Jason Becker
June 21, 2023

Hi Jason,

My gaming took the opposite track to you in the early days. Funnily enough, games then were 2 player at best and unlike the Internet multi-player games we have now - which I tend not to play. In the days of the Commodore 64 we’d sit around and take turns. There was also a large social aspect in “swapping games”.

We were lucky to have the C64. Dad won it at work as a prize for sales I think. That wasn’t his job, but I expect in early 80’s few knew what the prize was. And it was a doozy. A Commodore 64, TV, printer and 5.25" drive.

Fair to say the opportunity was my gateway drug into my career.

I got back into tabletop role playing a year or so before Covid. I’d wanted to play again for a long time. With nobody to play with I headed into my local gaming store and asked if there was a game going. I enjoyed it very much. As an adult there was so much more I could bring to my characters. Covid and anxiety had me pull out. I was playing and DM’ing. It became too much. As a DM playing on Sunday afternoons, not thinking about the game all week until the next Sunday morning and then politely swearing to oneself is a sign of too much. I’m reluctant to get back into it because I’m concerned I’ll end up leaving again at short notice and that’s not fair on others.

I like your guitar story. Justified embellishments aside, were you that self aware of the decision at the time? I’m not sure that I would have been. Hobbies are wonderful things. We each get deep into what calls us and that’s often to the bewilderment of others. They can bring us together in weird and wonderful ways.

Two of my workplaces have had a “What was good last week?” check-in and depending on the cohort in the meeting I’m met with crazed looks or murmurs of appreciation.

Changing habits. Let’s not mention that.



Hi David,

I think my awareness on guitar went as far as this: I am enjoying playing music with friends in all forms, whether with my nascent band at the time or in jazz band and wind ensemble at school, while the video games feel less and less present to me. It just wasn’t a thing I was reaching for with my friends or a thing I much felt like talking about or engaging with anymore. My love of computers didn’t change, and this was an era of all kinds of horrible skinning you could do on Windows and futzing with Linux desktop and the like. But games just fell away, maybe because of shifts in friends or just shifts in priorities. I don’t think the awareness extended to “this is a thing I can do with my friends now” but it definitely was an awareness of “this is a thing that I love doing that energizes me, that is not”.

My early computers was not from the Commodore 64 days– I was at the very early Windows 3.11 Gateway 2000 club. The new hotness was the CD-ROM drive where I had Dinosaurs and Encarta and I spent tons of time browsing through both.

Things come and go. Sometimes I like cooking, sometimes it feels like a chore. Sometimes I like playing guitar, other times I haven’t picked it up in a few months. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about it, but I do try and remind myself that these things bring me joy, and sometimes I don’t feel like doing something because I haven’t done it in a while. Sometimes, I’ve forgotten what things mean to me, and I have to force myself out of a bit of a slump. The activation energy is hard, because remembering the joy can be really tricky.

I think you should head back to the TTRPG world. Just take it easy. I have found that it was way too easy to leave things behind due to COVID that I actually don’t want to leave behind. It has taken real effort to re-introduce those habits and hobbies, but also a great reminder of why they’re important. You need to fill that bucket up. Maybe being a DM is just not a thing that you can keep doing at this stage, or maybe joining an existing campaign will make you realize how much you miss it and give you the motivation to not feel like DMing is Sunday anxiety and drudgery. Or maybe you should try something like a trading card game or board games to see if that can generate a similar joy and social connection without the pressure of DMing each week. I think part of why I have moved away from, and stayed away from, video games is because most of the games I liked were huge commitments. I just didn’t have the energy to play like that anymore, and that’s why it became a chore.


June 14, 2023

Hi Jason,

Funny that you should say “You can’t dance with someone who walks on the floor with the purpose of making you look bad”. I think of conversation as a dance where both people have to be willing to move back and forth, even if there is a stumble from time to time. It’s also similar to something I’ve often said about trying out new things at work. “You can play by new rules if everyone insists on playing the old game.”

Speaking of games, I’ve finished playing The Last of Us Part I this week (4th time through) and have started on Diablo IV. Gaming has become much more acceptable than it was when I was a teenager in the 80’s. Still get weird stares from a lot of people, but not as many now. Like anything else it’s a hobby and I would guess closest to reading - though more interactive. During the Covid lockdowns it was gaming that allowed me to travel to far-flung places and other worlds to escape.

This week I’d like to focus on changing some of my habits. Some work for me and others don’t. My task is to identify the cues that cause a bad habit to kick in and leverage that into a new habit. There are some where it feels like the cue is just the day. “Oh, it’s Monday night so off to the supermarket for a bag of chips.”. I’ll need to be a bit more precise if I’m going to shift things in the right direction.

Tomorrow (if not Wednesday) is going to be a hard day. As a family we made the decision yesterday that it’s time to let our 15 year-old dog Sam pass on. His health has deteriorated over the last 12 months and is accelerating. Most of the time he looks miserable and pleading. Sam came to us at 4 years-old as a second time rescue dog. We believe his first owner abused him and his second was a single male who, because of the way Sam had been treated, wasn’t able to connect to him. I can understand that. For years, Sam would not even come near me. Originally an outside dog, I found out the girls had been letting him inside during the afternoon, and then swooshing him out before I came home from work. Now, he’s as indoor as they get. I’m glad we’ve been able to give him a better life than he started with. If only everyone’s life could work out that way - getting better all the time.



Hi David,

It’s funny– I fit all the trappings of a gamer as a mid-30s white guy in tech who was an absolute nerd my entire life. But, I actually stopped playing games around high school. I remember selling all of my video games to buy a guitar. It didn’t feel like a statement moving away from gaming. In the past, I’ve taken creative license in this re-telling to claim that I was making some kind of move to make myself more attractive or fit in better or something in a self-deprecating way. But honestly, I was just less and less interested in games, even as an avid Nintendo Power reader and someone who woke up to play RPGs for an hour before school, and more and more interested in music. I think it was less about rejecting being a nerd– I couldn’t shed that identity with all the money, dedication, and time in the world. I think it was more about being lonely, and gravitating toward thing that were more social. Playing guitar was something I could do with my band (I started just singing and learned guitar to add that to the mix). Playing video games, at that time, was not something easily done with friends. I wonder if I would have made different choices if I grew up when online gaming and voice chat and all of that were around.

Habit changes are so hard. I have been on a mission to be more healthy since the start of COVID, really jump-started in part from my dad’s heart attack that happened in the first year of the pandemic. I’ve found it’s easier to build new affirmative habits–“start doing this”– then to discard bad habits– “stop doing that”. It’s especially true when the new pattern I want to establish takes something from being an easy default to something that requires attention, intention, and energy. Adding “start going to volleyball” is a lot easier than “stop eating a full pizza every time something bad happens as a coping mechanism”. I hope you find some success in changing your habits. I’ve made it at least part of the way, but I’m currently in a back slide. What I’m thinking about now is how I may need to do more to do less. If it’s easier for me to start something new, maybe I need to fill my time and energy with new things to crowd out what I want to stop. If there’s no time for bad habits, I won’t do them.

