📆 2022 In Review 😓

Tuesday, January 3, 2023 :: Tagged under: pablolife year_in_review. ⏰ 19 minutes.

🎵 The song for this post is Got To Give It Up, by Marvin Gaye. 🎵

Sapo and I having a good snuggle.

Somehow, we're past 2022. Last New Year's Eve I was separated from someone I'd dated for five and a half years, whom I heard commitments to repair our relationship and a desire for marriage and children just two weeks before their behavior pushed me to end it. My apartment had no furniture, no cookware, no decorations, and a roll of toilet paper I took from the last place. It was a bed, a computer, a Sonos, and a dog who wondered where his big family and house were. And mirrors, which let me see how lonely my life was, and the person I was happy to blame for it all.

Life looks a lot better today. I've deepened connections with amazing friends. My apartment whips. I've created and consumed rich artistic experiences and feel more like a creative than I have in years. Much of that comes with renewed clarity on my values, what makes me me and why I love the things I love. I have more of a desire to save what I love than destroy what I hate.

Every day was agonizingly long. Every week was longer than seven days. I didn't think there'd be a tomorrow. I drank. I engaged in other vices.

The days passed by so quickly. I would blink and a season had passed. I'd think about the passed time and remember months of laughter, joy, discovery, and curiosity. I'm lifting again. I took my first real vacation in 3 years.

I kissed a lot. I've rejected, I've been rejected.

While I feel completely at ease with where my life is and in no rush to push it anywhere in particular, I'm also acutely aware that I'm 36. I'm the oldest in a lot of professional settings. I'm closer to 40 than 30. Every other cousin in my generation is partnered, or married, or with kids. I'm my dad's age when my brother was born. I don't think I can rush growth or healing and don't want to settle but I also can't help but feel like I'm a tad late.

Here are two true things about me. The first is something many people know, but the second, I doubt anyone else does; only I have all the context and have paid attention enough to see the pattern:

  1. My brain works very quickly. I'm fast at picking up concepts, and frequently exhibit great feats of cleverness. I've been called precocious (in both casual use and as a psychoanalytic diagnosis) and consider myself a fantastic "sprinter." While long sustained efforts are hard for me, I usually get the first 80% of something faster than most.

  2. Paradoxically: I've always been a late bloomer. I languished my first few weeks of every summer camp, and the first half of middle school, and the first two years of High School and college. I nearly failed out early in college, got my worst grades in early high school. I failed every programming interview until the Spring of my senior year.

    But in the second half of each of those, something internal changed, and I succeeded. I came out of my shell, participated, and defined myself in the second half of every summer program, often winning lead roles, accolades, and prizes. I became a serious actor, then the actor of my high school those final two years. I got accepted by a very prestigious university, then graduated with two degrees. After that period of failing every programming interview, I had a period where I always got offers.

So in some ways, I feel behind. But in context, I'm right on schedule. In my acting days I stretched myself hard to hit the limits of my feelings, but this year taught me I've still got more to discover. The main one I've got in retrospect is gratitude. Let's go over some highlights.

My best blogging (IMO)

FILLME. Click for full size.

Didn't blog it, but I went to Chile this year! The northern desert was amazing.

I've been blogging on-and-off for over 12 years. I think this was my best year, both in the craft of my writing, but also in sharing oneself. Blogging is cynically viewed as a narcissistic exercise (Michelle Wolf: "blogs are a conversation nobody wanted to have with you") but really, I think it's a unique activity for this period in history, and I find it valuable.

I can write a bit more openly since publishing Love and Loving: a lot of these blog posts were with her in mind, "Improbable." I know she'd read 2021 in Review and followed me on social media, but we weren't in regular contact, so I wrote these, and posted where she might see. I was partially motivated by a desire to keep her abreast of where I was, healing-wise, and showcase myself as a person given that we lived in separate cities and didn't talk much.

But these were for me, actually. Like I mention in Love and Loving, I always knew she was a Dulcinea. I had no idea if she'd read them or not; when we met again in August, it turned out she hadn't. I was relatively unmoved by that, because I knew even then: I needed the idea of talking to her to feel allowed to do this for myself.

