Jason Becker
March 21, 2023

Hi Jason,

Yesterday morning, I found myself in the middle of a maddening juxtaposition.

After years of again off again genealogical research, I’ve made great headway into identifying my paternal Great Grandfather who was out of the picture before my Grandfather was even 2 and was never spoken of again. It’s a knowledge gap I know my Dad would love to see filled.

During breaks in this difficult quest, I’ve gathered intel and filled in other information on other branches of my family tree. I’m finding facts that lead to imagined stories of soldiers (Civil War (Union army, I find myself happy to report), WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam) and stories of great passages to new lands where my ancestors knew no one, not even the language, in pursuit of a better life.

Everyone’s family tree has such stories - individuals sacrificing and working hard to better their future, the future of their kids, the future of those who may come after. You and I represent thousands of people who did what they did and through time, their perseverance and dreams came together to make us possible.

And yet…

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their latest report in a long series of reports warning of the damage we are doing to the planet. More than that- the catastrophic harm we are doing to humanity itself. (Because, let’s face it - after humans have gone, Earth will be just fine again in time.)

I am not a student of history but I know there are plenty of times throughout the existence of humans where we both faced foes together toward success AND couldn’t get out of our own way, our own shortsightedness or selfishness which lead to our doom.

We stand on the brink- and have been for decades, if we’re honest- and not enough people who have the power to make these choices toward saving ourselves (or, really at this point just making the future a wee bit less awful) are doing enough to solve these problems.

And here’s the kicker- WE HAVE THE TOOLS. WE HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE. We know what needs doing. ACTION is the last piece left. This is what enrages me the most.

Just three generations separated from hard struggle, I have leisure time, technology beyond my ancestors wildest dreams, and the means to do more than just feed and house ourselves. And in three more generations beyond me (or less), due to simple lack of action and infuriating shortsightedness, my family’s story- all of humanity’s stories- could be lost to what will become once again the daily toil and basic struggle to survive, to exist, in uninhabitable conditions.

I carried this infuriating bucket of feelings around with me all day. Annoyed at the powerful for making choices along the way that harmed the future. Pissed at those in power now for being unable to agree, decide, and put plans to action. Heartbroken for the future my son, his peers, their children will face. And let’s be honest. We live in Virginia, not Africa or a tiny agricultural island nation - we’ll be “fine” for longer.

And then…

We watched Galaxy Quest after kiddo had gone to bed. And you’re right, it has absolutely no business being as good as it is. A beautiful parody clearly made with great love and pitch perfect in pretty much every way. It also seemed to be a salve to the dread that consumed most of my thoughts that day. Never give up. Never surrender.

Sure, I am only one person - sadly incapable of saving the world. But there are still things I can do - and I will do them. Because giving up is not an option. This is why I love movies - sometimes there’s a larger message that strikes you in just the right way.

Have a great week!


Hi Julie,

I don’t know how, but I just knew that you were going to pivot to climate change from your opening. Maybe I just share that same deep dread, that same feeling like I’m pounding up against a wall, that same complete lack of power against are true foe.

I have a lot of dread thinking about the world in 20 years. By Grabthar’s hammer, and a lot of international cooperation and willingness to pull our heads out of our asses…

I find it really hard to understand how unprecedented the threats are today. I have no problem understanding their potential severity, but I think about the threat of nuclear war, the World Wars, the global flu pandemic (heh), or a world without antibiotics, and I wonder if every generation faces a world shattering threat. Does it feel that way at the time? Is it that each generation is called upon to actively demonstrate the will to continue?

We live in a world that has been so focused on individual action and maybe, just maybe, small community action. We have created a culture that abhors cooperation. We have whole parts of this country that meltdown at the idea of a collective decision to do something to save ourselves, fed an absolute horseshit information diet. We just have to get out of our own way.

We recently had a major revelation in my family via 23andMe. I’m not sure how comfortable folks are with me sharing the details, but let’s just say we learned about a pretty earth-shattering feeling secret that was taken to the grave, surprising all of us– in a good way. We’ve been able to welcome some new people into the family and expand their understanding of where they came from. Unfortunately, most of my family’s history was lost during the Holocaust. We have some idea of the scope – at one point across my father’s and grandmother’s side we counted close to 100 known relatives that didn’t make it– so it was nice to add to our tree for once.

Last night I finished The Once and Future Witches by Alex E. Harrow . It’s about a world where women have had power, but are constantly having to fight to keep it. Power is constantly stripped away from them. Their ways are unappreciated, ignored, reviled, and stolen. It’s about colonialism and feminism. But there is a real journey of empowerment by the end, and in these unprecedented times, empowerment is something we all could use a little more.

Time to pack to head out of Denver for a conference. Looking forward to next week’s letter.


March 13, 2023

Hi Jason! Thank you for your reflection - it’s clear to me that you are someone far more in tune with themselves and I look forward to occupying similar space in the future. I was struck by your “what I know about myself” list. I wasn’t clear enough on them to explain it like that but I am on the same page with that list. #3 has me reflecting on what I’m holding on to (‘relics of people I used to be’ as I noted in my first letter) that do not need being held on to anymore. I hope to find a way to leave a little space in which to honor those people I used to be while not giving them hold on the person I am or may yet be.

But I want to jump in on books and movies! I LOVE movies. I used to go to the Alamo and catch a Tuesday Matinee and have lunch with myself several times a month. I even signed up for their Season Pass… in late February of 2020 so it got basically no use. It worked out though, as I do not have the bandwidth to keep up with the new movie schedule anyway. Now I get to set my own lineup - currently I’m sourcing for my April+ personal showings: Movies Alan Rickman Saw followed by Movies Alan Rickman Was Involved In. I recently read Alan Rickman’s autobiography/published journals and he made enough notes about plays/movies/etc he experienced that it was a rabbit hole I wanted to follow. Plus, apparently there were still a ton of his movies I’d not yet seen.

I get limited time for these things now - especially if the movie isn’t 2 year old friendly (I can quote you the entirety of Cars and Frozen, if you’re so inclined.) But while I traditionally hated splitting up the viewing of a movie (with an LOTR marathon excepted), it’s the only way to go these days and I’m cool if it means I get to watch the movies I want to.

While I’m not active in media critique (I have zero Letterboxd reviews going) I enjoy other people’s reviews. Specifically when something bugs me about a movie or edit and I want to see if anyone else kvetched about the same thing. While I start looking for one thing, inevitably, I find some new insight I can go deeper on, sometimes even making a re-watch necessary.

Having felt a huge void in the last decade or so where reading used to be, I’ve made a conscious choice to go to bed 30+ minutes earlier specifically devoted to reading time. I’ve devoured two fun-and-fast reads - #28 and #29 in a long running series about a female “bounty hunter” in NJ (where I am from) in the last week. I’m also in the middle of a book of essays, a parenting book, a book about boundaries and breaking generational trauma, and some fiction I haven’t figured out the plot for yet. I’d prefer to take it one book at a time but several library holds became available unexpectedly all at once and I went with it.

I’d love to hear what media you’re currently involved in or some that have stuck with you over the years.


Hi Julie,

First off, if you haven’t seen Galaxy Quest, you’re missing one of Alan Rickman’s best. Just skip right to it and enjoy something that should not be nearly as good as it is.

Reviews and criticism are things I’ve struggled with. Last year I started the year writing a Letterboxd review and blog post for every movie I watched. I don’t think I even made it a month before I realized that felt more like a chore than something I was enjoying, so I jettisoned it. I think the best thing with movies is find someone who wants to engage with them on the same level you do and talk. It’s how some of my best friends in college, well, became some of my best friends in college.

