By the Time You’re 40

Should you have had a child already? What about a home that’s paid-in-full? All debts paid off? A career well on its way in an upward trajectory? A happy marriage—a decade into it, no less—and that ideal vehicle you always wanted? Vacations in locations with hard to say names?

Maybe. Maybe not. I guess it depends on if you plan on dying by 100, 80, or 41.

I’m playing my game with blinders on. It’s much too complicated to play by anyone else’s rules.

Social Media

Facebook was great for keeping up with family while I was abroad in Vietnam during 2004. It’s still how I keep up with what old friends and distant family are doing. It’s now toxic though and creates false glimpses into people’s lives that make me feel bad about myself. The news feed is unusable. Stories aren’t interesting. Notifications are high noise and low signal. I don’t use it that much anymore. A few minutes per day, if that. I would not miss Facebook if it went away.

Twitter was how I met every single close friend who I made in Hanoi from 2009 onwards. I didn’t know anyone up north, searched around for tweets related to the city, and participated in a few meetups. Fast forward nearly a decade, and the platform has become, for me at least, an information firehose for political news, trending topics, cryptocurrency drama, blockchain and WordPress developments, and a timeline that’s almost unusable. I would not miss Twitter if it went away.

Snapchat used to feel fun and a little exciting. Private Snaps with friends felt intimate and temporary, forgotten the moment I watched them twice. Now the platform has an utterly terrible UI, aggressive and offensive advertising, unhappy celebrities who are abandoning the software, Stories that are impossible to navigate, and filters that are its only saving grace.

WeChat is my China hookup. LINE is my Japan hookup. Zalo and Viber are my Vietnam hookups. I enjoy all of these apps.

Instagram stories are pretty good. Out of all the platforms that do stories, this one does them well enough. The food porn, hot influencers, funny videos, and passing glimpses into the lives of friends far away make Instagram enjoyable. It’s one of my favorite time sinks.

Telegram is where I go to have real conversations with groups of people who I have never met and who are all interested in the same things: blockchain tech, the best memes on the internet, and cryptocurrency. Telegram is fantastic. I check it often.

Medium is okay, not great. I’d use it for a company blog, but when it comes to content discoverability and enjoyable reading, Medium’s quality is starting to get a little thin. I do support the platform with a monthly subscription because I do like rewarding better writing.

Anything I didn’t list is probably something I don’t use enough to care about one way or another. WordPress doesn’t count; to me, it’s just software, not a means of being social.

Everything I’m Doing Is Wrong

I’m building a home. It’s a perfect little home, with brick walls that are surrounded by mountains and greenery. It’s small and quaint, taking up approximately forty-five square meters on a plot of land that’s three times as large. There’s plenty of room to grow flowers, plant a tree, exercise, play with the cat and her friends, live in privacy, and sit and watch the mountains during sunrise.

I could not ask for more. I dare not ask for more. This is everything I’ve ever dreamed of.

And yet it’s not enough.

The neighbors ask why the house is so small. Passersby seem surprised that the only foreigner they’ve met in their entire lives wants a house that’s the tiniest on the street. And friends and family meddlers continue urging my wife and me to adjust our budget to add this or that because without it we’ll be unhappy. This introduces palpable stress into our marriage.

It’s a strange feeling, to want nothing more than what I can afford, upfront in cash, paid-in-full, taking on not a shred of home debt, while at the same time facing pity. It’s odd. I’ve never dealt with something like this before, probably because we don’t have a child, but it’s incredibly strange.

I don’t know if it’s a Vietnamese thing or a human nature thing but trying to actively convince someone else that I’ve never been more content with what I have and desire nothing more, all while facing skepticism, is weird. It’s just weird. I don’t know how to process it.

This will probably happen again. It will most certainly happen again if we have a child, and the struggle I’m now facing is how to remain as firm as I am without being mean. I lack gentleness when it comes to meddling; I get triggered by it quickly. I lash out like a rabid animal whose cave has been invaded. Whether it’s my mother-in-law or extended in-laws, a best friend, or my own mother or siblings, the reaction is the same.

Get off my lawn. I am my father’s son.

I’ll need to work on my people skills. There must be a way, in short, to say that I’m happy. I’ve never been this happy. I have what I want exactly as I want it and I wish for nothing more because unhappiness is primarily produced by choice and unrealistic expectations.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have enough. If the internet and advertising are any indications, my life up until now has been a complete and utter disaster. I’m doing everything wrong. Everything I’m doing could be remedied by more. This is what I’m being sold.

And yet I feel nothing but the opposite.

Brief Update on Life

I haven’t shared much about what’s going on.

I’m still developing WordPress themes, plugins, and custom client work. I cut ties with my business partner last year, WordPress.com all but shut down premium theme submissions until they say otherwise, and it took a little while to secure trademark rights to a few of the more important parts of We Cobble.

That said, with WordPress now at a firm 30% of the web and my team being so close to the launch of our site and a ton of new themes, I’m still long-term bullish on work in this space, even if it means giving more control over to my staff. Gutenberg seems to be all the rage these days. It’s like, so in man.

Since late 2016 I entered the cryptocurrency market (again) and have since then slowly but steadily immersed myself in all things blockchain. This takes up a small portion of my time but gives me the most hope. The community is just as catty and nonsensical as WordPress’, so I feel right at home. 2018-2021 will be like nothing we’ve ever seen. If WordPress democratizes publishing, then blockchain technology democratizes the entire web. The tide has already started to shift.