A related anecdote. Last year a friend and I considered playing a game: we'd "out-LinkedIn" each other on LinkedIn. We both hated the vapid engagement content, the world of clean headshots, the vacuous Thought Leadership, the shameless self-promotion. Everything I read there screams "YUM YUM RICH MASTERS I LOVE YUMMY WORM FOOD." It strikes me as a bunch of whole, deeply interesting people converting themselves into the kind of soulless husks who apparently wake up every day and feel the need to broadcast: "the only way I value my short time on this planet is in service of profit, usually someone else's." My friend and I realized this kind of activity did amplify careers, but we felt above it. So what if we egged each other on to take it to its extreme? Tried to convince as many people as possible that we were truly That Figurehead In Computing, get clean headshots, produce "10 Growth Hacks I Learned When I Saw a Picture of Jeff Bezos On Ayahuasca," and play the game better, but like, as a joke, you know?

Then we realized we probably wanted to play to win, but for reasons of cultural values, personal baggage, self-loathing, and fear of failure, we couldn't just play to win, we needed to wrap it in an ironic game. We wanted to sincerely Win At Career and playing LinkedIn is a way to do it, but refused to play it straight for a million smart-sounding rationalizations. We have to dip that desire in sugar, which was this game where we'd convinced ourselves we didn't really want it, not really.

"Blogging to Improbable" felt like that. I was capable of being charitable to myself, open-minded about a happy future, of articulating complicated thoughts and feelings, and giving myself space to work through them. But until I developed a good-enough habit for it, I needed a visa for it to pass through my depressed brain's customs.

Maybe this context is illuminating? I don't plan on stopping the personal blogging, but it's already different. I noted these little pieces used to come every month or two, but the last one was in September. What changed?

Back to the posts. Here they are in a series if you want to catch up (watch out, they're pretty dense. Try to remember a few months passing between each of them):

I wrote this section because I'm pretty proud of them. I like the other posts too, but these are the stars. Initially, I wondered what to write in "2022 In Review" because in a way, these are the real 2022 in Review.


Votive candles made of my dog, Sapo

Here's another Pablo fact: I'm shit at improv. I was an excellent actor and director but I got too in my head when improvising. What frustrated me was that it felt unfair that I'm not naturally good at improv, because I was good at adjacent things.

Similarly, I felt that unfairness at a "lack of knack" for poetry. I think it's beautiful, and… I should be good at it! I'm good at words! I'm good at stories and feelings and evocative imagery, but it doesn't stick for me like lines of theatre dialogue, or dance.

I wouldn't call this a sore point between Karen and I, but it was a difference. She reveres poetry, and she organized poetry readings at festivals. Not just Karen: before her, two of my most meaningful romantic relationships were with published poets with excellent taste. Poetry was leg day, and I had weak legs. So when Improbable told me a communication channel she'd always welcome was sharing poems, my heart had an instinct to sink, but instead rose to the ocassion and committed to finding and appreciating some great fucking poems.

And I did! I want to give a special thanks to my dear friends Elise Liu and Lauren Johnson, who gave recommendations for anthologies, shared a number of these themselves, and wrote thoughtful treatises on some of their favorite works. They were my unofficial tutors for this journey. I hope I keep discovering great poems going forward. There are about 30 that I especially treasured and shared, the list is at the bottom of the post.

Art-making, art-consuming

Saurya and I at an event, in costumes.

I made some creative work that I'm proud of, that filled my cup. I consumed and participated in some creative work that reminded me how joyful the arts can be and that I have a home there.

A narrative of my last NY trip was how the artistic community I'd been a part of in SF was so different than what I knew and grew up with. I'd always felt a sense of alienation, a difference in values, in both craft and composition. Regardless, I live in San Francisco and still have friends who are part of that circus, so I'm proud of building a piece for one of the festivals. I didn't even get to attend! But it came together beautifully, and deepened a friendship that I truly treasure.

I went to an event I can't say much about publicly but was loaded with risky historical context, and had an absolute blast with my best friend. I formed new bonds with people who had many of the same critiques of the SF scene that I do, and have new friends to look forward to seeing.

I watched The Velocipastor with my brother eating burritos the size of our heads, then made a costume of him for Halloween.

Pablo at another festival, in costume.

I attended the Armando Diaz Experience and the Infinite Wrench in NY and reminded myself that some folks make amazing, fresh, highly creative work that feels more like home.