There are times I feel compelled to write. I never regret having put down my thoughts on The Batman– I find myself referencing it often online. It seems to be a movie everyone wants to say something about when they’re done watching it.

I try hard to read mostly fiction. I sometimes listen to nonfiction in audiobook format, but I find that very little nonfiction is actually suited for book length. I often joke that every single business book and self-help book is actually just a blog post stretched well past its welcome. I record all the books I read on my site, though I’m not in love with how my host grabs book images. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

Books are intimate. Any number of books I’ve read over the years have made a strong impression, but I find that recommending books is something I do cautiously and gently. They are a major investment, and honestly, it hurts in a different way when a book connects so strongly with me and falls flat for someone else. When someone doesn’t understand a book I love, it’s like they don’t understand me in some fundamental way. It’s unfair to expect someone else to not just empathize with me, but react and feel like I do to a story. It’s not really what I expect, but being confronted with someone who doesn’t have the same reaction has the effect of underscoring the otherness that exists between the self and everyone else.

I recently read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and was blown away. It’s a beautiful story about friendship, creativity, trauma, belonging, and growing. And a lot of what’s in this book is about what it means to know someone, what it means to share with someone, what it means to see someone, or sometimes, not.

A lot of what I’ve read the last couple of years were books that end a trilogy or long series I’ve invested in over time. I’m mostly a sci-fi and fantasy reader, so too much of what I read seems to never end.

Maybe that’s why I abandon television? So much of “peak TV” overstays its welcome for me. I like an ending, but I also don’t like a story that goes off rails to keep production costs low or a show that has an ending they have to write themselves out of to keep going. The best stories know what they have to say and say it. I think that’s why I like miniseries so much. It’s probably why I also tend to like adaptations. Slow Horses, Station Eleven, and The Last Of Us come to mind. All are well plotted, with a clear idea of where they’re going and how their characters are meant to change and evolve. And they all have clear endings. By contrast, Severance was incredible, but I have close to no faith that they will be able to continue to execute at a high level and satisfy on their own mysterious elements.

A toast to our past selves, for the ambitions they had and things they loved; we may no longer share these things with them, but we know what it felt like.


March 6, 2023

Meta note: I’ve decided to move away from block quotes as they become less legible for longer letters. Hopefully the salutations and <hr> are sufficient to make reading these easy.

Hi Jason!

I am incredibly excited to see what comes of our month of writing and also your project at large.

I had wanted to give you a quick bit of info about myself to start out this first letter but it turns out the “about me” isn’t just an intro - it’s the capital T Thing at this moment of life so I figured I’d run with it.

Always involved with something, always moving, I have spent my entire life proving my worth by doing. I defined myself by my work. I’ve had quite the array of jobs, too - auto insurance sales (while I worked on my masters degree), library technology projects, technology consultant, public speaker, web designer, adjunct professor, board member, etc… and then 9 years ago and basically out of nowhere, I started a cookie company for no particular reason beyond it felt fun and “next.” (And. It. Was. Awesome.)

But then this past December I closed that business. It was a hard but right choice in this phase of life. As for what was next up, I planned to pivot to things that matched my Q1 2023 motto: “Passive Income!” I’d just spent nearly a decade needing a human present to deliver on every single sale I’d ever made and I was looking forward to creating something once and letting it sell and deliver itself. Think online self-paced classes, downloadables, and maybe even some designed home merchandise (that someone else printed and shipped).

And then I sat down one rainy day and realized how exhausted I was. With the exception of a few one-off events, I’ve basically not stopped moving since high school. And now, a 40-something pandemic mom of a (wonderful and gorgeous) two year old, I am staring at an unknown future for the second half (?!) of my life. I think my not-yet-midlife existential moment stems from all that doing and not a lot of sitting with myself and just existing for a while. There are a few key conversations with friends that keep popping up for me illustrating the point that I could be wishy washy with who I was and what I wanted. The 1961 essay of the late Joan Didion entitled, “On Self Respect” comes to mind. Or maybe some people are just like that - not as laser focused on one or another thing for great lengths of time.

Some have called me a Renaissance soul but that’s never felt right to me. In my mind, Renaissance souls have worked for NGOs and have a kiln in their backyard. I’ve just gone where the wind blew me; flying by the seat of my pants, following whims and never really planning deliberately for the long-haul. (Thankfully, it’s generally worked out.)

Now, I feel like I am in a strange place and space in time meant to reclaim (uncover?) who I am. (And by extension be able to make more deliberate decisions as to what life could be going forward.) The first important piece of this huge puzzle was to reclaim space in our home.

We turned my home office into a nursery back in early 2020 and everything in that office went scattered around the house. But as of two weekends ago, I once again have a home for my stuff. Think unfinished art projects, a pile of things that need fixing, books that overflow the rest of the house bookshelves, and boxes and boxes of relics of people I used to be. The student, boss, geek, writer, daughter, creator, friend, etc. But this is also a place I can exist alone for a short while and that will be the most valuable in this time of unknowing.

Yet, I understand deep in my bones that the mental and physical space I currently inhabit and the time and space I can take up is the ultimate human luxury. And I don’t want to waste it.

So here I stand, probably on the downswing of life’s bell curve, asking really strange questions like “do I really not like shrimp or did i just have a bad day once and it became part of my being?”

How does one begin to know who they are? How does one get reacquainted with themselves after years of doing for and listening to others? If you woke up one day and realized you were waaaay off the path you’d envisioned - do you hop back on? How? Can a person deprogram their American capitalist mindset long enough to do things for fun (and not profit)?

Can you stop at any point and re-evaluate what you can do or be for your “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver)? Can people be vastly different humans in different stages in their lives or are there always common threads? What if someone finally calls you out on your shit? (Being a parent is a GREAT WAY to uncover all manner of things about yourself you were blind to -perhaps purposefully- before.)

At the risk of guiding where we go from here, I’d love to hear your thoughts, ponderances, or even stories if you’ve found yourself in similar fork-in-the-road moments in your life.

Here’s to adventure,


Ps - If you’re interested, I was in the process of creating a new online presence for myself but it seems I need to fix a thing or two before it’s back up. My cookie biz site exists in a new form and has some recipes and a free baking guide available.

Hi Julie,

I think a lot of us, at some point in the last couple of years, got hit with all of the tension of the pandemic rushing out and looked around and wondered, “Who am I? Where am I?” In some ways, I feel like I’ve been living in y “not-yet-midlife existential moment” pretty much from the start. Nothing has been to plan, and I’m a person who likes a plan. But the strain of making it through the heights of the pandemic, when uncertainty was pushed beyond any familiar bounds, took things past some cutesy follow-where-life-leads and be-open-to-the-universe. The utter lack of control and loss of all foresight pushed me toward craving intentionality.

Sometimes I think that intentionality gets a bad wrap. It seems to some it means that things are structured and instrumental, all telos. But intentionality can also come in the form of choosing to be loose, to feel, or to be lost. When I say I crave intentionality, I mean that if I am not doing something I love, I want it to be because I chose to let it go. I want to remove the illusion that I have passively constructed my life and take responsibility and agency for the choices I am making. Especially when choices are important, they deserve my foresight and attention. For a long time, I don’t think I respected my own choices.

