Wrapping 2023

Happy New Year. I’m glad you’re here.

Travel Updates

Here we are, the last day of 2023. Simone and I (and Cecil!) are currently in Augusta, Georgia, where we’ve been for most of December. In another week or so, we’ll be heading south and west, stopping in New Orleans, then Austin, then… not sure, maybe Santa Fe, with a detour into Oklahoma to say we’ve visited it. Still figuring it out. We’re picking up the pace a little — we’ve mostly been staying places for a month at a time, as it saves a significant amount of money (rentals on Airbnb and similar seem to drop by ~50% if you’re willing to commit to a month), and gives a bit more stability for work schedules, but we’ll be doing more like a week here and there. Looking forward to seeing more and traveling more, though I’ll admit I’m not looking forward to re-packing the car that much more often. 😅

We’ve been traveling for around four and a half months now, and it’s still good, mostly. When we end up holed up somewhere for work, and thus aren’t really out seeing things, part of me wonders what the point was – a rental in Vermont isn’t that different from a rental in Georgia or in Oregon, it’s what happens outside the rental that differs. We’ve been trying to get out and about more on the weekends to make up for this – we spent a lovely weekend in Savannah, for instance, and did a day trip out to Atlanta. I think some of this restlessness comes from a particular quirk of my wanderlust — I love the act of travel, of transit. The less worried I am about making good time and getting to the next destination, the happier I am.

The other part of the restlessness I think is that I’ve been coping with a bit of depression again. Not the can’t-get-out-of-bed kind (which is thankfully rare for me), but the slightly-anhedonic-and-vaguely-ill-at-ease kind that just leaves sort of a sour taste in your mouth and negs you no matter what you do. You know, like making you feel guilty when you try to enjoy a game or show because you should be doing something more with your time, but also taking a critic’s eye to anything you write or create (even journaling) when you are productive, and pointing out all the ways what you made is shit. Trying to keep an eye on that, and doing what I can to not slip further (and maybe climb back out of it).

Where I rant about GPS

On a different topic, turn-by-turn directions in various map apps (Google Maps, Apple Maps, etc) sucks. There’s been plenty of research showing it trashes your spatial awareness when you rely on it, that’s nothing new, but something I’ve noticed while on this trip is that the directions they give tend to be very… city-centric. This is noticeable in two ways: first, when traveling in more rural areas, your signal isn’t as good, and GPS isn’t going to be as accurate, and so a turn might be a hundred feet further up (or behind you). I don’t really blame them for that, it’s just the nature of the technology. The second, though, is their fault: they prioritize the street name over route numbers. This makes a certain amount of sense in cities, where the street name often is the more prominent name, but it makes no sense out in the country, where if a highway even has another name, you’d be hard pressed to know it, while the highway route number is prominently labeled. There were some roads in upstate New York that GPS told us to turn onto, where it gave a name that wasn’t noted anywhere on the road (I even got out and looked), while if they’d just said “turn right to stay on route X”, it would have been completely obvious what needed to happen. These weren’t one-off occurrences, either, where you could chalk it up to just some bad data for a particular road or intersection. This shit happens all the time.

(As an aside: I briefly worked as a digital mapping technician many years ago. The database had methods for noting alternate names for a given stretch of road, and specifying which name to treat as “primary.” So I know for a fact that this information is available to these map services, and them opting to prioritize one naming structure over another is a choice they are making.)

Reflecting on the year

It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my head around this year, if I’m being honest. There were a number of big changes, but it’s definitely felt like “the more things changes, the more they remain the same.” Like, I put everything in storage and have spent the last third of the year traveling around the country. That’s a big change! But on a day to day level, most of my time is still spent doing the same things as before – working, spending time with my partner, unwinding with some games or shows or movies, and maybe (if I’m feeling up for it) working on something. I’m just doing it in different places than before.

Work is the same: big changes on the surface that doesn’t actually translate to big changes day to day: I officially transitioned my role from technical writing to tools development (HR officially set me as a senior staff software engineer, while my semi-official title is “Documentation Tools Manager” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). Also, my company was acquired, taken private, and merged with another company (ForgeRock and Ping Identity merged). That’s a big change! But doesn’t really affect the day to day much. Different insurers, a few slightly different company policies. Different letterhead. We’ve got some large projects ahead of us (basically around getting our tools and writing processes aligned), and that’s some actual change in work. Still.

Those are two examples, but it’s sort of emblematic of my year. Big changes, low impact. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s not like everything needs to be revelatory or life-changing. But I’ve felt for a while like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for something to align in a way that shakes me out of my funk and gets me out of my own damn way, and 2023 wasn’t the year for that.

I dunno, that last paragraph makes it sound like I’m passively waiting for something, and not being an active participant in making things happen in my life, and that’s not true. I think you still have to put in the work, and you have to be receptive to it. It’s like the joke about the person who prays to win the lottery, day after day, until finally the clouds part and a voice from On High says “Meet me halfway, buy a ticket!”

I’m trying to think of a better way of explaining, so bear with me. I suppose one way to think about it is that I’m looking for revelation. There’s a bit in Grosse Pointe Blank:

Debi: You know what you need?
Marty: What?
Debi: Shakabuku.
Marty: You wanna tell me what that means?
Debi: It’s a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.
Marty: Oh, that’d be good. I think.

Grosse Pointe Blank

I think about that a lot. I’ve felt blocked creatively for literally decades at this point, with so much of it boiling down to not being able to get out of my own damn way, and I keep hoping that in all my flailing about and self-indulgent claptrap, something finally snaps, and I get that kick to the head (and kick in the pants). (And for what it’s worth, I know that so much of that is my own head, and the way through it is by doing the work anyway. To borrow a line from Nico: please don’t confront me with my failures; I had not forgotten them.)

I’m digressing. The point is that it’s been that sort of year: big changes, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

The coming year

2024 actually already has a fair bit of structure to it, believe it or not. We’ve got work projects lined up for the next little bit, we’ve got our next destinations at least roughly sketched out, and we already know we plan to land back in the northeast when our current sojourn wraps up (probably this summer). This is useful, I think, to have some idea of the shape of the year, bones we can put flesh on. So let me wrap this up with a few wishes for the new year:

I hope the coming year brings some semblance of peace. Inner peace, peace in our communities, peace in the world. I think we could all do with a bit more of that in our lives.

I hope the year brings successes, big and small, and the capacity to be present enough to appreciate them.

I hope the year brings frequent moments of joy, unabashed and without reservation.

Happy New Year. I’m glad you’re here.