I slowed down my play readings; the logistics of the invites got unwieldy (a lot of people wanted invites, then would flake; additionally, I was re-evaluating a lot of friendships from my old community). I still held a few. Particular hits were Elinor Vanderburg's Bloodshot, Paula Vogel's Hot and Throbbing, and Abby Rosebrock's Dido of Idaho with a few Ramp employees.

Pablo, Saurya, and a third at a Zedd concert.

One of the best nights of my life.

More Ramp

This is the most boring section because it's the same as last year's: Ramp rules. It's the best company I've ever worked for. I won't write much on this since we're long enough already (but hope to write more when I hit 4 years, this May 🎂).

I'll also say having 2+ years of this be, uh, compromised (2021 where Karen was water-torturing me into euthanizing a relationship she was repeatedly stabbing, and 2022 where I recovered from the loss of that 5-year relationship), to say nothing of going full remote at the pandemic about 9 months into the company… I'm incredibly proud of the work I've put into Ramp, and feel like me being exactly who I am was one of many necessary links in the chain that built it up, and currently forms it. But I also wonder what could have been, if I'd had easier circumstances.

But hey, nobody builds a company in idealized settings, there are always complications, and literally everyone is still living through this blasted pandemic. Here's to more. It's a magical place and I'm glad I can still count it as a blessing.

FILLME. Click for full size.

Hard to find a good "Ramp" photo, but we launched our first out-of-home/print ad campaign, "Doing Finance", which was about how our automation was so good you could be doing things you care about in life and call it "Doing Finance," since we were doing a lot of it for you. So I made this on an office visit.

Accordion! 🪗

I started (and have stuck with) learning the accordion! I think this is the thing I'm most proud of, tbh. I started in April, so I have about 8 months of practice. The first four months were diligent; the last four, practice was much more irregular. I'm very far from where I want to be, but I'm having a blast, and it feels fun to have momentum and joy in a completely new direction.

Something I like to say is that I've never had to learn a language as an adult: I've been speaking Spanish and English for as long as I've been processing language at all; I've never been monolingual.1 Learning a language seems hard.

Similarly, picking up an instrument when you've never successfully played one is very hard. Doing it as an adult who's rebuilding one's life and working at a high-growth startup is harder. It's not Golden Strawberry on the Summit B-Side hard, but it feels close.2 Living alone has its downsides, but I'm very glad nobody else has to hear me honking in their living space this early into my journey.

I've gotten through two beginner books (for 8 and 9 year-olds, respectively) and am now starting to play real songs that people might know. Not hard ones. My goal is to play 4-5 songs by the summer that I can do as a set, maybe sing them too. I've got some videos down in the media grab bag section at the bottom of the post.

Tech stuff, I guess

From a purely Tech perspective, this is probably the most boring year I've had since I've programmed computers. I did some of Advent of Code in Racket, which, if you know my history, is a very safe choice. I wrote the Squardle solver in OCaml, that was a fun distraction.

Here's some more juicy context: the "friend" who told me about Squardle and wrote a bot of their own (inspiring me to take a crack at it) was Karen; she told me about it in the weeks where we talked, and we compared solver implementations. Hers was in Python and provided guidance and suggestions for guesses but required a human to pick from the suggestions, mine actually locked in a single choice.

It's frustrating how much animus I carry for her, more frustrating that talking about it plainly and honestly in factual terms turns people off, but most frustrating: despite all that, our busy brains also really got each other in their own weird ways.

"What's your secret wish for this year?"

Sapo, snuggled in a blanket, near a warm candle.

Photo credit to Lyra Levin, very likely Sapo's best photographer.

Yesterday and this morning, I did YearCompass, a set of reflective questions you can spend a few hours doing to recap your last year and plan for the next. It was recommended by a friend and I recommend it to you.

One of the questions was "what's your secret wish for this year?," and after a ton of very positive and growth-oriented writing, I felt a bit of shame that my absolute initial reaction was still some version of "I want to see those fuckers pay." But not even an entire beat later, literally instants after chuckling at that, I felt my real wish, which reminded me of something else I was tremendously proud of this year.

What happened: I frontpaged Hacker News. But the part that I'm proud of? I didn't notice when it happened, or really care. HN has been around forever and I used to read it obsessively, mostly as a coping mechanism to avoid looking at the pain in my life. Writing content that "gets frontpaged" is something a lot of people aspire to. Reaching a big audience wasn't the goal of So you're using a weird language, I wrote it as a counterweight to Love and Loving — I didn't want that to be the Defining, Most Recent post on my blog, so I balanced with a quick tech blog that summarized a decade of hobby programming. Its main job was to remind myself and others "okay, I just bore out a lot of soul, but I'm still the same nerd I was yesterday."

