.C. in October 2010. I took a bus down with some college friend. The National Mall was overwhelmed with people and we had no cell service. Apart from voting, it was the first time I was active in politics in any way, shape, or form. A couple years later, shortly after graduating from college, a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Boston became my first protest. I went with a some friends that I had met a few months earlier. The protest shut down many streets and marched to Charlestown. Shouting chants, not something I’m known to do, felt strangely freeing and empowering. Within the crowd I felt surprisingly safe and connected.
  22. I discovered podcasts. Very late to the game. I am often late to the game with audio. I moved from iTunes to Pandora and then to Spotify years after the rest of the world. Same with podcasts. I only discovered them within the past few years. They’re great. None are as great as The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Greene. Some come close. I like Hidden Brain, Philosophize This!, and Intercepted, among several others.
  23. I have some patents. That’s cool. I usually find out about them by Googling myself. Probably not the best process, but it works. I’ve found I google quite well.
  24. Professionally, I grew a lot. With the end of the decade, I’ve seen a few people throwing around the Bill Gates quote “most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years”. While it’s terribly annoying, it’s also true. Shortly after starting at Formlabs, I asked a mentor what he saw in my future. Part of his response was not too far off from the reality that became. At the time, it felt out of reach in such a timespan.
  25. I shipped three products: the Form 1, Form 2, and Form 3. I developed tons of design skills and learned about many manufacturing processes. I’ve worn many hats at formlabs in all departments over the years. Before formlabs, I also built a lot of robots, many of which were desk lamps.
  26. I am in a movie on Netflix. My claim to fame is credited in a documentary at the intersection of 3D printing and cake. Check out one of my scenes at 1:18:18.
  27. For three years I lived in the Formpad, an apartment in East Cambridge. I moved in there with two coworkers and our company rented the fourth bedroom as a guest room for consultants, interviewees, and remote workers. It was my first time living with roommates—previously I’d been in studios or one bedroom apartments. During our time there, we threw many a great party into the wee hours of the morning. The three of us did were inseparable for a time and I consider them some of my closest friends to this day.
  28. I married my cousin in New Hampshire. That is technically correct, the best kind of correct. I officiated my cousin’s wedding. Growing up, we saw each other all the time and played in the pool, on the GameCube, in the basement box fort, and so on. During high school and college and after that we drifted apart (much to our grandmother’s chagrin) for all the unremarkable reasons one might expect. The process of officiating his wedding has brought us back together, and now I look forward to seeing him and his wife and their corgi more frequently. I also think I make a pretty good officiant, so hit me up if you require those services.
  29. A student program, the Science and Technology Leadership Association (STeLA), brought me to Japan, the Netherlands, and Stanford. Through the program I have found lifelong friends. I always know I have a place to stay in those places. In Japan I hiked Mount Fuji overnight—seven hours up, five hours down. We got to the top just before sunrise. The sunrise looked just like the Imperial Japanese flag. I was completely unprepared for the hike, packing all the wrong clothes and not enough food. We went down the wrong side of the mountain (where I fell and hurt my hip) and had to take a taxi back to our bus stop. Most of my time, though, was in Tokyo, taking in such a big city before mobile data roaming was a thing. It was very much a happy-go-lucky, barely-planned trip of exploring.
  30. To celebrate friends’ weddings, I’ve traveled to India, Hungary, New Mexico, Toronto, Montreal, the UK. Next summer: Italy. I’ve been lucky to participate in some of these wedding—officiant, groomsman, best man. The interesting thing about weddings, I’ve found, is that they bring people together in unexpected ways. In the few weddings I have been in, and even those that I have just been to, I developed a more profound sense of admiration for the couples and as a result felt closer to them. You really see their love on display for all to see. Perhaps that is not so remarkable, as I guess that is kind of the point of weddings, but I certainly like that effect.
  31. With family I’ve traveled near and far to Jamaica, Iceland with my cousin, France, Italy, and St Martin for a surprise for my aunt’s birthday. More recently, I’ve learned to appreciate travel within the US: the Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, Sedona, Palm Springs, Portland (both east and west coast). There’s still plenty more to see. Next up: Montana.
  32. My work has taken me all over the world: China, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, North Carolina, Hungary, and Germany to set up factories, go to trade shows, or visit remote offices.
  33. After seven years of working at formlabs, I took an eight week sabbatical, skiing in Tahoe, hiking in Joshua Tree, and driving up the west coast from San Diego to Seattle. I’d started planning the summer before, around the time a friend took a similar trip. The trip inspired me to start this blog, where I wrote nearly daily during my time away.
