Life is…

What do you think life is?

Life is…

Life isn’t anything – might as well rip that band-aid off now. It is what you make of it. And it is still something when you make nothing of it. Life isn’t anything because that’s the closest we can describe it. Which is to say that we aren’t capable of describing it at all. Unless you think that you – just one of billions of people living on one of the hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy, which is one of 200 billions of galaxies out there – that you can finish the sentence “life is…” at your wise age of 30. Or 50.

To the best of our knowledge, the universe is at least 14 billion years old. Billion. Years. Old. You, who was born to a specific pair of parents in a specific place, who has been to but a handful of places that make up just this planet, having experienced but a tiny fraction of the cultures and ideas that exist on Earth at this specific millisecond of cosmic time – you think you can read “life is <blah>” in someone’s book or speech and either nod in agreement or disagree? You who likely never experienced oppression, or taking a worry-free nap amid breezy grass of Kazakhstan while your flock safely grazes nearby, or carrying the responsibility of employing thousands of people, or risking your life for someone you love or an idea you’re entirely crazy about, or being to outer space, or meeting another sentient species – you think you can read about life with your confirmation bias and limited exposure and attempt to understand?

Life isn’t anything because to say that it is something is to say that we are able to conceptualize that something. In terms of scale, that’s akin to an electron conceptualizing about a human body it is part of. At best, we can say that life is an unknown.

It’s hard to admit we can’t comprehend something. Our egos are hard-wired against it. “But I’m a sentient being! I am capable of abstraction and…” Chill. Everything you’re saying or thinking or conceptualizing is in a language (visual or verbal), a language that has been defined by what has already been seen or experienced within a tiny fraction of time, on a single planet, and by a single species. A language so limited, it can’t even afford us to understand the point of view of other species co-inhabiting our planet, much less the universe or life in general. It’s as impossible to conceptualize something you haven’t experienced as it is for someone from the Middle Ages to suddenly conceptualize gamma rays. And the only reason you and I can conceptualize about Middle Age people conceptualizing about gamma rays is because today we know both about the people and the rays, which provided us with the necessary language to be able to conceptualize about it.

Notice I’m not saying life is nothing. That would be an absolute statement, a statement equating life with void. That would be saying that I know what life is, and that what I know about it is that it is nothing. But we’ve established above that I would be saying if I said that. What I’m saying instead is that life isn’t anything. It is not anything we can currently define or imagine or comprehend. It isn’t any thing we know. Or, in short, it isn’t anything.

Realizing that life isn’t anything can be unsettling. But we do know that life is full of paradoxes, and one of them is that letting go can be more powerful than grabbing on. So if life isn’t anything then there’s no imperative to make it that something. If there’s no imperative to make it something, then we’re free to make it anything.

In other words, if I define life as anything, then inside the microcosm we call Earth and “my life” it truly will be that something. For example, if I am a king who believes that life is nothing but war and struggle, I will try to conquer other kings by force, making life in my kingdoms be about war and struggle.

Every morning, you and I can wake up knowing that life isn’t anything. And every morning, you and I can say what life is. By the evening, our lives will be about that. And by that same evening, life still won’t be anything.

Oh no, I’m 30!

So I just turned 30. Holy shit. It kind of hits you… I mean, 30!! Am I where I wanna be in life? Can I still hang out with college girls without being a creep? Dozens of important questions.

As I look at my twenties, I am proud. And I am lost. But as I look toward 35, I’m inspired.

I started my twenties in Bristol, VA, population ~40k, median age 37. I was in college, just freshly learning sarcasm and struggling to eat asian food above spice level 1. Still a virgin and a “momma’s boy,” I knew little of love outside of family, and even less of life in general. My parents’ honorable efforts to shelter me succeeded wildly, and if you met me then you knew instantly I didn’t belong in a small town. So as I look out at the beautiful skyline of San Francisco from the deck of a gorgeous apartment with my dream motorcycle parked in the garage below, as I reminiscent of intoxicating love and paralyzing loss that made me a grown, independent man, and as I remember the wild experiences of Burning Man 2014 – I am proud. I have grown in many ways.

