a disjointed Account of my Life in 2023

a melodramatic Monologue on various Sources of Angst

a sunset in San Diego

If I had to characterize my year with one word, I'd lean toward anxiety.

Let's start with economic anxiety. To thrive in this world you must either own substantial resources or be able to provide value to the people who do. I've been extraordinarily lucky in that the skills I built for fun as a child have turned out to be highly valuable on the job market for my entire life up to now. But advances in AI make me question how much longer they will be; and it's not clear what I could pivot to that wouldn't be just as affected. Also, the software job market has—from what I've heard—been terrible this year. That hasn't impacted me, but it has made me more viscerally aware of how quickly the ground can disappear beneath your feet.

My worries may prove baseless, and regardless, my current situation is great. My point is just that the future beyond the next couple of years seems murkier than ever. This is particularly frustrating because I'm at a bit of a crossroads in my life: I'll be finished with my master's degree in spring and need to figure out what to do next.

Perhaps I'm also feeling some anxiety about aging. At 35, I'm close to halfway through my expected lifespan (though I prefer to think in terms of how much of my adult life is over, which gives a less depressing answer of 30%). I don't fear death and anyway, another 30-40 years—barring untimely demise—is a lot of time, for better and worse. But in the 13 years since college I've neither done anything particularly significant nor managed to build a life for myself that I'm satisfied with. I worry about age adding more obstacles when I'm already failing.

A more neurotic form of anxiety: I've become pretty task-oriented in recent years. I make long lists of things I want to get done, and I feel good when I check things off. This has been very helpful at times, but the lists are also an ever-present weight in my mind. It is difficult for me to fully enjoy or fully focus on whatever I'm doing, because I'm continuously conscious of the need to hurry up and finish lest I fall further behind on everything else. Yet the lists inevitably grow faster than I can check things off them; the set of things I want to do is infinite. The anxiety can never be resolved by "catching up"; it can only be resolved by a change in perspective.

I think I live too much in the future, and need to get back to the present.

a disappointing Progress Report on my self-assigned Tasks

the mailbox at the summit of Mailbox Peak

I set some goals at the beginning of the year. Let's review my performance.

Overall, I'd give myself perhaps a C+.

a Guide to becoming Vegetarian when you are Literally Afraid of Vegetables

a cute duck, and my foot

About seven years ago, I read about the awful things the meat and dairy industries do to animals—so much more awful than merely killing them—and concluded I ought to stop buying the products of those industries. Unfortunately, my diet at the time was about as varied as an especially stubborn toddler's, and the only vegetables I could eat without crying were corn, potatoes, and pizza sauce. After a very traumatic attempt to eat a sandwich with a tomato slice in it, I gave up on satisfying my conscience and resigned myself to living in sin. But I did start slipping small quantities of green stuff into my meals in the hope that my subconscious might eventually stop associating plants with mortal danger.

This year one of my book clubs had me read again about the topic of animal welfare, and I realized the number of foods which don't paralyze me with fear has expanded enough over the years that I could probably survive without meat now. So, I've been vegetarian since mid-June. (There's no principled reason for me to stop at vegetarianism as opposed to veganism, but... baby steps, y'know?)

It hasn't been nearly as difficult as I might have imagined. It's inconvenient, since I have fewer options when dining out, but I don't find myself thinking "ugh, I sure miss the taste of meat" all that often.

Some of what's helped me get by:

a selection of irrelevant Numbers

a beach in St. Andrews State Park

I published about 90 posts on this website, totaling somewhere around 50,000 words. Most were reviews of books I read. Here are some of the most substantive of those reviews:

I weigh approximately 10 pounds less than I did at the beginning of the year and my waist circumference is down 1.5 inches. I would like this trend to continue.

I made 107 visits to my favorite coffee shop; 55 visits to my second-favorite coffee shop; 19 visits to my other second-favorite coffee shop (it's further away, but it sells an elderberry lemonade I'd buy by the gallon if I could); and 41 visits to my other other second-favorite coffee shop (this one elicited my highest spending-to-visit ratio—it offers exceptionally tasty waffles). I still don't like coffee.

I took about 175 rides on public transit in Seattle, of which about 50 were transfers. This cost a little less than $370. I just this year learned that you're supposed to tap your ORCA card when you get off the light rail, not just when you get on; I remembered to do this on 19 occasions, which saved me a grand total of $8.25.

I gave 1 pair of shorts to a stranger who stopped me as I was going in the door of my apartment to ask me whether I had any extra shorts.

a few Musings regarding the Coming Year

me in a canoe in Asheville; photo by my friend Andrew

My only firm goal for 2024 is to finish the last class for my master's degree, and get an A in it. The class is reputed to be very difficult and stressful, so this will be my main focus up through May.

I'm also committed to giving 14% of my gross wages to charity. That might end up being 14% of zero, though. I'll probably be searching for either a job or a PhD program in the second half of the year, but I want to make sure I don't rush into something I'm not enthusiastic about.

Since I identified checklist-induced anxiety as a significant problem in 2023, I'm not setting any other specific tasks for myself right now. But I am hoping to adjust my mindset to better facilitate states of flow, and to create more space for thought and creation as opposed to consumption. Some things I'm trying:

an important Expression of Gratitude

a very green photo from some trail near North Bend

I am incredibly lucky to have both a loving family and a wealth of supportive, smart, inspiring friends. To everyone here in Seattle who invited me into your life in one way or another; to everyone who made time to visit me, or made time for me when I visited you; to everyone who kept in touch from afar: Thank you! You're awesome!


my cat Pham being fluffy

Look at him. He's magnificent.