Letting go of a loved one is hard. I grew up with a golden retriever/yellow lab mix Martina, from the time I was about 5 until I was about 19. She had a really tough last couple of years, but I think overall had more good than bad in that time. It was very hard to let her go. When I was 24, my partner and I got a dog together, Gracie. She’s now starting to show some real signs of aging, and it’s been really hard on us. The vet visits increase, the vet bills increase, and although she’s absolutely still having a happy life, it’s also clear that there’s less quality. She’s able to do less and is motivated to do less with the passage of time.

Sam knows he is loved, and Sam had a life that was better because you and your family were a part of it. I don’t think that’s enough, but it’s something.


June 2, 2023

Hi Jason,

Friday night, the TV’s on in the background, and I’m wondering where to start.

I first came across your “Letters Project” via previous participant Robb Knight. At the time I was craving conversation and if letters back-and-forth are not conversation, what are they? That seems as good a place to start as any.

As a 50+ year old (mid-early-50’s lol), I’ve been exposed to many concepts. Some resonate strongly and immediately feel right because of their ability to explain my world experiences. The importance of conversations in our life is one of those.

Just now my attention has been taken by the Ben Robert-Smith story on TV. He’s Australia’s most decorated living war-veteran who has lost a defamation case against three newspapers for claims they made that he is a war criminal. The stories are all “He’s guilty! Strip him of his medals! Take him to criminal court!”. The last I agree with as it is the only way to get beyond allegations to evidence.

The media leaves no place for conversation - no place to explore - no place to learn - no place for grey nuance.

I assume the case was thrown out of court because the newspapers had sufficient justification to make the claims they did and so, it’s not defamation. That does not equate to criminal proof. I can’t be sure of that, because it’s not being reported anywhere. Just the result for everybody to lay judgement on.

I see the same in the workplace, in families, on-line. We are not taking the time to sit in conversation. In my training as an ontological coach, we were told conversation is a dance. How much conversation is not a dance but a toe-to-toe fist-fight? The closest it gets to a dance is the gang fight in West Side Story.

I’m confident in saying we’ve forgotten how to listen, but I also think there is a big time factor in there. We don’t leave ourselves time to ask questions, to sit quietly and think, to consider what we’ve heard, or to consider our reaction to it and what that may teach us about ourselves.

That’s the conversation I crave. That’s what I hope you and I can engage with over the coming weeks.

I’ve written enough. Time for me to listen.

Best regards, David

Hi David,

I am also craving conversations, having come to the same set of conclusions as a mid-late-30s year old.

There’s little room for nuance, and so often cries for nuance are made in bad faith. One of the most difficult things about online conversation and media narratives is that they’re so often, fundamentally dishonest. The questions being asked are about framing the debate, not curiosity. Introducing complexity is genuinely seized upon by bad actors to support ideas that are not at all a part of the goal of the initial speaker.

You can’t dance with someone who walks on the floor with the purpose of making you look bad. There has to be some agreement on the basics, and so often these days our dance partners aren’t even listening to the same music we are.

I don’t think individuals have forgotten how to listen. I think this is why in person conversation and face to face interactions are so different from online interactions, especially synchronous or near synchronous, short form, broadcasted “conversations”. 1 One of the reasons I like podcasts so much is that the human voice can generate a level of empathy and compassion for each other that is missing during online sniping. Folks I feel are abhorrent with views that cause my blood to boil become possible to hear from when they are speaking in their own voice in the room with people who disagree. There’s something about having to face other people impacted by your own argument that softens, expands, and explains to a different degree than the online world or even the written word that’s not built in conversation.

Op/Eds are not conversations, they’re screeds.

I enjoy the long form, asynchronous conversations that Letters has provided. It’s a different type of communication that feels like it was common and now, not so much.

Thanks for jumping in this month.


  1. How often do we forget that a conversation in public has audiences besides the interlocutor? ↩︎

May 28, 2023

Hi Jason,

Maybe our therapists are comparing notes!

This right here: “I miss out on entire emotions, because I’ve already rationalized.” Yep. That’s a whole way of being. And the truth is that it has a purpose and, in some cases, it’s a strategy that serves us well. A tough part of growth is realizing when it’s time to let go of strategies that worked in the past but don’t help us move into the future we want.

I’ll take full responsibility for diving into the conversational deep end without pausing for preliminaries. It’s kind of fun to do things backwards though, and I like that our last week of this letter writing month is coming to a close with introductions and light stuff.

So here’s my own paragraph of introduction:

I’m 41 and pretty excited to turn 42 next month and know (or be?) the answer to life, the universe, and everything. I’m a single mom of four kids: three teenagers (13, 15, and 16) and one 12-year-old going on 27. So that’s where a lot of my time and attention goes, and it’s wonderful and difficult and all the things, all at once. We have two enormously spoiled fat cats and live in a cozy apartment in a St. Louis suburb. We moved back to St. Louis in the middle of 2020, after being in Puerto Rico for 5 years. It was an unplanned relocation in the midst of an unexpected divorce, and since then I’ve been rebuilding my life from zero. I really miss beach life (and speaking Spanish… I’m getting rusty) and my PR community, but it’s wonderful to be near family and lifelong friends and have their support and help. I’m a freelance writer and most of what I do is take tech-speak from the dev team and translate it into readable, hopefully interesting material for the people who want to use whatever the dev team is making. I’m innately curious about pretty much everything and being a writer is a free pass on asking questions and doing research. I love reading and usually have 3-4 books going, a mix of nonfiction and sci-fi/fantasy. I also love a good memoir. I spend a lot of time thinking about the why underneath things. I grew up in a religious home and was very involved with the church until my early 30s, when I left the faith. I didn’t want to, but that whole curiosity/asking questions/looking for the why underneath things… Well, sometimes it takes you places you don’t necessarily want to go. I’m happy to be where I am now, though. Life has 100% not turned out as I expected, but I feel so grateful for what I’ve gotten to experience and who I’m getting to become as a result of those experiences. I love food and adventures and dancing and a good whiskey and trees and solitude, not necessarily in that order.

It’s been an absolute pleasure exchanging letters with you over the last few weeks. I’m going to sign off with two book recommendations (and would love to have a couple from you as well). First: Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse. This book is one I reread about every year. It colors the way I look at everything. Second: Systemantics (or The Systems Bible) by John Gall. As a structures/systems person, you might particularly like that one. Easy read, entertaining, pithy.