I started building a new house today. They say it’ll be done in a month. I’m tired of renting and if I go broke in tech at least I can say I’ll never be homeless.

My wife and I are still trying to have a child without success. When the house is done we’ll likely go to Thailand for a while and do IUI. I’m not super-antsy about this. I’d like to finish the house first before thinking about a child.

I haven’t been to the States in 3 years. I haven’t traveled anywhere interesting in 2 years. Feels odd. Very odd.

I’m fat again. My diet now is pretty restricted. I’m at the age now where being fat is a multiplier for how miserable I’ll feel in my 50s. Trying to clean it up.

Anxiety stuff is gone. I haven’t had a full-on meltdown since moving here and only on a few occasions have I needed medicine so the trade-off of living in a boring place seems to be peace of mind. I don’t have panic attacks, intrusive thoughts are nonexistent, and the existential crises are long gone. It’s difficult to get me worked up right now.

I’m ready to move out of this karaoke bar. It’s noise torture, lack of sleep, lack of privacy, and feels like jail. The customers here are insane and drunk. The house can’t come soon enough. This is a major source of tension and stress right now. I’m ready for it to be over.

I don’t miss the States.

The cat has turned into three and the doggy next door loves me. Star is still the boss but several other cats have become addicted to hanging out with us. It’s probably the free food.

I’m not asking for much right now. I’ve learned that it only leads to unhappiness. I’m okay with what I have. I don’t need much more. I’m trying to stay patient.

Vietnam is still looking like where I’ll die. I’m good with that.

Simple

I’m nearly two years into my departure from Hanoi, and it’s odd how regular Son La feels, especially given the extraordinary bareness of the city.

There is no supermarket here. It’s all mom-and-pop shops, markets, and a central grocery store that tries its best, but by all measures looks like a mix between a convenience store and a garage sale.

To stay sane, I order weekly shipments of ingredients from the foreigner-friendly delis in Hanoi. I don’t need to do this as often as I do. It’s a distraction from our savings, and we’re more than capable of growing most of what we consume or buying it from a neighbor.

City cinemas don’t exist, so my wife and I watch Netflix religiously. I let her pick the shows and only demand that no horror series enter our room.

Events and culture, in the shallowest sense of the concept, are few and far between. The occasional concert comes to town, but I’m past my mid-thirties now and comfortably set in my musical ways. Spotify helps. So do the Vietnamese festivals that invade our neighborhood at whatever times they please, because they can.

I have no friends in this city. None.

Outside of my wife, my mother-in-law, and the children we teach English to, social interactions that fulfill me are had through iMessage, FaceTime, Slack, Basecamp, Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, WhatsApp, Zalo, LINE, Viber, LinkedIn, GitHub, and email. I suspect that if I didn’t have this technology available to me, I’d still find ways to laugh, but the technology helps so much.

Exercise is a word I don’t use enough anymore. When I do, I walk. The street slopes here are quite steep, and mountains are forever in view. I know Trang wants us to walk more, both for my health and for our relationship. When we do get out together, we’re either wearing couple shirts or couple shoes because we’re like that. I pretend to hate it, but I’m into it; it reminds me of a mall-walking old couple I used to admire during my teen years in Longview.

I love her. I got lucky. Unfairly lucky.

We bicker over small, rarely big. When we fight over big, it’s usually diffused within a week, and life progresses. Nothing ever feels severe enough to go longer. The same issues pop up over and over again—she’s a hoarder, I’m a control freak, she’s unreasonably emotional, I’m irrationally cold—and in the big picture, they resemble blemishes that make us into us. Perfect is fake. I don’t need complete. I need genuine. I have that with her.

Our home is both a house and a karaoke cafe. We open at 8 AM and close at midnight, so there’s continuous noise. It’s hard to put into words how noisy it is around here. Imagine a low, deep rumble throughout the day that never ends; the sound of rickety vehicles passing by every few minutes; farm animals whose languages are noisy by default; and inebriated customers who can’t hear themselves yell. It’s like that until midnight.

My favorite days are when Mommy’s made enough money and closes shop early. During my first visit to Son La, she was deeply skeptical of me. She thought I would steal her daughter. She didn’t understand why I let my beard grow out or why I wore short exercise bottoms outside. She didn’t get me, and I didn’t care to appease her.

Slowly, very slowly, she’s turned into a different person. She laughs more. She dances. She jokes, sometimes better than I do. She loves me and cares for me when I’m tired. She’s given her daughter to me, and I’ve given myself as a son to her. When we have friction it’s because of the karaoke shop being too loud or me being annoyed because I hate boiled chicken—small things all obscured by our larger respect for each other.

Star, our cat, is the boss who runs the show. She’s a diva. We spoil her. We can’t help it. Star has a particular way of breaking you down with her whimpers.

This vast chasm of unremarkable living is precisely what I need right now.

I’ve had the lowest anxiety of my life here, and panic attacks are almost non-existent. Money problems aren’t problems like they used to be. We have a home, land, and plan on building our own, separate house next door soon. Cost of living in Son La is low enough that when business is slow, we’re still able to breathe.

A baby will come but the pressure to make it happen sooner than the stars will it into happening is gone; we’re past worrying about it, and our relationship without a child for this many years has only strengthened us. Babysitting and English teaching have been good practice for looking after children, but boy does it feel good to have a little alone time with my wife before our child comes into play.

I don’t miss Texas the way I used to because I’m already home.

I do miss family.

Things are as they should be right now. I want for nothing but the health and happiness of my family and an occasional moment of quiet. Outside of that I dare not ask for more.