I am a lucky, lucky man, and things could be worse. Way, way worse. But I haven’t yet blossomed. Things could also be better. (Stronger. Faster?) Not because I am greedy for anything or think I don’t have enough. I do, and I still spend all I earn because I don’t care for money or power.

Yet I think everyone should attain their full self-expression; the world would be better off for it. And so much of me is not expressed!! I’m torn between my desire to create great software, my pull toward innovations in hardware & business, and my ever-growing fascination of sexual expression & art. I want to build schools in Africa as much as I want to shoot beautiful pornography in Morocco. That’s not a joke – I want all of the above, and I want them all bad. And so I am lost.

I suppose that’s what 30 is about – finding my path. I’m often jealous of people who find their path by age 25. But me… I can’t stop questioning everything – from the custom of marriage, to the concept of being employed for another 30 years while many others retire by age 30, to being a citizen of just one country (why is country more important than the world??). Perhaps I should try it all – software, hardware, LSD, threesomes, intense studying, pushing my body to be the best it can be, going to places I’ve never been.

I’m not a boy in a small town anymore. But I still feel like I don’t exactly belong. This society, this time period – they’re great. But they’re *a* society, *a* time period, set in *a* place; I constantly feel like I’m outside the bounds. I can’t help but think how different everything will be 100 years from now, and if that new way of life will be better (just like we think today’s way of life is in many ways better than 100 years ago), why not try to find that way of life now? And so I try to find that which transcends time, culture, and geography. Love is one such thing, obviously, and it’s incredible (and hard to find). But how many other things are there? I want to find them. I want to live them. And then I want to be an example that inspires others to seek them. And so looking forward, I’m inspired.

Lastly, I am thankful. I’m hella lucky to have met the people I’ve met. Sometimes, your family is the best thing to happen to you, while your friends drag you down. And sometimes, it’s the opposite – your friends are your reprieve, and your family is the altar for your true self. I’ve lived both experiences in the past decade. There are no rules here; sticking with family can be as damaging as sticking with bad friends. Knowing this is one of the most powerful lessons of life. Don’t be limited by tradition or culture; seek people that make you a better human being from day-to-day, and timely abandon those that do not.

Dirty thirty, here we go!

PS: Stretch goal – finally getting a green card this year! OMG this is taking forever.

A Man…

…was sitting in a wheelchair on a street. Shrugged over, eyes closed, right hand slumped over a can of beer. Right foot: old bandages. Left foot: an old shoe.

“A homeless,” I thought, my belly full of the burrito I just ate (and a little bit of beer). “Maybe I should give him some money? Nah, he’ll just spend it on bee… wait… he’ll spend it on the same things I just spent it on. Why am I judging?” I put on my helmet, my gloves, turned toward my motorcycle at the curb, argued with myself for another minute, then turned around and walked up to the man. “In a week, I’ll be at Burning Man where there are no transactions, only gifts. I should start practicing today,” I thought.

He woke up from my presence, but wasn’t looking at me at first.

“Here, have a nice night, sir” I said, putting a $20 bill into his hand. He didn’t grab it, and it almost fell out.
“What? You said what? What’s this?” he asked. And then he looked up at me. Black eyes, blacker than his skin. Ahhh, he’s blind.
“Just some money, you can take it.” I answered.
“Oh. OH! Thank.. I didn’t… thank you. But.. wait.. how much, what is it?”
“That’s 20 bucks.”
“What? Twe… twenty? Twenty dollars? Oh my. Oh my. Is it truly, in my hand, right now?”
“It is, sir.”
“This here? This here is that much?” I felt my heart retreat.
“Yes. You should hide it in a pocket.”

“Oh yes, I should, I should. Thank you, thank you,” the man mumbled, with expression on his face that I may never forget – expression of most pleasant surprise, perhaps hope of some kind. Hope, like an old friend who does not visit often. He instinctively tried to put the bill in his front shirt pocket, perhaps still half-asleep, for he was wearing a sweater that didn’t have a front pocket.

“Oh, there’s no pocket there, sir. Try a jeans pocket. Have a nice night,” I said, as I pat him on a shoulder and walked away. “Oh, oh, and you.”

I gave before, but that.. felt different. That felt substantial. Perhaps because I gave without being asked. Perhaps because I expected a druggie, but found a broken, truly disabled man.