Here’s to good things ahead,


Hi Annie,

Yes, we’re moving backwards, but I reject that book recommendations are “light stuff”. I had to think about that one a bit, since I know that you’ve already tackled Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which will be my default recommendation for quite some time.

I decided to go with books that are not huge commitments and that I don’t feel had any recognition in my own circles. I think all four of these recommendations (well, it’s really three) are best read knowing very little:

Now that the serious business is attended to…

I fell into “product management” largely from a similar skillset– I was able to talk to the dev team about what everyone else wanted built and they were able to build the right thing, whereas in the past that was a struggle. In many ways, my job goes in reverse of what your role does.

I think something I didn’t quite understand when I was younger was just how much work we all have to keep putting into ourselves and how many new things we find when we keep looking for whys and let go of old strategies and pick up some new ones. It feels like the kind of thing you never really understand as a kid. Maybe it’s the time I grew up in, but so much of what society coded as a midlife crisis or a failure to launch or whatever reads so different as an adult. I don’t know where the norma came from that we are meant to be consistent rather than constantly adjusting and discovering and changing along the way. Rebuilding from zero with kids that rely on you sounds… daunting, even without the major relocation. But letting go of strategies and identities that no longer serve us to head out on our next adventure with food, dancing, good whiskey, trees, and a bit of solitude– that sounds like exactly where I’d like to go.

Well, except for the dancing.


May 22, 2023

Dear Jason,

Yesterday I attended an event for youth who are overcoming addiction. For eight weeks, they take lessons in classical guitar and djembe drums, make art, journal, and connect with adults who share their stories of overcoming addiction. Then they put on a concert and share what they’ve learned.

As part of the event, spoken word artist Tracy T-Spirit Stanton shared her story and two of her poems. Her entire performance was stellar, but one line is ringing in my head: “If you lead the body, the mind will follow.”

I put a lot of trust in my mind. I wasn’t the pretty one or the athletic one, but I was the smart one. And I held onto that identity as safety. Not too long ago my therapist said, “It’s really tough for you to be wrong about things, isn’t it?”

Um, yeah. I hate that.

One of the things that was hardest to accept about getting divorced was realizing that my own mind had been unreliable. I’d overlooked, dismissed, rationalized, and denied so many things. Clear signals. But I wasn’t ready to deal with what those signals meant, so my mind invented stories. As long as I didn’t ask too many questions, I could keep ignoring things.

But my body knew. Oh, did my body know. I had migraines regularly. I couldn’t sleep. And I developed an ovarian cyst that required major surgery. It was as if my body was taking all the emotions I wouldn’t let myself feel and truths I wouldn’t let myself face and putting them into this mass that became cancerous and could have killed me.

I had this very vivid dream a few days after surgery. I was still on pain meds, so I’m sure those were in play. In the dream, I was lost, running through the woods. It was like a maze, there was danger, and I was trying to find my way out to safety. This voice came from nowhere, right in my ear, saying: “Wake up. Wake up! WAKE UP!” I woke up startled, heart pounding, disoriented, but with this sense that something important had happened.

I still didn’t want to listen, though. So I went back to ’normal life’ and kept myself busy ignoring as much as I could. Then came quarantine. There was so much time and so little distraction. I couldn’t keep the storylines connected. One early early morning in September I was standing outside. Couldn’t sleep, as usual. Staring at the sky. Thinking, thinking, thinking. So much thinking, but so little sense. And I had this physical sensation like my brain was falling apart. I remember reaching my hands up as if I could slip them inside my skull and hold the pieces together.

That was it, finally. I’m still amazed that my body created a physical sensation to match what I was experiencing mentally and emotionally, and did so in such a powerful way that I couldn’t ignore it. I’m really grateful. And I pay a lot more attention to my body now. I also don’t get migraines anymore, so that’s cool.

I didn’t start this letter with the intention of going through my recent personal history, but it colors everything for me these days. My mind is still trying to sort things out all the time, analyze, categorize, find congruence. That’s part of who I am, and it’s not bad, but finding a balance is the work I’m doing now. Respecting and using my mind, yes. And equally respecting and trusting my body to tell me things more viscerally and immediately, and to listen when she does. The body says no, the body says yes, the body says wait, the body says be careful. Sometimes the body says run the fuck away! And sometimes the body says, “Hang out right here, because this is delightful.”


Hi Annie,

Are we going to the same therapist? I, too, find it tough to be wrong about things. I rationalize. My identity my whole life has been defined by my power to process fast and rationalize. I miss out on entire emotions, because I’ve already rationalized. I blow past signals and warning signs like the train in Back to the Future 3 heading for 88 mph or the gorge, which ever comes first.

This is why going back to playing volleyball has been so important for me. I need to spend literally hours each week playing a game that takes so much of my body and concentration that there is no “mind”. There is no thinking. There are no stories to tell, except maybe about how shitty it feels to be shanking a pass. I have to have time that I shut it down. That’s also why I have to read fiction. I need to fill my mind with a different mind.

Those are forms of rest. They quite the mind. But what I’m less good at is where you seem to have made it – listening to something else entirely. I haven’t figured out how to, in the quiet, let some other signals creep in and teach me things I need to understand about myself.

I have only started to slowly get better at this. Unfortunately, it was also due to excruciating gut pain– my appendix. After being sent home from what could only be described as completely negligent urgent care, I went into the ER a few hours later because I listened. Of course, my body was screaming, but even my doctor was a little surprised (in the best way) that I actually brought myself to the ER because things got worse. And I did so, in many ways, just in time.

The effect has been troubling. I’m far more nervous about aches and pains and changes to my body than I’ve ever been. My body has failed me in the past, but perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned not to trust my own sense of what is serious and what can be ignored. I have recalibrated, and I’m not quite sure yet if my new normal means “listening to my body” or “living with irrational anxieties in yet another area of my life”.

It sounds like you’re getting great feedback. Your body is telling you that the hard things you’ve had to do are the right ones.

We’re coming toward the end of our month, and I realized, partly my fault, we got heavy fast and never did some introductions and light stuff. So I thought I’d take this moment to pull us back a bit, reintroduce some folks to me, who may have already forgotten what I have going since the start of this project 5 months ago, and end us in a place that I hope feels like hanging onto because it’s delightful.

So here’s my run on paragraph about myself.

