26: I'm back, sort of

I started writing this as a journal entry, but I found myself wanting to hear from others (the irony?), so I’ve decided to share it here instead.

First things first: sorry for the silence. The last post I sent out was in October of last fall, breaking the monthly cadence I'd kept up for the preceding three years.

I don't really know why I stopped writing. Frankly, I just didn't have very much going on in my head. Perhaps it was a symptom of late-stage pandemic. On some subconscious level, I think I needed to signify to myself, somehow, just how royally wrecked the last year was. After a bumpy summer filled with riots, wildfires, orange sky, police curfews, book launch, and hypergrowth, the idea of sitting down and writing a monthly newsletter felt like a frog-boiling mockery, which I started to chafe against. My offline life had turned completely upside down; why try to maintain a false sense of normalcy in my online life? No more newsletters. No more notes. No more tweeting.

Anyways, I guess my little artistic tantrum is over, and I've come out of it in a different place, literally. I moved to Miami in April. And, as of last week, I no longer work at Substack.

I left my job partly because I miss writing. I have a new research project I want to dive into (more on that later, after I've had time to dig in). And I generally miss being in the headspace of tinkering and exploring and manipulating ideas.

The thing I'm struggling with is what it means to return to "public" writing life. A friend and I were joking the other night about the old adage of "Don't take time off between jobs, because you don't want a gap in your work history," and how to us, that feels inverted. I think of my baseline work as writing and research, where occasionally I work a "real" job in order to understand my topic better, during which time I don't write or produce very much (in public, that is). That means I'm just coming back to work again now, relearning how to type words onto a screen that other people will read.

But what does it mean to write today? On a macro level, we might look back at this time and call it a renaissance for writing, thanks to companies like Substack, Ghost, and Mirror that enable writers to take control of their destinies. And that renaissance is happening in the midst of a greater "creator economy" boom, where creators are increasingly dictating the terms over platforms.

Somehow, though, I can't help but feel like this isn't really a renaissance for writing, at least not the way I'd imagined. There's more writing, to be sure. I can barely keep up with everything I'm subscribed to. But is the writing...better? Is it memorable? What's the best new essay you've read in the past 6 months? I don’t mean this as a critique of the writing—I've read plenty of beautiful and stirring pieces—but perhaps it’s more that I feel like I'm no longer reading with the world. When did someone last write something that made something else happen? Where is the writing that kicks off a dialogue, not just yet-another-great-essay that I can pull off the stack of unreads and archive in my Pocket?

The edgiest ideas are no longer being published for public consumption, which is the next logical outcome of both a hostile public environment and finding your 1000 true fans. Maybe everyone just writes for their own tribes now, but what’s left is a void of writing that’s changing our public narrative, filled instead with memelords leering from dark alleyways and snake-oil salesmen spouting platitudes in abandoned town squares.

I don’t know that that’s bad, necessarily. The notion of a unified public dialogue isn’t guaranteed to every generation. It’s just harder to see where society goes from here—how progress gets made—when we’re all stuck talking to ourselves. And so when I think about kicking off a new research project, I can’t help but wonder how this state of things affects, or should affect, the quality and format of my output.

It's not just that the world is different. I'm different, too. I'm less enthusiastic to step back onto the content treadmill than I used to be. It's not that I don't want to write. Despite my best efforts to enjoy a bit of vacation and not think about what's next, I can already feel this next research problem curling its tendrils around my consciousness, and it feels good. But then I look at everyone around me, running on those treadmills until the fat slips off their bones, and it makes me shrink back a little.

If I were me, embarking on an independent research project in (checks watch) 2021: how do I do it in a way that feels authentic to myself, and to the times we're in?

I'm not sure yet. But that's what's on my mind. I’m trying to use this time to zoom out and reconnect with my intuition, figure out what feels right, and not just repeat the same habits I had before.

As of now, I’m not planning to resume writing a regular monthly newsletter. But I'll still send out an occasional missive. I've become pretty familiar with the subscription model, but I'd like to explore other formats, too. I might write a couple of longer-form essays; if I do, I'll share any writing I publish here. And of course, when I kick off NewResearch, I’ll share more about that, too. In the meantime, I'm still here, just squirreled away in my new home in Miami and buried in books and scraps of notes, trying to make sense of the world again.


Links

  • “Hiatus” (Applied Divinity Studies): The pseudonymous Applied Divinity Studies, whose blog is one of the few good things to come out of this past year, writes about weird internet bloggers, and concludes that “either you toil in obscurity until you die, or you become popular enough to get doxxed by the New York Times.” I really resonate with this post, which captures this strange tension between loving writing, while also vaguely finding it to be a worthless exercise.

  • The Dubrovnik Interviews: Marc Andreessen: (Niccolo Solo) This interview reminds me of what Playboy interviews used to be: breezy, irreverent takes from people you don’t usually expect to hear from. It’s great to see people—both interviewers and their subjects—having fun in the media again.

  • "On Miami" (Katherine Boyle): Katherine explains the allure of Miami far better than I can, and why this humid, swampy, inhospitable environment inevitably attracts people who care about making things happen in the world.