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XOXO 2016 recap

· 5741 words · 27 min read

Table of Contents

  1. What is XOXO?
  2. Beginnings — Before the Festival
  3. Tuesday — A Surprise Dinner
  4. Wednesday — The Day Before
  5. Thursday — MeFi Meetup, Opening Party
  6. Friday — Social, Arcade, Story
  7. Saturday — Conference, Day 1 + Film
  8. Sunday — Conference, Day 2
  9. Monday — Post-Festival Pancakes
  10. Reflections

What is XOXO?

Not everyone reading this knows what XOXO is or how it works, so I’m going to start this series with an overview. If you do, skip to the next section.


The tagline of XOXO is “An experimental festival for independent artists who live and work online,” and that’s pretty accurate? It’s usually held the weekend after Labor Day, early September and runs for four days, between Thursday evening and Sunday night. It’s held at Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon. It was created by two Andys, Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, who still run it (with the help others of course, as well as dozens of volunteers). It was held every year since 2012 except for 2017. It’s extremely well-organized; once you’ve been to XOXO, no other conference or festival measures up in terms of organization, attention to detail and listening to the input of attendants.


Schedule-wise, Thursday evening is the opening party; Friday is Social during the day, during which attendees self-organize different meetups around interests and Slack channels (more on that soon). Friday and Saturday evening hosts several topical events: Arcade (videogames), Tabletop (boardgames), Video (in 2016 it was called Film & Animation) and Story (podcasts and storytelling). Here’s the 2016 schedule for more information.

The conference itself is during Saturday and Sunday with talks from a variety of speakers. It’s wrapped up with a closing party that usually features a surprise musical guest on Sunday night.


To get tickets for the festival, you have to fill out a brief questionnaire — that’s only there to weed out marketers — and after that, you enter a lottery. If you get picked, you have 48 hours to buy your ticket (pass).

The questions are the following: - Who are you and what do you do? - What are you working on right now!! - Something you made that you’re proud of

There are two kinds of passes: conference for $500 and festival only for $250. A festival pass gives you access to everything except the conference talks; however, you will see them anyway live, streamed to a bar downstairs. They are also recorded and later uploaded to Youtube. The conference pass is self-explanatory.


If you get a ticket, you get an invite to the private Slack, which is a massive part of the whole thing, and where a lot of people hang out before, during and after the festival. It has hundreds of channels for all kinds of topics and interests (#tv, #fitness, #star-trek, #knitting and so on) as well as local channels (#vancouver, #europe, #nyc and so on) and other miscellaneous channels, such as one for venting about random life stuff. It also hosts a sizeable amount of private channels for womxn, people of color, LGBTQIA+, non-binary people, people with disabilities (“spoonies”) and mental-health-related things.

The XOXO Slack is a pretty great place; not everyone who comes to the festival joins, though. During the festival, it gets especially busy; a lot of communication and organization happens there as well as on Twitter.


At least 85-90% of the people who go to XOXO are American; within that, the majority of people probably come from the west coast (and within that, a sizeable amount of people come from the Pacific Northwest). It’s also, by far and large, a pretty radically left-leaning place. There’s a code of conduct which is very much enforced both offline and online.


All of this feels a bit dry, but I think it is an important context for the rest of the series. XOXO is unlike any event I’ve ever attended, in a good way; a unique experience that everyone should try at least once if they can (and the above sounds appealing). I’ve met a lot of great people there and made friends I still have to this day.

Beginnings — Before the Festival

Impostor syndrome runs deep within the community of XOXO, and so is the acknowledgment of it, so let’s start with that.

I applied for XOXO at least once before, in 2014, because a friend of mine also did. And I remember that even back then, I was staring at the survey questions (see yesterday’s post), and feeling something like this:

“No, I don’t belong here. XOXO is a place for makers, artists, creators — I am not one of them. Or, maybe I am, but I don’t do anything visible. I’m just a guy who finds all these people interesting and would love to meet them, but I am not interesting. I don’t do anything that would qualify as me being worthwhile of XOXO.”

But I filled it out anyway, sent it in — and the random generator did not pick me. It did pick my friend who went and had a blast, though; he said it was full of people who “you want to hang out with all the time” so I took note that this is a cool thing and I should try it sometime.

About two years later, the application form popped up again, in Andy Baio’s linkblog. Okay, whatever, let’s apply, maybe I slip through the cracks and get lucky with the lottery this time?

My feelings from years before haven’t changed much. I didn’t have a sexy side-project up on Github to show. I had a very unsexy job: a freelance consultant, a jack-of-all-trades generalist working in IT. That’s still my job.

I wrote something about being a community organizer. Which is true — I like making and organizing communities. I am not half bad at it, although I am am very aware of my severe shortcomings as well. I sent in the form and went back to whatever I was doing.

I was traveling a lot at the time, and it must have been about a month after I applied when I woke up in my Airbnb in Riga, Latvia and saw an email: I got one of the late-last-minute festival passes. I had 48 hours to buy it and a couple of weeks to refund it if I change my mind.

I was surprised. I knew that the ‘regular’ tickets were sent out already, and I did not get any email, so I resigned myself to my fate — oh well, no XOXO for me.

And now this email.

Huh.

The ticket was refundable for like three weeks after buying it, so I figured I’ll buy it in any case. I still had time to change my mind.

I started checking the flights to Portland, feeling a not-so-vague itch for visiting NYC before that, but eventually convincing myself that no, I’ll just go for Portland, visit XOXO, then go back home. I just committed myself to a bunch of other things anyway; so I got a return flight from Gothenburg to Portland.

But I was going to XOXO.

After getting my ticket, I joined the Slack for the festival, wrote a long intro into #intro channel, and started getting to know people. I wrote about it in the first part of this series; over the last three years, it’s become a massive part of my social life on the internet.

After finishing up my trip to Eastern Europe, I went to Germany for a week for a work project. Once that was wrapped up, I was back home in Sweden, telling my therapist how miserable I was. My friend Jane wanted me to fix her computer; Joe wanted me to decide if I will sell my phone to him or not and so on. I also took on a bunch of other responsibilities to keep myself busy, because I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I told him all that and the fact that I was tired of it all, and I just wanted to leave everything and go to New York. He pointed it out that this can be simple: if I don’t want to fix Jane’s computer, or sell Joe my phone, I can say no; if I want to go to New York, I can go. I had time, and I had the money.

That was Friday morning. By Friday evening, I rented out my apartment, had my ticket for my flight on Sunday, booked two Airbnbs and was ready to go. I was going to the USA for a month.