That’s the struggle that led me to try and read more fiction. I was in my sophomore year of college. I was depressed and overwhelmed. I was taking far too heavy a course load and paralyzed into inaction by the seemingness endless, but routine grind. Something kicked in the back of my mind, and I realized that I hadn’t read fiction for fun in two years. I was never without a book practically from the time I knew how to read. Yet here I was, two years or so into college, and I"m no longer reading. I spent a week off from my classes devouring several books, and I felt significantly recovered. My grades probably suffered a little, but I neither remember them now, 15 years on, nor did it have any impact on my life. But reading for that week had a huge impact.

Just the same, this year I’ve not even finished two books. I normally read 35-40 books a year, so this is beyond unusual. I find myself not wanting to read. But what’s new for me now versus 5 years ago is I am guiltless in this. What’s new for me now versus 15 years ago is I am quite aware of what’s happening. I know that I do not feel like reading or that it feels that important to me right now. I accept that, and I’m choosing to allow other things to be important.

I don’t know how we begin to know who we are. I am asking myself that question all the time, and I never seem to respond with a satisfying, stable answer. Who I was is dead. Who I will be is unknown. And who I am now is, at best, when I work at it, someone I’m actively choosing to be.

Sitting with yourself in the unknown and finding some comfort there, in my mind, is a way to quiet the stories you already know about yourself. You have to let who you’ve been quiet down so you can freshly tune into the signals of who you are right now. There’s really two tricks to intentional change. Step one, you have to actually be able to listen to yourself and know the change that you want. Step two is you have to pretend to already be the person you want to be.

What’s the difference between pretending to be a good person and being a good person? Practice and then habit.

Here are some things I’ve figured out about myself:

  1. I love great TV and movies, and I love media criticism and participating in it. But I get almost no joy out of passive media consumption at all. Watching, listening, and reading always has to be some thing I am choosing to do rather than something I do to fill time and space.
  2. I love communal physical activity. A hike alone is sometimes just what I need– but that sometimes is maybe one in every twenty. The gym alone is ok, but in a small group environment is energizing. And recreational sports are the best shot of endorphins in the world– being with people, working hard toward a goal, in an environment that permits thought about little else but the now is something I love. In short, it’s boring, but there’s a reason I loved gym class.
  3. There are things that I used to love that don’t move me like they used to. I have to let go of the idea of being great at guitar, because I’m just not willing to put in the work the way I was in high school. I have to let go of the idea of writing fiction, because I’m just not willing to put in the work the way I never have. People, art, and activities can move and inspire me but not generate the drive or creative force to emulate them.
  4. The perfect day is not one that I plan the night before, but instead, one where I listen to myself each moment and adjust as needed.
  5. There is a lot of the time that I don’t like myself very much, and I need to listen to that voice. Not because self-loathing is good or anything, but if I’m not liking myself I need to understand why and put the work into being more like someone I do like. And sometimes, because if I try to find a why and can’t, I need to realize that I am choosing to feel a certain way for no reason and it’s making me feel bad and that’s trash I need to throw away.

Maybe you like always moving, or maybe that’s something you did because you liked the story it told to others. Maybe you need to figure out what that story is and make a choice about how you’re going to tell it. Or maybe you need to accept that you’re not being wishy-washy about what you want, but instead, that what you want is to be wishy-washy. It could just be that you enjoy the chaos of five half choices without having to commit. You can commit to not committing.

That’s where I’m at along a similar journey of some kind of self-reflection. I still don’t know if I professionally identify as a product manager, data analyst, manager, entrepreneur, policy wonk, or something else entirely. I keep wanting to write a new resume or some new story about who I am and what I’m doing here and the kinds of things people should want me on their panel or talk about or on their team working on, but I can’t seem to choose. I am a Jason-shaped Jason, and I seem allergic to coherent branding. I still don’t know who I am personally. But I’m trying to listen, and I’m trying to make choices.


March 3, 2023

Meta note: I really didn’t think through this post naming schema to support these split weeks. Big thank you to Jeremy for being my second participant in this project.

Dear Jason,

Yes, it’s definitely hard to do anything outside during winter. To be fair, though, winter here in the southern half of the state isn’t all that bad. Two or three big snows per winter, most days around forty degrees. (I recall winter being more severe in my childhood but those kinds of memories aren’t always reliable.) The thing that really keeps me inside is the lack of light. My job has the traditional 8-5 working hours so by the time I’m done with work, I’m tired and it’s dark and I have a hard time doing anything except sitting on the couch.

As for the garden, this will actually be the first year we will attempt to grow any significant amount of food. The past few years have been focused on native plants and plants that attract pollinators. Orange butterfly weed is, of course, the star of the show; it’s a favorite among people here who grow native pollinator plants. My favorite, though, is hairy woodmint (blephilia hirsuta). It’s not the prettiest plant—when it blooms the flowers are tiny. The flowers, though, grow in a pagoda-shaped cluster, the leaves are beautifully minty, and the bees just love them.

It’s not often that I talk to someone who knows what GASB is! It’s like finding someone who understands your secret language. There is a lot of crossover between IT and accounting now, isn’t there? Especially when you get either to a certain scale (and can’t use QuickBooks) or in a specialized field. I work at a university foundation so our organization hasn’t been able to use much off-the-shelf software. For example, we’re (yet again) building our own endowment management software because none of the readily available software does what we need—and we don’t want to manage a large endowment on spreadsheets!

In fact, this new accounting standard implementation (which is a separate issue from building a new endowment management system) is going to require us to acquire some lease management software for the future. So many systems to maintain. It feels like it never ends.

I’m glad you’re enjoying volleyball so much! I imagine it would be good for a person in a variety of ways. Like most people, the only time I ever see volleyball is during the Olympics. I can see how its systems could be described as elegant like dancing. Even to someone who knows very little about the game, the coordination is clearly visible.

And it’s impressive how much variety your city’s rec league has. I live in a small town and we have nothing remotely like that. Your leagues are clearly an advantage of urban density.



I think we may have different definitions of “all that bad”– I don’t want to spend much time outside in forty degrees. We do agree on lack of light. My time in Mexico City this winter was not marked mostly by far milder temperatures, but instead was notable because of the far later sunset moving southward.

I love natural gardens. I really hope we can move away from rows and rows of Kentucky bluegrass. I think it’s kind of incredible how some mix of capitalism, conformity, and culture has taught us that the natural and native is ugly meant to be tamed at best and eradicated at worst. The project you’re undertaking reminds me of this excellent recent win in Maryland for native lawns.

I’m surprised there’s no market for purpose-built endowment software. The market, by definition, has resources, and it’s the kind of problem software can be great at. You’re giving me business ideas. Working with financial accounting is quite complicated for software engineering though. The standards and practices and (somewhat) common data structures from a distance can lull the engineering mind to believing that you can simply follow basic standards and principles and arrive at a universal solution. In reality, accounting data has fractal complexity, with each organization being able to adopt and adapt from one common shape into something completely unique. Every person I work with has found a different way to reflect their unique organizational structure, needs, and practices. It’s almost shocking how much customization and flexibility is required, and anyone who digs in can easily see why ERPs are huge, slowly changing, and incredibly costly to change involving heavy customization and training.

I am a true ambivert– I treasure and require solitude. I am very comfortable alone; I also love being alone in public. I like to sit at a bar reading a book. I like sitting in a coffeeshop to get my work done. And I do get a lot of energy from interacting with the right kind of crowd and love taking a stage to talk about something I’m passionate about. I say all this to emphasize what is so great about having a recreational league structure in Baltimore and why cities are so important to me. The best part about returning to playing a sport is that while I’m playing, I can truly shut my brain off to everything else. It’s impossible to stress about work or family or anything– there’s just what’s happening in the now. I am fully engaged in the moment, and in some ways, largely in my own head. And yet, what’s great about recreational sports and teams is I’m also with people building relationships. I get social interactions and familiarity and camaraderie from working together toward a goal free from obligation and true stress. I think it’s incredibly healthy for anybody, but especially for my particular blend of social wants and needs. It’s a form of community, which I feel is harder and harder to locate these days.