  34. I stayed at the Lotus Blossom cabin at the Jewel in the Forest. Just north of Big Sur and just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Driving up the coastal roads through Big Sur, alternating between listening to John Williams’ Star Wars soundtracks and Jon Ronson’s Last Days of August podcast, the view is absolutely breathtaking. As sunset approaches I’m zooming around the curving roads, alternating between the shade of the mountain forest and the open expanse of the coastline. Each view is better than the last, as I am mouthing “oh my god” over and over to myself after each turn. Eventually I turn off the road and drive several miles into the forest. The cabin is a 1/4 mile hike up a steep path. There is no internet or cell service. The toilet and shower are outside. Heat is limited to an indoor propane heater. The two nights I am there sandwich the launch of the Form 3. Though I had spent years working on the program, I needed a break from society for its launch. My time at the cabin was peaceful. I read, listened to music, wrote, and made scrambled eggs for breakfast.
  35. Upon returning from my sabbatical, I got a snail tattoo. It looks great and serves as a wonderful anchor to that time in my life. The actual process was an adrenaline rush followed by a massive crash.
  36. In 2016, I had a bunch of stomach issues. At one point I went to the ER in the middle of the night with terrible stomach pains. The next week, a specialist diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome. I told him that it’s not a particularly helpful medical diagnosis, since it just means that I am a stressed twenty-something. After a battery of invasive and expensive procedures I didn’t want to do, he did not change his diagnosis. Over many months, I eliminated stressors and the stomach issues went away.
  37. People age in ways that they should expect but never do. This applies to me as well. A younger me saw behaviors in older people that I said “no, I will never be that way”, but, lo and behold, now I am. Pick anything cliche and it probably applied to me. I guess the lesson here is not to fight the future. Anticipate that you will change as you grow and age. Learn to embrace the entirely predictable change. Just because it happens to everyone doesn’t mean it’s unremarkable.
  38. The mind has a lot of control over the body. It’s taken me a long time to learn this one, and I think I still am learning it. Stress, anxiety, loss, depression, elation, exercise, novelty, they all impact us physiologically more than makes sense to the human brain. Who thought that hidden stress could manifest in a way that feels like intense chest pain? I certainly didn’t. I fought against the notion for months. I definitely didn’t believe the doctors in the ER who looked upon me with genuine concern and pity as they gave their best explanation. I didn’t believe that anxiety could cause stomach cramps so severe that it’s hard to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time, but it was hard to deny that reducing anxiety eliminated the issues. Of course it’s easy to believe that happy experiences cause me to feel healthier and better all around. To some surprise for me, I learned that exercise can do more for mental health than almost anything else, though it sometimes takes days or weeks to kick in. So when you’re feeling at your absolute lowest, unable to comprehend how you’ll ever not feel this way, I find it’s helpful to think and to know that in a few weeks or a few months you’ll be feeling good and looking back just as unable to comprehend how you could ever feel that bad.
  39. You’ll always miss something. I’ve written more than 4000 words here over the past few days, but I have probably missed something big. I could feel really bad about it, but I am not going to. If it’s related to you, sorry, I have a bad memory. I, like everyone else, am also biased about what has happened more recently and what is at the front of my mind. It’s ok to miss some things. But don’t dwell on them. Value the things you didn’t miss.
  40. Empathize when you can; sympathize when you can’t. You’ll often never know what people are thinking but assume they are acting in good faith. The best way to understand someone’s behavior is to put yourself in their shoes and try to think how they are thinking. I consider empathy to be one of my most cherished traits, as it opens many doors and many worlds.
  41. Everyone is acted on more than they act. We like to think that we control our destiny, that our choices and efforts result in our successes and failures. That’s true up to a point, but luck plays a much bigger role than people are generally willing to admit—or even consider. We don’t control where we are born, to whom we are born to, when we are born, and that makes a huge difference in so many ways. Every day we are acted on by our environment and our circumstances. We make choices within the constraints of these environments. We are biased to think our choices have an outsize impact because we usually only hear about exceptions to the rule—we often won’t see a news story about someone who worked really hard and invested his entire life savings his work only to fail massively. Understanding that everyone is acted on more than they act helps a lot with empathy. “Bad guys”, the “other”, “adversaries” no longer seem as scary or foreign or not relatable. Everyone is closer than we think in this regard.
  42. No one waves; everyone waves back. I read this line just a few months ago in Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: An Introvert’s Year of Living Dangerously, a delightful book by Jessica Pan. It’s generally true except sometimes in Hungary.
  43. Always give constructive feedback when you can. Sometimes, very rarely, you do need to give feedback but can’t find a way to make it constructive. Give it anyway, even if it’s hard. And preface all the feedback with that face.
  44. If you don’t know what you’re eating and you are in the US, it’s probably corn or soy. Sorry, Brooks.
  45. Don’t machine wash cashmere. Similarly, don’t put a wool hat in the dryer with velcro unless you want it ruined.
  46. Cast iron pan care is difficult but well worth it. Don’t give up if you turn a pan or two rusty. Just try again.

