Justin Duke

2014

The year of Murakami

I read a lot of Murakami this year. I read Kafka on the Shore, then I read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, then I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, then I read Norweigan Wood. He’s now one of my favorite authors. There are two big moments that he gave me:

  • Barreling down a thin highway in Krabi, Thailand, packed like a sardine in a random van, my backpack pressed against my kness pressed against my chest like some sort of tourist panini, feverishly reading Wind Up. Never had five hours felt more like five minutes.
  • Waiting for the bus on a rainy night in Fremont, a little tipsy and a little homesick, reading Colorless Tsukuru, finding this passage:

“That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.”

Urban ennui is kind of Murakami’s shtick, and Colorless doubled down on this worry that as we grow older, we might grow wiser and more experienced but the universe of possibilities dwindles, never to recover.

Maybe it’s that this was the first full year away from college, but I get that sense that the number of big choices and possibilities in my life is on an increasing decline. This is not to say that I’m unhappy with where I am or what I’m doing (because trust me, I’m totally pumped), but I think there’s an inherent value in serendipity.

One of my favorite things about college was the sense that I could wake up and anything could happen, and I got that feeling too for the first six months that was in Seattle – don’t get me wrong, I still love Seattle, but I think I know it too well now, I know all the shops in Belltown and the regulars at The Upstairs and Uptown Espresso and there are so few days that don’t go according to plan.

But that’s getting away from my point, which is this: Murakami left a taste in my mouth. There aren’t any climactic moments in his books 1 – they tend to leave me a little awash and changed, like somehow I finished the book and all the things in my apartment are placed a little bit more differently than they used to be. His work taught me some things about what I look for in the world – and myself – and I think that’s important.

The year of cocktails

I spent more of my free time working on Barback than any other specific thing. I’ve written at length about the nitty gritty, but one of the things that I hadn’t really noticed until writing this is that it’s the first thing that I’ve actually committed to for more than a couple months. Most of my random side projects I would either abandon in a fit of boredom after a couple of weeks, but this one has stuck, and it’s been awesome and totally fulfilling.

A positive thing happened last month: Barback started doing really, really well. It was in the Top 10 for Food and Drink for a while, which was obviously nice from a monetary standpoint but it also just made me so proud. I know, it sounds dumb, but validation for one’s work is a big thing that drives me and getting to stand back and be like: Hey, this thing I made is succeeding was pretty neat.

That’s probably the best that programming has ever made me feel. Maybe the best that working in general has ever made me feel. Not really sure what that means, but I think 2015 is going to have a lot of cocktails.

(Also, I have to make sure the recipe is good is the best reason ever to make a drink.)

The year of habits

Every week for the past thirty weeks or so, I do the following things:

  • Vacuum
  • Listen to a new album
  • Read a new book
  • Watch a new movie
  • Cook a new recipe
  • Play with a new app
  • Go to a new place
  • Write a new blog post
  • Learn a new thing 2
  • Run twice
  • Lift twice

I have become addicted to novelty and progress. I like the rhythm of these things: I like the feeling of gradual advancement it gives me, as if I’m playing a character in a video game and slowly levelling up all my skills with patience and diligence. Sometimes I worry it distracts me from progress in other things, but looking back at the number of highlights on kindle.amazon.com I think I spend my time well. 3

It took me lots of time, Expo ink, and stickies to get into the habit of these things. I am perhaps too pleased with myself for the fact that I can actually fry chicken, but it’s still a thing I hang my hat on.

2014, in a nutshell

I did lots of things, got better at lots of things, and probably drank a little too much. There weren’t enough surprises, but it was a wonderful twelve months.

The next year

I ended this post last year with a list of goals, and the two of them that I actually accomplished (travelling and making an app) were pretty fantastic. In that vein, I’m gonna set myself up with another three:

  • Run a half-marathon
  • Three more countries 4
  • Write and publish a technical book 5

And, as always:

  • Be happy, healthy, and honest
  • Work and think hard
  • Never, ever, ever be bored

(I know this whole ‘writing out your values’ thing is nerdy as all hell, but it still felt good to write this. I’m looking forward to this time next year already.)


  1. Well, there are, but they’re cloaked in like four layers of symbolism [return]
  2. This is usually defined as do a random new language tutorial or do a week in a Coursera course [return]
  3. It straight up boggles my mind that I used to spend four hours a day in front of a PlayStation. Then again, I spend half that time recently playing Desert Golfing[return]
  4. Frontrunners: Japan, Spain, Sweden. [return]
  5. I have thirty pages of Python for Business Majors somewhere on my laptop, but I’m thinking something a bit more niche. [return]
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