I can never go back to real life

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When my classes end for the summer, I always quip to people that I’m on summer vacation because the only thing I’ll have to do now is go to work 9-5, and then have five blissful hours of freedom in the evenings.

I’ll think to myself that it’s not a true vacation unless you’re doing absolutely nothing, like you used to do in the summer before school started, but then I remember back to my summers in middle and high school. They were filled with summer work: English books to read, history essays to write, current events to synthesize.

We would get the work on the last day of school, or during the first hazy days in July, a package would come in the mail, the dreaded assignments. No matter how I tried to finish them ahead of time, there I would be, the last couple weeks of August, frantically writing, terrified I wouldn’t get an A and be off to a bad start with my new teacher.

This past summer semester was my hardest one in school  yet: I started a new job almost exactly at the same time as three classes started, and I signed myself up to give at talk at Philly WordCamp in the middle of the month. As a result, my June was hell.

These days, I truly am doing nothing.  Or, I’m only do things that aren’t annoying: as you can tell, I’m not blogging, I haven’t picked up my novel since last week.

I have no commitments other than to my friends and family.

I come home, maybe make some dinner, maybe eat some watermelon. Maybe Mr. B and I go for a nice long walk around the neighborhood, maybe we watch some bad Russian tv.  Maybe I eat a popsicle.

My calendar is clear of any school/teaching/tech obligations until late August.

I lay on the couch and read books. I’ve already finished The Luminaries and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  I start long, thoughtful, angry, poignant blog posts and don’t finish them.  I start short tweets that have jokes and don’t tweet them.

Sometimes I get manicures.

Sometimes I just open the windows and smell the sweet grass Mr. B is mowing.

I have never been this unbusy in my entire life.

And it’s scary how good it feels.

Listicle of small things that make me extremely happy

Valentin Bogdanov - Man in Landscape 1957


  • Getting a thank-you note in the mail
  • New running shoes that are so comfortable
  • The hand massage in the middle of a manicure
  • Having someone favorite a funny tweet I wrote
  • Being done with one of my four classes this semester
  • Cracking open a new book and knowing right away that it’s going to be amazing
  • Hearing “great job” at work
  • Skyping with my mom on her new iPad
  • Getting inspiration for a new chapter for my book
  • Running three miles
  • The feel of autumn
  • Late brunch with friends
  • Watching Mr. B eat a meal I cooked for him
  • Clean sheets
  • Fruit salad
  • SeaSnax
  • Fresh highlighters
  • Finding the right painting that goes with the tone of a blog post

Nassim Taleb



From the Telegraph

Still my favorite philosopher/economist/misanthrope. Still agree with him on nearly everything.

Antifragile resembles a self-help book, though it is difficult to imagine any other self-help book as intemperate and cranky. The author is a tireless self-aggrandiser, boasting of his gargantuan reading habits; of being a weightlifter, ready to physically slap down detractors; and a gourmand, recommending fine wines and camomile tea to ease a troubled mind.

Here are some excerpts from press about him+ Antifragile:

Actually, Antifragile feels like a compendium of people and things Taleb doesn’t like. He is, for instance, annoyed by editors who “overedit,” when what they should really do is hunt for typos; unctuous, fawning travel assistants; “bourgeois bohemian bonus earners”; meetings of any kind; appointments of any kind; doctors; Paul Krugman; Thomas Friedman; nerds; bureaucrats; air conditioning; television; soccer moms; smooth surfaces; Harvard Business School; business schools in general; bankers at the Federal Reserve; bankers in general; economists; sissies; fakes; “bureaucrato-journalistic” talk; Robert Rubin; Google News; marketing; neckties; “the inexorable disloyalty of Mother Nature”; regular shoes.


A reader could easily run out of adjectives to describe Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.” The first ones that come to mind are: maddening, bold, repetitious, judgmental, intemperate, erudite, reductive, shrewd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, provocative, pompous, penetrating, perspicacious and pretentious.


He also comes across as a helluva personality: irascible, finicky, vain, prone to fits of pique at those who mischaracterize his ideas (uh-oh, better watch out), disdainful of journalists (double uh-oh), a weightlifter, too (this is your third and final warning).

On the other hand, he has habits I admire: He told the New Scientist he only goes to doctors if he’s really sick, he takes a dose of local water (a drop, no more) when visiting India (good for the immune system) and apparently he’s never been in debt


You’re critical of various groups who claim to be able to predict and manage the future – which, in your opinion, has done the most damage? The most damaging group are economists; probably the most damaging individual is [former chairman of the US Federal Reserve] Alan Greenspan, and maybe also [current Fed chairman] Ben Bernanke and [US treasury secretary] Timothy Geithner. The reason I’m against the top-down state isn’t so much theoretical, but because of what I call having skin in the game – bureaucrats have no personal stake in their decisions. I don’t tell you what I predict; I tell you what’s in my portfolio. So economics-wise, I don’t want people to tell me what to do; I want to know what they’re doing.