I’m looking forward to seeing spring garden pictures this year.


February 25, 2023

Dear Jason,

It’s interesting how we can both have the same goal, i.e., the preservation of the natural world, and such different paths to get there. (A point, as you say, that we’d do well to remember with human relationships also!) It would seem that in our visions of the future, you would have a healthy planet with pockets of humanity minimizing their impact of the world around them while I would have humanity more diffused but integrated with their ecosystems. My preference is obvious but I can also see the sense in your vision. My real worry with your vision is that we would still not be living with the nonhuman world in a healthy relationship.

Turning to your new topic, the things I’m most looking forward to are getting back to our garden/backyard habitat and continuing woodworking. We have already started doing some work to expand the garden—by the time we’re done we’ll only have a few square feet of grass left. We’ll be growing a lot more vegetables this year and we’ll plant some Concord grapes. We’re also very excited about getting several bullfrog tadpoles to put into our tiny wildlife pond.

I’m glad things seem to be going well for you professionally. I’m also in the middle of a large project at work—in my case, the implementation of a big new accounting standard. Killing a party by discussing it is my new favorite hobby.

I’ve seen you talking about volleyball a few times on micro.blog. So is there a league in your town, or just some friends getting together? Did you play in school? It’s not the most prominent sport in America so I’m interested in how you got started. I’m not much of a sports person, though I do love watching professional cycling and the new season starts this weekend.


Happy Saturday, Jeremy.

Do you find it difficult to put time into your garden and outdoor life in the winter? I have, at times, aspired to spending more time outdoors doing that kind of casual, physical, tactile work. I think one thing that’s always made that hard is winter. Indiana is not exactly known for a mild winter. I can imagine that it’s tough to “lose” that important time and hobby for a period this year. There truly is nothing like homegrown food, though. What have you had the most success with? When we’ve done growing projects in the past, peppers and herbs have always gone well. Cucumbers have gone too well– I’m not sure I’d even want to grow them again with the amount they produce at the crazy size you can get with too many to eat at once. I guess that’s why the world gave us pickles. Grapes seem intimidating, though I love the idea of vines growing over trellis surrounding an outdoor table, just to overly romanticize things.

Given that I work in school finance, we get hit in various ways when new GASB rules come out all the time. Luckily I"m just far enough away from the pure accounting side that our software doesn’t have to be modified each time, but there’s a world in the future where that may happen. Nothing is worse than sitting at a conference for two hours learning about new rules for depreciation. I might be the only person who doesn’t run at the party while you get into the minutia.

Volleyball– yes, this is actually quite important to me these days. Growing up I played baseball and basketball a ton until high school. Deteriorating eyesight made baseball quite difficult (my left eye has very poor vision, a story for another day). And basketball, well… I’m 5'8". I was 5'6" by fifth grade. I haven’t grown since middle school. I learned to play at center and power forward heights and never could keep up as I became quite short. I’m still fairly short for volleyball, but it’s the other sport with high energy and jumping and all that. A few girls I was friends with played volleyball in high school during the fall season, and since I didn’t have a spring sport without baseball, I decided to try out for men’s volleyball, which was a spring sport. I was never any good, and I had a difficult relationship with a lot of the kids on my team. Sometimes we were very close, and sometimes I felt very much rejected by them. But I loved the game. I loved playing. I even love watching. Played well, volleyball is beautiful. Everyone should be moving in a coordinated fashion at the same time based on what’s happening. There’s a system, but rather than feeling rigid, it is elegant like dancing. Given that it’s not a very popular sport, it just went away for me after high school.

A year or so ago, as part of an effort both to introduce more fun into my life and continue my investment in my own health, I sought out volleyball again. We have an adult recreational league in my city for a variety of sports. Basically adults pay to play in casual sports leagues around the city (there’s soccer, football, basketball, softball, volleyball, dodgeball, pickleball– you name it) and they use those fees to pay for athletic summer camps and after school programming for kids. I don’t really know the details other than volleyball being quite popular– at least four nights a week, there’s at least 8 teams of 6-9 players playing in leagues of various levels, and typically another 12 or so folks playing “pick up” disconnected to the leagues. And that’s just with this one sports league– there are others, especially in the summer when there’s outdoor park and beach volleyball, that are just as full. Volleyball feels downright popular.

So now I get to play 2-3 nights a week. I started off joining bunch of teams as a free agent since I didn’t know anybody. Now I only sign up on teams with folks I know from playing volleyball or I play pickup. Pickup tends to be twice as long, no rotations, and has a fairly regular crew of decent folks so it’s a bit more reliable. I’ve been having a blast, even if my body has made clear that I can’t keep playing volleyball for too many more years. I’m glad I picked it up again while I can still do it.

I would try out watching a game of indoor volleyball. Maybe watch a video on how “coverage” works (that elegant dance I was mentioning) so that you can get a little insight into how it is that everyone seems to be right where the ball ends up going. It’s a ton of fun.


February 17, 2023

Dear Jason,

Your description of Tulum was very interesting. It’s the first I’ve heard of it. And, yes, I can see what you mean by it being a contradiction. I like the idea of lifting people out of poverty; at the same time, it sounds like the usual corporate greenwashing.

I can imagine this sort of thing being the future of what you might call “conscious travel.” Where Walt Disney built a theme park in a swamp and then later brought in people from around the world to set up a pale imitation of their cultures at Epcot, developers will appeal to modern sensibilities by trying to pay lip service to local cultures and environmental sustainability in order to draw in the “conscious travelers.” Yet, as you say, it’s the same unsustainable model.

I completely agree with you that the lifestyle we have come to expect will destroy the relationship we have with a place. And I also suspect that climate change is something like the planet’s immune response to our lifestyle. At the same time, I would say that the problem is the modern lifestyle, not humans themselves. After all, humans evolved alongside the rest of life on earth; this is our home every bit as much as it is for any other creature. The problem is the cluster of ideas and practices that have been developing in Europe and America for the last few hundred years. That is where you’ll find the true contradiction that is echoed in Tulum: economic prosperity that destroys the material basis of life.

And here I sit typing these words on an iPad. I also embody the contradiction! To quote the Apostle Paul, “O wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

But I do not think we should resign ourselves to continuing in the same way while attempting to mitigate the destruction our lifestyles have caused. I do not think human flourishing requires the destruction. Depending, of course, on what you mean by flourishing. Most pre-modern human societies lived in far less destructive ways than we do. Of course, their lives were much harder—which is why I don’t advocate for living in exactly the same way as our predecessors did. There has to be some way of third way of renouncing the poisonous cluster of ideas and practices that have landed us here while also not rolling back the clock according to some simplistic primitivism. Something new. Some way of living in relationship with the non-human world.

One of the core ideas we must renounce is control over the world. That idea has led to our present situation of world-altering power lying in the hands of a relatively few people. There is simply too much power up for grabs (and when I say “up for grabs” I mean among the elite—we will never gain that power) and those incredibly high stakes has led to the total obsession over politics. Every election season we are told by politicians that it is the most important of our lifetimes—and there is a sense in which that is true! That much power should not be available because it appears that we are not suited to it. It’s not a matter of finally getting the right person in control. Like Gandalf when offered the ring, we must recognize that, however much we hope we would use such power for good, that level of power must be renounced.

