Everybody Wants to Die Where They Were Born.
posted 22 Nov 2022 by Krister Axel
I'm going back to Ruby, which feels like coming home.

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When I see you
I feel like I'm coming home — Krister Axel, The River South

I've been thinking a lot about cycles lately. I suppose that's bound to happen when winter sets in a bit early, and you wake up one day with half a foot of snow on the ground. And then you break out the snowblower, and decide on a whim to clear out the other side of the house, only to realize too late that there was still a big hose on the ground hidden under the snow, and a metal tea set that the kids had filled full of mud that all gets stuck in the machine. And you have to do the rest with a shovel which hurts a little bit because you've been having a weird pain in your wrist. And then you say to yourself what else in our lives becomes normalized and just left out in the open, only to be eventually covered up by the passage of time?

Those kinds of cycles.

And then, of course, I'm on a mini vacation before starting a new job. I mentioned earlier that I wanted to write more, and here I am, with the time to do it finally. It just feels weird. So here goes: what do I mean when I say that everybody wants to die where they were born?

Raising kids is hard. But also amazing. My little ones are now 6 and 9, and we, as parents, take very seriously the task of guarding their little psyches like we're twin guardians at the gateway of their hearts, vetting nearly every interaction that they have - at least at first. There are a few families that have earned our trust, and in those situations they can just run off and do their thing. But we're very careful about what gets in front of them, because we know very well that something like Minecraft or Fortnite could easily just take over their thoughts and become an obsession. And right now we're still making marble runs together, and they build little houses with cardboard boxes, and my daughters reads a lot, and she plays fiddle, while my little boy draws dragons and monsters with markers in the kitchen as I make pizza and soup and my wife metes out the vegetables. It's a precious and fragile existence and we are hanging on as well as we know how.

And one day they will be adults and they will be free, and they will have to come to terms with the awesome responsibility of being alive, and figure out what they want to do and what they would never do, and what their preferences are and these years will always be a reference point for them. They will also feel a need to differentiate themselves from us, and maybe they'll go off to college, and start careers of their own. But when they get to be my age, and they've got their own kids, I think they might suddenly crave a simple existence like we have here on the farm. Because like is so often a simple process of going, and coming back. That's what our most cherished tales are about. What's the subtitle for Tolkien's classic The Hobbit?

There and Back Again. LIfe is an adventure, and the joy of an adventure is both the going and the coming back.

And honestly, I see that dynamic pretty much everywhere. From the salmon that swim downstream to mate and then back upstream to lay their eggs, to the 80% of North Americans that live within 100 miles of where they grew up. Sometimes it is just about money, but still: the things we fall in love with at a young age are the things that we carry with us forever, and if we love our lives as children — which my little nuggets certainly do — then we are bound to crave that as we move through life and gather new experiences. There's no school like the old school.

When I was in college, I made the decision to study English because I have always loved language, but also because at the time I truly believed I was only a few short years away from eminent stardom. My band was 'gonna make it,' so it wasn't really going to matter what my degree was in. After graduating in 1997, I took a temp job to save money for the move, and became quite enamored with the newly released Access 97 software from Microsoft that was meant to—and did—open the world of programming (via their scripting language VBA: Visual Basic for Applications) to the 'average consumer.' That was me, with a freshly minted degree in English literature and Creative Writing in hand.

Then I got to Los Angeles, and I spent a few years making lifelong friends in the music industry, but also realizing that 'showbiz' was perhaps not for me. I did not enjoy being on the road, the money was shit, and I just couldn't make it work for me. Meanwhile, there was this thing called the internet that was really starting to show promise, and the skills as a database programmer that I had pulled together for my temp job working with Access were enough to set me up with a decent career as a SQL developer. So far so good. I got hired by a company called TBG Financials and I'll always remember the interview—it was slotted for 30 minutes, and I was sitting at one of those ubiquitous long, rectangular meeting desks at their office in the Twin Towers of Century City, me on one side with 3 interviewers on the other side. There was my soon to be manager, and two senior developers, one from the application team, and one who was more or less a dba (database administrator). After exchanging a few pleasantries, the meeting boiled down to three questions, one from each person across the desk.

The first was a question about SQL - what is a group by query, and how do you use it?

Next, a question about data types: Is Visual Basic a strictly typed language? Can you name a few numerical data types?

And finally, a question about databases: What is a clustered index?

And that was it. In 30 minutes, I went from being simply a database guy to the wide world of application development, a path which would lead me to Ruby on Rails in a few more years. In my recent experience interviewing for new positions, on many occasions I spent many, many hours on a single application. In some cases, there were 4 and 5 layers of interviewing, along with automated technical assessments, behavioral quizzes, you name it. For one company, Persado: I took an assessment online, had 3 rounds of interviews, spent 10 hours on a code project, and prepared an online presentation, only for them to decide not to fill the position. It was exhausting and I'm glad to be done with it. Many of those positions were in various fields that are peripheral to my core skill sets: things like business analysis, and artificial intelligence.

But here's my point: in the last month, things have come full circle. I'm starting a new position in December as a Rails/React Technical architect, which puts me right back in my sweet spot in terms of my technical background. And, in the face of the clusterfuck that is Twitter right now, I like many others have turned to Mastodon as a way of starting fresh. What is Mastodon built with? Ruby on Rails. Here I am, ready to die where I was born.

I have always felt that the things we do as young adults never leave us. The music of our youth defines us, the career choices we make also define us. And once we become experts in something, it can be hard to get back into the beginner's mindset. I am grateful and lucky to have worked with many different types of technologies over my career, from a range of reporting frameworks to different languages like C++, Visual Basic, Python, and lately PHP. But Ruby was always my favorite because it is the most semantically beautiful. As a poet, that is very important to me.

Here's to the going, and to the coming back again.

Cover photo from Midjourney with the help of my two little rascals, Addie and Dax.

About the Author


Krister Bjornson Axel

Ogdensburg, New York

Paris, France. Madison, Wisconsin. Los Angeles. Ashland, Oregon. Ottawa. I write music, I write about music, and I write code. See also: photography, prose, podcasting. I have 1 gorgeous wife, 2 amazing kids, and many interests.

Recent Awards: 2020 ND (Photo) Honorable Mention, 2020 Accenti Writing Contest Finalist