Will I Be Missing Out?

“Gravity’s bind
embraces all.”

Haken; “Bound by Gravity” (Affinity)

A couple of weeks ago, it was the first time I noticed how much the chirping of the birds in my neighborhood varied over time — while I sat to meditate under the instruction to listen to sounds, I could eventually distinguish four or five different patterns and timbres. That perplexed me — the only birds I remembered having seen before were the stupid pigeons.

I could also hear the ebb and flow of not so distant traffic one building over. It’s occasionally cut by the impetus of a hasty driver, the screeching breaks of a marshrutka with long-overdue maintenance, or the higher-pitched motorcycles — more subtly, by the incomprehensible audio announcements when the lights in Odesa turn green for pedestrians, the tram’s palpitation along its tracks, and the steps and chatter from people passing by.

I couldn’t quite account for some distant, irregular beeps — could they be the check-out terminal at the convenience store?

Surprisingly, the waves of traffic noise themselves were rather settling.

Of course, I am concerned — paranoid, even.

I’m anxious about Granny and her 85 generous years. They were celebrated a few weeks ago by an entire day in the hospital for surgery in the knee. “It’s now or never,” the doctor told her as COVID-19 began to take hold in Brazil. “Then let’s do it now because I won’t be able to handle the pain,” she replied.

I can do nothing but be grateful that Granny is privileged enough to have knee surgery, and that my uncle is there to help her. I can only trust that they’re taking the necessary precautions to keep both of them as safe as possible during their follow-up visits to the doctor or the pharmacy — he’s not so young either.

I believe I don’t need to go in detail over everything else I’m stressing out about — most of you probably have your own repertoire. If you don’t, I’ve just read (and recommend) the musings of Adam Przeworski — “the greatest political scientist alive,” according to my sister — his academic granddaughter, and a reputable political scientist herself.

Since that first session, I’ve realized that some of the birds in my neighborhood were peckers! I could now hear them flapping their wings — they’d sometimes land on my window sill. On the traffic front, I’ve noticed people getting in their cars and leaving in the morning — the remotely deactivated locks, doors opening, and then closing, engines starting, the eventual departure maneuvers — I once heard the alert of a truck on reverse. Dogs would bark, cats would meow and growl and hiss, and the people would continue to talk in a growing variety of manners. I’m struggling to describe something that sounded like the loading/unloading of whatever that was, made especially noticeable by its being dropped on the ground. The proxies for the wind seemed countless — trees, clothes hanging to dry, windows popping in or out with sudden changes in pressure, dubiously installed sheets of metal, plastic or wood lining the outside of each balcony according to the taste and financial means of its stewards. I found out that those mysterious beeps came from the magnetic locks of the next building, as they were invariably followed by the entrance doors snapping shut.

Who knows what else was there to notice — inside my apartment, I could often hear my flatmate or our cat on top of my breathing, swallowing, and otherwise trying hard not to move — sometimes I fart, and it’s audible.

Last week I returned to Stryi, and the auditory exploration and discovery began all over again in my new environment.

If I may write about this candidly, Granny has always been just a fall or whatever away from not being there to give me her quintessential “bênça” next time I go to Brazil — my placeholder in this brief note for all the potential ruin I’m perennially anxious about. If anything, now I have a globally shared and largely validated excuse for that pathological anxiety — or do I?

Today would have been the first day of my next epic cycle tour, and that’s curiously not what I’m sad I might be missing out. Indeed, nearly everybody out there has something significant to say about the present circumstances. I fear the most that, in the future, I’ll have lived through an apocalyptic global pandemic, and will have nothing remarkable to share about my own experience — that I won’t even feel like I was part of it because I’m not a doctor on the frontlines, a leader confronted with difficult decisions, a pundit, or even a stranded traveler with a unique story to tell.

The best and, increasingly, the only thing I can do to help with this crisis is to stay home as much as I can. So, when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll once again sit down for another hour and listen for the birds. I’ll then carry on with my day just like I’d have done otherwise — bound by everything that binds me, including the now universal gravity of coronavirus.

Featured photo: ONE LESS BRICK ON THE WALL (Odesa, Ukraine, Winter ’20)

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Not a New Year’s Guide to Sanity

Shortly after starting this blog at the beginning of 2017, i posted a piece subtitled your ultimate New Year’s guide to sanity. It’s a self-help listicle discouraging the consumption of listicles, self-help, and the news — particularly from the algorithmically curated strain.

I thought i’d be reviewing and republishing that piece at the beginning of every year forever. I did that twice, and it’s now time to seed a new tradition.

I don’t believe my arguments on that article will do much to persuade someone who doesn’t already understand that they won’t be missing out if they don’t click on that bait — that mysteriously calculated, frighteningly alluring link at the end of whatever they just finished reading — most probably, watching. I often cannot resist this urge myself — leaving mainstream social media has not been nearly enough to turn me into the master of my attention.

A solution to this problem might transcend the intellect — at this point, i won’t be surprised if it turns out to be simpler to implement and experience than to articulate. I also don’t have one yet.

So, i won’t begin this year by telling you what to do with your attention.