This is why I have increasingly moved toward a more anarchist politics. I have lost faith in the ability of humans (particularly a handful of wealthy humans!) to solve global problems on a global scale. And I will certainly grant you that in the present circumstances I do not really trust local people to make good decisions either. There are too many warped incentives. These warped incentives, however, are the result of our poisonous system. Free people from that, give them local knowledge, and maybe love and care can flourish, thus breaking the tyranny of small decisions.

I will admit that my politics are utopian. I also believe that utopian politics can be actually useful when the system we were told represented the end of history is crumbling around us and all “realistic” options seem to be more of the same.

As for strengthening relationships with the nonhuman world, I think hiking is an excellent way to start! It’s where I started. My one piece of hiking advice is to refuse to see it as exercise. Shut off trackers and timers. And whether you are hiking or simply taking a daily walk, find places that appeal to you, where you can stop and rest and listen and observe. Learn to identify trees and flowers. Getting the identification right is actually secondary; the real goal is careful attention to the plants.

Attention is key. In order to integrate nonhuman beings into our world, we must stop seeing them as set decorations in the human drama. Simone Weil called attention “the rarest and purest form of generosity.” The beginning of any reciprocal relationship with the nonhuman world begins with generous attention.



Hi Jeremy,

Well, I’m back at ~40,000 feet so it seemed like a great time to write this letter. Busy week again, this time hopping over to LA for a conference for a day and a half before heading back home to Baltimore.

There has to be some way of third way of renouncing the poisonous cluster of ideas and practices that have landed us here while also not rolling back the clock according to some simplistic primitivism. Something new. Some way of living in relationship with the non-human world.

I think where I am at in my own evolution is believing precisely in this third way. But in my mind, this third way is already here. It’s not primitive, but it is a return, certainly compared to how American cities were developed. I’d like to see us abandon the false pastoral sheen of the suburbs and sprawling human habitation and move into human-scaled urban cities. I think to return to nature we have to separate from it. Less land use that’s far more efficient. We need to create places for human flourishing and interaction. I think we’ve spent so much time separating from each other physically so that we can collide with nature all over. Instead, I think we need to collide with each other a lot more and nature a lot less.

Maybe this where my politics are utopian as well, but from a different direction.

I think what’s interesting about your descriptions of how to interact with nature and how it informs your “treehugger” identity is that each time I read it, I think about how it can and should apply to our human relationships as well. Take generous attention, a phase I love and will now forever cherish. How often do we practice generous attention with each other? These letters are, in some ways, about generous attention.

Let’s turn to a different topic. It’s still kind of the start of the year. And while I haven’t thought of a theme or anything yet, I have been thinking about what I’m looking forward to and what I’m hoping for.

At work, my team has been growing and we’re pursuing some work that I’ve been looking forward to for years that I think has the potential to make a step change in our business. It’s difficult and sometimes slow going, but it almost feels like a senior thesis in that it combines everything we’ve learned and worked towards for a decade.

At home, I’m looking forward to continuing to regularly play volleyball, which I started to do again about a year ago now after a 17 year hiatus. I’m also hoping to finish off some last home projects, including a deep clean out of my office and our pantry. And of course, I’m looking forward to this project, Letters, which has now filled up for the year.

Until next week (which is already almost upon us), Jason

February 9, 2023

Dear Jason,

It was interesting to read about your history online and a little more about the motivations for this project. I sincerely hope this project leads you to the interactions you are looking for. With that, let’s move in the direction you’re wanting to go. You’ve asked some excellent questions!

So, treehugger. First we must digress into the terminological. “Tree hugger” is, of course, a word used for environmentalists, but I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist per se. I think of myself as something like an animist. An animist is, in the well-received words of Graham Harvey, someone who recognizes “that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship to others.”

Environmentalism, to me, feels more purely political. Another variety of activist. And I love activists! I have been one at points in my life. But when I think about what forms my actions from day to day, the belief crystallized in Harvey’s definition is far deeper and central than any particular political identity. To live in an ongoing relationship with the Cosmos around and within me is my goal, however imperfectly realized.

Notice that this situates me in a web of relationships. This brings up another uneasiness I have with the term “environmentalist” (and I picked this up from an animist writer named Gordon White). The “environment” is something which surrounds you and from which—crucially—you are separated. It is out there. And the thing out there must be preserved. But for the animist, there is no out there as opposed to in here. Everything is connected in a living relationship and any damage done to one is done to all and to one’s self. To be clear, I’m not saying that environmentalists would disagree with this; I’m only pointing out a weakness in the term.

At this point I think it would be useful to answer your question about how I arrived here, because the answer will lead me to your other questions. The short answer is Wendell Berry twenty years ago and Richard Power’s The Overstory three years ago.

If you’re not familiar with him, Wendell Berry is a farmer and writer from Kentucky. He has been immensely influential over the last half-century—his writing is a thread woven throughout the ecological movement, farm to table cuisine, technological criticism, regenerative agriculture and more. When I encountered his writing, I was a young libertarian who believed that capitalism was a liberating force that may cause pain in the short term but would, in the end, be an engine of human flourishing. Berry dissolved that illusion and replaced it with something much more humane. One of his key ideas is “local knowledge”, but more on that in a moment.

Berry has been a figure that has been central to my life at times and at other times he has moved to the periphery. By the time I picked up The Overstory, Berry was on the periphery for me. By the time I finished reading The Overstory, he started moving back to the center. I’ve said before—and I don’t know how much I mean this literally and how much metaphorically—that the trees called to me through Richard Powers’ novel. I got back out into the woods and started paying attention to that web of relationships again. The web of relationships, moreover, in the woods near my house and, eventually, my own backyard.

And here we arrive back at local knowledge. In Berry’s way of thinking (and also according to indigenous people, though I’m far less familiar with them), we must act in accordance with local conditions. One of the main reasons we are in the mess we are in is that we have imposed our wills on the land upon which we live, rather than learning from it how we ought to live. And, crucially, the land asks different things from its humans in different places.

So my response to your point about urban versus suburban and the various fractures in the environmental movement is, therefore, that the land of Manhattan Island asks different things of its people than that of Lawrence County, Indiana. I cannot say what ought to be done in other places. The responsibility for those places falls on those places’ biotic communities. This is, importantly, not a dodge but a fact of life.

So how do we all become treehuggers? Again, Wendell Berry tells us: we do not set out to save the world—that is a task beyond the scale of our competence. We learn from our land and work within our web of relationships. When we do that, we become part of a community based on mutual love.



Hello there Jeremy,

At first, I was delayed in responding because I wanted to try and spend a little time with the thinkers you’ve introduced me to in this letter. Then I was delayed because the week just got away from me, so I didn’t have time for that. This was our last week in Mexico after a two and a half month sojourn there, and in fact, I’m writing this response from somewhere over Georgia on my way home.

For the last week, I’ve been in Tulum. It’s a contradiction. It’s very white, and very wealthy when you’re an American tourists. But it’s also very much not white, and has incredible poverty and inequality if you go slightly off the beaten path. Those who are looking to sell foreigners on their new playground will insist on certain ideas– this is a place that is still very much a part of the jungle. We have large ecological zones and restricted areas for building. Our architecture and many decisions, down to the winding roads and the decor, are about listening to this lands that we’ve been stewards of for so long. You can almost see, if you squint real hard, a kind of idea of respect for the indigenous people and culture of the Yucatan.

At the same time, you’ll see the concrete that creates so much carbon. You’ll notice the stacks of diesel generators along the eco-friendly beach hotels and restaurants. You’ll notice the incredibly car-oriented infrastructure that makes no sense.

