How to Give Your Brain An Edge – and a Point.

For the past week or so, I’ve been experiencing something very rare for me – ennui. Directionlessness. Lassitude. Call it what you will. This is so unusual that I almost immediately became fascinated by the phenomenon, and began to deconstruct what was going on (a mental habit that basically explains why it’s such a rare feeling in the first place).

The end of the holidays are definitely part of it. I also just finished a major personal project (a rough draft of a screenplay), so I’m slightly postpartum. And, if I’m being totally honest, I’m at the four and a half year mark of being in Tampa Bay, and the relative lack of intellectual stimulation is starting to wear on me. (Sorry, Tampa).

But the real fundamental cause is much deeper. Two and a half years ago, I set out on a crazy-ass quest to remake my career, to get off the sinking (or at least rat-infested) ship of academia, and figure out an alternate way of being. About five months ago, I finally truly arrived at that goal: I’m making my living as a writer. I have steady work that I genuinely enjoy. I am, arguably, more secure now than I was as an academic, because I’ve learned to live by my wits.

Obviously, that’s a great thing. But it also means that the main activity of my last two years – not so much doing work, but figuring out how to do work, and moreover, how to get work – has been taken off the table. The last four or five months, if I’m being honest, have been pretty blissfully lazy (by my standards – it’s all relative), as I’ve enjoyed the simple pleasure of having, in whatever small sense, arrived at my destination.

But this feeling of directionlessness was my signal – now that I’ve arrived, and taken a bit of a rest, it’s time to build something in this new land. Part of the goal is to look for more challenging work in the world of words – editorial, most likely. But that’s not going to be enough to keep me alive and attentive for the next six months, or however long I have to spend searching.

So, it’s time to come up with some weapons against complacency (otherwise I’ll just be playing video games for the next six months). This post is, mostly, an announcement that this blog is going to be an important part of that. For the last couple of years, it has been a random repository of occasional thoughts about academia and my career transition. From here on out, it’s going to be the platform for a much more ambitious project.

That project is, in an extremely awkward nutshell, an examination of the deep implications of information technology and electrification for transportation. We have passed through a century almost entirely centered on innovation in communication – even the automobile was invented in the 19th century. There was a sense, especially in the 1990s, that all of this communication technology would render distance, the body, location, and geography useless appendages of history.

But that has proven to be, at best, half-prescient. I’m one of the lucky ones – I work, from home, for employers wide, but mostly far. That would have been much more difficult 20 years ago. But the larger trends show that that’s not common – for many people, place matters more than ever. Cities are swelling around the world, as people seek opportunity. Inequality is still place-inflected. Then of course there’s the environment – a huge part of how we, practically speaking, will fight carbon emissions is through efficiency, in transportation as much as in lighting and everything else.

These questions are the subtext of my work at Fortune, but I haven’t made much effort to really sketch out the intellectual framework. And that’s what I want this blog to become – a sketchpad, a place to put thoughts. A blog. And, hopefully, a place where I can start conversations.

Oh, and to the title – the way to give your brain both an edge and a point, obviously, is through conscious, directed reading. I’m always trying to balance my rigorous intellectual side with my creative space-cadet side, but really, I’ve just been doing a disproportionate amount of reading for pleasure lately. I cut that streak by getting Freidrich Kittler’s Gramaphone Film Typewriter yesterday. It’s the kind of book I haven’t made the time to read over the last couple of years, to my detriment.

Here’s to turning all of that around, and deep-sixing the ennui forever.



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