I’m in my mid 30s, no kids, living with my fiancée (who I’ve been with since 2010 and have been living with since 2011) and her mother. We have two dogs that are getting up there in age. I work for a tech company doing tech things for US K12 school districts after getting a master’s degree in urban education policy and working for school districts and state departments. We’ve been in Baltimore for 6.5 years now and lived in Providence for 10 years before that. I grew up on Long Island in New York. I read 30-40 science fiction/fantasy books a year (I prefer speculative fiction to SFF), play volleyball a few times a week and try to lift weights 3 times a week. I continue to struggle with being meaningfully overweight like I have been my whole life. We love to cook and eat. I am broadly interested in tax policy, urban development, and transit policy. I like to think about the world we’ve built around us how it changes our behavior and how we can build a better world, physically and politically. I’m a structures person, and I think a lot about them, whether when doing policy work or programming and data work. I tend to think of systems and structures as the geography and human behavior as water running over that terrain. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I watch a lot of cooking and educational YouTube videos. I like a great coffee and just about any Diet Coke (no, Pepsi is not ok, but I’ll suffer through it). We love to travel, having recently spent a few months in Mexico City. Elsa, my partner, was born in Mexico and is half-Mexican, half-Haitian, and trilingual. I travel a lot for work and I travel a lot for fun and I’m absolutely terrible about taking vacation.

The last few years, at least partially triggered or accelerated by the pandemic, have led to a lot of changes in my life and what I’m doing and who I feel like I am. But I have to admit, I feel like there’s a lot more coming, any moment now.

Thinking, and thinking, and thinking, and thinking,


May 16, 2023

Meta note: This one came in a bit late– I’m publishing in the order that I receive.

Hi Jason,

Forgive my tardiness and since it’s the second time in a month that I have had to say this, I have realized this is something I have to work on. That is, If I commit myself to a voluntary task, it shouldn’t be considered secondary to my other live obligations especially if it involves someone else. Talking about space, one of my favorite aspects of architecture is in fact, the spaces between the built environment and the world around it. In Indian mythology, a king received a boon that he couldn’t be killed indoors or outdoors and as we can expect, the king soon become a tyrant and one of the gods had to reincarnate himself to kill him on the threshold of the house.

Morbidity aside, I found that loophole interesting since it begs the question at what point does indoors become outdoors. Most architecture makes it quite distinct so the space that blurs the boundaries always fascinates me. Air-conditioning in America often makes such a design impossible but in South India especially in traditional homes, a central courtyard around which a house is built is very common and it works much better than air conditioning in a much warmer climate. Here is an example (there are plenty of examples in the “more like this” under the image). I bet this is very similar to homes in Mexico which is one of the reasons I am hoping to do an extended trip down there like you did. A close second is a public square. It can range from the grand St. Marks’ in Venice to a small plaza outside a movie theater adjoining a Starbucks and an Atlanta Bread Company in Dunwoody, GA where my friends and I hung out all the time.

Moving on to the other topic you raised about our ability to solve problems, my experience of spending nearly half of my life in India actually makes me more hopeful about America. A few months ago, my brother and I were talking about life in India in context of my dad living there after my mom passed away. He’s not exactly a fan of the West and would like to move back whereas me on the other hand, can never think of that possibility but both of us could agree that a civic sense is something that India lacked. I can elaborate that it’s largely a lack of trust in public institutions. The oppressed classes feel it more strongly and that has led to a sense of quiet resentment among the general Indian people which at times erupts in horrific inter-religion or inter-caste riots (literally). Living in America makes me feel more hopeful and even though latest events against democracy, it’s still a country rooted in strong institutional trust, a high sense of civic sense, and participatory democracy. People, in fact, give a shit.

But of course, as you say, in the sense of tragedy of commons, it hasn’t quite worked off late to tackle the large problems that society faces like climate change, healthcare, or even gun control. But I find the root causes are in the amplification of a small minority of “shitposters” even the good-meaning ones who often trivialize talking about solutions. I sometimes come across as argumentative and am expected to “take a chill pill” but that’s mostly because people don’t want to feel uncomfortable and be questioned. And if their beliefs are questioned, they often retreat into a shell of not airing their opinions instead of being open to change. I would say, forget change but even if the historically dominant classes could muster up empathy and recognizing why others are angry, we can make progress.

Anyway, I think between the two of us, we are preaching to the choir but thanks to your experiment of making these letters public, hopefully others can read and ponder without assuming that they are being called on. Thanks once again for doing this and save for my tardiness, I hope this exchange has been meaningful to you. I certainly have learned a lot.

Pratik Mhatré

Hi Pratik,

Elsa and I often joke about how much we love a courtyard. It’s a shame that America spread out with single family homes, but made them all boxes designed like a fortress to the outdoors. All of our knowledge of passive heating and cooling (and siting) left completely by the way side for efficiency. I love the city, and I think most of our homes should be in cities, and the American suburban form seems like all of the efficiency in building with none of the efficiency of living in a city. Cities manage to be beautiful and efficient, but our single family home seem to have chosen, at best, efficiency without beauty— neither form, nor function.

I do love the old courtyards when you can find them in Mexico, whether in older homes now subdivide or incorporated into multi-family apartment structures. The airflow and light alone seem worth it, but so is the blending of indoor and outdoor. A lot of Mexico City is clearly designed for year round comfortable weather, and quite often the indoor-outdoor distinction is more of a veil than a wall.

I find your take on our ability to solve problems at least somewhat comforting. I think it’s hard for Americans to forget about some of the “easy” stuff, that even when it doesn’t work great, is universally expected to work here. I’m thinking the postal service, water and sewage treatment, waste management, and electricity. Even places like schools and libraries, for all that we’re experiencing what feels like an unprecedented erosion in support, are still understood to be present and function well. I do think we give a shit, and most of us expect all of these things to function. We just can’t seem to agree about the why.

There’s a fine balance I think we all have to play when it comes to pushing folks on their beliefs. On the one hand, silently letting small things go by create the underlying conditions for changing what are acceptable beliefs. When someone posts about how they needed to vote via provisional ballot (that was accepted and counted) because of some small issue at a polling place and how that causes erosion of trust in the voting system, how do I respond? On the one hand, in a rational space where we have shared understandings and beliefs, I can have an intellectual conversation about how small inconveniences and errors can cause people to question the efficacy of a bureaucracy. On the other hand, that’s not what this person is saying. And even if that’s what someone is literally saying, that’s not what our current conditions cause others to hear. How important is it to be the voice to say, “Hold on a second, this is very normal, there’s a process, you did vote, your vote was counted, this is everything working in the careful, cautious, correct way that we want. This isn’t a moment to lose trust, this is a moment to understand how these systems function exactly the way you’d want to build trust?” No one likes having to be that person every time. And yet. And yet. And yet.

Where I grew up, casual racism is rampant, and despite having long had large populations of immigrants, mostly from groups that were shit on just like the current wave of immigrants until 70ish years ago (primarily Irish, Italian, and Jewish), anti-immigrant sentiment is rampant. The current, disgusting incarnation of the GOP is rampant. When I go home to my parents, or when I see comments from people I grew up with, I am assaulted with casual opinions that are all just opening a small door to the truly terrible thoughts. The casual prejudice, which we spent so much time in school discussing as one of societies great ills, is everywhere. I can’t help but to challenge it often.