Those three weeks in NYC were amazing, exhausting and draining. I love that city, and it overwhelms me, and I am tempted to write a few more paragraphs about it, but that’s not this story. (You can check out that story on WriteTogether, I have about 19 posts about it)


My digital XOXO experience started on the Slack, but the real-life one started earlier than the festival.

When I was in New York, someone organized a pre-conference meetup at the Lavender Lake bar. I didn’t know anyone there in person (I did join the Slack just weeks before after I got my ticket), and frankly it was a bit intimidating at first: all these cool people, many of them working at interesting tech companies. Someone just left Spotify; someone else just started working at Meetup. Another person was working for Tumblr! I was starstruck, in many ways.

But I quickly became comfortable and had great conversations. I got to know Skyler, Allison, PBJ, Darrell, Kate, Jason, Scott, Leigh and others I don’t remember right now. I remember Darrell showing off his goStrap on his phone, a thing I’ve never seen before; later in the evening I enthusiastically told the story of Turulcsirip to Scott and Leigh. We’ve made plans to hang at XOXO again, and many of us did.

Everyone was extremely welcoming, and there was a strong sense of community that I came to appreciate at XOXO. In many ways, the meetup was already XOXO and everything that’s good about it. Three years later I’d be the one to organize an XOXO meetup in Lavender Lake.


A few days before that the XOXO movie was released by Netflix, which had nothing to do with the festival (this was quite a bit of a headache for the Andys). I watched it alone, but then I watched it again a few days later with everyone on Slack, and it was a lot of fun.


After my NYC trip and a quick detour to Minnesota, I arrived in Portland on a Tuesday morning, not realizing that the festival starts that day, at least unofficially.

Tuesday — A Surprise Dinner

Arriving in Portland, I was filled with the excitement that comes from visiting a new place, a novelty that always wears off, but I try to enjoy it as much as I can.

My Airbnb was pretty great, even though it had two cats. I’m not good with pets, but the owner said the cats are not allowed in the guest spaces and it worked out. The cats left me alone, and the first time in my life I was pretty much not bothered them being around.

(“I’m not good with pets” is kind of an understatement: by far and large, I don’t like pets. I have my reasons. I feel like a terrible person just writing this, but there, I said it. Hi, I am Tamas, and even though everyone I meet seems to like a) cats b) dogs c) both, I don’t.)

The Airbnb was at a great location (around SE 35th Pl and Hawthorne), so I just started walking around in the neighborhood.

After an hour or two, I came to understand that yes, Portlandia is in many ways a documentary, but that’s not at all a problem. Hawthorne, the neighboorhood is really cool, full of cafes, vintage stores and great food places.

I had a very forgettable lunch at Rice Junkies then got dessert at Blue Star Donuts next door. I didn’t really like their stuff; I prefer the yeasty kind of donuts, which is why my favorite in Portland is Voodoo Doughnuts.

In the early afternoon, I headed Downtown to Powell’s, the legendary bookstore. It’s a great place though somewhat overwhelming; there is a reason that around that time I banned myself from bookstores.

By the afternoon, I was kind of bored and aimless, sitting at a Starbucks, so I asked on Slack if anyone wants to do a pre-pre-XOXO hangout. I only got a few replies. Andy McMillan said he might be up for something in the evening, though he said he’d be working; and Sarah, someone I didn’t know also mentioned that she might be available.

In the evening, I asked again, and not much response came — until a few minutes later when I got a private message from Sarah, who invited me for dinner to her house, which turned out to be about 5 minutes from my Airbnb.

This caught me completely off-guard. A stranger inviting me to dinner? To her house? The day I arrived?


Let’s stop here for a second to talk about extremely stereotypical cultural differences. Let me stress that: these are unscientific, personal experiences and observances, fused with bad stereotypes, and I know the reality is far more nuanced, but this is the only way I can tell this story.

I am Hungarian: we often don’t like each other very much, especially when we live abroad: we avoid each other, or form cliques. I personally try to avoid Hungarians outside of Hungary as much as possible.

Hungary has never felt like home for me, and I was extremely glad when I was able to move to Sweden. At the time, I was living there for more than 3 years, and it was the first place I felt home.

But.

After moving to Sweden, I quickly became aware that I do not fit in society well, nor I have a desire to do so. I didn’t have the same aspirations of someone Swedish. I didn’t like the language (though that changed later) and had almost no motivation to learn it since almost everyone spoke good English and my work did not require me to speak Swedish. I found myself an international church pretty quickly, which helped me to have a social life for the first few years, and in the last year or so there I started having more friends outside of the church. Expats living here, students on Erasmus or doing their masters, etc. I had friends, and I was grateful for them, but the fact remained: I lived in a society where I felt like I could not connect with the majority of the people and that’s kind of isolating and lonely.

On the other hand, I am at least half-American in my heart: I’ve always been able to get along well with Americans, and I fit into the society a lot better; I can connect to people. And after more than 3 years of Sweden, being in a country where I could connect with people was amazing.

Still, I have not expected a dinner invitation from a stranger. Nevertheless, I have gladly accepted and was welcomed. As Sarah was cooking dinner — veggies, pasta, shrimps — we had a great conversation. She told me about the Thorns, the local women’s soccer team and the huge fanbase behind it, and even though I don’t care much about soccer (except every two years when there is a World Cup or a Eurocup), she made it sound really interesting, even inviting me to a game the next day.

I think one of the mental breakthroughs I had came shortly after that. I was still nervous and told Sarah that this might be the time to be extremely rude. Without missing a beat, she said “Oh, good. I like rude.” I told her I’m an extremely picky eater and besides the pasta she just put into that big pot, I do not like any of the veggies nor the shrimp there.

I was not judged, nor mocked, but instead offered to join her daughter having pasta with tomato sauce and cheese and I am forever grateful for that.

Later that night, Sarah and I went to APEX, a pub, to hang out Andy McMillan, who was still very busy working on XOXO, but nevertheless had some time to chat with us. I felt like being in the presence of a celebrity. Just how amazing is a festival when the very first time you’re in town, you get a dinner invitation and later hang out with one of the organizers?

Wednesday — The Day Before

Wednesday morning, we watched the Apple keynote together on the Slack in #apple — so weird being in the “right” timezone for once — and commented through it, which was heaps of fun. After that, I picked up my rental camera for XOXO, a Fuji X-Pro 2 with a 56mm f/1.2 lens.

In the evening we had beers at APEX again, this time, with a lot more people. It was fun, and I had some great conversations, including one with someone called Mary, though that’s all I can remember (if you’re Mary and are reading this somehow: hi!). I was somewhat underdressed and freezing, though, and a bit under myself (likely slightly exhausted from the overwhelming Tuesday) so I ended up leaving early.

