Gratitude Feels Easy This Thanksgiving
Life is hard! It’s hard for everybody. I particularly have been struggling with some big picture stuff lately, life stuff, emotional stuff, bubbling-forces-within-myself stuff. Primarily, it’s things involving ongoing constraints on my professional opportunity and the question of whether I’ll ever truly move on, a sense that I should be doing something else without knowing what that is, sadness over throwing more and more words into a bottomless pit, and (especially) grappling with the fact that no matter how long I stay in treatment, my condition is not going to just stop. It’s been difficult lately, staying healthy, continuing to take the pills. Not hard to keep doing it, not hard to keep taking the pills and see the doctors, just hard. I may write about that soon, although what I have to write about is in part the futility of, and my increasingly conflicted feelings toward, writing about it. I have a degenerative condition in my repaired shoulder, which has led an orthopedic surgeon to tell me both that I will likely have to get some sort of graft someday and also that it probably won’t work. We’ve also been trying to have a baby for two years now, and I need not say any more than that.
But this is not the week for that! This is the week to look at everything I have and understand how lucky I am. And I really and truly am a fortunate person who has had wild luck in his life, good and bad, and ended up with a happy life doing the only job I ever wanted, shared with the love of my life. In spring of 2020 I found myself with Covid, without a job, mourning my dog and my dear friend Nick, rotting under lockdowns in my sad apartment, disgraced in the industry I once worked in and feeling without hope. And now, everything is different, and everything is better. I’m thankful in my bones.
Since last Thanksgiving, this newsletter has gained about 18,000 people on the mailing list and more than 1,000 paying subscribers. Annual revenue is up 17.5% in that span. These numbers have all taken a hit since I started writing in support of the Palestinian cause, but that’s the price of independence.
Financially, 2023 will go down as the most successful year of my life to date. Between this newsletter, the book advance, money from freelancing, and some odds and ends with ghostwriting and developmental editing, I’ve somehow risen to the 98ish percentile of American incomes. I know this won’t last forever, but I’ve paid down my student debt and car loan significantly while socking some money away, and we’re both frugal people by nature, so we’re setting ourselves up for a future someday when I’m not making as much as I do now. My credit score starts with an 8. Who would have thought?
Of course the biggest affordance from the financial success of the past several years has been buying this lovely little house on the Connecticut coast. After getting outbid on four houses, all of them to people paying cash (or, probably, their parents paying cash), we found this beautiful cozy house ten minutes walk to the beach, put our bid down, and prayed. I won the bid by $5k and have not stopped marveling at our good fortunate since we moved in. I miss Brooklyn, the subway, Park Slope, walks in Prospect Park, a bunch of friends, and a thousand other things. But the quality of our lives has simply improved so much since we moved. I lived in apartments from when I was 17 to this past June, and the ability to stretch out and have my own space has been really special for me. (When I have too much stuff, I just put it in the garage, or the shed, or the basement! It’s wild!) Also, you know, the ability to buy an appreciating asset with borrowed money and then live in that asset remains one of the few advantages regular people have in these United States. I bought this house to live in it, not as an investment, but it’s good to spend money and keep it in the house.
I get to be a writer and just a writer. I might end up with a day job again someday, who knows; sometimes I even want one. (Hire me, Yale.) But for now I get to just think and read and write, take my walks, set my own schedule, define the scope and scale and interests of my own projects, arrange my life the way that I want. I trade words for money and a lot of people want to make that trade. And I still love this craft enough that I write things just for me and just for fun all the time. It’s all a blessing.
Someday I’ll write a postmortem of How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement. I’m happy about a lot of how the rollout went and less happy about other things, which isn’t saying much. I do think that the book got middled in two ways - it both came out a year too late and yet could not have been written a year earlier, and it was far too sympathetic to the social justice movement for the anti-woke set but too critical for the woke set. (It mirrored my career, in other words.) And yet I must express immense gratitude for how the launch went down, regardless. The media attention was more than I could have asked for. It was reviewed in the Times and the Post and the Journal, I did a ton of interviews, made dozens of appearances on various podcasts and shows, and talked to tons of people. (Getting written up three times in the NYT was a coup.) Some of the coverage was negative, but that’s the whole point, right, and anyway in some cases negative reviews can be more valuable than positive. And after releasing my first book in 2020, where Covid restrictions kept me from doing a single live event, I have done several book talks for this one and have more coming in the future. That’s something I was really missing with my first book. (Which, incidentally, has sold more this year than the year it came out, which is cool.) Most importantly for me, I have another book on my shelf that I can reach for and know is mine. I might even get to write another one someday.
I have hooked on with a ghostwriting network, which gives me the opportunity to bid on projects that appear interesting to me. This is just what I was looking for and helps me avoid the position of working on projects where I don’t feel confident that the author will make the money they pay me back, which has provoked a lot of ethical worries for me in the past. (If you proposed a project to me after I mentioned my desire for more ghostwriting work and I didn’t respond, that’s why - I was overwhelmed with offers and didn’t feel confident that I could charge what I’m worth ethically. The professional network solves that problem.)
I continue to burrow towards more healthy ways of engaging with the news and the internet. I reactivated Facebook earlier this year to do book promotion; last month I happily deactivated it, thanks to the constant agita of arguing about Israel and Palestine. The same unhappiness caused me to abandon Substack Notes and to delete my Reddit account. I now have no social media at all, and nothing has been lost. The amount of time in my day that I spend without the internet is going up, and it’s being filled with more time for books, my partner, and our beach. My life is still deeply influenced by my online reputation, but to a greater and greater degree I am free not to worry about it so much. I read stuff online with more intentionality and with a greater sense of what I just don’t need to engage with.
If you have to give up taking daily morning walks in Prospect Park, replacing them with morning walks on Long Island Sound is a pretty good trade. New Haven is a cool city, despite its many challenges, and an excellent foodie town. I can walk around Yale or go to one of its four public museums when I want to indulge my longing for academia. My sister and her kids are nearby. I can take the train and be in Manhattan in two hours and not have to spend a minute endure I-95. My cat is alive and happy. My family is flourishing. I don’t see my friends as much as I would like but we remain as close as ever. Life is good.
And of course, the greatest gratitude is for my brilliant, beautiful, wise partner, who brings abundance into my life in more ways than I can count or truly understand. Without her, none of this would mean anything. With her, I am content even in the face of my lifelong turmoil. I am so thankful for her and every grace she has ever bestowed on my life.
Finally, let me express thanks to all of you. As much as I’ve felt a little cramped and directionless here lately, as large as the chasm has grown between my beliefs and those of the (small, unrepresentative, self-selected) slice of my readers who comment, the reality is that this project makes my life possible, and your patronage is my privilege and the foundation of all of my recent success. I am tempestuous and willful, and that’s part of why you signed up here, but I am never thoughtless, and I have such immense gratitude for each and every one of you - for your readership, your money, and your defiance in choosing to fund this project that many people would prefer not exist. Thanks, and I’ll see you next week. Let us all endeavor to be worthy of the gifts we’ve been given.