Happy holidays, friends.
Phenology refers to the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate, plant, and animal life cycles. I love writing an annual letter every year because it's like a phenology of the self. Some themes are cyclically recurring in my life. Some energies bloom, some wilt. All life is change, which is a beautiful immune system for the thing I dread most: repetitive stagnancy. I'm grateful that new challenges and new surprises are built into this experience.
Looking back at the year: 2023 felt like... cabin respite energy. I predict 2024 vibes will reflect the fact that I've recharged.
Also, if I haven't seen or heard from you in a while, I want to change that. Let's be more active in making our paths cross, be it San Diego, Seattle, France, Kenya, Australia, wherever. I'm sure we can make this work 😄
2023 in 23 big bullets
1/ 2023 was a recovery year for me. I was slowly killing myself with work for the past two years and lost many things along the way, including my fitness, my mental and physical health, my libido, my energy, and my openness to risk. Last year, I told my team that I'm consciously taking a step back from work to make it more sustainable, and they were supportive. I've reclaimed my nights and weekends, I've turned off all work notifications on my phone, and accepted that I can't do everything. The world keeps turning, and I am smiling more, dancing more, and get to think more creatively. It's magical what an extra breathing room can do.
2/ I saw a doctor for the first time in three years (yeah, I know). They flagged my high total cholesterol (TC), but I also have really high HDL-C, which is supposedly protective against cardiovascular disease (yay). Naturally, I dove deep into this topic and discovered that everything I thought I knew about cholesterol was wrong. And most physicians I've talked to have absolutely no nuanced understanding, either. They'll look at one number (TC), but don't account for subtypes of cholesterol (LDL), nor order more tests to probe further into the sub-subtypes (VLDL) or ratios from other lipoproteins (ApoB) that are more indicative of hazard. Cardiovascular disease is what kills most of us – shouldn't general practitioners have much more lipidology training?
3/ I'm a total fiber-head now. One big dietary change I've made this year is eating way more fiber. Did you know 95% of Americans don’t even get their 38 grams per day of fiber? It was surprisingly hard for me to clear that bar without supplementing with psyllium husk and a ton of chia seeds in my morning smoothie (ask for recipe). Fiber is good for almost everything: gut microbiome, blood sugar, cholesterol, total food consumption, etc. I’ve also been lowering my saturated fats by avoiding (but not eliminating) animal products, but it’s still really hard to keep sat fats down. My friend once told me if you eat a single Lindt Chocolate Truffle, you’re already at 70% of your recommended daily limit. Geez!
4/ I've run 923 miles in about 8 months. For context, last year I ran 18 total. Drake would would say that's 0 to 100, real quick (fuck being on some chill shit). I was surprised by how far gentle consistency will get you! I just started slow and steady, focusing on cadence and staying at a Zone 2 heart rate. Six months later, I was able to run a casual 15 miles in barefoot shoes, and I ran my first trail race in five years (30K). My VO2max went from 46 to 60 ml/kg/min (LOL). The race felt like butter, and crossing the finish line was hugely symbolic for me. It felt like a spiritual rebirth, like I've regained my soul after having been physically sedentary and mentally stagnant for the past few years. Highlight of the year. I wrote more about that running journey here.
5/ I've done two stand-up comedy sets! It's been a dream of mine to try stand up comedy after watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a few years ago, but then I came up with a million reasons not to do it. This year, my friend and I started to send each other an original joke a day, and then he co-hosted some small private events where we performed. It was exhilarating! (Ask me for video). The joke-a-day exercise really helped me see the world through a comedian's lens. Lesson: All parts of life can be funny; everything is material. I'm so grateful for having experienced that perspective.
6/ I'm a real uncle now for the first time! (not just "Uncle Wes" to all my friends's kids & their dogs). I've grown up with a dozen baby cousins, but holding a baby niece for the first time... hits different. She feels so much closer to me than any other baby. Maybe it's my current age, but it switched on a parental urge and dare I say it, a baby fever. It's a foreign feeling to me, but I feel more sensitive and more... relational?
7/ Went back to Thailand for a week long diving trip, back to where I first got certified (in Koh Tao). I took my little brother with me. He got certified, and saw a whale shark on his fourth ever dive. I don't think he understands the gravity of what he's seen. There were people on the boat with 400 dives who have never seen one! I forgot how much I love diving, and I'm considering living a month there getting my divemasters some day. Also if you're ever in Bangkok, I highly recommend staying at The Standard: best hotel I've ever stayed at, and not the most expensive.
II. Things on my mind
8/ Division of labor is efficient, but labor together is time well spent. I learned this from watching my friends take care of their new baby together. Instead of one person bathing the baby and the other cooking (division), they both bathe together and they both cook together (multiplying). There are more important things than getting things done. This insight penetrates through so many other reflections right now.
9/ I have been reflecting on money a lot this year. Long short, I have been watching my pennies too closely, to detriment of what fulfills me. I look back at all the things I said no to because it all seemed so expensive. I was so fixated on the power of compound interest of money that I overlooked the compound of interest of memories: The more positive experiences I can create earlier on, the longer I get to look back at them for. Those experiences will probably change me exponentially. So I made a commitment to spend more on the things that matter to me. I reflected more on this topic here.
10/ "Do you ever get the feeling like everything made to make our lives better is slowly just making everything worse?" I can't stop thinking about this. We have all the music and podcasts at our fingertips and wireless earbuds, but it's also made it harder than ever to talk to strangers in a public place. We can feed so many people now, but all the food is trying to kill us (this book, and this book) and killing the environment. The internet is amazing at connecting us to each other, but also more disconnected to Others. Is a "net good" worth the bad?