Thursday — MeFi Meetup, Opening Party

Thursday morning, about a dozen of us met up at Good Coffee. I got to know a couple of people — Patrick! John! Others! — as well as meeting up with someone I’ve met at the XOXO meetup in New York (hi, Darrell, Ryan and Ben). Around 12, we walked to Revolution Hall to pick up our badges and the obligatory swag.

Patrick Patrick

Darrel Darrell

The badges were amazing. In some ways, I was happy that I only had a festival-only pass, as it was pink and looked a lot cooler than the yellow conference one. We got pins — I think we could pick two — which were retro-themed, but all had “XOXO” on them. I also managed to score the secret pin from Andy McMillan, which was the NeXT logo.

pins

We walked a couple blocks to a restaurant, only to find it closed, so we went back to Revolution Hall and had sandwiches at Meat Cheese Bread, right next to the venue. That’s when I met with Dunja and a couple of other people as well. She was the only person I got to know there who was also from Eastern Europe.

Dunja Dunja

Early afternoon I got to know Owen, Sarah and Christine; we took Biketown rides to Downtown to a cafe called Barista, where we hung out for a while.

Afterwards, I went back to the other side of the river for the Metafilter meetup at Rogue Eastside Pub.

I’ve been a member of the site for years, but this was my first meetup, and I loved it. I had a bunch of great conversations and got to know Josh (aka Cortex) and Angela (aka Secretariat), his wife, among other people. I also took a few good portraits along the way and handed them out; people enjoyed them a lot, Josh tweeted about it and even made a painting out of it.

Josh Josh

See, I had a magic trick. It’s a pricy one, and it’s only magic once, but it’s pretty damn good: I take portraits of people and after a minute hand it to them. It’s printed on a polaroid, or to be more precise, a Fuji Instax Mini film. The camera I rented combined with the Fuji Instax SP-2 mobile printer I had is what makes all this happen.

The meetup wrapped up in time for the opening party, which marked the official start of XOXO. It was probably a few minutes into the party where it really hit me: There are over a thousand interesting people here, and most of the time, I can just walk up and talk with them! With anyone! It’s amazing!

I had a lot of conversations with a lot of great people that night. A few highlights:

  • Two minutes of awkward fanboying with Jessie Char, with something like “Hi! I loved the, uh, the Mule Podcast you did and I especially loved the makeup tutorial you did on periscope once and I am a huge fan and can I take your picture and here it is printed hope you like it”. She was delighted that someone remembered that one periscope.
  • Meeting James and a few other people from Backerkit
  • The food truck Cereal from a Van, which is exactly its namesake: you could have a bowl of cereal (with unlimited refills!) for like $3. They had a huge selection of cereals (and milk) and made recommendations if asked for. The whole thing should have been ridiculous but somehow wasn’t; maybe because it was so earnest. I had cereal every single day of XOXO from that van. On the opening night, someone started a pay-it-forward chain that literally lasted the entire party.
  • I met Emily, and she was great.
  • I also had the chance the first time in my life to chat with someone with adult ADHD, thanks to the Slack. I asked not long before the festival if there were others with adult ADHD, and we could maybe chat? Two people said yes; I had lunch with the other guy on Sunday.

It was an amazing day, and I had no idea how much more fun I’d have in the next few.

Friday — Social, Arcade, Story

Friday started for me with morning yoga on top of Revolution Hall, which I really needed. For breakfast, I got donuts at Pip’s then got in line for Fried Eggs I’m in Love, who sold the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had. While waiting, I met up with Skyler again, who I got to know at the XOXO meetup and got to chat with Tiffany, who had a really cool “Keeping it Corny” pin that I immediately bought from her (you can buy it here).

Skyler Skyler

Tiffany Tiffany

Pin My face looks terrible but look at that pin.

After listening to the Andys’ opening remarks, the Social part of the festival started. The first one I went to was the #photography meetup, a photowalk organized by Sasha. We walked around Portland and took loads of pictures, including photos of people taking photos, which is pretty much a photowalk tradition.

Ryan Ryan

1

2

I chatted with Katie and Sarita from Mailchimp; one of them were/are the one responsible for all the podcasts sponsorships, which sounded like the coolest job ever (still does). I took their portraits, and it ended up on the company’s Snapchat.

Sarita Sarita

Katie Katie

Snapchat The pictures on Snapchat

Towards the end, I ended up chatting with Clint and went to Voodoo Donuts, which was almost a religious experience: I love their donuts so much.

Clint Clint

Donuts Donuts

Done with my snack, I made my way to the Panic offices where they had an open house. They have a pretty cool space, and there were loads of people hanging out. Highlights include seeing a working NeXT computer and getting my picture taking with the walkie-talkie from Firewatch, one of my favorite videogames.

Firewatch

I kind of crashed around 3 pm, so I went back to my Airbnb to rest.

My evening was split between Story and Arcade. At Arcade, I played with Headmaster, a game for the Playstation VR (which, back then was still in beta). It was the first VR kit I’ve found comfortable (especially with glasses on), and the game is loads of fun: you have to head balls to various targets while trying to escape from the Football Improvement Center run by a GLaDOS-like evil AI.

At Story, I listened to — and participated in — Rose Eveleth’s interactive Flash Forward, a podcast about the future. It was a collective choose-your-own-adventure, where we could vote on things at various points of the story. It was a fun experience.

Gaby Dunn’s and Allison Raskin’s Just Between Us was also fun, a dating advice show this time live on stage. It was really funny.

The evening closed with Derek Powazek’s Fray, a storytelling event, which was pretty much my favorite thing at XOXO 2016. It started at 11, and there must have been at best two dozen people in the auditorium in the front rows. At the time, I listened to a lot of The Moth, a storytelling podcast, and always dreamed of attending one live, and this was pretty damn close to that. I was tired to my bones, but somehow the stories kept me awake and alert — pretty much all of them were great, though I only remember one by now.

Derek Derek

I kind of wish I had signed up in retrospect — though if my memory serves me right when they announced the signups I didn’t really get the whole thing. After I got back to my Airbnb, I recited myself an impromptu story, as I would have told it on stage.

Then I passed out.

Saturday — Conference, Day 1 + Film

Saturday morning marked the first day of the conference. I got breakfast once again from Fried Eggs I’m In Love, then went to the Shark Pizza Donut meetup. That was a codename we came up within the #singles Slack channel, so people would not assume we’re there to hit on.

After the meetup, I went to Martha’s, a bar within Revolution Hall where talks were livestreamed to for people with festival passes.

Jenn I ran into Jenn Schiffer, not knowing she is presenting the next day, and really admired her laptop sticker game.

