I had been saving up for this moment. I am finally left with a little time to myself, since November of last year we've been moving across the country as a family. We bought this house less than two months ago. I was finishing up school which I plan to talk about later. It's the last week of August and I am just now starting to feel like I have a bit of control over my own schedule.
I'm long past due for an update on the state of CHILLFILTR, the blog, the literary component, music submissions. There are so many different projects that I often feel paralyzed by the amount of work that I have ahead of me. I owe everyone some news, and I have for some time. It's been months now that I don't even have a handle on my email inbox. It's just too much, I lose messages all the time in the constant flow of promotional pitches. I'm not complaining, exactly, because in many ways this is what I was trying to do: create a brand that holds at least some sort of respect around the world, and there are moments where I feel like that might actually be true. There's a lot that I want to talk about — from the sorry state of academia, to the mercurial nature of prose writers and poets, to the strange but vaguely appropriate addiction that indie musicians have to "free promotion." I will unpack all of that hopefully soon, but tonight I threw my hands up and said that I will be completely irresponsible with the use of my time.
I have a love-hate relationship with social media, as I imagine most of us do, which is that tortured combination of a need to be acknowledged with a pride in the lack of such acknowledgment. Over the years I have more or less completely retreated from my personal relationships, such that I can count on one hand the possibilities of who might be texting me at any given moment. It's a blissfully monastic life that I now lead, and I am very grateful for it. Every day I give thanks to live in a place that is so wide open and uncrowded. It is truly a blessing. Of course, in the summer months I will be left with vast amounts of lawn to cut, and I already spend a lot of time pushing jugs of water around in a wheelbarrow while I ardently question my own decision to plan so many trees uphill from the closest water source. But then I'll see a Carolina grasshopper, or one of those cute little chipmunks, or a baby rabbit running through the grass, take a deep breath, and reconnect with the part of me that always wanted more of a connection with nature, but never really knew how to do it. I went camping a handful of times in college, but I always found myself a little too drunk, a little too stoned, and a little too obsessed with stoking the fire to really have much of an experience. I know now that was simply an unfortunate coping mechanism, resulting from some pretty intense social anxiety. There are times that I wish I could have those years back, and make better choices. But then I'd have to give back the life that I have now: my wife, my kids, and I could never do that. So the next best thing is what I did — I cleaned up my life, I quit smoking, I quit drugs, and I drastically cut back my drinking to healthy levels. I used to lie to the doctor when asked about my habits. I just didn't feel comfortable telling the truth. Now I have nothing to lie about. But anyway: nature.
Back to Nature
The best thing about this kind of isolation is the opportunity to decompress. Raising young kids comes with its own set of stresses, and being married is not always free of conflict; but beyond that I am glad to have evolved past a need for city life. I still have an unnatural attachment to the city of Paris, and I spent most of my young adulthood, at least the important years, in Los Angeles where I met my wife. So I can honestly say that I've known both sides, and there was a time when having a different Michelin-starred restaurant on every corner was one of my most important touch-points for recreation. I've always loved the idea of a walking city but even in the best of places with density comes confusion, crime, and lots of noise. I do not miss the sound of traffic, and helicopters in the night; sirens, arguments, bar-time drunks. Now, when I open the door after dark, I hear only two things: crickets and bullfrogs. That brings me joy.
Even as far back as Los Angeles, I had already started drifting away from the mainstream. Many, many people move to LA only to leave again, and for a time I was proud to be one of the survivors, one of the few who had found a way to stay. And I do owe my success as a software developer to those years in Los Angeles, and the truly spectacular job market that many in my generation took for granted. But even in those idyllic times, it became apparent to me that something was wrong with the corporate model writ large. I even came up with a name for what I saw as an inevitable and simple byproduct of corporate success. I called it "Axel's Law."
The quality of life for the average worker at a given company will always have a negative correlation with the accumulation of corporate profit over time. — Axel's Law
Now, stay with me here. Krister, I hear you saying, how can that possibly be true? When a company succeeds, isn't that good for everyone?
Well, yes and no. For the average worker, success over time will guarantee a transition from what started out as a product focus, to a focus on profit above all other things. For a handful of elite workers, there may well be a net improvement that comes from this refocus. But for the vast majority of workers, success over time will lead to "cracking down" on the little things that once brought them joy. A smaller company, earlier in their development, will often cater to every worker in an effort to create just the right environment for new ideas and a general sense of well-being. Once a company moves into profitability, they will attract new investors, who will inevitably look for ways to cut costs and create homogeneity in the workplace. Lately, the big story is how OnlyFans has decided to completely cut off the adult content creators that were such an integral part of their early growth. This could be considered an example of Axel's Law. Put more simply: when it comes to the life of a worker at any given company, working conditions always get worse, not better.
Why Does this Matter?
So there I am in Los Angeles, with a solid career as a software developer, taking most of that money and using it to produce my own albums, pay the musicians fairly, and book tours to the best of my ability. Those were glorious years. At the same time that this was happening, a rather large subset of my circle of friends in college decamped for San Francisco, and found impressive success. These were not my best friends, but certainly close friends. As is my habit, I ignored them all. But with the rise of Facebook, I did get back in touch a little bit. Just enough to see how the other half lives, so to speak. The only reason I mention it is that I got some news today that one of these friends just left their job at Apple to work on the Facebook Metaverse team. Part of me is jealous, and part of me feels ridiculous for having that emotion. In my 20s there would have been almost nothing I wouldn't do for a shot at working for either of those companies. I even interviewed at Twitter many years ago, that would've been '08 or '09, and I really nailed that interview except at the end she asked me if I knew what "Big O Notation" was and at the time I didn't. That led me to a class at Stanford on data structures, and if I had just done that first my life might have taken a very different turn.
I have to admit that I am struggling with this simple bit of knowledge about someone I am not very close with anymore because it feels meaningful to my admittedly strange imagination. I'm here with zero options for food delivery, happy to hear the crickets outside my door, while someone from my same college and graduating class is leaving his job at Apple to work for Facebook. This is what happens when you have the power to make choices for yourself. Is this regret I am feeling? Nostalgia? Something else?
Of course I imagine that there are trade-offs. I imagine that the photos they post from their lake house in Wisconsin represent only the handful of weeks that he is able to spend full time with his family. I imagine the day-to-day scheduling between him and his wife involves a lot more independence, whereas I am grateful to spend all of every day with my wife raising our children. I imagine his children go to school every day, whereas my wife and I homeschool our two little ones. And, perhaps most importantly, if someone offered me tomorrow the opportunity to switch places with Tony, of course I would say no. I love my life, exactly as it is.
I think what it boils down to is just FOMO — a fear of missing out. That world is so far away from me now that it feels exotic and enticing. I think it is safe to say that in this case, as is so often the case, the fantasy is much better than the reality. At least, that's how I imagine it.
The Venn Diagram
So instead of writing the update that I've had in my head for weeks and even months, I decided to write something about Tony and his dream career as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Reality Labs. That really does sound like a fantastic job. My brain wants to find something bad about it, so I don't have to be jealous. If anyone at Facebook / Reality Labs is reading this, here's my pitch to get CHILLFILTR® involved.
An international mix of indie music set in the Metaverse as a continuous Coachella-style performance with multiple stages. A natural language AI-bot sitting at a table in front of each stage to answer questions about the band, voiced by the lead singer. — (hey Zuck - call me)
And then I got sidetracked by Twitter, and I ended up following a thread of silly Venn diagrams. I had an idea for one that I quickly whipped together on Canva. Yes, I have a weird sense of humor. No, you don't have to thank me.
Hey Tony - congratulations on your new job.