Don’t get me wrong, I like spending a short time in Tulum. I appreciate how much it caters toward the upper and upper middle class foreigner and brings me comforts with just the right tinge of exoticism. In many ways, the architecture and landscape avoid the Shoppy Shop and Blands of the single global culture. There’s honestly still something distinct about Tulum, which is more than I can say for most places I’ve visited. In reality, Tulum, like much of the “Riviera Maya” is an economic project catering to foreigners to lift people out of poverty. It’s a playground in a jungle that has been occupied for a long time. It is a place that is very much alive, quite unique, filled with traditional foods and languages that is developing in ways that very much are not listening to the land.

I admit though, while I find this kind of animism appealing, my consequentialist insides bristle a little. What do I think all the land is telling us? Go away. Our world, the population and life styles we expect, are not consistent with any place. There’s an element of the push for density, urbanism, and my environmentalist politics which is all about a simple fact: human lives of health, flourishing, and dignity are inherently destructive, and the best harmony we can achieve requires collective action to minimize that destruction. I’m not quite ready to leave Lawrence County to Lawrence County. Not because I don’t believe in local knowledge (hell it’s the one Hayekian idea that as a former bureaucrat I cannot escape thinking about), but because I believe in global challenges. We’re often at risk of the tyranny of small decisions – a series of seemingly correct small decisions made locally add up to a horrible end result. Each person may be rationale for making the decision to drive a large crossover or SUV, but the total impact on emissions and pedestrian safety is massively negative.

I think there’s a lot of wisdom and personal peace to be found in considering your local surrounds and truly listening. And I think that offering genuine respect to the life and geography around us is critical. My partner, Elsa, finds it hilarious how even when visiting major cities like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Mexico City, the pictures I take the most are of trees that I like.

But I’m worried. I worry a lot about the small decisions. I worry a lot about failing to understand how independence of individuals and decentralization fails to consider the cumulative effects. I worry about big problems created across generations and borders creeping up on us without having good responses.

I never feel more at peace than when I recognize the environment is not “out there”, but it’s also so disturbing when I assess the health of “in here”.

What do you do to strengthen your web of relationships to the persons of the world, human and otherwise? This project is a way I’m trying to strengthen my relationship to the human persons out there today, and maybe long into the future. While I do take daily walks, often through local parks, and sometimes go on hikes on weekends, I’m not sure I’ve been doing much to cultivate my relationships to the non-human persons around me. I think I can and should add more of that to my plans for 2023.

From 38,000 feet,


January 31, 2023

This month I’ll be exchanging letters with Jeremy.

Dear Jason,

I was immediately interested when I saw your post about a letters project for 2023 and grateful that you accepted me when I volunteered. I also have some thoughts on your motivation for this project, which I will share after I briefly tell you a bit about myself.

Rachel and I are two months shy of being married for 25 years and we have a daughter who just turned 17. I’m a CPA working at a large nonprofit. I’m an unapologetic tree hugger who has started (with Rachel) a regenerative gardening project in my tiny backyard. I’ve blogged off and on since 2005 and I’ve recently started woodworking.

I resonated with your idea that public, online letters are an excellent way to discuss complex topics with more nuance. You said your favorite online world was that of personal blogs in conversation with each other. As I mentioned, I’ve been blogging since 2005 and that was definitely how it worked for me in those early days. In the circle of blogs I was part of, we were always either quoting-and-commenting on whatever we were reading or quoting-and-commenting on what others in our circle were saying. (So many blockquotes.) It truly was a form of public correspondence.

Correspondence should a series of responses (it’s right there in the word), not just two people sending each other a series of monologues. There is give and take to true correspondence—and a measure of risk. You opened up this project to volunteers with no assurance that you wouldn’t get a bunch of bores! I signed up for this project not really knowing you, hoping I wouldn’t come off as some weirdo.

Algorithmically driven reactions to “content” determined to be either popular or profitable are also not true correspondence. Algorithms, being engineered, do not open themselves to response in that more organic, human way. Slower correspondence invites more time to think and seems less prone to the argumentative style seen on social media.

And with that I’ll close this first letter and await your unpredictable human response!

Hi Jeremy,

Welcome to the project!

Let’s talk about the real world motivation behind this project. It’s not really just about capturing the old internet, it’s about capturing the kind of social life I want to have. I work remotely from home. I’ve done so for more than a decade, though there’s been a formal office for me to report to as desired on and off throughout that period. Before that, I was “online” more or less since the mid 90s. I still spent a lot of time on the phone, mostly talking to girls, in the early 2000s, but I was more or less permanently logged into AOL Instant Messenger since the availability of always-on cable internet around 2000/2001. Throughout college, I spent time on various online forums, on instant messenger, or communicating via email. Then, just as I graduated, the iPhone suddenly made being online something that wasn’t persistent just at home, but everywhere I went. Messaging became something I did on the computer to something I was doing constantly.

I am 35 now, and I would say that 80% of my social life has been through a screen, but in some kind of reverse Pareto principle, only 20% of the value has come from these virtual interactions.

The thing is, I think that socializing through screens has become worse over time, not better. When it was both less central, slower, and lower fidelity, I feel like I got so much more out of my online interactions.

When I thought about why it came down to a few factors.

  1. Most online socializing was additive, not subtractive. I spoke to people I would have never met or interacted with on topics I may not have otherwise engaged in. What was online started as new, but now has become a substitute for other ways I might interact with folks.
  2. Most online socializing was deeper than my in-person interactions. As a male teenager, it felt safer being vulnerable or exposed when conversations were mediated through a screen, often behind pseudonymity with other pseudonymous strangers. My identity could be more fluid, but also I could take risks about myself without feeling the same consequences. And in some ways, it was also critical that I could interact as a peer with adults.
  3. Most online conversations were centered around interests, with long ongoing conversations that fueled a culture and debates. Subcultures not only generate belonging, they generate a certain set of knowledge that felt valuable and powerful and helped to shape how I think about important things.

With Letters, I am mostly hoping for an opportunity for ongoing interactions, with a person and possibly around a topic, that develops a mini-culture over time. I want to capture the value of my real world friendships and interactions– vulnerability that comes not just from pseudonyms or the comfort of hiding behind a screen but from deeper understanding, a conversation that spans hours and not seconds, and a true dialog that has no lead, but instead partners pulling and pushing and forming where we go.

So in the interest of driving the conversation away from the meta and into some meat, let’s talk about your identity as a treehugger.

My mother long styled herself an environmentalist. This comes from a real belief in how a toxic environment can impact individual and public health, as well as a love of nature. I grew up in a family that valued planting trees and hated the idea of corporations polluting without consequences or remediation.

And yet, as I grew older, I began to recognize the many ways that my mother’s environmentalism felt inconsistent with what might actually help the environment. She is an avowed suburbanite, living somewhere that requires the use of a car for everyday living. She fought against additional, denser housing in favor of open space as a part of her environmentalism. She disdained apartment buildings in favor of single-family housing and perceives city living as polluted and disgusting, not at all updating her perceptions of New York City in the early 70s compared to today.

I’ve come to feel deeply disconnected from the traditional environmental movement that fights for local control on zoning and building, extensive environmental review processes, and preservation of open space in already developed areas. My environmentalism is strongly pro-urban, pro-public transit, pro-density, and pro-building (especially renewable energy projects with almost no limits). Whether we call that collection of policy preferences YIMBY or neoliberal or what, it’s generally not associated with the treehugger label.