The overarching theme of this XOXO that year was indie makers, money and vulnerability. Highlights from the morning: Gaby Dunn talked about the perils of signing contracts without reading, predatory contracts, trying to make it as a freelancer and being Bad with Money, a podcast she started just before the festival and since then turned into a book as well. Talia Jane talked about going viral with her letter to Yelp’s CEO, a story that surprisingly has a happy ending.

I had lunch with Dylan from Slack, who also had adult ADHD. We ended up at a gay bar called Crush near the venue, where I got the coolest sticker for my laptop. I still kick myself for not getting more than one.

sticker

Highlights from the afternoon: Neil Cicierega talked about growing up with computers from an early age, going viral and making a ton of things, including mind-bending Smash Mouth-centric mashups (my favorite one is Mouth Moods and The Ultimate Showdown which some of you might know. Starlee Kine is the creator of the Mystery Show, one of the best podcasts ever made, that got unjustly canceled, but she started working on a new episode which you can support on Patreon. She talked about the creative process and how her show got made.

John Roderick talked about the myth of no effort, being a musician, a podcaster, running for office, mental health issues and important differences between Seattle and Portland. Lucy Bellwood who’s really into boats got really honest about publishing books, and being successful online while not necessarily making a lot of money. She is the creator of 100 demon dialogues, which you should definitely check out; I even got a demon plushie.

At one point, I managed to spot another person who in my head was a bona fide internet celebrity, one of my internet heroes: Dan Hon. I read his twitter and took his portrait while being starstruck and extremely awkward. Spoilers: two years later we had a great chat at XOXO 2018. If you go to enough XOXOs, you slowly get over the whole celebrity thing.

The evening program was Tabletop and Film; I went by Tabletop at one point but didn’t really find anything interesting, so I spent most of my time at Film. I really enjoyed Every Frame A Painting premiering a new episode, Auralnuts being funny and Homestar Runner’s reunion/live show (anyone remembers Strong Bad?)

That was Saturday. I was getting exhausted, but there was still the final day to come.

Sunday — Conference, Day 2

In the morning, I went for a run with limited success, then had pancakes for breakfast. After that, I went to Revolution Hall for the final day of the conference.

By the last day of the festival, I was exhausted, mostly emotionally. In the previous days, I took a lot of pictures and printed them for people, but I just didn’t have it in me on closing day.

I uploaded pictures at Martha’s while watching the Conference talks. Some highlights: Simone Giertz, Queen of Shitty robots talked about the importance of building useless things. Jenn Schiffer talked about writing satire on the internet, being on Twitter as a self-described Lady Code Troll and reminded us to never stop talking about Peter Thiel wanting to replace his blood with younger people’s blood. Sarah Jeong talked about pivoting from lawyer to being a writer, argued for adblockers as someone who works in media, and how she got into reporting on important tech lawsuits.

The closing talk by the Andys was really emotional and raw; very much on-brand for the conference, but I mean it sincerely. I had (and have) a lot of empathy towards these guys who spend an immense amount of time putting this festival together.

The closing party for the evening was at the XOXO Outpost, a coworking space for indie makers that unfortunately closed down since. I had a vegetarian burrito bowl from a food truck and ice cream from Salt and Straw.

car This was a cool car close to the Outpost.

The surprise musical guest was Dan Deacon, and people seemed to be really into him, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I ended up hanging out with a bunch of people outside the venue. It was around then I ran into one of my other internet heroes, Samuel Clay, who created the RSS reader NewsBlur; I’ve been using that ever since Google Reader got shut down. He was in a sudden need of a place to sleep at, and I managed to convince my Airbnb host to let him crash there.

As a thank you gift, he gave me one of the early prototypes of Turn Touch, a wooden smart remote he was working on at the time (and since released).

I left the party somewhat early, feeling completely wiped out. But there would be one more XOXO thing the next day.

Monday — Post-Festival Pancakes

On Monday, I went by a Coinstar machine to convert all the loose change I accumulated over almost a month in the US; I think I got something around $13 in total. I returned my rental camera and then went to Slappy Cakes for an informal post-XOXO pancake lunch with about two dozen people, including the Andys. It was fun, and I got a hug from Andy McMillan, which meant a lot to me.

And then, XOXO, the festival was over. Until who knows when; the Andys later announced they were taking at least the following year off, and then, who knows. Even before that, they would never commit to another year immediately, but this time we knew there wouldn’t be one in 2017.

(Of course, now we know that XOXO returned in 2018, after which they explicitly promised it would come back in 2019. But back then, there was a sense of uncertainty.)

Reflections

I feel fortunate that I got to go to XOXO in 2016. It definitely altered the course of my life, and the community became a huge part of my online — and sometimes offline — social life. I know I’m not alone in that.

I truly enjoyed my time there, even though I felt this strong emotional numbness/exhaustion, but that’s (mostly) not XOXO’s fault. It was a byproduct of all the travel weeks before, how I traveled, and how I feel like I failed to set limits when I should have. I’ve learned a lot about myself on this trip.

XOXO 2016 marked an end of an era for me. About a week after the festival, the thought that I want to leave Sweden and move to Hungary finally made its way from my subconscious into my conscious thoughts. I made the move at the end of the year; it was hard but ultimately worth it.

The festival took place at an interesting time in American politics; just months before the 2016 elections, back when Donald Trump was definitely A Thing but no-one expected him to win.

I credit the festival, the friends I made there and my subsequent presence on the Slack (and all the new people I followed on Twitter) for making me move politically further left and opening my eyes to certain privileges I have. There are a lot of things I still wrestle with; the biggest thing would be the fact that it’s an extremely US-centric place. I’m not American, and I don’t live there (as much as I want to be), so I see and experience a lot of things through a different lens.

I got an idea or two for pet projects after the festival that I never followed through. Still, attending gives you this unique boost in creativity that I value. Someone at XOXO said that when inspiration hits, you have to grab it and run with it. That is something I should do more often, but come to think of it — it’s something I already do more often.

I’ve made a quite a few friends there, and then more on the Slack afterwards. In 2018, I came back with a mental list of people I wanted to meet, having only talked online.

I’ve said it in the beginning, but it needs to be said again: XOXO sets an incredibly high bar to conferences and festivals with their attention to every single detail and their willingness to listen to community feedback. Once you’ve been to an XOXO, you’re spoiled forever, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find something else that measures up.

Thank you again, Andy, Andy, Rachel and all the volunteers. You’ve created something extraordinary.