11/ I had a mini-existential crisis this year where I kept ruminating about why I do anything, who I do it for, what's the point, etc. I ranted about performativity and whose instructions we're following here back in June. But it came back again in a more coherent reflection here in November on what it means to actually be embodied in the life we're living.
12/ I'm never satisfied as a spectator. I learned this about myself this year. I can't just look at some beautiful mountains, or just look at a gorgeous lake. I want to go swim in it. I want to run, backpack, climb, and scramble. I want to cut my skin on branches and juice my brain with adrenaline. Sometimes, putting my body on the line is the best way to feel like I can engage with something. My mom wants me to go "sightseeing" instead of doing "risky" things, and I just can't understand why anyone would think window shopping at life is ever fun. I've accepted that I'm just wired like this.
13/ Appreciating the craft makes life more beautiful. I live next to the iconic Heath Ceramics. I walked in one day, and though they were beautiful, I could not understand why a single plate costs $45. So I enrolled in a 8-week ceramics class at a nearby studio to fully understand the nuances. Now, I find myself in restaurants more interested in the plates than the food! Similarly, after years of developing taste with photography (by actually doing it), and now making videos for work, I find myself appreciating how much thought goes into lighting the scene to visually communicate the conceptual intention. It adds enormous value to the things I consume, but it also ruins a few things (I abhor the lighting job in modern-era fantasy shows like Rings of Power and Wheel of Time!).
14/ This is frivolous but... Apple Music is better Spotify if you care about sound quality. I can't believe I'm saying this (because I believe in cross-platform) but it's just true. I've wasted countless hours to experimentation because I've become quote an audiophile lately. If you have a hi-fi system, it's a no-brainer. The sonic quality is just night and day. But if you listen mainly via your Bluetooth headset, you likely won't hear a difference. Other streaming services offer lossless but their app interfaces just suck (Tidal, Amazon Music, Qobuz).
III. Things I loved
15/ The Bear (TV, FX/Hulu) - This might be the best show on TV ever (hello, enemies). Between the writing, the cinematography, the editing, the score, this is a show that I've spent countless hours just watching YouTube videos about it, like this interviews with the editors on how they edited some of the scenes. Whether it's the incredible 17-minute one-cut adrenaline-shot of an episode (1x07, "Review") or the hour-long clenchfest of a family dinner (2x06, "Fishes"), or the tender transformation in (2x07, "Forks"), this show is a work of art.
16/ Lessons in Chemistry (Apple TV+, book) - I couldn't put this book down, and I devoured the TV show. I teared up on an airplane. The experience was like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; it breathed new life into me. Reluctantly, I liked the TV show better, but they both were brilliant in different ways. I particularly loved how the show beefed up the neighbor's plot line (Mrs. Harriet), which made her a better foil to the main character, who Brie Larson did a fantastic job portraying. Watch the trailer.
17/ Lakota Nation vs United States (documentary) - A must-watch documentary about Lakota people, by Lakota people. Part history lesson about the lasting impact of the brutal colonization of the people, but also part powerful chronicling of the resiliency and ongoing fight to reclaim their land after the US violated our treaties with them (#LandBack movement). Watch the trailer, and do them a favor and buy it to watch it (I'd like to think it supports the Indigenous filmmakers).
18/ Life of Riza (YouTube vlog) - I stan for Kariza. I love the cinematic quality of her vlogs. Sometimes she says so much without saying anything at all. I liked this one about taking risks and figuring it out later, and this one on not waiting for life to happen to you which was made from her diary entry: "You have to take risks. It's the only way to find out who we really are. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live?" I love seeing her improve and develop her style over time.
19/ Ali Siddiq: Domino Effect (comedy) - I started watching a ton of stand up comedy to "take class," as they say. I love the way Ali tells stories and makes it funny. Doesn't feel like he's telling jokes. In this two part special, he definitely has a lot of stories. From being a child "street pharmaceutical sales rep," to the stories from 10 years in prison, he makes it all so engaging. I liked Part 2 (LOSS) because of the heavy topics.
20/ Killers of the Flower Moon (David Grann) - 5/5 book true crime about how people were marrying Native Americans and killing their families (and their spouses) for rights to their oil money (Indigenous land was stolen, but they had rights to the resources underneath). Reads like a mystery novel.
21/ The High Sierra: A Love Story (Kim Stanley Robinson) - 5/5 book made me rethink my own relationship to place, and think deeper about what environmental psychology says about my own happiness (and makes me ask, where do I want to settle down?). KSR, known for his environmentally-themed science fiction, reveals how his escapades in the High Sierras have shaped how he thinks about the world, and more importantly, conveys how it's possible to have such a deep relationship to a place. Highly recommend if you're interested in an autobiography embedded in natural history.
22/ Switching from the Apple Watch to this Garmin helped me get back in shape. It's a small thing, but wearing something that is constantly centering my life around fitness makes it feel normal (and the activation barrier smaller). Every time I check the time I'm also seeing my fitness metrics. Every morning I get a report of how how well I slept and how that translates to my training that day. Again, not necessary, but it did help. Even top-of-the-line Garmin watches are atrocious smartwatches compared to the AW, but I do think it is superior for sports.
23/ The latest iPhones are so huge for photography. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and being able to shoot in ProRAW format from my pocket is making that even more true. I love being able to edit with Darkroom on the fly. I just upgrade to the latest iPhone which now lets me shoot 4K in ProRes Log straight to an external SSD, which unlocks so much creative freedom from something so compact. 2024 is going to be big for my creativity, I think. Probably mostly food photos.