Which comes to my questions and curiosities. What drew you to environmentalism? How have your beliefs changed (or not!) over time? And how do you feel about the current schism that seems to have developed between, say, the Sierra Club v. the Sunrise Movement v. YIMBYism? These days the importance of environmentalism feels incredibly salient (though I’m sure the horrific air and water pollution of the mid-20th century didn’t make things feel any less urgent then!), but the movement of people who are concerned with the environment and the natural world feels more fractured than ever.

How do we all become treehuggers?

January 28, 2023

Hi Jason,

Another later-in-the-week reply for our last week of this project. To what you said about taking stock, I think a break or a big life change is an excellent time to think about these things. We found ourselves doing that when we moved into this house and once again when we knew we were having a child.

Onto which, the final preparations are now taking place: washing the clothes, organising the nursery, and prepping the hospital bag (a long with many pregnancy and post-pregnancy products I’d never realised even existed). I’ve gone past the worrying stage now for the most part and I’m focusing on things I can control.

Mexico sounds wonderful and I hope you’ve been able to relax and enjoy it - spending an extended time away from home in somewhere so different sounds lovely.

Now to get a little bit meta about this project of yours. Having done this for four weeks now I’m struck by how difficult I’ve found being committed to writing something every week - it’s certainly a good job I suggested early in the year pre-baby else I’m not sure it would have gone quite as well. Despite having ideas here and there for little projects or blog posts something about the somewhat stricter schedule I’ve struggled to do it “on time” (despite the loose rules).

I have, however, really enjoyed being part of this project and I’m looking forward to reading in the coming months.

Speak soon,

Hi Robb,

It’s funny, because here at the beginning of this project, while taking stock, I’ve had two contrary reactions. First, it does take a surprising amount of discipline to sit down and write to someone. It’s certainly harder than just shooting off whatever is at the top of my mind. Second, it feels so feeble to just write a letter once a week while I see all the progression you’ve been making on several side projects, while preparing for the baby, during this same month.

You’ve been automating your now page, released a widely celebrated set of icons, built a CLI for omg.lol, and a host of other small projects. Based on chaosweb.space, I think you’d like mavica’s work.

It’s generating that itch in me again to figure out how to leave some energy at the end of the day to do the things I love on the computer after doing those things at work all day on the computer. Part of my taking stock is realizing that I have to find a way to push over that activation energy hump so that I can just work on small tools for myself all the time.

I’m glad this first month felt like just writing letters to a friend about what’s happening— it feels like an easy introduction. Maybe they’ll all go this way, but maybe some folks will want to really dig into a specific topic. I’m glad that I am not responsible for writing the first letter, because I think that makes it more likely that each month will be a bit different based on who is participating.

Thanks for helping me kick off this project.


January 19, 2023

Hi Jason,
A late reply this week - I completely forgot about this until very late last night.

Your TV setup looks very similar to ours but we’re lucky enough to have two wall lights behind it so the wall looks much less bare but you’re right it’s hard to put anything to garish there otherwise it’s distracting.

With 10 weeks to go, I’ve been thinking a lot about technology and how that will affect my duaghter. This post in particular made me think about how much I’m going to share about her online once she’s here. I don’t think there’s any right answer but it has occupied my mind the past few days. Come to think of it, the impending birth is basically the only thing I can think about at the moment. I’m sure that we’ll be fine but I can’t help but worry that we won’t have enough clothes or nappies, or something I haven’t even thought of will go wrong.
As for non-baby things, I’ve been having fun messing around with the omg.lol API building a CLI to interact with the service and I’m working on add a /now page to my website (as well as the new omg.lol now pages). How has your week been this week?

Speak soon,

Hi Robb,

Easily excusing the “late” reply1, with a later reply of my own. This week has been incredibly busy at work as the post-holiday break, post-three day weekend, we’re really back at it and in it, started to kick in. It’s been long but rewarding– one of those weeks where you’re exhausted, but I’m doing the kind of work I do well bringing the energy and attention I need to.

In particular, I’ve recently reorganized our team so that I have slightly smaller set of direct reports that are more “coherent” structurally– I am managing directly one person who leads each function below me. It’s too early to say if this is working better for the whole team, but this week made me feel confident that it works better for me, which is really important for avoiding burn out.

On the TV side, wall lights were another thing we considered– a sconce on each side just to give it something. It just feels strange to have so much blank space above the TV as well. I need someone to, I don’t know, share a Pinterest board or something with me so I can figure out what people actually do. The entire dilemma of what to do behind the TV reinforces a personal frustration of mine. It feels wrong that our “living room” is oriented toward a television. I would like for things to be different, but I don’t think my partner or her mother would be sufficiently on board to make that change. It’s more aspirational, really, to make sure that all television time is appointment time and not casual watching.

I cannot imagine the stack of worry that comes with being just weeks away from being a dad. It’s good to work with fun new tools right now while you can– a good distraction before side projects get put aside for a while. My gut is that it’s not worth worrying too much about online presence. I’m not a parent, and I’m not facing that decision, but my gut is that it’s easy to overthink the consequences (or lack thereof). Short of straight up exploitation, which is rare, these things seem to work out ok for parents and kids regardless of the choices they make. That’s not to say the choices don’t matter, but it seems like there aren’t wrong choices.

I’m a big fan of /now pages (I really need to update mine). I really value the narrative of a Now page. For me, it’s a time I get to think about what matters that gets lost in the series of smaller posts or dripped out updates. I have resisted adding any “automated” elements– it’d be easy to add the book I’m currently reading, for example, or maybe something like starred articles from my RSS reader. Something to think about.

We’re coming to the end of our time in Mexico. I’m thinking a lot about what makes home, well, home, and what I’ve learned about where I want to live and what I want my life to be like from 2+ months away. It’s a different kind of taking stock than becoming a parent, but I find myself taking stock nonetheless.

Looking forward to next week,


  1. Rules are once per week, doesn’t have to be right at the start. ↩︎

January 10, 2023

Last week’s letter

Good Morning Jason,

what room or project are you most proud of?

The office was my top priority (my partner had different ideas) as I spend 3-4 days a week working in there and I’m very proud of how that turned out. I built the desktop and matching shelves myself from scaffold boards because finding something in the exact size I wanted turned out to be fairly difficult. This was a project that took a few weekends of lots of sanding, glueing, and staining but the final results is something I’m very proud of. Here’s an in-progress shot and the final result in situ. I also did the faux wood-panelling in our bedroom which we’re both very pleased with.

The work I do is primarily focused on property reports for tenants (inventories, fire risk assessments, etc) so there isn’t much crossover with renovating the house but I what I did learn is that planning is key. We wish we had spent a few weeks planning what we wanted to achieve before jumping into the renovation. There were definitely things that made our life a bit more difficult because we did some work when we should have waited for another job to be finished first.

That sounds like an interesting job but it must be difficult to work with organisations like schools that can be slow and unwieldy to get new tech implemented. How long have you been doing that?

I saw you posted yesterday about being ill, hope you’re feeling a bit better today?

Speak soon,

Hi Robb,

Luckily, I am feeling better. Note to self, when you order a steak medium and it comes out just barely rare just send the damn thing back. The day of suffering that followed was not worth it.

I’ve done some more work in my office since this last photo, but this is a not-terribly-inaccurate representation of where things are. I also use the IKEA pegboard. I did not quite get as fancy on the desk itself– which is an IKEA Karlby 98" top that I had a friend cut to 80" and then added some really cool metal legs from an Etsy shop. When the pandemic hit we went 100% remote, which meant tha this room got transformed into an office. I probably have 6-10 scattered blog posts about the process that landed on the setup linked above– most of the changes by now are additional plants and things hung on the wall (plus some equipment changes).