Instead, i’ll start with something i noticed a bunch of the newsletters i follow do over the past several days: a brief reflection on what i believe went well in 2019, and what i would like to go better in 2020 — i’m nailing this whole Gregorian calendar thing!

What went alright in 2019

  1. I got back on the bicycle. I want more of that 😀

  2. I’ve made time to incorporate photography into my learning and creative processes. I’ll continue to prioritize it 🙂

  3. Overall financial support went up! Not Mad Yet is still a looong way from self-sufficiency, but this modest trend has encouraged me to continue pursuing a model to make this work in alignment with my values. Especially to all of you who donated in 2019 — Boris, Dad, Fuji, Leon, Luda, Mom, Natalia, Nathy, Raf, Rajko, Robson, Sigrid, Valéria, Viorica, and Yevgen — THANK YOU <3

What could improve in 2020

  1. I want to post more consistently, both in the sense of establishing a clearer overarching narrative, as well as better aligning my intended weekly schedule with the typical length of a week :p

  2. I want to be less apologetic — this includes being less apologetic about occasionally being overly apologetic. I’m not good at standing my ground and taking care of myself, and i want to stop projecting that onto this newsletter. I want to trust that i mean it when i say that my intention here is to connect with you, and that we’ll use potential misunderstandings as opportunities for that 🙂

  3. After another entire year in Ukraine (except for a couple of trips to Poland), i’m still insecure about my levels of Ukrainian and Russian. I’ve taken measures to address that before the turn of the year, including coming to terms with my decision to learn Russian first. I’ll continue to trust this process — if it works out, i’ll tell you more about it 😉

I think three of each is enough.

How about you?

What went right for you in 2019, and what would you like to go better in 2020?

Yep — that’s an unapologetically late post for the first week of January — i’ll eventually be doing this in Ukrainian and Russian as well 😉


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Trelograms #34 — What else do i have to say?

I don’t remember who recommended i watched this 1958 interview with Erich Fromm:

Here are a few quotes from the interview that i found powerful and especially agree with:

  • About his own words (quoted in the beginning by the interviewer) that, “if the United States goes on in the direction it is taking, it is in serious danger of destroying itself,” * and in response to the question of what is happening to “man” in relation to his work:

    “[I]n our enthusiasm to dominate nature and to produce more material good – goods – we have transformed means into ends. (…) Production and consumption (…) have ceased to be means and have become ends. (…) [The American man’s] work is to a large extent, meaningless, because he is not related to it. (…) He is increasingly part of a (…) social machinery, governed by a big bureaucracy.”
  • I love Fromm’s definitions of equality, happiness, and democracy — particularly how he contrasts them with how these terms are typically understood:

    “[Equality:] that no man must mean – must be – the means for the purposes of another man; but each individual is an end in itself. Today, we talk a lot about equality, but I think what most people mean by it is sameness – that everybody is the same – and they are afraid if they are not the same, they are not equal.”

    “Happiness should be something which results from the creative, genuine, intense relatedness – awareness, responsiveness, to everything in life – to man, to nature. Happiness does not exclude sadness – if a person responds to life, he’s sometimes happy and sometimes sad. What matters is he responds.”

    “I would say democracy once meant an organizational society and a state, in which the individual citizen is – feels – responsible, and acts responsibly, and participates in decision-making. I think what democracy means today, in reality, is to a large extent, manipulated consent – not forced consent, manipulated consent – and manipulated more and more with the help of Madison Avenue.”
  • I was also fascinated by Fromm’s understanding of socialism:

    “I am a socialist. (…) [H]owever, I have to add that what I understand by socialism is exactly the opposite of what many people, or most people, today mean by socialism. I understand by socialism a society in which the aim of production is not profit, but the use. In which the individual citizen participates responsibly in his work, and in the whole social organization, and in which he is not a means who is employed by capital. (…) [A]ctually, the ownership of industry by the state – that is not socialism. (…) I see socialism in the direction, of management, of enterprise, by all who work in the enterprise. I would consider a socialism a mixture of the minimum of centralization necessary for a modern industrial state, and a maximum of decentralization. (…) [S]ocialism is exactly the opposite of a bureaucratically-managed culture. We talk a great deal about [the Soviets] today, and I’m afraid that in twenty years, we and [the Soviets] will be more similar than different. Because, what is common to both societies is the development into a managed mass society, with big bureaucracy, managing people. The [Soviets] do it by force. We do it by persuasion.”

If you have the time and interest, i recommend you listen to the whole interview. I’m not thoroughly familiar with Fromm’s work — judging by this interview and his book The Sane Society, i’d say he was an observant, resourceful, and sincere guy with a good heart and great hopes for humanity — and if he was ever (or turned out to be) naïve in his conclusions and thinking about them, i believe this last quote explains where it must have come from:

“[W]e are terribly imaginative, as far as technique in science is concerned. As far as changes in social arrangements are concerned, we lack utterly in imagination.”

At the risk of coming across as naïve myself, i’ll add that we might just be scared and paralyzed. Maybe we are indeed capable of dreaming of different social arrangements, but we then dismiss them as utopian, intractable, politically unfeasible, or simply not our responsibility — often while being cynical of those who do choose to take any responsibility.

