What I Was Up To Then
Since my last update in November
This post uses the native names for locations. I don’t refer my friend Sally as both Jesse and Rafaela depending on the language I’m speaking. I call her by her name. It’s anti-imperialistic and not difficult. Wikipedia lists the native name for a location.
I had so much cautious optimism in November. COVID-19 infections finally fell to a level where I felt comfortable going out into society again. Arthur needed to travel to NYC for work. I decided to tag along, reactivating a perk of remote work I valued before the pandemic. Arthur’s sister and her husband decided to fly up from Texas for an adult weekend getaway too. The trip was quick, with family, and we were working full time, so I apologize for not getting to see most of my wonderful NYC friends. We made the best of the weekend and every night. We went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, concocted wizard cocktails, saw the Rockefeller Center tree put up, did some shopping, and ate at a few incredible restaurants after showing our vaccination cards. I got a last minute solo ticket to Moulin Rouge. Arthur did the same for Mrs. Doubtfire.
I met up with my best Stockholm buddy Leah who moved to NYC. We ate amazing vegan American-Chinese food and she led me on a delightful walking tour that ended with drinks at the Stonewall Inn. The holiest of places are those where a great tragedy once took place, a humanitarian in Cambodia once told Arthur. The Stonewall riot was not the first, but it was a turning point for queer advancement. I’m glad it’s still there. Just like the 9/11 Memorial Museum, it felt like a holy place.
Once we returned from NYC, we started preparing for our first Thanksgiving in 2 years. The event forced us to finish unpacking from our move to the top floor of our building. Arthur prepared a feast with unapologetic considerations for vegans and gluten allergies. Our friend Katja flew in from London and stayed with us. She and our neighbor Karin helped us prepare for and clean up after our 22 guests. 30 intended to come, but sickness and caution resulted in several last minute cancelations.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I ignore the origin story and reimagine it as a day of gratitude and togetherness. The pandemic took time away from us. It took many other things from us as well. We needed a moment to focus collectively on the good. I looked for a poem about gratitude to read, but all that I found were either too Jesus-y or cliché. So I tearfully shared quotes from an interview with Nightbirde, a musician who had been fighting cancer for over a decade. (See her incredible America’s Got Talent audition.)
We went around the table asking for each person to share something they were thankful for alphabetically. I got ’s’ and shared gratitude for San Francisco, the city I thought I’d never leave, and Stockholm, the new home I didn’t expect to find. It ended hilariously with ‘v’. My friend Jerry’s girlfriend Alex whispered to him, “Don’t say vagina,” a warning he most definitely had to share with the rest of us before announcing he was grateful for vänner (friends in Svenska).
We felt like life would be back to normal. And then omicron arrived the first week of December. It set a new speed record for infection and mocked the vaccines. The vaccines still reduced the risk of death, but they were no longer highly effective at preventing infection. Months of slowly built hope vanished and I felt more sad than I had ever felt during the pandemic. The new variant canceled our Christmas party, then our New Year’s Eve party, and eventually my January birthday trip to the World Expo in Dubai.
Our friend Dave still managed to visit us for a few weeks in December. We celebrated Arthur’s birthday in mid-December with a dinner at Nisch with him and Karin. We were grateful one of our favorite fancy restaurants survived the ongoing pandemic. Sparsely placed tables provided some peace of mind. The food tasted incredible, as always.
Dave loves Christmas the way Arthur loves Christmas. They didn’t get to go to the Christmas markets across Europe as they had hoped, but their self-reinforcing holiday cheer lifted my spirit. I don’t care much for Christmas. I’m non-theist, consider Christianity a net harm to society, am not fulfilled by tradition for the sake of tradition, and dislike consumerism. Christmas does not have much to offer me. But I like cheerful gay men, romantic comedies, and good food. They delivered. Arthur bought the tallest Christmas tree his favorite tree company sold (3.7m) to fully appreciate our new 5 meter tall ceilings. He also found some amazing smart tree lights. We joined our families by video chat to watch niblings unwrap presents on Christmas morning while it snowed in Stockholm. Arthur and Dave prepared a delicious fancy Christmas dinner. Our friends Vivien and Karin joined us for a perfect evening. A dinner party is all I really wanted for Crimbo.
For New Year’s Eve, Arthur made yet another fancy meal. Karin joined us to watch the fireworks at midnight. We played LOVA’s cover ABBA’s “Happy New Year” on repeat. I love New Year’s Eve, but this one felt melancholy, like the song. The year had ended, but the pandemic had not. There was no ending nor beginning to celebrate. It was more of the same. At least there were fireworks.
I first attended the World Expo by chance in 2015 when I had a day to myself before meeting up with Arthur and Dave in Italia. I loved it and regretted not having more time to explore it. It’s like EPCOT, only each country authentically represents the best version of itself. It’s food, art of all kinds, and incredible architecture. I knew I had to go to the next one. Dubai had no appeal to me as a city, but I wanted to go to the Expo and also ride the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. The pandemic delayed the Expo’s opening a year. When it opened in October, it seemed like I finally would get to attend. Then, omicron canceled that plan.