But there is a point at which I can no longer be heard if that is all that I am. There is only so much labor and work I can put into that fight without burning myself out and burning out what tenuous relational currency I had to be heard in the first place. It’s tough to draw the line. I know that for folks like that to truly change their minds, for them to change, they’ll need to be questioned, over and over again by people they trust for decades so that they start to think, “Maybe something is not quite right here.” You have to chip away at beliefs, making the fissures and cracks for self-doubt to creep in.

Keep chipping away.


Hi again Jason,

I love that Ira Glass quote. It brought to mind another, much less eloquent quote which I repeat to myself and my kids often: “Sucking at something is the first step at being sorta good at it.” Pretty sure that’s Jake from Adventure Time bringing the wisdom as usual. Along those same lines, and echoing your thoughts on quitting, is the idea that maybe sucking at something isn’t a sign you need to get better at it. Maybe you just suck at this thing, whatever it is, and that’s okay. Some things, for example, I’d like to quit but can’t: receiving what seems like 100 school emails a week, handling car maintenance, doing taxes. That sort of thing. A while back I decided there are some things in life that don’t deserve or need my level best, and I could be okay with being mediocre at those things.

It’s been freeing. It forced me to make a distinction between what I care enough about to try to master, and what I’m dabbling in without any need for mastery, and what is a necessity to be completed.

In terms of parenting, I realized that I spend a lot of effort working on keeping things clean and organized, making sure we have necessities, cooking meals, etc. I also realized that, while all that’s wonderful, it’s not as important to me as laughing with my kids, or being around when they want to talk, or having the energy to help them sort through drama or difficulties. Sometimes, having the energy and good grace to listen to middle school drama or get outside and throw a baseball means I’m not doing laundry or cooking dinner. Of course, it’s always been okay to make those kind of trade-offs, but for me it took some effort to get clear on why that is okay. It’s okay because everything could matter, but not everything does matter. It’s okay because what steals time, and energy, and opportunity most of the time isn’t an emergency. It’s just the stuff in that mediocre middle. The scope creep of life is something I have to actively manage.

Turns out managing it is mostly about managing my own curiosity and being realistic about my actual capacity.

The next line of that Wordsworth poem is “getting and spending / we lay waste our powers” and it’s a line that rings in my head so often. The frictionless life, as you mentioned, is maybe not the best life. We need friction to give us pause, to force us to take a breath, to make a choice. This or that. What gets my attention? There will always be more options than time, and which option is right for me, right now, is deeply personal. One way I make those choices is by thinking about how I can optimize for delight. What delights me? Delight is a clear-cut emotion for me, which is helpful. If I’m delighted, I know it. “Should” has no place in delight. There’s no halfway with delighted. It’s on or off. So that’s easy to identify, and I don’t need to analyze the Why of delight, only the How: How do I make more time, space, and energy for This Delightful Thing?


Hi Annie,

Jake is a wise friend.

…everything could matter, but not everything does matter.

This captures it all, doesn’t it. It’s funny how much we live with other people’s expectations about things that matter. Because everything could matter, other people, our parents, our friends, society, whatever, all get to yell at us about the things that matter to them. It’s not just that everything could matter, it’s that everything does matter to someone, and those people are telling us all the time. Realizing that not all of those things also need to matter to me has been a huge project of my adult life. That’s probably not what people see, but it is a guilt I carried, and still carry.

Optimizing for delight is a great heuristic. I spent time in 2022 trying to have fun, in many ways in search of the same thing. One of the surprising things about fun is how much it is about getting completely out of my head and fully invested into a moment. There’s no “mind” in my fun. Even when I’m reading a book that’s causing me to laugh or cry, it’s not my mind analyzing an experience or thinking about it. It is my body being taken completely into another world and experience its heartbreaks and joys.

I have to admit, so far, 2023 hasn’t been that much fun. I’ve let a lot of things stress me that should, and a lot of things stress me that probably shouldn’t. I’m doing less well at maintaining routine and a lot less well at making time and space for the things that provide delight. I’ve spent a lot of time this year “giving myself a pass”, but I’ve got to find the motivation soon to stop that– it’s become and excuse to not do the things that I know make me happy and are good for me.

This was a good reminder for me. I have some work travel coming up, then a short period of time before some fun travel. I’m going to work on reclaiming some time for delight in my routine.


May 9, 2023

This month I’ll be corresponding with @annie

Hi Jason,

First - apologies for the past-due letter. Good intensions and best-laid plans and busy weekends. At any rate, here we are now.

My best friend Jennifer and I used to exchange letters over the times we lived in separate places. She moved to Kentucky, then I moved to Puerto Rico, and now we’re both back in St. Louis. We meet for walks and coffee and in-person conversation now, which is its own delight. But there’s something special about receiving a written letter, whether digital inbox or physical mailbox, and words you can absorb at your own pace.

Moving at my own pace is something I’m learning how to do, and slowly, and it’s clumsy. This stage of learning feels less like learning and more like an exercise in whacking my head against the metaphorical wall. But I’ve been in this particular stage enough times to recognize it now. I call it the slog, which I’m fairly sure is not a real word. The SLOG, that mid-point when the excitement of newness and beginning has worn off and you’re not yet making enough headway to trust your progress. This is often the point when - particularly with creative endeavors - I think it’s a good idea to start over. All over. Something must be wrong with the plan. Otherwise, I’d be making visible progress, moving steadily forward, and feeling confident. Right?

What silly expectations I have for myself. Writing them down or saying them out loud, or pausing in any other way and looking, really looking, at what I am expecting of myself brings me up short. All too often it’s not reasoned or reasonable, not even human. I’m expecting something more (perfection?) and something less (emotional neutrality?) than human. But here I am, as I have always been, quite human. 100%, last check.

And that’s the point I am revisiting, the lesson or skill I am learning, one step through the slot at a time. To let myself be fully human and move at my own wide and varied and slow and stumbling pace, to accept the missteps and flailing as part of the dance. Failing isn’t an aberration; it’s a necessary part of any process that involves growth. Knowing this doesn’t always make me feel better, but why do I need to feel good about things all the time? I don’t, as it turns out. The slog does not require me to go forth with shouts of joy. It only requires that I keep going. Doable. (And, also, it’s okay to stop and rest a bit, too.) There’s trust needed to slow down. To move carefully. To breathe deep, to rest, to get there when I get there. Trust in myself. Trust is at the heart of so much of this, maybe all of it. Do I trust myself to focus on what matters, to choose what’s important, to notice, to not miss things, to be okay? The answer I’m finding isn’t a simple yes. It’s more like: I might not it right. I might very well miss things, even important things. And I will be okay.

