Fifteen years ago I downloaded b2, the software that would later be called WordPress, and installed it on my server with a rudimentary understanding of PHP. The next week, I set off in my white 1992 Saturn from San Diego where I had recently graduated from college, to Mexico, where I would attempt to make a living through a freelancer’s hodgepodge of designing websites, writing articles, and teaching English.
Three years later and I was receiving a monthly paycheck from Harvard University to blog — and to travel around the world to teach others to blog. As a teenage rebel, who barely managed to graduate from high school, this was too good to be true. I was still in my mid-20’s and receiving dozens of invitations each year to speak at conferences organized by governments, companies, and foundations. A couple of years earlier, most of my income still came from working at coffee shops, but in 2006 I felt like I was on the front lines of a cultural revolution spawned by blogging. It seemed inevitable that a political reformer would soon overthrow the elitist establishment by using digital media to connect directly and authentically with the people. Of course, I imagined that person would be more like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than Donald Trump, though today I am turned off by the rhetoric of both.
Anyway, fast-forward to 2014, when I wrote a short reflection on the ten-year anniversary of this blog. I was wrestling with a question that I still struggle with today: Why write in the first place? What do I hope to get out of the process? Why don’t I spend my time doing something else; say, playing a musical instrument, or painting, or hanging out with friends?
I had to remind myself then what I still must remind myself now: I don’t write for fame or fortune or followers, I write to learn and make sense of the world. When done right, sharing drafts is also a wonderful excuse to have profound and meaningful conversations with people I care about. And finally, I write because I enjoy writing — at least when I focus on the joy of the process more than the influence of the product.
Over the past five years, I’ve written less than during the previous decade. I don’t have any regrets, though; it freed me to spend more time with my wife and friends and hobbies. But I realize now that I left something behind when I stopped writing. I became less passionate about learning and less likely to make meaningful connections between what I was reading. I had fewer profound conversations with friends. And I had a fuzzier view of my own beliefs and what I was willing to fight for.
So my goal for 2019 is to become a writer once again. I sometimes introduce myself as a program officer in philanthropy who would like to be a novelist and essayist. By the end of 2019, I hope to introduce myself as a writer who works at a foundation as his day job in the same way that Kafka worked his days as a legal clerk and Melville as a bank clerk. I don’t have any fantasies of writing the 21st century Moby Dick, but I do aim to be more disciplined about writing 500 words every day.
My first essay of 2019, a reflection on my environmental politics and relationship to the natural world during a weekend backpacking trip with my dear friend Pablo, should be up in the next couple of weeks. Here’s to a happy 2019 full of meaning, the pleasure of craft, and profound conversations that unfold over weeks.