Arthur is amazing—like next level amazing. He curated a VR birthday dinner experience for me of the Expo. To start, I watched a 360 video of someone walking around the Expo. Then, I went through the Expo exhibits for Sverige, México, Nippon (Japan), and the United States. After each hall, Arthur served food from that country. It was the most memorable birthday of my life so far and just so damn thoughtful I couldn’t stop happy tears of gratitude the whole night. (My friend Vivien later attended the Expo in March and brought me back a souvenir pin, the only type of memento I collect.)
We celebrated Karin’s birthday a few days later. So let’s talk about her since she keeps popping up in this update. Arthur and I met Karin through our friends Chris and Terry. They were in our quarantine bubble during the pandemic and Karin was their neighbor. For Midsommar 2020, we celebrated together on their adjacent apartments’ outdoor porches. Chris and Terry moved back to their homeland of Scotland, but Arthur & I kept Karin in our bubble. She’s become a dear friend and, in many ways, an elder sister with just a few years of wisdom ahead of me she readily shares.
I don’t remember much about February. I completed Peloton’s Total Strength 1 & 2 programs with Andy Spear. We watched some of the Winter Olympics, mostly to cheer on the handsome Swedish curling team. We got boosted with Pfizer to complement our Moderna vaccines. Sverige finally came up with a way to recognize our US vaccination cards, just in time for proof of vaccination to no longer be needed. The moment the omicron surge started to fall, Sverige revoked all restrictions.
Sverige stopped providing COVID-19 testing and collecting infection statistics in February, but some professor at KTH continues doing the literal shit work of sampling wastewater. From this, we can infer the infection rate has remained stable for the last month, is still many multiples higher than November, and is not decreasing. At this point, we know the current vaccines are ineffective at preventing infection by omicron. We know reinfections are rising, suggesting that antibody protection is short-lived. Society has given up trying to prevent infection and my individual action is meaningless. Until we get a new vaccine effective against omicron infection, catching COVID-19 now is an inevitability. The decision I have to make is if I want to catch it mundanely going to a grocery store or enjoying life in some small way.
The oh-so-fun game of “Paranoid or Prepared?” advanced to the next level when Putin invaded Ukraïna to start World World 3. And yes, I do believe World War 3 has started. Putin’s state media does too. I learned potential nuclear war is more terrifying to me than viruses. I found a new therapist to help me deal with both.
Sverige went into high alert. After the expanded offensive, Putin couldn’t keep a few other countries’ names out of his mouth. Sverige is not a member of NATO and its consideration to join invoked threats of retaliation from Rossiya. Military drones, assumed to be Rossiya’s, were caught surveilling 3 nuclear reactors and the royal palace in January. Then, Russian fighter jets violated Swedish airspace in March. The “how to be prepared for war” pamphlet the government sent to us in 2018 that once amused me became actionable advice. Camping supplies, iodine tablets, and shelf-stable food sold out quickly across the country. Arthur and I also bought a solar panel and battery.
Sverige arguably gave up neutrality in 2009, but maintained the weird superiority complex of being neutral. Putin’s actions, new threats, and pressure from Suomi (Finland) convinced the majority of Swedes to support joining NATO. As of writing, that has not happened yet. It seems likely. When you convince Sverige and Schweiz (Switzerland) to end their neutrality by gifting weapons of war, you must be quite evil. Putin is evil and seems to be following a playbook for avenging the former Soviet Union. I initially thought the tempered, economic sanction-focused response was good for preventing nuclear war. I now believe NATO should provide active defense. What is the point of overfunding a military for decades to not use it against another military’s genocide, intentional civilian murder, and raping of children?
In November, I sat beside an elder woman on my return flight from NYC to Europe. She was US American married a German man. After I gushed about my love of Sverige, she asked if I would ever consider giving up my US citizenship. I said absolutely yes, but won’t because of the massive exit tax and my husband’s differing opinion. She gave me a stern look and shared her husband’s advice to their son, “World War II was not so long ago.” I texted her in early March saying how much I had replayed our conversation in my head. Optionality is a good thing. As much as I have been critical of the US’s military–industrial complex, I am grateful for the option of escaping a land war if needed.
My Russian-American fellow-Stockholm-immigrant friend Maria invited me and Arthur to a special Slavic traditional dinner called Maslenitsa. On the Sunday of Forgiveness, relatives and friends bow and ask each other for forgiveness. Maria made an impressive effort to provide vegan versions of the traditional food. We enjoyed it while lamenting how much bowing Putin needed to do this year.
Arthur and I have now lived over 5 years in Sverige. What was expected to be a 2–3 year detour during the Trump administration turned into a new chapter of our lives. With Karin’s proofreading, we applied for dual citizenship. Decisions take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years with no obvious justification for the variation. Stockholm is now Stockhome. I will write more about that later.