Travel Plans and Dreams for 2019

· 452 words · 3 min read

My sister came over last night, and we had a good time. We cooked what we pretty much always cook — fajitas — and watched a movie, as well as started planning a short summer trip to Estonia and Finland. I’ve been there, but she hasn’t, and I like both places, so I’m happy to go with her and show my favorite places there, as well as explore new ones. Right now the plan is to spend a day in Tallinn, at least a day and a half in a nearby national park, then take the ferry to Helsinki and visit the woods near Espoo before heading home.


The 9th Boring Conference’s date was just announced (May 4th), and I’m definitely going, even though it’s about a month after Brexit and who knows what’s up by then. I was there last year with a few friends, and we had a blast. It’s a day of extremely interesting and fun presentations about seemingly boring topics, and the whole thing costs about 25 GBP or so to attend. I highly recommend it.

A week later there’s !!Con in NYC as well. I really want to go, because they have really fun talks, but it’s harder to get a ticket, and they release them pretty late, so by the time I would get a ticket it’s possible that getting a flight there would be pretty expensive. Plus XOXO is returning for 2019, but it’s always a toss if you get in or not with their lottery system for the tickets. Two trips to the US in one year gets expensive pretty quick, so I have to consider my options and do some budgeting.

Then there’s also ITP Camp going on in NYC in June, and while timewise I could do it, it’s $1400 plus all the costs that come with staying for a month in one of the most expensive cities in the US.

In an ideal world, I’d leave early May for Boring, then go to NYC for !!Con, stay for ITP Camp, then meet up in Estonia with my sister before arriving back to Budapest, about two months later. Spend July and August back in Budapest, then come early September I would take another trip to Portland for XOXO for about ten days.


It’s fun to dream, but doing all of the above would be really expensive, so I’ll have to come up with a more realistic plan. I will definitely go to Boring, and XOXO if I get in as well as do the trip with my sister. !!Con is a big question mark, and ITP Camp is, unfortunately, a very likely no.

It’s gonna be a good summer, in any case.

My Recent Media Diet (February, 2019)

· 489 words · 3 min read

Here’s a bunch of television I’ve been enjoying recently.

Russian Doll: This was the highlight of recent times: 8 episodes of pure fun, with a proper ending. It’s best watched not knowing anything about it but here are the first five minutes: Nadia leaves her birthday party, and on the way home gets hit by a taxi, and dies. The next moment Nadia is back where the episode started, alive and well, on her own birthday party. It’s up on Netflix.

Star Trek: Discovery (Season 2): I’ve only seen three episodes of the new season so far but all of them have been great and I very much like this new take on Star Trek. The fact that it’s a prequel to The Original Series bothers me, though, because they could have had a lot more creative freedom and do less retconning if it would be set in another universe. It’s also up on Netflix or CBS All Access if you’re in the US.

Hanna (pilot): This is based on the excellent movie of the same name. Hanna is raised in the forest by his father in isolation, training her to be self-sufficient and strong, because someone in the CIA is hunting them for Reasons we don’t know yet. The pilot shows a lot of promise, but we’ll have to wait until March to see the rest. It’s up on Amazon Prime Video.

Strike Back (Season 5): A big, dumb action series about Section 20, a black ops group of MI6, saving the world, or at least parts of it. The writers’ contract mandated at least two machine-gun fights per episode. It’s… okay at best, I won’t be watching Season 6.

Counterpart (Season 2): Just before the end of the Cold War, scientists in East Germany discovered a parallel universe, a clone of theirs. In present day, Howard is working as a low-level bureucrat at the UN, overseeing the connection between those worlds, too low on the food chain to know what his actual work is about. Until one day, his “other” shows up, demanding to speak with him…
Season 2 has one episode left but so far the series shows no signs of getting boring or tired. Highly recommended.

The Good Place (Season 3): This has been quite a ride, huh? The first part of the season is a bit disorganized but it gets better as they go along and boy did they put on hell of a season finale. Can’t wait for Season 4. If you haven’t seen this series, check it out and don’t read anything about it, because spoilers can ruin at least half the fun. Should be up on Netflix in Europe.

The Punisher (Season 2): I loved the first season, but I quit this season after four episodes. The antagonist of Season 2 is just really, really bad. If you can get past that, it’s on Netflix.

What have you been watching lately?

On Yoga

· 476 words · 3 min read

I’ve written about my relationship with exercise, but I left out a significant bit: yoga.

Growing up fundamentalist, you learn that yoga (and most martial arts) are Bad. It’s by the devil; you’re worshiping other Gods, and so on. Even though I’ve been working hard to get rid of these parts of my faith, it’s a slow and arduous process.

So I never even thought of trying it for a long time. Then a former coworker and friend got into it; time to time she’d say “You should really give yoga a try,” and I would be like yeah, maybe, someday. Putting aside old and harmful beliefs, it also looked just… boring.


In late 2014 I broke my leg. Recovery was slow and painful, even though I did a decent amount of physical therapy. One day I stumbled upon a mass yoga event on Facebook and for whatever reason, I thought “eh, okay, why not?” So I went. It was awkward, unusual and weird, but I distinctly remember that afterwards the pain from my leg just disappeared for two days, like a miracle.

Even that was not enough at the time to start a regular practice, but in the spring of 2016, I finally pulled the trigger. I didn’t even know how to breathe right on the first class (hint: use only your nose), but it felt amazing, especially after the class. So I kept going back, as much as I could, though I was traveling a lot during that time.

Yoga made me at least a bit more flexible, but more importantly, it helped me to slow down, and it gave me space to process things. My mind would often wander during class, and while that’s somewhat discouraged, it was exactly what I needed at that time. And more often than not I would leave calmer and feeling more at peace with myself, something I desperately needed.

I was spoiled by having a great class filled with other expats and my awesome teacher, Lavinia. For her regular drop-in classes I’ve visited, she has her own style, a mix of existing ones, that has evolved over the recent years.

Lavinia and I
Me and my teacher

I haven’t done much yoga since I left Sweden. I’ve searched and tried, but I haven’t found a good class/teacher that I was happy with long-term—like I said, I was really spoiled, and it set the bar high. And maybe it’s not what I need right now.

To this day though, whenever I visit Gothenburg, I make it a point to go to at least one of her classes, and they never fail to disappoint me. In an ideal world, I would be able to teleport to Sweden once a week for a 90-minute class.

I can only tell you what my friend kept telling me: you should really give yoga a try.

On Exercise

· 1390 words · 7 min read

Facts

Let’s start with a few facts. I’m fat. I’m 174 (5’7”) and I weight about 125 kilos (275 pounds). I’ve had high blood pressure for the last 15 years or so, though the causes of that are complex. My cholesterol is officially considered high as of a few months ago, and if I don’t do something about it, I’ll have to start taking meds for it.

