Tales from my 2024 mini retirement

Hiring in tech has slowed to a grinding halt, and I'm currently looking for work. But rather than stress out about securing my next gig and spending every day overconcerned with what's going to happen next, I'm taking this time away from paid engineering work to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

The concept of the mini retirement isn't new. It was a term popularized by Tim Ferriss, and refers to taking a set amount of time away from paid employment to reset, retool, and enjoy life.

For my entire career, I've always had one project or another on my plate. This has meant that, whatever I was set to do for the day, part of it was occupied by the day-to-day responsibilities of the project. I've always been a diligent saver and in some ways have hoped the day would come where I didn't have any paid work for a period of time. In fact, I remember at one point hoping for a recession in the tech industry.

At the beginning of this period of idle time, I felt a sense of dread. My income sources have dried up and I'm burning through my savings. But nothing in life is guaranteed, and what is our savings for if not for supporting us?

This realization has given me the courage to stop trying so hard to secure new work right now. Would I rather spend these months (or years?) constantly worrying about the future, or calmly enjoying these precious days, which, I will never recover?

I struggle with generalized anxiety and the state of my finances are no exception. But I realize I'm in a better position than most to weather this storm. I have no children, no mortgage, no car payment, no student loans. I have lived in my van and could do it again if I had to. I am creative by nature and constantly strive to learn new things. These facts all give me confidence that I can kick back and enjoy this period of idleness knowing I've set myself up for success.

So far, I've occupied myself with several personal projects:

  • Gigbot is my Git-inspired remote tech job aggregator for the command line. I've been using it to quickly peruse the most recent remote tech job listings across multiple job boards.

  • I've been working on an HTML-based printable booklet zine engine, using my original art and writing as content. The zine is called EPHEMERA and I'll be publishing it here soon.

  • I started a new Discord server called AI Took Our Jobs, as a place for tech workers to help support one another during the current downturn. Email me if you'd like an invite!

  • Taoverse prints a random verse from the Tao te Ching on the command line. I run the command in my .zshrc to print a verse every time I open a new terminal window.

  • I've been working on a new ebook about bohemianism and how to use its tenets to live a more storied, meaningful, creative, and adventurous life.

  • I've been decluttering by photographing and posting my unused stuff on Craigslist for sale, as well as digitizing personal notes, greeting cards, and documents I want to save but don't want to have to carry around with me.

  • I've been casually learning more about machine learning using TensorFlow from free books and tutorial videos online.

All in all, this period has proven to be productive and exciting. I'm learning a ton and I recognize how lucky I am to have the resources to pursue my own projects during this time. What will happen next? None of us can be sure. And that's why it's important to take it easy, man.

What is bohemianism and why does it matter?

My transformation happened slowly and then all at once. It was 2018 and I was living in Portland, Oregon, in a fourth-story modern studio flat on a trendy street above bars, corner cafes, boutique pet stores, bakeries, and the like. I ironically called my apartment building the "Hipster Prison" because its front was adorned with metal grates that evidently helped filter incoming sunlight on its south-facing windows, thereby improving the building's efficiency. What they actually did though, was made the building's occupants feel like they were living in a trendy prison.

I adorned myself with the latest and greatest fashion, ate at trendy restuarants, and had a high-paying corporate job to pay for these privileges. My aesthetic mimicked the tenets of the minimalism trend that had become so prevalent in the 2010's—white walls, simple furnishings, open floor plan, and five to ten books about how to live your best life, all in such pristine shape that any sane person would wonder if I had ever opened them. I was on the path to self-actualization. I believed that if only I worked harder and bought more expensive, beautiful things, I would "make it".

But then, something curious happened. Out of nowhere, it was as if my mind rebooted. An engineering project of mine ended and I was left without work for a period of a couple months. Having worked so hard my entire adult life and having saved enough to subsist on for awhile without working, I dared to ask: What would it be like if I pressed the pause button for a bit? What if I didn't try to find work and got to know myself?

So I set out on my own. This time, I wasn't trying to start a new business, find a new gig, or actually accomplish anything at all. I was going to become a scholar in the art of doing nothing.