I often feel a sense of urgency over nothing and everything. Perhaps that’s just a feature of life in the 21st century. The ‘world is too much with us.’ We know too much and don’t know how to handle it. It’s also a residual feature of some of my own experiences in the last few years. It’s kind of an arrogant feeling, as if the well-being of the world or some portion of it depends on me. I’m all for taking responsibility, but that’s a stretch. What if I let my hands be as small as they are? What if I let my reach be short, extending only as far as my arms can actually reach? What if I expected no more of myself than to wake up each morning and do the small tasks that are mine? The world doesn’t end - or it does! - but either way, it’s always been a bigger ball than I can juggle. There’s peace in accepting my own limitations.

I’ve not asked about you, only talked through my own meandering thoughts, but I’m curious, and grateful to be part of this experiment.

Take care, Annie

Hi Annie,

I am reminded of this Ira Glass quote:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

This, of course, applies to skills as well, where we often reach a stage where it becomes clear what’s possible, but our bodies or minds cannot achieve it yet. Yet is such a powerful, difficult word. There’s so much between now and yet, and that chasm is often left uncrossed.

I think the thing I’ve held onto with similar journeys lately is that it’s ok for yet to become later or never. Sometimes between the start and the yet I realize something isn’t that important to me or maybe I no longer want it at all. I can be caught up in needing to finish what I started– it was years before I was willing to put down a book I started even if it was terrible– but I’ve started to feel like I don’t have time to waste on things that aren’t moving me. There are times we have no choice but to go slow, to slog, to cross the chasm to that future point where we can do the thing. It’s good to practice taking things to completion so that when you have to dig down into yourself and push through you still believe it’s possible. “I have done this before. This is how it goes. We survive this. We will again.” But it’s also ok to say, “Maybe if it’s this hard, maybe the right answer is not now.”

I have been bobbing up and down through cycles of burnout since I’ve been working at the same start up for 9 years. There are periods filled with not trusting myself, feeling like I need to start over, and then energy, growth, pride, and reward. The exhaustion-elation rollercoaster is to be endured, built into the risk-reward of something this challenging. It helps to have a partner I can trust and who can trust me back. In the best times, we’re at different phases on the cycle and can support one another. In bad times, we’re synchronized, or some challenge erodes and weakens that trust and then things get dark for a bit.

I think about how “the world is too much with us” all the time. My work, building operational and administrative software, is all about making processes more efficient and effective but also fast. So much of what I touch would have taken an eternity, relatively speaking, 30 or 40 years ago. It was slower and harder 20 years ago too. The easier part feels good, the always on always, immediate part of faster I sometimes question. Our expectations for responsiveness and information and change keep getting faster, and while on the micro level I have the same demands, I wonder if on a macro level that just… breaks things.

A lot of what is changing all around us is about removing friction. We’re so used to friction being a bad thing that we’ve forgotten that friction has been a signal, a control, a limiting factor. Friction is a guard against impulsivity. The right guard? The best guard? The intended guard? Perhaps not. But remove it, and our impulses win just a little more often, just as our frustration also abates just a little bit.

I’m going to spend sometime this week, inspired by this letter, to think about what I want to rededicate to, knowing I’m in the slog, and what I want to let go of, listening to the friction and frustration and lack as a signal.


April 29, 2023

Hi Jason,

You were really lucky to have benefited from a liberal arts education. If I had to do my education all over again, that’s exactly what I would do. Although there are a few options to pursue the less-trodden upon path in India, the “smarter” i.e., the kids who excel in school, are expected to pursue a STEM degree. I rebelled a bit and instead chose architecture which my parents justified in their head because it was a scientific art degree and also, the fact that I was the 21st living potential architect in my extended family. So hardly a rebellion. But at least that education exposed me to history, elements of design, society & culture, vernacular context, etc something I would’ve have learned in an Indian engineering college.

But even then I think I made a mistake of choosing a college based on the potential of the faculty rather than the potential of my peers. I should have understood better the importance of how peer norms and peer expectations drive your motivation and expose you to things that you didn’t even know that you didn’t know (sorry, Rumsfeld). But I think I managed to make amends when deciding to pursue my graduate education in the U.S. I choose Public Administration & Public Policy. You can imagine the puzzled looks on the faces of my Indian acquaintances until I realized I could stop trying to explain by simply saying, “With this degree, I may work at the World Bank or the United Nations”. This is partly true only because no one had any idea what exactly those two organizations do in their day-to-day functioning.

This brings me to your question of “what are some of the foundational ideas that guide your thinking on education”. If I had to put it in one term, I would say, critical thinking. The ability to understand the question before you even try to come up with a solution and how constraints in our thinking (as Simon called it, bounded rationality) affect what we do and what we decide to do. One of the best classes I took in grad school was Logic in Public Policy and believe it or not, it was one of my first formal courses in philosophy and how it affects our decision-making especially in the world of policies. Discovering the various fallacies and argument styles may have caused some of my friends to hate me when I called on their BS but it also let me read everything with fresh eyes. The work of John Rawls’ and his Theory of Justice (Fair and Just) has informed my thinking ever since and has helped tremendously in understanding issues of equity that often my STEM friends have trouble wrapping their heads around.

I totally relate with the uncertainty that you experience when you read or learn more but I’ve always found much truth in Will Durant’s quote - “education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance”. And THAT is exactly what separates us. Admitting that we do not know everything and are also uncertain about the things we know is I think, the essence of education. That feeling, I believe, keeps us learning for a lifetime and there’s no such thing as “I have completed my education”. Some consider this snobby but strangely, it keeps me humble knowing that there is much to learn out there. We can only be more certain but never 100% certain so I’m often bemused by people who are always absolutely certain. and don’t experience self-doubt. Perhaps working at a university where this belief is ground into you may have helped (nurture v nature) but after many years of reflection, I’m at peace with how this feels.

I may have been all over the place in this letter but I wanted to write back before it got too late as we wind down the month.

Cheers, Pratik

Hi Pratik,

Isn’t it amazing how that Rumsfeld quote is so dang useful from such a horrible man? I swear, it comes up constantly in my life.

The Veil of Ignorance remains a powerful way to see the world for me, and I’m sure even more so for you having experienced life in India and the US. I have found it particular powerful as someone privileged to be born here with typical American blindness that comes with it to consider this as part of my own conception of justice.

The unknowable used to haunt more more. I do agree, of course, with the “progressive discovery of our own ignorance” and I have no problem with the academic standby of “it depends” that gets so skewered. Lately though, I’ve been more terrified by the “known”. It feels like all around us we face challenges that are very much known with solutions that are very much known and a social-political-cultural context that cannot act in the collective interest.