A huge part of it is likely genetics; men on my father’s side are historically overweight. But my terrible eating schedule (or the lack of thereof) and compulsive snacking does not help either.

I won’t go into my diet too much, because that’s material for another post; in any case, it’s a fact that exercise is something I definitely need.

Traumas

I have a messy relationship with working out and exercise in general. I was a chubby kid who was bullied growing up and I sucked at gym class. Having shitty teachers didn’t help either. So what I quickly learned is to just give up. Had to run laps for a few minutes, and I’m out of breath after 20 seconds? Just walk the rest of the way. The teacher will yell at you, classmates will make fun of you, but whatever. It’s the least bad option.

In high school, I got lucky and got transferred to the special gym class, for kids with mild disabilities, motor issues and such. It was easier: only two classes a week, and one of them was swimming. Which I am not great at, but not the worst either. Even there, I mostly just gave up on things quickly, but there was a lot less bullying and judging going around.

Changes

After I was finished with school, I more or less stopped thinking of or worrying about exercise and didn’t do much for almost ten years. There were times when I’d go swimming for a couple times before I would get bored with it (I still do). There were short periods when I was biking instead of taking the public transport, but they never lasted. When I broke my leg in 2014, I did do a decent amount of physical therapy, but I half-assed even that somewhat. To this day, my right leg, the one that was broken is still a bit weaker. I would go to the gym irregularly after that, mostly doing 20-30 minutes on the elliptical machine. I kind of wanted to exercise, but a huge part of me was fighting against it mentally.

Then one day, about three years ago, while being stuck in a nasty loop of self-pity, a friend of mine miraculously got me to (somewhat) snap out of it by getting me to sign up for a military boot camp-style workout program. We made a deal: I would go 10 times, and I can stop after that if I wanted to.

I ended up going only six times, and I hated most of it, except for one part: running.

Running

One of the reasons I never considered running before was that it felt like the most boring thing ever; about as dull as swimming, if not more. That, and all the bad experiences in gym class growing up. But I had this strange urge to do it anyway.

When I started it was still very much winter, so I went to a sports store, got a bunch of warm running clothes, downloaded Runkeeper on my phone and then I just… ran.

I quickly realized that the only way I can do this is running intervals; that is, running a while, then walking a while, then running a while and so on. Runkeeper has a nifty feature where you can set up custom intervals; most of the time I tried to stick to 90 seconds of running and 60 seconds of walking.

I never had much of a running schedule. I would have phases; I would go for a run three times in one week, then skip the next two weeks. As I’ve mentioned it earlier, it was a constant fight with myself. Part of me felt this urge to go for a run almost every day, but another part of me was actively fighting against it. I know this is a common experience; it’s one that didn’t really change over the years, though.


Mostly eschewing “real” races, I was racing myself, trying to improve my pace. My dream was running a 5K in 30 minutes, which is a 6:00 pace average (the best I ever did was about 4K with 6:46 on a treadmill). I ran both outside and inside; each has pros and cons. Being outside gives you variety and makes things less boring; however, on a treadmill I can set a pace and push myself more.

I did find one race that I kept going back to called Sziget Run a monthly timed 5K at Margaret’s Island in Budapest, a popular running place. There is a bit of a community around it, and the organizers are great. It became this fixed thing in my life: once a month I would get up early, and do a 5K with a bunch of people. Most of the time I would finish dead last, but everyone was always a good sport about it, cheering me on.

One thing on my bucket list was doing a complete lap around Central Park, which I was fortunate enough to do when I went for a trip to NY in late 2016. It was literally one of the first things I did there. My pace was terrible, and I felt like I was dying towards the end but I did it, and I’m still proud of it. The next day I would run an even longer distance around Williamsburg.

The longest run I did was last summer: it was a 12K race I signed up for. I first signed up for the 6K, then changed my mind in the last minute, thinking 6K is not much of a challenge, but I never did 12K, so why not? I finished last and my body was not happy with me afterwards, but I’m glad I did it.


I very seldom got what people call “runner’s high”, but for a long time, I did feel much better after a good run. It was a challenge to get started, hell, it was a challenge to keep going but in the end, I would be rewarded with those sweet, sweet endorphins. Until I wasn’t.

Around 2018 I was going through a time when I was pretty depressed, and running slowly started being less and less enjoyable. One could make the argument that exercise is not about enjoying it, but I digress; you need to get at least some form of satisfaction from it to keep going. And what kept happening was that I would go for a run, and come away feeling just as bad or even worse after it.

Last fall, when I was at XOXO 2018 I co-organized two morning runs that were quite popular. I’m happy that I did that; at the same time, it was the last time I would go for a run, at least for a while.

This story is not over

I was going through some old diary entries late last year and I noticed a pattern: every 3 months or so, I would make myself a note: get a personal trainer. For years. So last month, after not doing any form of exercise since September or so, I did just that, with the goal of working out thrice a week.

I’ve only been 6 times so far, because I had to skip almost 2 weeks as I got sick, but so far, so good. We mostly do weights and some cardio, though yesterday we did a session with mostly HIIT. I have mixed feelings about it, we’ll see how it works out in the long run.

My personal trainer and I talked about going running once the weather gets better, so who knows, I might pick it up again. For now, my goal is to do a solid hour of workout and hope that I feel at least somewhat better after. I’m not there yet, but I don’t hate it either, so the jury’s still out.

In any case, I’ll keep going.

On Photography

· 921 words · 5 min read

My father is a semi-amateur photographer; I got my affinity towards photography from him. I grew up watching him taking pictures. After high school, I got a job and soon I had disposable income, so I got my first digital camera: the Olympus E-1.

That was in 2008, and by then, it was already outdated. Released in 2003, it had a first-generation micro 43 sensor, 5 megapixels and ISO 800 was barely usable. That didn’t stop me; it was a camera I was familiar with because my father had one for years. I frequently borrowed my dad’s excellent 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 which is still one of the best glasses ever made. The combination of the lens and the camera took good pictures, ones that look great even in 2019.

In those early days I photographed a lot of things, but after a while I kind realized that I mostly like shooting people and that’s where my passion’s at. Portraits, parties, events, families and so on.


The first phone I owned that could take pictures was the Blackberry 9000 (I still miss that keyboard…). The image quality was pretty bad by today’s standards, but it was a start. After that, I had two Android phones; they were a bit better, but still not great. The first phone with a decent camera arrived to me in 2013 in the form of an iPhone 4S, and I was a convert. I took a lot of photos in the next few years with it and the other iPhones I eventually upgraded to (a 5S, then a 6+ then back to the 5S). People were still my focus, but I also took a lot of random pictures for social media. The 5S was surprisingly capable of capturing a good sunset.