What I discovered was a whole world of writers, philosophers, filmmakers, and musicians who espoused the great gospel of doing fuckall. There was Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness, in which he brilliantly refutes the idea that work is virtuous in itself. The Big Lebowski is the Coen Brothers' take on a modern slacker whose life ethos has become a bona fide religion. And The Idler magazine is a bimonthly trove of musings on why laying about is preferable to toil, and what to do with all that time.

You could say I was hooked. I realized my upbringing had left me neurotic, overworked, and incapable of stopping to smell the proverbial roses. But if I wasn't going to take the time to smell roses, then why exactly was I working so hard?

I immediately began to make changes. I filled my apartment with oddities. Strange fabrics, kitschy art, and junk I found in dumpsters. I diffused patchouli oil and started shopping at thrift stores, finding their contents to have so much more character and soul than the wares they were peddling at the boutiques on the high street. I discovered new locales—parks, quirky cafes, dirty alleyways—which my mind's eye had suddenly invigorated with renewed meaning and beauty. I learned to play the ukulele—not because I wanted to start an exciting new musical career, but for the sake of itself.

For so long I had worshipped at the altar of the bourgeoisie. I believed whole-heartedly in the false salvation of material security and was ignoring my deeper, God-given propensity toward creativity, spirit, and contemplation. Our culture is organized around the idea that industry and productivity will save us. They surely have their place. We've got to eat. But our willingness to craft our entire identities around our job titles and cars and houses and watches and handbags and brands has diluted the rich broth of nutritive authenticity that simmers beneath our hardened façade.

Bohemia is a region in present-day Czechia, but the term bohemianism has come to mean a set of values and a lifestyle which rejects the bourgeois ideals of wealth accumulation, conspicuous consumption, and arbitrary social protocols that stifle our true natures. It values creativity over brute power, thrift over lavishness, contemplation over action, and appreciation over dominance.

Bohemianism can save the planet, our relationships, and ourselves. By realigning our values away from consumption, competition, and conformity toward creativity, collaboration, and eccentricity, we begin to live a more dignified life. We reclaim our personal power and become true to our will. We see that our accumulation of status symbols was a complex mask covering our own perceived inadequacies. And we can begin to heal the planet from our hubritic pillaging in the pursuit of false grandeur. To become whole is not to adorn ourselves with lavish accessories, but to fortify our spirits with deep appreciation for life as it is.

When we shift our values in this way, we see that most of our previous efforts were bound to be futile. The promotions, the vacations, the designer clothes, the extravagant meals out were never going to lead us anywhere but to a deeper sense of dissatisfaction because our satisfaction was always a conscious decision, irrespective of our circumstance. We see more clearly that the good life is one born out of our deep creative power and requires little more than a room, some healthy food, modest clothing, and good friends.

Present wisdom's view of the past

If you're a fallible human like me, you've made some mistakes in your past that you regret. Whether it's how you treated someone you love, how you handled a stressful situation, or the general way with which you once conducted yourself day-to-day, we all have things in our past we'd have done differently.

And if you're committed to your personal growth, you'll likely find that these feelings of regret seemingly come from nowhere, about things you thought you'd long since reconciled with yourself. This is because, if you're getting wiser, you're viewing your past mistakes through a new and improved lens. And this growth can be painful.

I can say with confidence that I'm a different person from who I was a year, two years, five years, ten years ago. Every year I learn more about myself and how to live more in accordance with my values. So it's no wonder that when I look back, there are things that I did and said in the past that my present self sees as foreign, and in some cases, revolting.

And if you're a creative, introspective person with a tendency to journal and make art like me, this becomes compounded by the fact you've created a living record of your past selves. Reading old journals and revisiting old creative works can be illuminating, but it can also reveal the words of a person who no longer occupies your body. And this can be disorienting.

In an act of memoriam, I recently purged a few of my old journals because I realized the person who wrote the words in them was dead. I found myself labeling this past version of myself: "self-absorbed", "delusional", "lost". The written words were so alien to me, reading them years later, having resolved many of the issues I'd dealt with back then.

Will I read this post and feel the same way about it in a few years? Only time and wisdom will tell.

The dream of the 90s is alive on the Internet

A few months ago, over coffee with an old friend, I came up with the idea for an online directory site that would link to the best of the Internet in the 1990's and 2000's, before the social media giants took over our online lives.