“Exactly!” says Taleb. Once you get over the idea that you’re reading some sort of popular economics book and realise that it’s basically Nassim Taleb’s Rules for Life, it’s actually rather enjoyable. Highly eccentric, it’s true, but very readable and something like a chivalric code d’honneur for the 21st century. Modern life is akin to a chronic stress injury, he says. And the way to combat it is to embrace randomness in all its forms: live true to your principles, don’t sell your soul and watch out for the carbohydrates

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Tax Returns


It is a rainy, misty day in Londondelphia and Vicki sits at her kitchen table, absentmindedly spooning Nutella from the jar and brooding. There are hundreds of papers scattered about and her hair is dishevelled.  She makes small noises of curiosity from time to time and rifles through the papers systematically, throwing some on the floor when she is done. The tea kettle goes off again and again distantly in the background.

Mr. B walks into the room with a slight limp.  For the sake of this story, we are going to pretend that Mr. B is a veteran of the Soviet wars in Afghanistan and partakes in opium, even though Mr. B was not even born when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan happened and I’m not really sure how one would even go about finding an opium den in 2012.

“My God, woman, what are you doing,” Mr. B asks.

“The returns, Boykis, the returns!” Vicki turns towards him with a crazed gleam in her eye.

“What returns?” Mr. B gently turns the tea kettle off and pours himself some Assam, stepping over the mess.

“All of the information we need to file federal taxes for 2011 is missing.  Doubtless an enemy has stolen them for his benefit.  Think, Boykis.  Who would hate us so much that he would want to see our tax information?”

Mr. B rolls his eyes. “No one hates us. We have no enemies.” He pours some milk into his Assam and sits down beside Vicki.

“That’s what you think,” Vicki says, pushing a couple of folders full of mortgage information out of the way, onto the floor. “Moriarty’s spies are everywhere.  Especially when it comes to finding the two documents we need to be able to finish our returns. I bet,” she trails off and puffs on a hookah pipe lying on the floor.

“I bet they realized that we were working on taxes since they saw our attic light on late at night.  They knew we were missing papers, so every day they checked our mailbox while we were out.  One day this week, the electric man was supposed to come check our meter.  Under that pretense and since we live in a relatively crime-free neighborhood where no one is suspicious of normal activity, they came to our house dressed as the electrician and-” Vicki gets up and rushes outside in her bare feet.

“-yes.” She kneels down near the electric meter and traces the soil, rubbing it between her fingers. “The footprints here were much larger than that of a usual electrician. He walks around a lot for his job in checking the houses, so he has very snug shoes, which are smaller than the shoes that imprinted in this here dirt. They took our letters under that pretense and-” she walks over to the mailbox, delicately avoiding any of the soil.

“-yes.” She brushes the top of the mailbox with her finger and tastes it. “They were wearing gloves.  Usually the postman that comes here does not because he’s allergic to latex.”

Mr. B has appeared and is peering outside the front door with suppressed curiosity. “Aren’t you cold?  You should come back in.”

“Patience, Boykis!” Vicki cries. “These non-fingerprints are less than 24 hours old and we are hot on the trail!”

Mr. B holds out a stack of envelopes in his hand.  “Are these the documents you were looking for?” Vicki’s neck jerks up and she squints.

“Why, yes!  How did you find them?”

Mr. B gives her a pointed look. “You accidentally put them in the middle of your Economist magazine as a bookmark.”

Vicki’s whole body slumps, no longer primed for the chase.  She trudges back inside.

“Can I deduce something, if I may be so bold,” Mr. B asks, raising an eyebrow, ushering her in.

“What,” Vicki says, dejected. “Oh, yes, alright.”

“Can I deduce that you’ve been enjoying our watching the new BBC Sherlock Holmes remake, Sherlock, and have been so inspired by what you think is a great show that you wrote a fantasy blog post about something that kind of happened but you made a much bigger deal about it than it was in real life because you are a writer and are crazy?”

Vicki perks up. “Brilliant, Boykis.  You’re finally catching up to my staggering intellect, I see.”


Steve Jobs and the Art of Immortality


Five years ago. The first big purchase I made without any help from my parents.

