On Going Feral

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Regenerations

Yesterday, a colleague looked at me and deadpanned, “aren’t you supposed to have a long beard?” When you remote-work for an extended period (it’s been six months since my last visit to the mother ship), you can expect to hear your share of jokes and odd remarks when you do show up. Once you become a true cloudworker, a ghost in the corporate machine who only exists as a tinny voice on conference calls, perceptions change. So when you do show up, you find that people react to you with some confusion. You’re not a visitor or guest, but you don’t seem to truly belong either.

I hadn’t planned on such a long period without visits to the home base, but the recession and a travel freeze got in the way of my regular monthly visits for a while. The anomalous situation created an accidental social-psychological experiment with me as guinea pig. What’s the difference between six months and one month, you might ask? Everything. Monthly visits keep you domesticated. Six months is long enough to make you go feral. I’ve gone feral.

Feral cat (Wikimedia Commons, GFDL)

Feral cat (Wikimedia Commons, GFDL)

[Read more…]

On Being an Illegible Person

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Regenerations

I’ve been drifting slowly through California for the past three weeks at about 100 miles/week, and  several times I’ve been asked an apparently simple question that has become nearly impossible for me to answer: “What are you here for?”

Unlike regular travelers, I am not here for anything. I am just here, like area residents. The only difference is that I’ll drift on out of the Bay Area in a week.  The true answer is “I am nomadic for the time being. I just move through places, the way you stay put in places. I am doing things that constant movement enables, just like you do things that staying put enables.” That is of course too bizarre an answer to use in everyday conversation.

My temporary nomadic state is just one aspect of a broader fog of illegibility that is starting to descend on my social identity. And I am not alone. I seem to run into more illegible people every year. And we are not just illegible to the IRS and to regular people whose social identities can be accurately summarized on business cards. We are also illegible to each other. Unlike nomads from previous ages, who wandered in groups within which individuals at least enjoyed mutual legibility, we seem to wander through life as largely solitary creatures. Our scripts and situations are mostly incomprehensible to others.


[Read more…]

At Home, in a Car

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Regenerations

Early tomorrow morning, I will pile stuff into my twelve-year old Corolla one more time, and make the two-day drive from Las Vegas to Seattle, via Twin Falls and Boise. My car (which I bought new in 2000) is now over 130,000 miles old and has sported license plates from five states. It has traveled with me from Austin to Ann Arbor to Ithaca to Rochester to DC to Vegas. That last trip was also a nomadic driveabout across the lower 48 that covered nearly 8000 miles over six weeks. Many of you have met my car. Some of you have ridden in it as well.

To the extent that there is any sign of external continuity to my adult life, it is tied up in this car. It has also been the only non-disposable physical part of my life for a long time. Since I arrived in America at age 22, I have not lived in a single place continuously for more than three years. In about a week, I will turn 38. I will have lived in 16 apartments/houses and half a dozen cities through my adult life. My digital life will have passed through half a dozen computers, email addresses and cell-phones.

For much of this time, my car has been the only physical anchor of my sense of place and self.


[Read more…]


This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Regenerations

Tomorrow, along with my wife and cat, I’ll be getting on a plane on a one-way trip to Los Angeles, where I will be living for at least a year. As I mentioned in passing last week, it’s for a year-long fellowship with the Berggruen Institute (details in this Twitter thread). I’ll hopefully be working on a second book. But as big geographic moves always are for me, this move is also a convenient excuse and opportunity to regenerate.

And for the first time in my life, I find a part of me doesn’t want to regenerate (which is of course the best reason to do so).

It is that part of me that wants this particular Seattle chapter of my life to continue uninterrupted. I have been happy here for 7 years, the longest I’ve lived in one place as an adult, and I suppose I don’t want to interrupt a stream of consciousness that appears to be working.

I’m not certain what we’ll do after the year. Perhaps we’ll return to the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps we’ll like SoCal enough to stay. Perhaps we’ll head off in a new direction.

What is certain though, is that there is no coming back as such. One can only go back to a place (and only sort of), not to a time. Which is why moving with big jumps in space is so valuable. It forces you to catch up with time.

[Read more…]

Hello Again, Seattle

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Regenerations

Last week, for the 11th time in my adult life, I made a long-distance move to a different city. But for only the second time, it is to a city I’ve already lived in: Seattle. And the first time doesn’t really count, since it was for a year-long break from grad school I always knew I’d be back from.

When I left Seattle for Los Angeles 4 years ago, in June 2019, the intent was to stay a year, and decide where to go next right after my fellowship at the Berggruen Institute ended, with a return to Seattle only one low-likelihood possibility among many. At the time, I wrote about it in my post Regenerations, the fourth installment in a straggling decade-plus blogchain chronicling my moves. Then the pandemic happened, one year turned into four, and a city I thought I’d just pass through as a longer-term tourist turned into the venue of a significant life chapter. I was 44 when I left. I’m 48 now, a few months from 49, and less than two years away from the big 5-0.

But though it took longer than I expected, I’m once more in that familiar (and at this point, rather tiresome) liminal passage, having left one empty apartment behind, living out of another, with my stuff (now in 1.5 containers rather than 1) in transit somewhere in the containerized ether.

[Read more…]