Growing up has been overwhelmingly disappointing.

* All quotes were taken from the transcripts by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas-Austin. I’d already spent a whole hour transcribing the interview when it occurred to me that they might be just an Internet search away! If you ever need to quote from audio or video, i hope you won’t make that same mistake 😉
Featured photo: “FOLDING LIKE A CRYSTAL” (Maiors’ke, Zakharivka district, Odes’ka Region, Ukraine, Summer ’19)

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Trelograms’ is a wordplay between ‘telegram’ and ‘trélos’ (Greek for ‘mad’)

Trelograms: inspiration

Trelograms #33 — Snow Fakes

This is expanded from my entry to the “SNOW” Mini-Contest on Scribophile


For a long time, it only existed in a corner of our living room between December 1st and January 6th — threads of silvery, translucent plastic running down the branches, increasingly entangled over the years in and out of the box — can one still call it a tree if it’s also made of plastic?

I grew up without snow — many of us do. If i accept and embrace your excitement, will you acknowledge my baseline indifference and occasional annoyance now that the phenomenon has been part of my life and largely experienced from the practical perspective of avoiding hypothermia and slush puddles or slippery sidewalks?

Before the plastic took over, there must have been some kind of magic — what was it? Maybe i’d have loved to know it and share that with the rest of the world also.

I wish you all a Merry Today — whether or not you celebrate it — perhaps you did it yesterday or are waiting until January 6th to be merry? There are many of us. If you feel gloomy or reflective, i’ll accept that as well — be!

Featured photo: snow stickers for a warm globe (Odesa, Ukraine, “Winter” ’19)

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Trelograms’ is a wordplay between ‘telegram’ and ‘trélos’ (Greek for ‘mad’)

Trelograms: inspiration

Megan Jamer Blog and Newsletter Review

An incomplete attempt to synthesize my impressions of the blog and newsletter created by tourist Megan Jamer, “writing from the perspective of living on a bicycle.”

So, who’s Megan Jamer?

To me, anyway, Megan is a fellow traveler.

Although we’ve never met in person, i mean that somewhat literally — she has also dropped out of a reputable career to organize her life around long-term travel — Megan has been on the road since 2014, cycle touring (with long breaks in between) since 2015, and is currently riding with her partner from South Africa to Morocco, along the West Coast of Africa.

I also mean that figuratively — i’ve identified with her ever-evolving character as she travels, experiences, reflects, and reiterates — i look up and aspire to the sincerity and vulnerability with which Megan has come to express her conflicts, victories, and intervening lessons.

There’s enough to draw attention to in Megan’s writing that has been the premise for 131,144 words (approximately) in email exchanges between the two of us throughout the year — yep, i counted (or TextWrangler did).

To get you started, i’ll highlight her courageous transparency and bold acknowledgment of her privilege in A few things that happened after I inherited a quarter of a million dollars, written as a memoir of her previous four years on the road.

I believe this is a great place to start reading Megan’s blog for at least a couple of different reasons.

First, because it gets straight to what she wants you to know about who she has come to be in her own words — this will help you understand where Megan is coming from in reading further.

That post also offers an immensely valuable counterpoint to Tom Allen‘s perspective.

Tom is another cycle traveler i follow (and respect) who has emphasized how cycle touring can be made cheap and straightforward. Megan’s naked awareness of her initial conditions and present circumstances doesn’t mean that Tom was wrong, but it dramatically refines his viewpoint — wherever i find myself along the spectrum between Tom’s yardsale kit and Megan’s trust fund (not to mention my values, priorities, mindset, and other intangibles), i have much i’m not responsible for to be grateful to for the privilege to live as i do — Megan’s writing has helped me further understand and accept that.

From the blog, i also recommend (but won’t say as much about) Paying for the water we collect, On what we call wild meat, and I deleted my Instagram account, permanently, in Uganda, here’s why — as you’ll see, Megan’s blog is not so much about cycle touring as it is about what the framework has led her to experience, and how she has processed those experiences.

“statue to a man of note” at an unspecified location in the
Cameroonian countryside — photo courtesy of Megan Jamer

Because it’s not as public as the blog (and maybe also because i’m not as attentive as i’d like to think i am), it took me a while to notice that Megan has a second outlet for her creative output, where she shares entrancing chronicles of [Where she and her partner] rode lately — they’re published as an email newsletter that is open for anyone to join but don’t appear on the blog roll. My favorite of the issues i’ve read since joining the newsletter is #21 – The Cameroon Gift Exchange, in which she develops gift into a make-shift metaphor anchoring the various stories of what they gave and received during their ride through the country.

But don’t take my word for it — go check out Megan’s blog and newsletter yourself, and read it all from her own fingertips! Once again, you may subscribe to Megan Jamer’s blog updates here, and you may subscribe to We rode here lately, by Megan Jamer here — it should be safe to begin with whatever pops in your inbox next 😉

Featured photo: courtesy of Megan Jamer — “Bike traveling stopped feeling simple, but maybe it never was”

Besides my own writing and photography, my weekly newsletter
occasionally includes reviews like this of work i appreciate — interested?