I started playing with film photography around 2010, borrowing my dad’s Contax SLR collecting dust. I bought a roll of black and white film for it and started shooting with a Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 lens. Later on, I’d get a Canonet QL19 rangefinder, and shot a few rolls with that. I gave that one away to a friend, something I kind of regret. Then again, getting a new one wouldn’t cost too much. I took some of my best photos to this day on film and I almost always shot black and white, there was just something to it.


Shooting with an analog SLR spoils you with that big, beautiful viewfinder. I became obsessed with getting a full-frame DSLR, which were not quite affordable until Canon released the 6D and Nikon the D600 around 2012. It took me a couple of years, but at the end of 2013 I was finally able to afford one. I got the 6D and eventually two lenses for it: the 40mm f/2.8 pancake and the 85mm f/1.8, the latter being my favorite lens to this day: it’s razor-sharp and takes the best portraits. I got a flash for it as well, and it sort of became my “work” camera. I got into party photography and became really good at dancing with a heavy DSLR in one hand. I even got paid for it sometimes.


From the earliest days, I shot in RAW and used Lightroom Classic (née Lightroom). By now my brain is hardwired for it. I have a good workflow, and I can edit the 800 pictures I took on a party down to about 60 good ones in 2-3 hours.


In the middle of 2015 and I was about to leave for a couple of months of work and travel in Southern Europe. I didn’t want to lug my heavy 6D around, but I felt that having only a phone was not enough. It was a perfect excuse for me to finally buy a Fuji X-E1. By then I was already infected with a fascination with Fuji’s mirrorless cameras because one of my former best friends was really into them. I got two lenses for it, the 35mm f/1.4 and the 18-55 f/2.8-4. The autofocus and the EVF sucks, but it makes the most beautiful black and white JPEGs. They have a certain kind of magic to them.

I used it with an Eye-Fi card I got a few months prior, an SD card with built-in WiFi that sends all the pictures you take to your phone. Combining that with my instant printers (Fuji Instax Share SP-2, Paperang P1), I could take DSLR-quality portraits of people and hand it to them printed out two minutes later. It never fails to amaze.


By 2018 my enthusiasm for photography has started to dwindle. I was still talking random snapshots with my aging 5S, but I stopped carrying my Fuji with me in my backpack. I also stopped going to the kind of parties where I’d take pictures. I got myself a Pixel 2 to finally upgrade my phone, which briefly got me interested in photography again, and later on, I switched to an iPhone X, which I used for a series of portraits (and instant pictures) on XOXO 2018.


Nowadays most of my equipment is collecting dust. My creativity gets channeled into other things: drawing and writing. I think part of the reason I stopped doing photography is that it can create a distance between you and whatever you’re taking pictures. Without my camera, I am often more present.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually I’d start taking more pictures again.


You can find some of my photos on my Facebook page.

On Living Alone, Living With Flatmates and Having the Best Apartment

· 396 words · 2 min read

I signed the new contract for my apartment a couple days ago. There has been a change: my youngest sister is moving in with her boyfriend, so one of my friends is taking her place.

I’ll miss my sister. We get along well and enjoy each other’s company. In practice, she’s been gone for more, than six months now: spending the majority of her time at her boyfriend’s place and coming home for only a couple days a month. I’m happy for her, but I still miss her. So I’ve been living alone for a while now.

I’ve lived alone on and off during the last decade or so. I’ve been privileged enough to be able to pick my flatmates. I have an aversion of living with strangers, so I always picked people I know, friends or at least acquaintances.

Of course, just because you know the person moving in with you, does not mean you know how it’s like to actually live with them. I got lucky with that as well so far; all my flatmates were great, and we got along well. I’m hoping for the same with my new one.

I could have looked for another place to live when I got the news from my sister, but this is one of the best apartments I’ve had so far. It’s the right size, it has a big kitchen with a gas stove and a lot of working area, there’s a decent amount of natural light and most importantly, it has AC — something that’s rare in Hungary — for the humid 35°C (95°F) summers we have in Budapest. There are two big, separate rooms, perfect for two people. It would be nice to have an additional living room, but still, I really can’t complain. And it’s affordable, especially for the area it’s in: the rent is 440€, with the total being around 490-520€ per month, the latter including utilities and Internet. All of that gets divided between two people, of course.

The location is excellent, well-connected, with major metro and tram lines closeby. It’s not quite in the heart of Budapest, but everything is still pretty close.

(I feel like I’m writing an ad for the apartment here, but no, you can’t have it.)


It’s gonna take me a while to adjust to living with someone again, but I’m hoping for the best.

On Board Games

· 1149 words · 6 min read

I got sucked into “real” board games about a decade ago. Some of my newfound friends from Twitter were into them, so we got together one night and started playing Catan, the gateway drug to the board game world.

Catan isn’t bad, per se; it’s just there are so many games that are much better than it, so we moved on to other games. After my move to Sweden, for a couple of years, I didn’t have too many friends to play with. In my last year there I’ve found a board gaming group and played regularly with them for a while, discovering many new games and making new friends. Since I moved back to Hungary, I haven’t played much but I want to change that this year.


Here’s a non-exhaustive list of games I enjoyed over the years and still enjoy many of them:

  • Race for the Galaxy (and its expansions): A card game, in which you’re each building your own galactic civilization, with different planets, goods, capabilities and so on. It took years of regular play to finally get bored with it; it’s that good. The mechanics are not complicated, but it does have a learning curve. We tried teaching it to a lot of people over the years, and it was interesting to see how fast some people learned, while others kept struggling with it and never really got a hang of it. While luck does play a role in it, the better you get at it, the less it matters. The base game doesn’t have much interaction between the players — whoever had the most points at the end of the game, wins — but the expansions do add some.
  • Bang: A spaghetti western in a card game. Each player takes one of the four distinct roles: Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw or Renegade. The Sheriff and their Deputies want the Outlaws and the Renegade dead, the Outlaws want to kill the Sheriff and the Renegade wants to be the last person standing. Only the Sheriff’s role is known, it’s up to you to guess who’s playing who. Spoilers: everyone will keep insisting they’re the Deputy.
    You shoot at each other, dodge bullets, hide behind barrels, drink beer to get back life points… It has quite a bit of luck in it, but that never gets in the way of having fun, and you can play it with up to 8 people.
  • Agricola: You’re a farmer with a spouse, and you’re building your own farm, through 14 distinct rounds. You sow and reap crops, build fences, buy animals, expand your house and your family throughout the game. Like Race for the Galaxy, it’s kind of a multiplayer solitaire, but it’s a lot of fun. The only downside of it is that it takes about 15 minutes or so to set it up and even more to pack things away.
  • Love Letter: Best played with 4 players, this game consists of only 16 cards and a bunch of heart tokens. You’re a young lover, trying to win the affection of the princess. There are 8 different kinds of cards in the small deck and the game is mostly about being able to correctly guess who has which cards. It has quick, 5-10 minute rounds, so you usually play a bunch of them.
  • Codenames: This is the best party game, hands down. Two teams are working on finding their picks on a 5x5 grid of words. Each side has one Codemaster, who knows which words belong to their group and wants them to guess right: the only thing they can say is a one-word clue and a number. So if the table has “Athens,” “Berlin” and “France,” and all those cards belong to their team, they can say “Europe, 3”. It’s that simple, and yet this was an easy and unlikely example; more often than not you’re lucky if you can connect two words. Best played with 6-10 people. It’s been translated to a bazillion languages there’s even one where you have drawing instead of words.
  • Someone Has Died: I played this game at XOXO 2018 and fell in love with it within minutes. It’s an improvisation storytelling card game: one person takes the role of the Estate Keeper, who the rest of the players will have to convince that they deserve all that money the recently deceased had. Everyone gets a role, a relationship to the deceased and two story cards. In the first round, you proceed with your introduction, weaving your cards into the your story. It has four distinct rounds, and the winner is the person who is deemed to have been the most convincing by the Estate Keeper. If storytelling games are your thing, you’re gonna have loads of fun with this one.
  • Sushi Go!: This is a draft-and pass game: you deal a certain amount of cards, pick one and pass your hand to the next person until they’re all on the table. It’s fast, and it’s fun: each card has a type of sushi and a given amount of points; many of them only give you points when you have more than one of them, or combine them in a particular order. Best of all, the graphics are really cute. There’s a new version, called Sushi Go Party! with even more cards and support for up to 8 players (the original only goes up to 5).
  • Kingdom Builder: One of the most versatile board games I’ve ever played. You have a board, made of hexagons, which you build out of four randomly picked tiles. Your primary objective is to build settlements and build your kingdom. However, the three ways of getting points are drawn from a deck and therefore each game requires wildly different strategies.
  • Pandemic: A co-op eurogame in which you work together with everyone against the game itself, to stop a global pandemic killing humanity. Each player gets role with distinct powers. It’s fun and it can be quite challenging as well; the game lets you pick the difficulty.
    You can’t talk about Pandemic without mentioning Pandemic Legacy, a version of the game in which you play 12 to 24 games total, while the game changes in permanent ways. You name viruses, you tear up cards and so on. This requires you to have a regular, dedicated group of friends, but if you have those, it’s heaps of fun, I’ve been told. There are even two seasons of it out by now.
  • Fury of Dracula: Scotland Yard on steroids. One player takes the role of Dracula, moving around in Europe invisibly and building up an army of vampires, while everyone else is hunting him. Working against the clock, you have to be wise and try to find and defeat him. It’s a bit long (about 2-3 hours), but don’t let that deter you.

What are your favorite board (or card) games?

Flow (on Remote Work and Cafés)

· 380 words · 2 min read

I’m a freelancer; I don’t have an office. I can’t work from home; the silence is deafening, I need the background noise, and I need to be among people. The place I work from every day is a café about 25 minutes from my home; it’s called Flow. I am a person of habit: I wake up, I get dressed, I go to Flow and start working.

Flow is one of the many, many specialty cafés in Budapest. Don’t ask me about their coffee: I mostly eschew caffeine — my ADHD meds mostly replace caffeine — so my regular drink is an iced decaf latte with oat milk. It’s one of the most pointless drinks ever, but I like it.

So I don’t go to Flow for their coffee, but for everything else. It’s big; ceilings about 5 meters high and plenty of space, unlike most cafés. They have fresh pastries delivered every morning; if I get there early enough, I can nab one of my favorite chocolate rolls. And I kinda know some of the people running the place. They used to have great wifi as well, until the people responsible for it installed a network filter on it, blocking random sites and making work impossible. Thank God for unlimited 4G and tethering. They’re vegan, and I’m a carnivore, but they do have delicious tapioca pudding desserts. That, and plenty of power outlets.

Before Flow, I had another café as my base; before that place, another. I tried coworking spaces, and I was even part of one for about 6 months before the community around it started to dwindle.


On weekends or where I’m traveling, I go to a Starbucks. They usually have decent wifi, and their decaf is the same everywhere. They’re ubiquitous; you can find many of them in most major western cities these days (except for Sweden; there, I’ll go to an Espresso House instead).


Working from cafés is in many ways is not ideal, but it’s the thing that works for me. What would be ideal is a proper office, with coworkers — but I can’t give up freelancing for so many reasons. And it’s not like I’m alone here; I get to hang out with other friends who work remotely.

So cafés it is.

On Drawing

· 457 words · 3 min read

I started University last fall, and I used that as an excuse to get a 2018 iPad and an Apple Pencil. I had to take notes, after all, and why not do it digitally? The university thing didn’t last, but something else happened after a month or so: I started drawing.


I wasn’t that into drawing as a kid. Sure, I doodled just like everyone else, especially at a young age, and I do remember doing at least one pastel drawing, but that was about it. Hell, I was not much into visual arts either, or so it feels like, with the notable exception of photography. So it surprised even myself when one day, on a whim, I paid $10 for Procreate and promptly spent the next few days glued to my iPad and drawing every waking minute of the day.

A few months before that, I did a series of portraits at XOXO 2018 and they felt like a natural starting point. I started tracing these photos; open them in Procreate, set the opacity to around 50% or so, create a new layer, pick up my virtual graphite pencil and start drawing over them. I think I did about a dozen of these; you can find some of them on my Instagram. Looking at them months later, I think they don’t look too bad for a newbie.

Tracing felt like cheating — even though I know it’s not — and the next step was to find something or someone to draw. I was already aware of a place in Budapest called Painters Palace, a great art community that has weekly figure drawing classes. It’s full of amazing people, and they have a fantastic space.

I fell in love with figure drawing the very first time I did it. Drawing the naked human body is may not be the easiest thing, but it’s loads of fun. It didn’t take me long before I started modeling as well; I did it twice so far, and I plan to do it more in the future. My Instagram has a few early drawings posted, and I started posting my huge backlog to my art account.

Another thing I started doing was drawing hands from reference images. I have a couple of these published so far with at least one more to come.


There is some irony in the fact that even though I do almost all my drawing digitally, I use pencil and charcoal and I’m consciously trying to make them look like analog drawings. That being said, I don’t have much desire to use “real” pencil and paper, at least not right now.

All in all, it’s a great outlet for creativity and I’m very happy I discovered it.