This year was better than 2020 but boy it brought its own historic stresses.
I am thankful for the remarkable vaccination program, for frontline workers, fiscal stimulus and the limitless inventiveness of humanity. I saw more family and friends this year than in 2020. My coworkers and I got ourselves to a stronger position than where we were even in 2019. I’ve regained a balance on knowing I am both extraordinarily fortunate and regularly challenged by the world.
Earlier this year, burnout caught up to me, and I had to confront those demons. I took a step back from social media and spent more time with my baby daughter and good books. Much of what I loved about my life in 2019 is still on a pandemic pause (travel, routine restaurant visits, indoor events and more). I found ritual and joy and added new habits. No matter how much this pandemic changes the world for good, I’ve changed — as a parent, the owner of a remote-only company and just a bit older and more experienced.
Thank you to so many who helped me grow this year. I hope I contributed at least as much.
Develop your internal motivation. Focus. Be kind. Ignore the rest.
I read Neil Pasricha’s 2016 book The Happiness Equation as part of a pandemic-fatigue powered period of self-discovery. It certainly has its gimmicks and many of the concepts felt familiar to me. Still, I did appreciate the book and came away refocused on returning to being a happier person during such a tumultuous time.
Below I share a few of my notes from reading the book, though I recommend you buy a copy yourself.
I finally read the acclaimed 2015 science fiction book The Fifth Season, which kicks off the Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin. It was beautiful and enthralling. Lots challenged our relationship to our world and those who are different, and many lines were memorable but two stuck with me as representing those two points:
“Neither myths nor mysteries can hold a candle to the most infinitesimal spark of hope.”
As a character thinks while on a long, desperate march: “There are boring parts, like…when the fields give away to stretches of dim forest so quiet and close that Damaya hardly dares speak for fear of angering the trees.”
More slowly than I’d like to admit, I’ve changed behaviors in recent years. A resolution of mine for this year has been to do more. I wanted to capture a small accounting of what I’ve done so far and how I think I can do more.
Most prominently, last fall, we installed a 12-panel solar array on our roof. According to projections from our installer Solar States, this should more than account for our electricity usage.
Because of that installation, we replaced our traditional natural-gas hot water heater with a heat pump variety from A.O. Smith. We intend to turnover our other appliances (stove, clothes dryer and furnace) too, as part of electrification. Despite being a home from the 1890s, transitioning all of our home to electricity which can be primarily served by our solar installation will be an important contribution. I’ve happily encouraged a couple friends to follow this same transition.
This year marks 10 years since the launch of Constitution Daily, a new editorial arm for the celebrated National Constitution Center. Find the blog here, which is richer and livelier than it even was at launch.
In the early days of my publishing company, my cofounders and I helped conceive of and launch the Constitution Daily as part of an editorial strategy consulting project we led for the museum. It was one of the most rewarding such projects I’ve been a part of, and resulted in several close friendships and an award.
I’ve been checking in and am so impressed by how vibrantly the U.S. constitution-focused blog remains. Led by their CEO Jeffrey Rosen, the blog includes an impressive weekly podcast and routine deep dives. This was a major early example of my belief that there were publishing lessons to bring outside of media. I’m humbled by where they’ve taken the project, and I’m proud to have played a small part.
A common joke I’ve heard among parents goes something like “The only parenting advice to take from other parents is to not take any parenting advice from other parents.
Yes, you can get too much advice; yes, each kid is a bit different and every family dynamic has its own quirks. But I really did get value in speaking to lots of friends and family before the birth of my first child a year ago. Granted, we spent the last year in a pandemic lockdown, so much of our experience won’t be recreated.
Exactly because of that, I won’t be overdoing it with advice. Still, I do think a few short pieces of advice were most helpful for me. Take it or leave it.
The social human species evolved to default to truth when encountering each other. That works well more than it doesn’t but in complex society it results in many unintended consequences.
That’s the heart of Talking with Strangers, the 2019 book by journalist-public intellectual Malcolm Gladwell. That year, I saw Gladwell speak about his research informing the book. Though I got a copy of the book then, I only just got around to reading it.
Like many others, I enjoy Gladwell and admire the journey he’s taken as journalist, extending into longform narrative nonfiction to push forward our understanding of the world. Below I share a few short notes for myself in the future.
A version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.
For a couple of years in college, I spent a few days a month working at the Belmont Stables in Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park. It’s just a dozen or so stables built in 1936 to house police horses on perhaps an acre of land.
I was under the tutelage of Ike Johnstone, an imposing, grandfatherly, gregarious kind of man who made you work for his respect. Ike, whose son played in the NFL, effectively ran the stables, which were owned by the City of Philadelphia, and operated his Bill Picket Riding Academy — a summer camp for mostly poorer Black kids from North Philadelphia.
Ike, who is Black, hosted horses for a handful of mostly Black families — offering a kind of opportunity and access that always seemed a point of pride for him. Despite that healthy Black riding community he fostered, Belmont Stables was unrelated to the Fletcher Street Riding Club that is most associated with mixing social justice and Black horse riding in Philadelphia.
“Plenty of Black cowboys if you know where to look,” Ike told me once.
One of the reasons I’ve maintained this blog for more than 10 years is as an effort to hold myself accountable. I want to make sure I know in the future where I stood on something.
I am the publisher of a news organization and still operate as a community journalist. I do maintain the dated and increasingly unpopular opinion that journalists do have a responsibility for prioritizing policy, over politics. That is, though I don’t believe in an “objectivity ideal” and despite the anti-media climate we are in, I still prize journalists fighting for results and data and something resembling a shared truth. This is unpopular work, but I think it’s important.
This, then is not a partisan cry. I believe Donald Trump should be impeached.
Self-deception or not, I am an active participant in an annual reset. I personally appreciate taking a break, evaluating my goals and setting new ones for the next.
I hold some personal truths close, but I share annual resolutions each year. Even, or perhaps especially, after the very strange 2020, I am quite ready for 2021. Like you, I spent most of 2020 locked down at home or wearing a mask — as depicted above while walking my newborn daughter through a favorite nearby park. This will continue for what seems much of 2021. I suppose now I’m better prepared for it.