Rise of the digital flâneur

An apartment building in Northwest Portland

You've heard of the digital nomad: people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and conduct their life in a nomadic manner.

I've worked remotely for nearly as long as it's been feasible. Way back in 2007, only a year out of college and into my first job, I took the plunge into remote working and never looked back.

I remember being among the first wave of remote workers in Portland. It was becoming more common to see laptops in cafes, but it wasn't as normalized as it is now. I remmeber thinking that this style of work was going to change the landscape of cities and the way we think about work. It has.

I never gave it much thought, but for the tenure of my remote work career, I've appreciated and enjoyed the sense of adventure that comes from the freedom to work anywhere. There are days—workdays—I spend walking from cafe to cafe, exploring, taking photographs, joining friends for meals, cycling, shopping, and experiencing the beauty of the city. This is a beautiful privilege for which I am deeply grateful.

When my friend visited from Seattle over the weekend, she mentioned Portland was the perfect city for the budding flâneur. I couldn't think of a better word to describe the essence of this lifestyle.

dig·i·tal flâ·neur (n): A person who uses digital technology to earn a living in pursuit of experiencing beauty in the everyday.

The joy of an experiential life

Scorpio Summit

I've noticed, over the course of my adult life, a tendency to oscillate gracefully between flaneur and entrepreneur, bon vivant and businessman, bohemian and industrialist. There seem to be within me threads from each of these cloths, vying for my time and attention.

I've spent the past few months as an idle lounger, but am squarely ready to get back to work. I know though that, within a few months of returning to work, I'll be longing for the tranquility and freedom of moments spent in stillness.

This weekend, a college friend visited from Seattle. We spent the better part of the weekend indulging in our own subjective experience. We drank coffee and tea, ate local cuisine, consumed cannabis edibles, took long walks, and shared our current favorite music. It was the best of times.

Something strikes me whenever I feel deeply connected to another person and myself: It's never a result of industriousness, money, or power—although these do play a role in our privilege to spend our time this way. No: the greatest amusement park and entertainment device is between our ears.

Do thoughts create reality?

Ever since I watched the oh-so-vulnerable-to-skepticism movie The Secret back in 2007, I've been fascinated, in varying degree, by the central premise of the film that our thoughts create our reality. This idea is much older than The Secret. Napoleon Hill wrote about the causality of thoughts in his seminal self-help book Think and Grow Rich way back in 1937. And before Hill, Phineas Quimby wrote about the idea after having been diagnosed with tuberculosis and believing in the idea of mind over body in his miraculous recovery.

From a skeptical perspective, the idea that our thoughts influence or produce reality is untenable because it's not falsifiable. If I begin with the premise that our thoughts are creating the reality around us, there's no way for you to disprove it because I can always cite examples that will support my claim. And similarly, there's no way for me to prove it to be the case that thoughts are causal, since you can always come up with counterexample narratives.

But the scientific perspective, to me, isn't valuable when considering the causality of thoughts. That's because the idea of the law of attraction is much more like faith than science. We can debate whether or not God exists from a scientific perspective until the end of time, but whether or not God exists does not negate the value billions of people derive from believing. It is this faith mindset—the idea that there is a force beyond ourselves at work—that makes the idea of causal thoughts powerful.

If you, for instance, believe that you are doomed to forever be unattractive to the opposite sex, and carry that belief with you throughout your days, there's a good chance your behavior will match that perspective. You'll likely slouch and suggest lack of confidence with your body language. You might overeat or abuse alcohol in order to cope with your poor self-image. And you certainly won't be smiling at or approaching anyone. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean your thinking you're unattractive to the opposite sex has directly caused you to be unattractive, but it does imply that your thoughts translate into behaviors which then result in your belief coming true.

Conversely, if you choose to believe that you are abundantly attractive to the opposite sex and work to carry that belief with you, it's likely that your behavior will align to match. You'll stand up straighter, smile more, and be more willing to engage with others. All of this lands you a much better chance at success. Again, this isn't a direct causal relationship between thoughts and reality, but a causal link from your thoughts, into your behaviors, into reality.