I left him: a most unexpected surprise painted on his face.

He left me: a fresh pair of water droplets stuck in my eye sockets.

Freedom, the 2014 edition

Freedom… it ain’t so free.

I’ve been fighting for freedom my whole adult life: from a controlling father (great intentions, questionable methods) to US immigration system that’s hell-bent on deporting you to “daddy issues” to work environments that depress, most of my time was spent on gaining freedom. Freedom to make own decisions, to shape my personality instead of inheriting it, to do what I love and whom I love, to have time to create and delight, to not worry about having to leave the country I call home – the US of A. This fight clinically depressed me, exhausted me, and I’d say reduced my IQ by at least 20-30 points. But at the end of last year I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and on this Independence Day I celebrate it getting brighter and brighter, despite the thick haze still surrounding it.

This year is my year to step the fuck up. Here’s what happened recently and what’s coming up!

New City

San Francisco… just… WOW. I can’t put it any other way. Moving here was the best decision I ever made in my life. The only thing I miss is my best friend Sebastian and I hope he moves here as soon as he’s done with his obligations in Nashville, TN.

New Eyes

On Thursday, June 26 of 2014, I had a LASIK surgery performed on my eyes. A week later, I have near 20/20 vision and barely remember what it was like to not see perfectly. It’s amazing. This July 4th I celebrate my independence from glasses and contact lenses!

New Job

I quit Substantial 3 days ago. They are awesome people and a very capable company, but as far as software engineering goes my only passion now is iOS. So I got an even awesomer [sic] job where I’ll do iOS development all day, every day. I want to get great at it, and I want to have fun doing it. A raise to finally get my salary back to the level I had in Nashville, and a small chance of getting a windfall in case of the startup succeeding don’t hurt either.  This does mean I have to restart my green card process once again… but YOLO.

‘XXX’ Hobby

Yes, I love sex – doing it, watching it, shooting it. I don’t understand how something so natural, so instinctive, and so necessary to our happiness and survival gets so abused, oppressed, and disrespected in most cultures, religions, and communities around the world and even this country. Sex is life, literally. The human body is a work of art. For a few years I’ve been deliberating learning photography and shooting nudes. It starts this summer. I look forward to meeting beautiful women and exploring my creative side. I couldn’t be more excited!

No More Hiding

I am not a gay or bisexual person. But I am a simultaneously monogamous and polyamorous person. There have been girls that floored me so much, I wanted nothing and no one else (although I wouldn’t say no if she invited other girl(s) to join us for sex). At the same time, I can’t escape the overwhelming feeling that I can, in fact, be in love with two girls at the same time. It’s a very specific, real feeling; for example, three girls is a no-go. I don’t expect most people to understand this. But I also don’t feel like explaining myself or hiding this part of me anymore. This just is, and it’s as real as any other part of me. I am OK with it.

It’s funny how your world changes when you stop hiding. I already met a girl who not only understands, but is similar. If you go to OK Cupid, for example, and search for “poly”, you’ll find that there’s a slice of population that feels the same way. And, like me, they have trouble finding similarly minded people. Poly isn’t about sex and orgies; poly is about removing all jealousy, insecurities, and various cultural restrictions to the point where you feel nothing but purity toward another person. It’s an incredible level of trust; come anything, you won’t betray it. It’s so, so beautiful.

Building Things: Coffee Machine, Apps for Blind/Deaf, Robotics

This year is the year to build – cool iOS applications, an expanded circle of friends, a photo portfolio… but also stuff with Arduino and Raspberry Pi. I don’t know the latter yet, but I want to learn. I have ideas, such as a badass and affordable (read, mass-market) coffee machine. Keurig is cool and all, but omg can we do better than that! I have the next 2-3 weeks all to myself, so I’ll buy some basic components and get the ball rolling.

New Friends

I’ve been working hard in the last month to meet new people. I used to be an ass people didn’t want to hang out with. But despite my rough edges, at heart I always loved people. There’s nothing I want more than to find people I can trust, love, and share an innocent connection with, people who won’t fuck you over for something as unimportant as money, power, or ego. If you are in the same camp – send me a tweet. :)

No Judging

Like this wise man points out, you can’t be truly free if you judge people.