Someone submitted it to HN, it hit hundreds of points and comments, and I only found out about a week later. Characteristically, the comments show people having holy wars that have nothing to do with what I wrote. But to me, all parts of this were a sign of finally "making it": a community of tech professionals shared and reacted strongly to something I wrote on a lark, out of my passion, not to go viral and it resonated with a plurality of them. I always felt like I was "catching up" in the computers game (reminder of the period of failure in the "late bloomer" bit), it was tremendously validating, but what's more validating was feeling how much I didn't need the validation anymore.

So my actual secret wish? Sure, I feel like I was wronged and I have a hard-on for justice generally, but I look forward to someone accidentally spilling news to me about people who hurt me doing great, making moves, succeeding, and feeling nothing in response. A few elements of this year suggest I might already even be there.

Poems from this year

Sapo looking utterly majestic.

Another photo credit to Lyra Levin.

These were collected over the year, so take your time. Stephen Dunn is on here a lot: he was Charly's favorite playwright in college, and I got an entire collection of his as part of my little "curriculum."

Photo and video grab bag

Here are some favorite photos and videos I couldn't intersperse with the text. I'll start with some accordion videos, then some captioned photos.

Some words, I don't play anything here.

Taking a crack at "My Wild Irish Rose," which I learned from here.

The rustiest one, this is the mangled guts of Quizas Quizas Quizas.

From my book for 9 year-olds, this is The Merry Widow Waltz. I turned to face a music stand and it's shocking how differently the bass side sounds in this video vs. the others.

This is just me showing off a full-sized accordion and nerding out about the instrument.

Pablo and his HS friends, nearly 18 years later.

I went to one of my best friends from High School's wedding this year, hadn't reconnected with some of these folks in a while. Woman next to me I've known since kindergarden. ❤️ I don't know if I'll ever feel kinship to a non-family community like the kids I went to school with.

Pablo, Diego, and Carolina. Pablo and Robert Pablo and Maddy. Pablo at home with Julian, Annalisa, parents, and grandparents.

This was a great year for family too. Aunt's 60th birthday, Christmas, and Thanksgiving meant I got to see folks a lot more than the early pandemic years.

Quote on a wall: "Nuestro enemigo natural eran los hippies. Los encontrábamos la wea más horrible," attributed to Álvaro España.

While vacationing in Chile I visited the Museo de Bellas Artes which had an exhibit on the countercultural/punk art scene of the 80's, which was making art during a dictatorship that disappeared people. After my year recovering from investing poorly in self-proclaimed hippies, who conflated Negativity with Badness and Conflict with Harm, this line was very cathartic to me. Translated (again, in context of a room full of very brave, risky, countercultural work): "Our natural enemy was the hippie. We found them to be just the most horrible little clowns."

Pablo full-body shot on the couch, with Sapo's little head peeking out of his crotch.

A lot of my photos are Sapo and I snuggling; I think we've snuggled more this year than in the previous 6. But this one came out pretty funny.

Ellie and Pablo, 2022. Pablo and Ellie, 2003.

I posted this in the Theatre post, but it was still a magical thing to see Ellie and meet her daughter.

FILLME. Click for full size.

I played two games of Twilight Imperium, each of which took about 12 hours. Say yes to experiences!

Pablo, looking tired with a bad mustache, giving a thumbs-up.

This specific selfie is very meaningful to me in the story of this year.

Sapo looking great in a pile of lingerie.

Finish, per tradition, with a Sapo photo. Again: photo credit to Lyra Levin.

1. ^ Okay, not entirely true: I've learned a fair bit of Japanese. It wasn't fully "as an adult" though: I did a homestay when I was 15 and took classes in Middle School, so my brain was pretty plastic. I still know a couple dozen words and phrases, and the two most basic alphabets.

2. ^ Okay, I'm not starting from absolute scratch here either. I know how to read music and the basics of meter/rhythm from previous instruction in Middle School, and have some instinct for music from singing in musicals in High School. Also… I have a music degree lol, so while I can't play music for shit, I'm better and doing harmonic analysis than many people who can only read tabs (but play way better than me, haha).

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