Prayer and meditation are the practiced manifestation of these types of positive thoughts, and have been around for millenia. We sit in stillness and contact a higher power in order to manifest something different in our lives, whether that's as simple as a better mood or as profound as reversing terminal illness.

I'm a lifelong skeptic, but I often invoke prayer and the law of attraction in my own life because I recognize the value in maintaining focus on a goal. Whether there are peer reviewed papers on the efficacy of such a technique, to me, is missing the point.

My favorite teas

Awhile back I wrote about how I prepare coffee at home. Now, I love coffee, and it's hard to admit this, but I think it's been contributing to what has become a constant dull roar of anxiety in my life.

Last week, I decided to try something different. I boxed up all my coffee gear, and resolved to make coffee a special treat for when I'm out at cafes, and to make tea at home instead—especially first thing in the morning when usually I'd down a cup of Aeropress on an empty stomach.

So far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. I've noticed that I'm more present during my 7:30am workouts, and can drink green tea on an empty stomach without getting those horrid "coffee gurgles." I've also noticed that I crave carbohydrates much less often, which has a compounding positive effect on my mood since I'm not constantly spiking my blood sugar levels.

Because of my newfound appreciation for tea, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite varieties.

Japanese sencha

Sencha is the most popular tea in Japan, comprising about 80 percent of the tea produced there. It has a somewhat grassy taste and a cloudy, green-gold color. I love sencha for the fact I can drink seemingly unlimited quantities of it and not get jittery or anxious. That's because sencha, like all green teas, contains theanine, an amino acid analogue that counteracts some of the negative effects of caffeine. It also contains significantly less caffeine than a cup of coffee, meaning it can be consumed in much higher quantities than coffee. Additionally, green tea isn't acidic like coffee, having a pH between 7 and 10, with coffee having a pH of around 5.

Lapsang souchong

Literally translating to "coarse tea leaves from the Upright Mountains", lapsang souchong is a variety of black tea which is smoke-dried over pinewood fires, giving it a distinct smoky taste that I think is reminiscent of a fine scotch.

Because of the smoky flavor and higher caffeine content when compared to sencha, I've been drinking lapsang souchong in the mornings. Its smoky flavor is a delight for a reforming coffee drinker, since it gives the impression that you're still imbibing something, erm, rugged.

Cinnamon spice rooibos

And finally, for those glorious hours before bedtime, I love to relax with a cup of my favorite herbal blended tea variety. If you're in the Portland area, both Townshends Tea Company and Tea Chai Te have similar blends: Rooibos Cinnamon Spice and Rooibos Market Spice, respectively.

I love these teas because they taste like, well, Christmas. They're incredibly warming, naturally sweet, and you can drink as many cups as you have time for. I like to think it's a great non-alcoholic substitute for mulled wine in the autumn and winter months.

Autumn update

Autumn is upon us. It's time to pack away the sunwear and prepare for a more productive season. I'm always struck how ready I am to begin working again at the end of a hot summer. There's a certain energy abound in the autumn season that begets sitting in cafes, tap-tap-tapping away at your computer, doing the mental work that got cast aside in the throes of summer.

I've gone through several transformations in the past few months which have informed my perspective in autumn. Chief among these is becoming newly single, foisted into a period of my life where I once again am able to reunite with myself. At times, it's felt like an early midlife crisis. At others, it's felt like a rejuvination. Either way, it's been an incredible period of growth. If you're going through a breakup right now, just keep in mind that often the biggest strides are made when you're at your lowest.

Being single has taught me that no matter my relationship status, I still have to face myself. It's tempting to imagine that a partner can save us, but our problems persist in spite of them. In fact, sometimes being in love can inhibit our growth by distracting us from the difficult work that needs doing.