I’m curious given your varied experiences with public policy and experience in a large, growing country outside of the west with a very different state apparatus– where do you lie on our ability to solve problems? This is an odd way to phrase it, but it’s a big question. What I mean, for example, is where do your impulses go on participatory, small “d” democracy, local governance, etc versus centralization, technocracy, professionalization, etc. It feels like this is a core tension in US education, the localist of local control democracy in many cases, but it’s also a core tension facing us with climate change, global war, tackling poverty, healthcare, and more. I think a lot about how we’ve managed to build a system that seems almost uniquely poorly suited to address the problems of the day, while understanding the history and context and successes that led us here.

I’d also like to know about a space you love. As someone who studied architecture, what is a home, a building, a public square, any where that grabs you? What makes it feel special?


April 15, 2023

Hi Jason,

I must apologize for my tardiness as my second letter is being written almost two weeks after my first one. A new job can definitely lay waste to your carefully laid personal plans. More on that in a bit. Currently, I’m writing this from New Orleans where I’m visiting for a conference.

I have followed your Mexico trip (stay?) posts and can imagine it was a wonderful experience. The best way to experience a new place is to immerse yourself in it and make it part of your daily life even if it’s for a short while. I think even the locals then start accepting your presence and opening up unlike a tourist who is just passing by.

Professionally speaking, I stumbled into education and definitely hadn’t planned on working in it. I come from a family of teachers though and my now-late mom thought it even further by having her own preschool that literally started in our living room and soon expanded to three different locations with 450 kids at its height. Being around teachers and seeing the early childhood education firsthand, for a while after my Masters, I even contemplated moving back to India and “expanding” her school to a full primary and secondary institution with an emphasis on “how to learn” rather than “what you should learn”. But setting up an educational business in India is not easy considering the bureaucratic hurdles, the greasing of palms (yup), and raising capital just to buy land.

Anyhoo, I guess those thoughts never left me as I found using my graduate degree in working in education research. Initially, on the data side and then working in the policy and academic research. I share your concern about deteriorating conditions surrounding education but I wouldn’t call it a crisis of confidence as I still feel that education is your best chance at improving your life outcomes, regardless of the personal anecdotes that people often cite against it. However, I do believe that how you learn TO learn is pivotal instead of just going through the motions of focusing on test scores and assessments. While I was raised in a very STEM-or-nothing environment, I have come to appreciate the long-term benefits of a liberal arts education. The role of critical thinking and reasoning skills has never been more important, I believe, in differentiating between what kind of education or degree you received and from where.

I would love to expand more on these thoughts in our letters. Now I regret not saving the blog posts I had written nearly 20 years ago during the time I was thinking of moving back to India to set up that school.


Hi Pratik,

I was the beneficiary of a liberal arts education, which took me from a chemistry degree (and pretty close to a Judaic Studies degree) to a master’s in urban education policy. I still think that learning how to learn was one of the most important skills I developed in college. And by attending a school with an Open Curriculum, I think I also learned how to pull together connections across fields and domains in a pretty unique way. While serving as a student representative on a college committee, we often discussed that the “inter-curricular”– the connections students made between the courses they took– was actually often the most important.

While I believe in all that, and I see entirely how it improved my own life, I am also uncertain how much of that view is an elite view, from an elite, competitive school, where I was a strong fit for their philosophy. I find it difficult to generalize from my experiences, which tends to push me much stronger toward the program evaluation/econometric side of education research. I just don’t trust myself, but I’m reasonably willing to trust (primarily, but not solely) quantitative research (with all of its flaws). I find that in the data, I can see more clearly the lines of someone’s argument, the strength of their case, and the obvious weaknesses. Maybe some of my nihilism is feeling like studying social systems has only generated certainty in my uncertainty.

I miss being connected to a university. I never did that final degree– it just always made absolutely no financial sense and felt too risky to do for the love of it– but for a long time I was still connected to academia. I stayed and worked in the same state, in the same city as my university, roughly a mile and a half away, when I went to work for the state department. I came back and worked at an education research center that was apart of my university through a multi-year fellowship after that first state department job. For a long time, I felt like I was doing the work that people with PhDs did who didn’t get a coveted tenure track offer. But those jobs were only the first 5 or so years of my career. For the last 9, I’ve worked with school districts but at a technology startup. And while it’s a wonderful fit, incredibly rewarding, and, I think, more impactful than just about anything I did prior, I miss having that connection to the academic world.

I am the classic dweeb that could have circled back around and gone through my undergraduate years 10 times with 10 completely different course of study and still I’d ask for an 11th shot.

I’m curious what are some of the foundational ideas that guide your thinking on education. Are there books/texts/scholars/philosophies that have shaped your future thinking? For myself, I constantly come back to a few things. I think about the long conversations we had in the one pedagogy course I took about E.D. Hirsch and Ted Sizer– who had it right and are their ideas even in opposition? I think a lot about the famous Harvard lecture course, Justice, which was released on iTunes U in… maybe 2007? 2008? I’m pretty sure I listened to it on my original iPod Nano walking around Brown’s campus. There was an education policy and history class I took that marched through the major movements in America, from Horace Mann to today, but primarily focused on the major Supreme Court cases that have shaped education in the US. I think a lot about Paul Manna’s books on federalism in Education as well. Oh and Daniel Koretz on assessments.


April 5, 2023

(Meta Note: yeah these went out of order, but I answered as they came in, and was glad to do so. So the title is correct for the month this applies to, and the publish date is correct to the date I responded)

Hi Jason!

It’s our last week of letters and I had actually written one earlier in the week after yet another untenable situation broke in the news. But it was filled with rage, laced with fear and madness and I didn’t want to end our time together like that.

So instead, at this late hour, I will tell you a brief story about a teacher I had in High School and the promise of perseverance.

This New Jersey English teacher that I had for both 10th and 12th grades was a polarizing figure amongst the student body when I was in school. You either loved her or hated her. I loved her. She expected only the best out of her students. Not HER best, but YOUR best. She didn’t care for the usual disruptive classroom shenanigans but she would easily be a co-conspirator of shenanigans when the time was right. She taught you everything about words, sentence structure, etymology and “hacks” on how to figure out what a word meant. She exposed us to literature and all the worlds contained within.

She even started a creative writing society at school and a literary publication/newspaper (both of which I participated in during my time there in the late 90s).

I knew then that she was a writer, getting short stories and poetry published but never a novel.

However, last night I attended a book launch party at a hotel just north of Baltimore. Available to the world as of yesterday, this party was for her first published novel. It’s the first in a series of, as she says, “at least five.” Published a “mere” 23 years after I graduated… likely 40+ years since she began writing…

It was a pleasure to see her again after all these years and my honor to ring in the dawn of a new era with her - the era of Ef Deal, published novelist. A lovely reminder that it’s never too late for new things to happen, never too late to break through, and never too late to do the things that you love to do, that fill you with joy and magic.