There was a certain uniqueness to the Internet before everything was filtered through the social media firehose. Websites had their own personal styles. Their visual aesthetic was often tacky, for sure, but there was a personality that shone through the sites of those years that rarely exists in today's hyper-homogenized online landscape.

Unfortunately, many of the gems of that bygone era no longer exist. Geocities shut its doors in 2009. Sites which rely on Macromedia Flash (Flash was never, and will never, be an Adobe product to me!) have been rendered mostly defunct due to lack of working plugins on modern browsers. But I was able to uncover some of my favorite sites from those heady years.

Teejay's List is a living portal to that time and place.

Teejay's List

My early 2023 collection of original art

A new collection of original art, Ink Into Winter, is now available for viewing.

In late 2022 I began to experiment more with color. Because I love creating in the comfort of my favorite cafes, I decided the portable nature of watercolors would be a natural fit. After noticing it was difficult to achieve bold contrast with watercolors, I ordered a set of India inks. Both afforded me the creative latitude to get lost in glorious color.


View the pieces here: Ink Into Winter

Integrated art and music collections

I'm happy to announce that the very arduous process of integrating my original art and music collections into the main site is complete.

For years, I've spent countless hours developing a custom platform to showcase my original art and music. As a proponent of owning our own data and not relying upon the tech beheamoths, it was important to me to keep all my art and music on a platform I control.

But the maintenance overhead of keeping a full-fledged Rails and React app afloat over the years has led me to seek simpler solutions. So, I'm proud to say you can finally browse all of my art and music directly from this site.

I'll be continuing to update those pages with historical lore, featured works, and more. Until then, here's my art and music, finally presented on my homepage the way the universe intended.

Farewell, Formbot

It's with a simultaneous heavy heart and elated relief that I break some news: I've officially shut down my HTML-forms-to-email-and-Slack service, Formbot.

I started Formbot way back in 2015, during a period of my life when I really wanted to create some sustainable startup businesses. I was living in Seattle, immersed in the tech scene, and the idea that I could make some supplemental income from a small web application was interesting to me.

Fast forward to 2023, however, and the service has proven more trouble than it's worth. I still had two paying customers (thank you both so much for your patronage!), but that barely covered my server expenses. Many of the forms powered by Formbot fell victim to constant spamming, and my email inbox was full of spam messages sent from my website's contact form.

There are clearly better solutions out there to accomplish what Formbot set out to do, and my heart and soul is just not in technology the way it once was. So, I decided to pull the plug on Formbot at the beginning of the year.

Here's to a great seven years of service!

Nesting and the sense of home

Recently I've been thinking a lot about "home".

For years, I clung to the minimalism fad as a way to become nimble and ready to jump at any opportunity. Abundant potential energy. Few possessions or ties to hold one down.

Then, when I experimented with its extreme and sold all my belongings to move into a campervan, I realized how damn lovely it is to have a proper home. So now I find myself where I am today, again occupying an apartment filled with all my things.

But this time, I've managed to retain a sense of appreciation and gratitude for it. My refuge. My sanctuary. The one place on Earth where I can peacefully practice my own anarchy.

The minimalist ideal still rears its head in my life now and again. This August, after months of relentless Florida heat, the idea of living in a van to escape was intoxicating. So I took a long, beautiful trip up north. But I found that, in spite of my new comfort of a hospitable climate, it couldn't compare to the profound sense of home I had built around me back in Florida.

As I've grown older, I've noticed the slow transition in my values from freedom toward security. It has not been without struggle: My initial brush with this truth was riddled with self-denial, hoping to retain my youthful ambition. But there's no denying my priorities have shifted. And most of them, for the better.

About time for an update

Greetings and salutations.

It's been awhile since I've posted anything here. The chief reason for that is the codebase for this site fell into disrepair because I let its dependencies go too far outdated, and the path to upgrades was arduous and long. But fear not, for I have prevailed!

A month ago, I returned from a six-week trip up the east coast, ending in Montreal. I chronicled that journey over on another blog called Travels With Vicent, but I decided that, in the spirit of keeping all of my blogging centralized on one platform, that I'd migrate those posts here.