My career, for the past months, has been on a well-deserved and much needed hiatus. As I wrote back in March, I went on a self-imposed summer vacation in order to see what I could discover and learn during a period of no work. Surprisingly, it's at times been quite difficult to maintain my sanity without needing to be of service to others. The first few weeks were hell; my life had always been arranged around work. With nothing to fill the void, I tended to fill the time with bad habits. After a couple months though, I got into a routine filled with workouts, bike rides, novels, and drawing:

Street Art

That said, I think, as of today, I'm ready to go back to work. I feel like I've taken the time I need to decompress, redefine some things that needed time and space to redefine, and to explore and experiment with new lifestyles, ideas, cultures, and perspectives. It's funny how, in spite of resenting and renouncing the workaday world so much, I find myself returning to it for a sense of purpose and dignity. I'm not sure I'll ever feel at home in a nine-to-five traditional job, but I think it's imperative to feel needed and to have a purpose outside of myself.

If you or anyone you know needs top-notch Rails or React engineering help, head on over to read about my engineering services and send me a message.

Learning to be alone

Me, looking out the window

For years, I've actively battled my introversion. It has always seemed like I wanted to spend most of my time alone, but I denied this because I thought it would lead me to become antisocial. Extroversion is our culture's default mode, and sometimes it feels like I'm not supposed to want to loaf around doing nothing all by myself.

This past weekend I attended a music festival with my friends. It was three days and two nights of camping in close quarters and time engaging with groups. Within a few hours, I was exhausted. Several times I retreated into the tiny confines of my tent to read and think on my own. For most of the weekend I found myself sitting alone on the sidelines of the festival, not wanting to engage. I thought I was a loser, a recluse, a loner. It was a blow to my ego to think that I couldn't hang in this environment.

On my way home, I stopped at a cafe in Salem for some breakfast. There, I Googled "introversion" on my phone, and stumbled upon the /r/introvert subreddit. I suddenly felt at home! Here's a community of over 100,000 people who feel generally the same way I do about socializing. It's not antisocial to want to spend most of your time alone—it's introverted!

I usually shy away from actively pursuing labels to add to my identity, but "introvert" has become a label flag I'll proudly fly. For my entire adult life I've been trying to fight my tendencies to spend time alone, to have a deep internal life, and to avoid group situations like the plague.

I spent over a year in a relationship with a partner whose personality was so different from mine in this regard. In spite of our best efforts, we just couldn't make it work because I always wanted to spend more time "alone together" than she did. I really took that personally, thinking I was somehow deficient. Now I realize I really do need a partner who wants to make the relationship her #1 priority, like I do.

This week I've noticed a certain tranquility in moments spent alone in cafes reading or writing. Instead of feeling the typical guilt or shame I'd feel when I was alone and everyone else was gabbing away in the background, I realize now that I loathe small-talk and much prefer to have a few meaningful social interactions instead of constantly exhausting my social energy on mundane conversations.

If you're an introvert struggling like I was, I can assure you you're not alone! There are plenty of kind, intelligent, quiet introverts like us who can't wait to sit in cafes with you, headphones on, doing our own things, together.

I got rid of my home office

Today I got rid of my home office. I had a six-foot beheamoth of a desk in my living room with a giant monitor that pierced your soul.

I've spent the past several months quietly deliberating whether or not to pull the plug, and every time it came down to a sense of fear that I'd somehow be lost without it. That a laptop might not be enough. That I'd be a less serious engineer if I worked at the kitchen table.

Now a credenza stands where my desk once stood, its surface covered in plants, candles, a lamp, and a small speaker. Now when I have my morning coffee, I no longer look across the room overwhelmed at all the busyness I'll soon endure. Instead, I sit transfixed on the fractal nature of my spider plant, and realize why I'm here in the first place.

Anticulturalism

There's a lot of talk about multiculturalism these days. Well, I'd like to offer an alternative: Anticulturalism.

Multiculturalism is the idea that we ought to celebrate the cultures of the world and welcome them all into our communities. Anticulturalism is the idea that culture divides us from one another and binds us to arbitrary tradition, and that we'd be better off without it.

Where the culturalist will do as the group does, the anticulturalist will follow their own intuition. They will forge their own path, produce their own traditions, and create their own ideas.

To be an anticulturalist is to reject the idea that we should continue doing things a certain way because that's how we've always done them. It's celebrating diversity not at the level of the group, but at the level of the individual. It is taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions.