One of my biggest selfish fears in life is that I’ll die before doing something people will remember me for.

To that you say, that’s why people have kids. And I’ll say, no, I mean something bigger.  Something that influences people I’ve never met, in different countries.

And then I’ll tell you that, after a five-course anniversary dinner last night, making toasts with really classy Israeli wine and not just the crap you find in the Kosher aisle, actually seeing Chef Solomonov in the restaurant (!), and escaping the burbs, Mr. B and I were riding on a high.  Then I scrolled through my Facebook feed, and saw that people had started posting pictures like this:

“Steve Jobs died,” I told him.

And instantly, I don’t know how, but all the fun swept out of the car.

Why were we infinitely sad for and about a man we’ve never met?  We were sad because he died younger than he should have (but that’s usually the price really talented people have to pay), and because he revolutionized the way we think about computers, and because, I think, he made life more beautiful. When I read this back, it sounds really, really white.  And also is glossing over the fact that Apple now has some questionable business practices.

But that’s not the point.  The point is that when I got my iPod sophomore year of college, it was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought.  But that was a time when I was miserable because I could tell my then-roommate hated me, namely because I found a blog she was writing about how loudly I chewed and how weird I was. I also found out on that blog that she was moving out. She told me the day before she left.  It was December, our room didn’t have heat sometimes, I was in the middle of finals, I was a nerd and had no friends, and I needed something to make it through to winter break or I would jump off Old Main.  I saved and saved until I finally went to our on-campus computer store, down in a basement in a big lecture hall building, and handed it all over, and came back with the iPod.

The iPod was it.  I’d had Discmans and tape players before, but this was different.  I could now pick exactly the music I wanted on there. It was also shiny and cool. I was now like everyone else, and I could flaunt it.   I spent two hours, sitting in a blanket in our freezing dorm room, putting all of my music on it.  One of the songs I put on first, was, of course, Survivor by Destiny’s Child, because, damnit, I wasn’t going to let my ex-roommate bring me down, and because I was soooooo proud.  I spent the next couple weeks walking around with my iPod.  Later, I realized I could take it to the gym.  I set running music on it.  And so I started running.  Then, I realized I could plug it into my car as I drove back and forth, from college to home, home to college.  I put Mashina Vremeni on it and thought about my dad and the meaning of life as I drove through the mountains. My iPod saved me.

I bought my iMac when I just graduated college. It was my first major purchase because my Toshiba laptop had died, for the fifth time, taking absolutely all of my files with it. I have a friend who is really into Mac, and he suggested I get one. When I finally bought it, I drove 2 hours to the Towson, Maryland Apple store and then drove back to set it up.  My parents, and aunt, who was visiting from Russia for the first time that time, gathered around.  To them, it was funny that I was getting sooo excited about a computer.  But to me, it really was different from Windows, which I’d used my whole life.  Mr. B, who was just Boyfriend B at that point, came to visit, and made fun of me, because at that point, he was still building his own computers.  “Huh.  That’s interesting,” he said.  In three years, he was also using a MacBook at work.  I think his next computer will also be a Mac.

What is it about Apple computers?  I am, in nature, a creative person.  Sure, I do database stuff and analysis for a living and I am trying in vain to get my MA in Economics, but I really love to write. I love to make Photoshop stuff.  I love to make comics, parody songs, videos about our family, and take pictures.  The Mac opened up a whole new world for me.  I learned Photoshop (not well, but still.) I wrote my novel on this computer.  And I started blogging on this computer.  I don’t know if I would have otherwise, I can honestly say that.  The computer is just a computer.  Just a piece of metal.  But it’s also a lot more. It saved me when I lived alone in DC, when I spend countless hours doing things like this in PhotoBooth (but you can’t tell anyone you saw this photo after you look at it because OHGAWD is it embarrassing. )

The day after we got back from our honeymoon, Mr. B bought an iPhone, which served as our first real GPS in Washington, D.C.   The day I left my last job, I got to keep my MacBook Pro.  For my birthday, I got an iPad. Each of these things have their own backstory, but it would take too long to explain how much meaning they all have.  Each of these things is important because they’ve drastically changed the way we live, and because they serve as milestone markers in our lives.   And because we are sad, and because we remember the man who helped create them, the man who has become an icon.

Rest, Steve Jobs.  You have a legacy, and you are remembered.  And in the end, isn’t that what matters?

Quick edit to add: I read this on the train and the sentiments have a lot more meaning than what I wrote here. I also like Roba’s.  And one last thing.  I completely forgot that these lamps, one of my first memories of television in the Soviet Union, were also Steve Jobs.