I think it’s pretty natural for the office to be the place you’re most proud of– it’s one you get to call your own and the spot you’re probably stuck spending the most time in.

We’ve been thinking about doing a similar paneling look either behind our bed or possibly behind our TV. Maybe that’ll be a project for when we return home. It’s hard to have a big wall behind a TV– it looks bare without anything, but most things we could put there would be distracting.

A living room with a TV on a walnut stand with gray doors and two black floor standing speakers.

I’ve been working at my current company nearly 9 years. Before that, I worked at a university research center working with school districts on early warning systems, and before that, I worked for the state department of education. I think what’s most challenging is that everyone is well-established. There aren’t new school districts popping up building their systems and processes from scratch. The people, organizations, culture, and work processes are all fairly fixed. So we have to do things much more completely and better than most companies to even get in the door. Then we have to get a large set of folks on board so that we can deliver on our promise. We’re a small team and we’re supporting billions of dollars of budgeting and monitoring. There’s a lot of technical/systems and cultural debt that we have to work with to succeed.

That said, the opportunity for improvement is huge, and it’s very satisfying when someone gets it and we can make their work so much easier and more effective.

Looking forward to next week,


January 1, 2023

This month, I will be corresponding with Robb Knight. He can be found on Micro.blog at @rknightuk.

Hi Jason,

We have only interacted briefly on Micro.blog so I figured I should start by introducing myself. I’m a 30-something developer working on software for the property industry. I live with my partner, Jess, and two cats in Portsmouth on the south coast of the UK.

We have spent the past 12 months decorating and redoing every room in our house - the previous owners lived here since it was built in 1971 and hadn’t done any work to it since then. This involved me learning a whole set of new skills like floor laying, wallpapering, and fitting new skirting boards (baseboards for Americans).

In July we found out my partner was pregnant with a girl and she is due in March 2023. This accelerated the timeline of getting the house finished but we are now ready for her arrival at least in terms of furniture and the nursery. Mentally ready? I’m not so sure.

Look forward to hearing from you, Robb

Hi Robb,

First of all, congratulations on pending fatherhood! I’m glad we were able to slip in our month of correspondance before the pending sleep depravation.

What an exciting and busy year. Even though we moved into our home 5 years ago (and it was new construction), I still feel like we need to keep decorating and redoing. Our work has been less skills-based and more “accumulating more stuff than I am comfortable owning”-based, since our new(ish) home is much larger than the 700 square feet we lived in previously. I have always found that I have ambitious of being handy in theory, but mostly fail when it comes to applying that ambition. At this stage, my partner Elsa just pays people to do things before telling me they’ve gone wrong or haven’t happened.

I am curious, what room or project are you most proud of? I’m not quite “done”, but pretty close to having my office set up how I’d like. It was a big pandemic project since we got rid of the company office right away. Having my own space has changed my whole relationship with my home.

I took a peek at the work you do and it’s fascinating. I have actually discussed this area (home management, focused on home inspections in the US followed by “asset management” and warranty support nad the like) with my work partner multiple times as an idea to pursue{^tech]. The intersection of home-renovation and your work must have been an interesting exercise. I’d be curious what you’ve learned managing your house that suprised you or changed your perspective on the work you do day to day.

Thanks for your participation in Letters. I’m already enjoying this project, and I hope others will as well.


November 29, 2022

Four confirmed folks for my new project Letters, with several more people “interested, but not committed yet.”

November 28, 2022

I have decided to work on a new project on this blog in 2023. This is risky, because I need other people to participate and I came up with the idea this morning. So this serves as both an announcement and a call for participants.

Letters will involve me corresponding with someone else on the internet over the course of a month. Each week, we will each write a letter to each other. There are no set topics. The rules will be:

  1. The person I’m corresponding with will write the first letter.
  2. I will respond during the same week. They do not have to write again until the next week.
  3. Each letter will be at least 250 words.
  4. I will post the correspondent’s letter followed by my response on my blog. If they have a blog, they can do the same and I will gladly link to them.

If you’d be interested in participating in Letters, email me at hello@jbecker.co and provide me with two months in 2023 that could work for you. Feel free to link me to your personal webpage or provide a short bit about yourself (but no pressure on any idea of topics).

Why am I interested in this project? I was thinking about how much of our history (in the West at least) comes from important figures having extensive private correspondences that were saved, catalogued, and released after their deaths. And while I’d love some private pen pals, it just got me thinking that public letters are a rich way to discuss complex issues. What’s the point of having a blog and not restricting my online presence and interactions to 280 characters if not engaging in richer, complex conversation?

My favorite world online was that of personal blogs and journals in conversation with each other. I’m hoping Letters can jump start that for me. I’m also hoping to build some deeper relationships online with folks who are in my orbit enough to see this post, but I don’t really feel like I know them in a meaningful way.

So that’s the idea for 2023. I hope some of you will be interested in participating so that I don’t have to spend late December scrambling to convince folks to write a letter to me each week or cancel the project all together.

Let’s make something fun on the internet.

I already have one confirmed, and three “maybes” for my Letters project.

Although I was not inspired by Substack, who it turns out I was ripping off, I thought I should share what set me on this train of thought.

Jess shared a tweet thread by Michelle Huang about training GPT-3 on her diary. The result was the ability to have what Michelle felt were uncanny conversations with her younger self. It was an interesting example of using what I normally deem to be pretty creepy machine learning in a therapeutic context. As per usual for me, instead of coming away with thinking about all the things I bet I was supposed to think about, my takeaway was this– I don’t have much, if any, writing from my younger self. What journaling or writing I did is all lost to deleted LiveJournals, bulletin board forums, blogs, or hard drives erased and dumped. I don’t often mourn for this material, but this was the first time in a long while I thought, “If I knew about this possible future application, I might have saved more of what I wrote, even if it was just somewhere for me.”

A few hours later, I read about yet another famous, respected actor defending their colleagues who hold disgusting views. “We can’t ban people!” or some such “anti-woke” nonsense was their response, I believe. And my thought was, “One of the ways that our modern media climate is a mistake has been the direct access to artists.” Of course, this isn’t really true; direct access has enabled entirely knew ways to get paid to do art and build a large audience. But my thought stemmed from the idea that it is so much harder to separate the art from the artists these days. We have an all too direct line to the thoughts and feelings of famous people we admire, whether through social media or the expectations that they will speak to traditional media. And I wondered, would we be better off if all most of us ever knew of the artist was their work and how we understand it, at least until their death when their records and letters are released revealing all of their horrifying and deplorable beliefs? The thought was that I am almost more comfortable letting history understand people posthumously, while letting those of us who are the artist’s contemporaries experience only their output.

It is so much harder to believe the artist is dead when they won’t shut up.

It was these two thoughts, disconnected by several hours, that had me thinking about letters. I had the distinct idea of correspondence as this important way that people are revealed to us when they are gone. This also reminded me of the so-called Republic of Letters, which seemed to have been en vogue to reference during the “Will he or won’t he?” period of Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase.

And so I thought, “In some ways, my blog represents my correspondence.” I publish on my own site to be in control of my content. This is the largest and most personal repository of my writing1. It would be better if this blog was in conversation with others. That’s a part of the early web that I miss. We still link to other people, but rarely do I find blogs in conversation with each other.

Letters come from this.

  1. Ok, to be honest, I did start journaling a few years ago, although a lot of the content is on this site as well. But I’m not sure I’d ever want someone to have access to the unpublished entries in my Day One. That’s a level of intimacy that feels almost profane. ↩︎