The anticulturalist doesn't waste their time reading the news or following politics because they realize the inadequacy of policy to rectify the world's ills. Instead, their crusade is one of liberating those around them from the cultural chains that bind them, so that they too can become empowered to define the course of their own lives.

Usually in the name of pride, the culturalist blindly follows the norms and traditions handed down to them, even if they do not serve their own interests. While the culturalist talks about fictitious entities like "freedom" and "justice" and "purity", the anticulturalist realizes such abstractions aren't real. To be an anticulturalist is to reject archaic narratives that use abstract language to justify the wielding of power over others.

Culture takes us out of the animal body and reduces us to a matrix of loyalty and compliance through language. By refusing to participate, we become free.

Terrible employee

I'm a terrible employee. You don't want to hire me to work in your office. I'll show up late. I'll leave early. I won't attend meetings. Sometimes I'll take two hours in the middle of the day to go sit in a park or ride my bike. It's not that I'm not doing my job—I'll probably excel at whatever project you give me. No, it's just that I'm a terrible employee.

I love to work. In fact, it's been hard, over the course of the past month of sabbatical, to not compulsively look for gigs. I love the challenge of a new project. I love to sink my teeth into new technologies. I love to know I'm useful to somebody.

But I can't do that at your office. It's nothing personal. You probably built a fantastic company culture. You play ping-pong and have free snacks and give your employees excellent benefits. But it's not for me.

Sometimes I like to spend long, luxurious mornings writing and sipping coffee. I love midday walks, making myself lunch, and the serenity of owning my own time.

I love the creativity that comes in those moments sitting alone in my apartment. Ironically, the most valuable thoughts and ideas tend to come when we're doing the dishes or taking a midday shower. If I work in an office, I wouldn't do either of those things.

"But Teejay, don't you need a salary? You could make $XXX,XXX/year plus excellent health benefits if you took a job in your field!" I could, and I have. I was miserable. I lived to work. I was addicted to my salary and bought things in a misguided attempt to distract from my misery. I drank. It wasn't for me. I'd rather make half a salary per year consulting part-time and loving it than spend 50 weeks per year glued to a desk.

When you're addicted to recurring income, you acclimate to certain luxuries. You buy new things each month. You eat out constantly. You take exotic vacations. You justify all of these things in the name of "deserving it" or "enjoying yourself" or "living a little". But in reality, none of these things have ever brought me contentment. They might bring you contentment—and that's great. But they're not for me.

So, if you're thinking of hiring me to work in your company, don't. I'm a terrible employee.

Divide and rule

I don't usually write about politics on this site because I like to keep things constructive and jovial, but I had an epiphany last night that I thought was worth sharing.

Ever since the 2016 election here in the US, I've felt an increasing political divide amongst my peers and in society at large. I've also found that the mainstream political left in this country has veered in a direction which I cannot myself support, and that I've sought different perspectives across the political landscape. I won't mention what the specific policy positions are that have led me to this shift, since they're irrelevant to what I'm about to suggest.

This growing political rift has led to violent confrontations in multiple cities, including my own. It has led my partner and I into arguing about our political differences instead of uniting around our shared values. It has engulfed the country in an all-out culture war, wherein we disown and disavow those tribes who disagree with us.

Our nation's bitter disagreements are about moral issues over which people will almost certainly always disagree. Things like abortion rights, gay marriage, religious freedom, globalization, and immigration.

As well, they're often about our immutable characteristics: race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

But what if our squabbles are actually the ruling class's means of control and manipulation? What if, in all our fighting amongst each other, we're not speaking truth to power but actually giving it more fuel?

Divide and rule is a strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy.

According to Wikipedia, the technique involves:

  • creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign
  • aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign
  • fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers
  • encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for political and military spending

Applied to US politics in 2019, we see:

  • news media promoting issues which seek divide the populace according to race, gender, and sexuality
  • major political parties embracing this strategy of division, since it serves the ruling class
  • growing tensions between racial groups and between the genders
  • diverting political spending and energy away from real challenges to power (i.e., limiting campaign contributions and lobbying, financial system reform, and universal social welfare systems) toward those that distract and divide (i.e., racial and gender inequality, immigration)

This isn't to say race and gender issues aren't important. They are. But they're also divisive and breed resentment. They incite the worst tribal qualities within us. And the irony is that the strategies currently employed will never unite us because they're designed specifically not to.