I am new to the steampunk genre and I thoroughly enjoyed her book. I can’t wait to hop into the next adventures with these characters. Set in 1840s France, it’s a quick read and a rousing good time laced with horror, mechanical imaginings, intrigue and a wee bit of romance. If it’s up your alley, I’d love to hear what you think of it when it makes your “read” pile.



Esprit de Corpse by Ef Deal

Hi Julie,

I’m glad to end on a more uplifting note. It’s made me think of one of my own English teachers, Ms. Biondo, who I had in 9th and 11th grade. It was her first and then third year of teaching. I don’t think she had quite gotten the hang of it all yet, and I know I didn’t make things easy at all. But I also remember getting just tiny glimpses into who she was, and I feel pretty strongly that as a teenager I missed a lot that I would understand today. It’s strange to think about, but it’s quite possible we would be friends as adults. One of my only regrets from giving up Facebook years ago was that it was a great way to connect with some of my old teachers.

My best teachers, the ones I gained the most from at least, were always controversial. I wonder if you have to be polarizing to be great, at least for some kids, because what each of us needs from a teacher is so different.

Steampunk is funny as a genre. Sometimes it feels like a genre, in that the mechanical is key to the mechanics. Sometimes it’s more of a setting. But I like horror and intrigue and romance and “rousing good times” so it’ll for sure go on my list, even if I am not the biggest fans of puns.

Given all the upheaval and changes and self-discovery that you’re currently in, I can’t help but to wonder what you’ll be doing in 20 years that will have been a 40 year project for you. I wonder what your book launch party will end up being and where things land.

I’ll be looking out for whatever it is.

I wonder the same for myself– being so engrossed in my current job, I sometimes fantasize about when this all ends what will I rediscover or suddenly realize has been sitting in the on deck circle all this time that I can’t wait to do? I can’t see it or feel it right now, but I hope it’s out there.


April 2, 2023

Hi Jason,

It’s April, and it’s time for me to write you a letter. I read about your experiment and immediately thought it was a great idea. But would I be able to keep up? I wasn’t sure. I signed up nevertheless and received your reply, “You got April.” At least I didn’t have to think about it for a few months. I followed your experiment with others, and it was going better than I envisioned it, and I’m glad I opted in. I was a bit apprehensive after seeing the quality of the conversations, though, as I mentioned on Micro.blog a few weeks ago.

I have always enjoyed writing. My earliest memories of journal writing were in 1988 when I was 11 years old. I remember that distinctly because I received this free journal as a gift for my annual subscription to Target, a kid’s magazine in India. It asked me to describe myself, my best strengths, weaknesses, etc.. I remember asking my mother about what she thought my best strength was because, for the life of me, I couldn’t think of any that was worth writing down in the About Me section of a journal. She suggested I write about how good I am at being focused when reading, so that’s what I did. Over the next year, I wrote a couple of lines in the lines provided for each day. Often I had more to say than the space provided, so I wrote mostly to capture the highlights of my day. It was nothing exciting and mostly about school or friends. I recall writing about some world events, too; something about a Palestine state formed, which was surprising now that I write about it since it still doesn’t exist as an independent state. So I looked it up as I wrote this and learned that it was indeed declared as a state on November 15, 1988, by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Anyway, back to my journal, and now that I think of it, thanks to my writing, some of my memories from my childhood are from that year. Maybe because I wrote them down, eventually, as I came to the end of the year, I ran out of space and stopped writing in a journal. I would write off and on again in a notebook, but never as consistently as I did that year. Eventually, school got busier, and if you know anything about the Indian education system, they make you write needless things until you begin to hate the act of writing itself. So I could imagine myself getting any more writing done at the end of the day. My school essays were slightly better than my peers, so they got noticed by my teachers, and I was encouraged to enter into inter- and intra-school essay competitions. Nothing can kill the joy of writing more than making it a competition. But that’s how things are in India. With a billion+ people, you must constantly compete in every facet of your life. Yes, it was as tiring as it sounds.

As usual, I have rambled on without telling you more about my current life. I live in Austin with my wife and almost-12-year-old son. I work at the University of Texas at Austin and have worked here for the last ten years and am involved in academic research, although from the perspective of research operations. I’m not an administrative bureaucrat or one of those umpteen Vice Presidents of , but I have to deal with them daily so that the professors I work with don’t have to. If you ask me, I’m getting the best of both worlds, and I can enjoy my weekends without the fear of perishing because I have not published.

I’ll stop now lest you think I’m writing a month’s worth of letters on the first day. I look forward to hearing from you.


Hi Pratik,

Recently I remarked on how I’ve written a lot less in DayOne since coming home to Baltimore from about 2.5 months spent in Mexico this winter. Even though it’s only been a little bit since I’ve been home, I’ve been having a similar sense that by not writing as often lately, I am forming less distinct memories. Of course, I am comparing a time of relative normalcy to a time that was quite distinct (living in Mexico City), but I absolutely believe that writing about our experiences solidify them. Much like we organize our thoughts and what we’ve learned in our sleep, I think writing about our experiences helps us to re-experience them as well as add a layer of metacognition that serves to solidify them.

I’ve worked in education in some form most of my professional life. I transitioned right from my undergraduate studies to a degree in urban education policy, and then worked at a state department of education, a large urban school district, a university research center, and for the last 9 years at a technology company that exclusively works with K-12 schools. Given your current role at a university, your almost-12-year-old, and experiences in India, I’m guessing you have a lot to say about how these systems do or don’t work.

I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence around education lately. The political environment has been… less than encouraging. I’ve generally fallen on the wonkish-side that might snidely remark that one of the challenges with education is everyone has an opinion based on their own experiences with it. I prefer data, and so I’ve spent very little time investing in understanding my own educational experiences with an adult eye. I think this is a lot easier when you’re child-free and not re-experiencing education through that lens. But lately, I think in part because of the chaos of the politics around schooling and my own concern about the health of our K-12 system in the US, I’ve found myself drawn to re-examination what was so crucial about school, at each level and time, for me.

It’s not like I feel like I had the ideal educational experience or trajectory– far from it– but I want to understand those experiences and moments that were formative for me. How do we find, capture, and encourage what matters. In some ways, that’s been an increasing part of this project– what matters to me and the person I’m talking to right now? How can these letters be a space to think about at least a little bit about what matters this week?

Writing in your journal mattered, but those essay competitions didn’t. Or maybe they did, but in a completely different way. Hopefully writing these letters will matter, at least for a little bit for you in April the way they have for me this year.


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.”