Aside from that, not too terribly much is new of note. I've been focusing more on my mental health recently and read Louise Hay's How to Heal Your Life by my therapist's recommendation. The central message that lack of self-love is at the root of most of our mental issues is a hopeful one, but some of her perspectives are a bit too victim-blamey for my taste. Nonetheless, it was helpful if only because I am putting more attention on loving myself and feeling worthy.

Last night, I went through the very oldest posts in the archive on this site, and was delighted at being able to read my own writings from as far back as 2005. I managed to preserve many of the posts from that era by scraping snapshots of my old blog domains on Wayback Machine. There's something sacred about rediscovering writings from the past, and it's encouragement to continue writing now so that someday I might look back on these posts with the same fondness.

Until next time, toodles!

A Porchfest Porchcat Saturday

Band playing on porch

Pictured: I stumbled upon this band playing classic rock tunes as I made my way from the métro in NDG (details below).

Last night I went down to Boulevard Saint-Laurent to check out the street fair I noticed they were starting when my bus ride from Vieux-Montréal the other day took a meandering detour up Sherbrooke. I also wanted to go grab a beer at the Anglophone pub I discovered, Barfly, since I was starved for some socialization and figured it would be a good place to chat up some locals.

I had some great conversations about the politics of Quebec and Canada, the sheer complexities of which I was not aware. I didn't realize how contentious the Quebec political climate is, and how much the provincial government has alienated its anglophone constituents.

During our conversations, someone brought up the fact they were going to attend an event today called Porchfest NDG, a neighborhood music festival taking place all around the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood. I woke up and, after writing my morning pages, decided I'd make good use of a sunny afternoon and find my way there.

Luckily, NDG can be accessed via the Métro Orange Line, at the Vendôme station. This was the furthest I had ridden the Métro so far, and I was taken aback by how unique and beautiful some of the station interiors were. It got me to thinking that it would be a fun photography project to visit every métro stop, photograph each one and publish the photos on a website to showcase the art and architecture that livens up commuters' days here.

When I got off the train, I emerged a couple blocks off Sherbrooke, and tried my best to orient myself.

First, I discovered the band pictured above playing some mean classic rock covers. People had congregated in the street to watch them play, so many that cars had a difficult time getting around us. It was incredibly inspiring to see a full-on concert crowd in someone's front yard.

I remembered NDG was just beyond the A15 overpass, so I followed the road signs to the A15 and eventually found the park that was to host the festival's inaugural event.

I was too late for that, but instead stumbled upon a dadcore punk rock band playing outside an Anglophone used books and music shop:

Band playing at

They were excellent, but unfortunately I arrived at the end of their set and they only played a couple more songs.

I also noticed this nifty mural while walking on Sherbrooke:

Mural on Sherbrooke

On my way back, I remembered that Sherbrooke would eventually lead me back downtown, so I decided to walk along it as far as I could before I got tired, and then find the nearest métro station to wherever I was. This led me to Westmount Square and the Atwater métro:

Atwater Métro

I had to change trains at Berri-UQAM, since Atwater was on the Green Line. Eventually, my legs sore and my body sleepy, I found my way home.

After a few hours of lazing about in bed, I walked down to the phở restaurant around the corner to get some tasty soup. The guy running the place (I imagine he's the owner) is an all-around chill guy—super-friendly and hospitable. And being that it feels like 110 degrees outside in Florida most of the year, I haven't wanted noodle soup much down there, so it was nice to have a cozy bowl of noodles.

When I got back from dinner and a quick trip to the corner grocery store, a white-and-black cat approached me on the sidewalk outside the apartment. When I bent down to pet her, I expected her to be shy and to run away, but she seemed quite interested in me. So much so that she followed me up the stairs, where I sat for a moment and pet her. Then she leapt onto my lap, at which point I began wondering if she'd been abandoned, or at least, forgotten about.

But then, when I left her and went to unlock my apartment door, she zipped up the stairs and walked in the door ahead of me.

It was at this point that I was concerned. Was this just an extra-social neighborhood cat, or was she in some sort of distress? I located two phone numbers on her tag and called and texted both of them while I sat on the porch and comforted her.

It took a full hour for her owners to return my calls, but they laughed and said she's quite social... which I think is quite the understatement! Her name was Fleurette, and she was probably my favorite part of the day: