📬 Postal Portals - Avery #8: Intentionality in Alaska

Postal Portals is a new series of letters between myself and friends, intended to serve as a long-form medium to deep-dive into a snapshot of each other’s thoughts and emotions in an asynchronous manner. Often, when we catch up with close friends we haven’t seen in a while, there’s a lot of tangible ground to cover (physical events that happened, the progression of life, etc.) which doesn’t touch as much on the emotional and mental states we occupied and shifted from. These postal portals provide a gateway for the world to an excavation site of those internal states. This was inspired by The W Letters that my friend Jamie curates, so if this sort of thing interests you, go check that out too! See the full list here.


This was written in response to Getting the full context, and the 8th letter in the correspondence between Avery and I.

Friday September 10, 9:21am

Homer, AK

Dear Avery,

I’m currently in a lodge in south-central Alaska, a place of breathtaking beauty and airy serenity. Fall has started its symphony of colors here, and I marvel at the brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows that have begun to mingle with the greens and purples and blues of the summer forest and flowers. I’ve been in and out of service for the past two weeks and mostly disconnected from the outside world—my main company being my family and the chatter of the wilderness. It’s been a fruitful trip, composed of my first sighting of the Northern Lights, playful whales abreast our ship, and trudging and rowing among hundreds of years of Nature’s finest works.

a photo of the Northern Lights with the Big Dipper from my iPhone

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you. The past few months I’ve felt like I wanted to do it all: writing this letter project and my 100 essays and fictional works, continuing to take and edit photos, tinkering with side projects around digital memories, and experiencing the beauty of the world, along with my full-time job at Coda and my new team. I feel tired just thinking about that sentence 😅 and it reflects how I’ve felt lately about everything I want to do, my mind pulled in so many different directions until it’s worn.

When you visited me in San Francisco, I remember musing over the phenomenon of how some people feel the need to fill time while others don’t have enough time to fill. I’m reminded of the piece I wrote about uneven time, inspired by the Fish of Lijiang which I read at your recommendation. I want time to crawl for me, to savor each moment as if it’s my last while having all the time in the world to execute on my ideas and my passions. Sometimes, as lately, when I get overwhelmed by the different paths in front of me, I cope with shutting it all down: running from the decision to prioritize some over others—saying a firm NO to things I love in order to say a resounding YES to the one that feels most compelling. My coping mechanism is to languish, a liminal space of indecision where I can binge consumption yet remain unfulfilled because of my need to create.

A question that’s burrowed its way into my mind and remain stuck there is a simple but meaningful one: “what do you want to do?” If you disregard all the caveats and the obligations of my societal circumstances, how would you answer that question? I’ve had trouble answering this question in a satisfactory way—the reason being too many things come to mind, and it feels terrifying to have to compromise on any of them. I want to be able to chase them all without that compromise, but I know I’ll have to be intentional about which I focus on in any given moment. In the long-term, I may not have to compromise, but it’s clear I’ll need to do so in the immediate term.

If you’ve kept up with my recent writing, I’ve been writing recently about decisiveness. Recently, my mom told us of a Chinese proverb in the same vein: 牆頭草. It literally translates to "wall head grass," which refers to the grass that grows on top of walls, whose head flies whichever way the wind goes. There's two possible ways to interpret this. The positive extreme would be characterized as easygoing, flexible, accommodating. On the other side, people might call it spineless, indecisive, unprincipled. I was wrestling recently with this duality and have settled on a spot where it comes down to your decision. If you always default to accommodating and going with the flow, your self is always contextual—it changes with every permutation of the breeze. If your shape is always determined directly from the wind, you become shapeless, and your self is lost in the movement of the weather. On the other hand, if you explicitly decide to bend with the wind, when you choose to be flexible for the given moment, your self is still dictating how your life goes even if the outside appearance of flexing with the gusts is the same in both scenarios.

I think I’ve always been too accommodating—too accepting of the default of how things naturally go. I’ve only recently begun to break out of that flexible bubble and assert my wants and my passions without toning down the natural intensity I feel for them and have tried to recommitting myself to trusting myself to get what I want on this trip. You’ve always been someone I’ve admired for your developed sense of taste for what you like and want and being uncompromising in seizing it for yourself in life. Have you always felt like that, or were there formative moments that developed that aspect?

As I wrap up my two-week vacation and return to the real world of information inundation and calendar mania, I want to bring a piece of this wilderness with me. I want to take the same courage and spirit of adventure used to explore this frontier towards asserting my full self and intentionally living.

Spencer