Stories from a static year
2020 was my first full year of writing on Medium
And although I told myself with almost every story I published that I was done with the platform, I kept coming back. Until the calendar flipped over and I realized I had a body of work on my hands.
Some of these stories are among the most popular I’ve written. Some were abject flops. But all have something in them that I’m proud of. A message I think is important. Helpful tips for others. Or just a single phrase that came out exactly the way I wanted it.
Anyway, although I cringe a little at the self-appreciation it takes to publish a post like this, here are some pieces I was happy with this year:
1: Want to Be Happier? You Need Two Things
We all want to be happy. But chasing pleasure is only part of the equation. As Goethe’s Faust argues, you also need a purpose. Keeping both impulses in balance is the art of living happily.
2: How To Write Over 50,000 Words A Week
Actionable advice really isn’t my strong suit. I don’t have much to teach anyone. But one thing I am good at is writing a lot of words very quickly. Here’s how I do it.
3: How Trees Talk to Each Other — And What It Can Teach Us
How Trees Talk to Each Other — And What It Can Teach Us
You’ll never look at a forest the same way again.
Nature is a reliable source of inspiration. The more we learn about the world around us, the more we discover about ourselves. The truth is, you’re a forest, not a single tree.
4: How to Lose Everything You Love
“It isn’t hard to lose everything you love. Anyone can do it. You don’t need wealth or influence, though they won’t hold you back, either. You don’t even need to get off the couch.
All you need to do is stop paying attention. Stop listening to your partner. Stop playing with your kids. Don’t pick up the phone.
Don’t open the door. If you do that, you might feel the wind on your face or hear the birds singing in the branches. You might look up and see the rain fall from clouds that are never still, thundering in herds across the endless prairie of the sky.”
5: This Article Is a Soul Jar
This Article Is a Soul Jar
To create something, you need to leave a piece of yourself behind.
Inspired by this article from Timothy Key, this piece came pouring out of me exactly as it’s written. I still stand by the premise that we need to leave parts of ourselves in our writing. I rarely leave a bigger chunk than I did here.
6: This Is How We Lean Towards the Light
I never get tired of writing about Rome. And what’s a worthier subject than love? Here, Roma and amor combine with opera and insects in a mix of many of my favorite themes.
7: Beginner’s Mind and the Reclaiming of Awe
Beginner’s Mind and the Reclaiming of Awe
Encountering the natural world can make you smarter.
Another favorite subject. The Zen principle of shoshin, or beginner’s mind, means cultivating a sense of awe at the wonder of the universe. I’m no expert in Zen, but I do know a little bit about awe.
8: The Town That History Forgot
I started on Medium as a travel writer. Then 2020 made travel impossible. This was the last piece I wrote about a journey overseas before the gates closed.
9: Is Beauty the Hidden Law of the Universe?
Is the universe beautiful? Or is beauty only in the eyes that behold it? Religious chimpanzees, art criticism, and a walk in the forest helped me explore this topic.
10: What if the World Has Loved You All Along?
Every time I looked at a screen in 2020, all I found was people complaining about the worst year ever. But an adversarial relationship to the world becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are other ways to look at things. There are better stories we can tell ourselves. And telling a different story brought out some of the best lines I’ve ever written.
Inspired in part by this devastating beauty by Kristi Keller, the best line from my article found an afterlife in another even more gorgeous piece by Kristi. Whenever I find myself wondering why I bother writing for the tiny audience I have, I remember these kinds of connections and start writing again.
11: Narcissism, Solipsism, and the Culture of Self-Worship
Narcissism, Solipsism, and the Culture of Self-Worship
Staying humble in a narcissistic age
I don’t write about politics. And I usually steer clear of social critique. We don’t need another voice listing everything that’s wrong. But our endless self-obsession is at the heart of so many of the problems we face today.
With help from Kant, David Foster Wallace, and Greek mythology, this was one of the most well-researched pieces I’ve ever written. Then again, “Maybe if I had a nicer ass, I wouldn’t be writing this at all.”
12: The Hole at the Heart of the World
I like teaching people things they don’t know. I like reading about history and philosophy and sharing that with an audience. But the main reason I write is for the joy of the experience, for the aesthetic bliss of language.
Sometimes, on Medium, that can seem like a fool’s errand. But I had recently read this piece by Andrew Jazprose Hill, and some of his lyricism clung to my hair and wouldn’t let go. This article contains some of my best prose and is also my most metatextual. A frontal attack on the walls that close around us.
13: All Art Is A Disappearing Act
All Art Is a Disappearing Act
Otherwise, you may as well be selling Hitler’s piss
I finished the year with this contemplative piece about the uncanny nature of art. About the way we disappear into our work. About the way the things we write end up writing us. I knew there would be no market for it. That I’d be lucky if a handful of people even saw it. But it was what I wanted to write at a particular moment of time, so I did.
“It’s about me, a little bit. But mostly, it’s about you. Everything written or spoken or sung is, from the handprints of half-humans on the cave walls to the bleeding-edge art installation your tax dollars paid for yesterday. It’s all about you. It always was.”
It ended up being one of the most popular pieces I’ve ever written.
I came to Medium to publish my travel writing, and then the addictive nature of the platform got the better of me. Looking back at 2020, I realize I’ve never written as much in my life. Not because of the pandemic; that barely affected the amount of work I had. It was because I had a place to share what I was writing, even if only with a few others. It’s more than I had when I started.
I hope you find something worth reading in this list, and I hope this year is better than the last!