This strategy works from both sides. For instance, take gender. In popular media, women are told they're part of an oppressed group in America. Whether or not that's true is irrelevant to our discussion. What's relevant is that they believe it. In believing this, an agenda is set: rectify the gender gap. But men might not see things that way. They might say women have been granted, by power of the legislature, all the rights men have. They won the right to vote, the right to own property, and freedom of movement. Men now resent women for their suggestion they are oppressed. Women resent men because they feel oppressed. Neither realizes they're being had by the real oppressor: the thumb of a ruling class who has all the money.

You see these corrosive dichotomies everywhere in society. Feminists fighting the patriarchy versus men's rights activists. Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter. Leftism versus classical liberalism. Antifa versus the Proud Boys.

Resentment toward diversity quotas for putting aside the principles of meritocracy in the workplace in the interest of more racial equity. Anger at white men for the fact they hold most positions of power. Outrage at police brutality directed at young black men. Wanting to send all the immigrants back to where they came from because they're taking jobs. Resentment because you can't use the bathroom that suits your gender identity. Anger because there's a man in the woman's bathroom.

It is in the interest of those in power to keep us disagreeing with one another over issues that are inherently divisive so we don't focus on the burgeoning concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a few people.

George Carlin made light of this fact years ago:


They keep the lower and middle classes fighting each other. Now to balance the scale I’d like to talk about the things that bring us together.

Things that point out our similarities instead of our differences. Because that is all you ever hear about in this country is our differences. That’s all the media and the politicians are ever talking about, the things that separate us, things that make us different from one another. That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society.

They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the low and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich can run off with all the f*cking money. Fairly simple thing, happens to work. You know anything different, that is what they are going to talk about, race, religion, ethnic, and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything you can do – keep us fighting with each other so that they can keep going to the bank.

You know how describe the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keep all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle-class pays all of the taxes, does all the work. The poor are there just to scare the sh*t out of the middle-class.

Now, this isn't an appeal to conspiracy theory. I don't think there's some meeting behind closed doors where the ruling elites gather and discuss which incindiary news stories they'll publish in order to sow unrest. No, it's more sinister than that. It's all about incentives.

News media organizations, now more than ever, are incentivized to publish the most anger-inducing, crazy-making, Facebook-post-generating stories they can. They rely upon our clicking their articles so we'll see their advertisers' ads. Which headline would be more likely to get you to click: one about campaign finance reform or one about a racial or gender-based issue?

Okay, so if this is all true and we're being manipulated into fighting with one another over issues with no solutions, what do we do?

First, we must banish the sources of these corrosive ideas from our lives for good. The Washington Post, the New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC, and the like are owned by some of the most powerful people in the world. They don't care about us. The sooner we stop listening to them and heeding to their agenda, the better. We should start to see news media for what it is: propaganda.

Second, we must become more mindful when we're engaging in rhetoric about issues that will perpetually divide us. This doesn't mean we shouldn't speak truth to power about real oppression, but that we should frame issues in a way that does not alienate those who might otherwise be proud allies in our struggle. Engage more in discussion about issues that resonate with everyone, like poverty, healthcare, infrastructure, and the concentration of political power in the hands of the few.

Third, we must strive to engage with people whose viewpoints are different from ours. But, rather than engaging politically about our differences, we must seek to forge alliances apolitically. We must recognize when we're engaging in an unwinnable fight over abstract concepts and return our attention back to the real world. We'll never agree on whether one race is more oppressed than another, but almost everyone can agree that no one should live in abject poverty.

Fourth, we must continually ascend to take a bird's-eye view of our own behaviors and retrain ourselves to recognize when we're playing into the divide and rule game. One way I think we can accomplish this is by recognizing when we're feeling resentment toward other people who are different from us. Whether we're men feeling resentment toward women, gay toward straight, or black toward white, it's a good indication we need to take a step back and realize we're being distracted from the dark ruling class strategy of divide and rule.