Wow, you made it this far?! Congratulations!

I found this exercise—looking back and thinking hard about the past 10 years— to be extremely rewarding and emotional. I recommend it, even if you don’t plan to share it.

So how are the 2020’s going for me so far? I was awoken at 8am on New Year’s Day, massively hungover, by the sound of my cat vomiting on the floor. About 50% of the times that I have turned off the gas burners, it’s been because I forgot they were on and I smelled something burning. I’ve been to yoga twice. I’ve seen two movies—one good, one terrible. I made mushroom soup and skillet cookies. I won $21 at poker. A mixed bag, so far. We’re in for an adventure 🙂

A Thank You Letter to JJ Abrams

Dear JJ,

Can I call you JJ? Are we on first-name basis? I’ll just assume yes. Earlier this year, I wrote you an open letter with a call to include porgs in the Rise of Skywalker.

The porgs were only on screen for a few seconds, but they were there. You did it. Thank you.

Now was the movie actually terrible as I predicted it would be? I don’t think so. Granted, I set my expectations really low. I was anticipating a dull plot with unsurprising twists that generally add no value to the Skywalker story. But my expectations, despite being low, were exceeded. The gratuitous fan service, throwbacks, and amazing visuals generally covered over any plot holes. It wasn’t great like the original or Empire Strikes Back or Rogue One. But I don’t think it’s possible for Disney to create a great Star Wars film. Actually, I’m not sure that anyone could create a great Star Wars film and maintain the same mass appeal as they have now.

Rise of Skywalker basically took everyone’s favorite parts of the originals, combined with new elements from modern action blockbusters, and mashed them together into a movie. I’m sure that Disney-Lucasfilm has a checklist of different things that they need to include in each film, and the plot creativity and coherence suffer in order to adhere to it.

Star Wars and Empire and Rogue One are great films because they were new and introduced novel concepts and ways of storytelling to audiences. They have a reason for existing. Big budget blockbusters these days exist only to make money so they become bland with no risk, but with amazing visuals and unsurprising storytelling that keeps audiences comfortable.

Despite all these limitations, I was impressed that you were able to add some thematic creativity through your visual storytelling. The film had a feel similar to Knights of the Old Republic, one of the better Star Wars Games. The Kylo Ren and Rey force “share” scenes, expanded upon from Force Awakens, were an excellent addition to the Star Wars universe. Those force powers weren’t in the originals, but growth beyond the originals in any way is what can add positive novelty to the film. Kylo Ren’s flashback sequence excellently mirrored the analogous scene in Force Awakened and Kylo Ren and Rey’s fight on the water excellent mirrored the Obi-Wan and Anakin fight on the lava.

So that’s where Rise of Skywalker landed. The film followed the modern action superhero formula, but it did it well and managed to add something new even if not much. Unlike the Last Jedi (and any of the prequels), the plot was mostly coherent and the characters behaved plausibly. Sure, no one needed to see this film, but it’s a fun way to spend a couple hours a few times. Well done.