Burning Man

Someone please sell me a ticket! :D Do you want me to beg? I’ll beg. I just know it will be a life-changing experience. Can’t wait!

Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta. Happy Independence Day!

The LASIK experience

I don’t show it, but I am petrified. The papers I signed list “Death” as potential outcome, twice. The numerous other potential side effects listed are arguably more scary than death, at least to a young single man in his prime. What if I am that 0.1%? Is correcting -1.5 diopters worth the risk? What if the laser errors on me because, like all software, it probably has bugs? And what if…

“Common, dear, let’s get you in there, we’re ready,” I hear the nurse saying.

I recognize my doctor and 3 assistants I haven’t seen before. Everyone’s smiling. There’s a leather bed attached to a machine. I lay down, and anesthetic drops go into my eyes. The first ones feel like water and they make me want to blink. But the drops act fast; I can see the second round coming down, but I can’t feel them hitting my eye. Like rain over windshield – they land and wash away without seemingly touching me. Since I can’t feel them, I no longer want to blink as they hit. It’s a strange feeling that, in hindsight, makes sense.

My left eye lids are taped to my cheek and forehead next. Another drop comes down. The doctor brings the flap-creating laser above my eye and presses it down. I feel pressure around the eye socket; it’s uncomfortable, but nothing to write home about. “Try to focus on the dot, Alex, this only takes 14 seconds. Great. We have a lock. Here we go.” says an assistant. “10 seconds left. Your vision should start going out now, yes?” Says another assistant. I murmur “Yep”. “That’s normal. And… done. Now the doctor will lift the flap.”

The femtolaser is removed, and all I can see are blurry lights. I can tell the doctor is moving some small instrument over my eye to lift the flap, but I don’t feel it. Vision clears up a bit once the flap is lifted. “Try to focus on the green dot.” The bigger machine’s arm, the main laser, comes down, and I focus on the dot. “Just 4 seconds, Alex,” I hear someone saying. “We have a lock,” says another voice. I faintly hear the machine kick in, and a second later I smell burnt… something. But 4 seconds is over fast. “That’s it. We’re putting the flap back on.” More drops come down. “We’ll keep this eye open for a few more seconds, and then move on to the next one.” 10 seconds later the tapes on eye lids are removed, I can blink, and I’m asked to close my left eye and open the right one.

Another minute and the right eye is done. I’m asked to open both eyes and am helped off the bed. Expecting to be temporarily blind, I instead find myself being able to see better than I did before I walked in. “Don’t be so surprised,” says my coordinator who appeared just on time, “Your vision is fixed now; all that’s left is for the flap to heal.” Technology – isn’t it fucking amazing?

I’m given a Vicodin and a sleeping pill; the Vicodin will kick in right about the time the eye anesthetic drops start wearing out. Perfect. A friend drives me home, I take a 4-hour nap (I’m told the first 4-6 hours are most important to keep eyes closed). I get up for an hour to snack (noticing that I can see just fine), and go back to bed for a full night’s sleep.

The next morning I don’t even feel I had surgery, and my eyesight is nearly 20/20. My eye doctor says he can barely see where the flap was cut; it’s a faint line even under magnification. “It’s crazy what they do these days,” he murmurs.

In the next post I’ll share what I learned about the type of lasers you want to find for your own surgery and why it’s important to get 2nd and 3rd opinions, so stay posted!

My 26-yo Friend is Dying, You CAN Help. Please help.

Suzy was an amazing human being and a healthy, well-fit MIT grad when she was diagnosed with 2 cancers at age 26. She had 6 chemos and is holding up well, but she’s now bankrupt and cannot afford the 10% downpayment for her 7th. The downpayment is $4300. This means she’ll be saddled with the other 90% as debt, BUT she may live to actually have a chance at paying it off. 

PLEASE donate what you can here:

I’ve donated hundreds of dollars over the last few months. I recently saved up to buy the camera of my dreams, a Leica; I will be returning it this week so that I can donate more money. I won’t let my friend die. 

Suzy is a scientist, a lovely human being, and a highly inspiring friend who helped me set high goals back when I was still in Ukraine. I _know_ she will have a great, positive impact on this planet and on humanity in general if she is allowed to live. Let’s please save her. 

Thank you, immeasurably.