The world keeps spinning, no matter how much suffering we endure. The darkness of winter quickly gave way to days more than half-filled with sunlight. We started having dinners with friends slowly again. We watched the Melodifestivalen semi-final with Chase & Wes. Malte & Johan introduced us to their urban garden and incredible gluten-free, vegan menu. Brad & Mikael joined us for brunch tacos. If you’re in Stockholm, we hope to meet up soon. We’ve missed hanging out with you.
Our guest room started greeting friends again. Peter & Nathan visited us from Hamburg in March. We attended Sasha Velour’s Smoke & Mirrors show (masked) with them. John is visiting us from Puerto Rico this week and Yuko from San Francisco later this summer.
Arthur and I also are traveling again. We had to surrender our US passports to Sverige as part of the citizenship application process and thought we would be stuck for awhile. However, the US provides a second passport book for such situations. It looks like a forgery attempt done at a local Kinko’s, but it works. He took a quick trip to Texas. I took a trip to Laurie & John’s wedding in Mendocino. Sorry, SF friends that I did not get to see. I landed, rode up to Mendocino, and flew back to Stockholm the morning after. It was the best wedding I’ve ever attended and my heart was full from the conversations/laughing/dancing, but I do not recommend traversing 9 time zones twice in under 4 days.
As soon as I returned to Stockholm, Arthur and I took a train to Helsingborg, Sverige. It was the city with the soonest availability for Arthur to take a driving test. Sverige does not recognize foreign driver’s licenses after 1 year and does not permit transferring a US driver’s license at all. Arthur took the expensive, time consuming driving lessons like a 15 year old n00b. He passed the notably difficult driving test on his first try, something only half of people do. Helsingborg is a beautiful coastal city referred to as the “Swedish Riviera.” I hope to return in warmer weather with some skimpy swimwear.
The final piece of big news is that Arthur left Spotify and joined a European healthcare company as a VP of Product. I’m so proud of him and his accomplishments. He changed Spotify for the better, from instigating features like Daily Drive to helping the organization move beyond its failed eponymous way of working. He’s too humble to say so himself, but it was a transformational experience for both him and the department he led.
After my friends, the second thing I miss most about living in San Francisco is the bountiful professional opportunity. That level of opportunity just doesn’t exist in Stockholm or anywhere in Europe. Every job in SF was a learning and/or earning opportunity. Want to gain experience with a specific technology? You can find the job to pay you to learn it deeply. Want to optimize earning potential over everything else? Giant Tech Co is always hiring. In SF, it was so easy to get an intellectually interesting job that paid exceptionally well. I’m grateful this geographic inequality has not hindered Arthur.
I mentioned I started a new job in my last update. I won’t say anything more because I agreed to the company’s social media policy. As a reminder, I do not represent my employer and my employer does not endorse my expressions.
- I moderated a panel discussion with LeadDev on remote asynchronous work and contributed to a panel discussion on employee resource groups.
- The brilliant architect who led the kitchen remodel in our previous condo agreed to help us turn our new penthouse into a forever dream home. We hope to start construction sometime next year.
- I got Arthur a Vestaboard for his birthday. He asked me years ago to make him a split-flap display, like from old train stations. Those components just aren’t made any more, but Vestaboard is bringing back the fun aesthetic. For Xmas, I gave him an API integration of his choice. He chose the SL timetable for our local ferry and bus stops. I learned that if you give a husband an API integration, he’s going to ask for an IoT button to trigger it.
- Xmas genre:
- Single All The Way (movie, Netflix) had everything: hairy muscles, plant gay, cute dog, Jennifer Coolidge, gay uncling, family members who don’t respect boundaries, fully formed adults having mature relationship conversations, Jennifer Coolidge.
- Hem for Jul (tv series, Netflix). Dark comedy with handsome Scandi men.
- Star Trek Discovery and Picard have been painful. I am so so very tired of “evil existential crisis Star Trek.” This is not the escapism humanity needs right now. Bring back optimistic future, exploratory, episodic Star Trek! It’s what Gene Roddenberry would have wanted. I’m about to give up on all the new series except Lower Decks.
- The Bachelor. I stan Clayton.
- Ted Lasso (tv series, Apple TV+) was the best tv show I’ve watched in the last decade. It’s the best example of positive masculinity ever portrayed in a tv series.
- The Wonder Years (2021 reboot, ABC)
- For All Mankind (tv series, Apple TV+)
- Below Deck (Bravo)
- Fantastic Fungi (documentary)
- Arthur and I are watching our way through Golden Girls during lunch.
- Rutger Bergman’s Humankind: A Hopeful History is the best book I’ve read since his previous book, Utopia for Realists, with a message I very much needed in the last few months.
- Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid is an excellent framing of the Internet’s role in society and how we can adapt.
- Former Reddit CEO Twitter thread on what Elon Musk and many Gen X techies misunderstand about freedom of speech, censorship, and the Internet today
- Survival of the Thickest by Michelle Buteau is the best narrated audio book I’ve ever listened to.
Arthur requested this photo of nachos he made be in my update.
Thoughts? Contact me.