While I was on holiday last month, I re-read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I first read it years ago, in high school, and in the intervening years, I’d become such a fan of Bourdain’s enormous presence in the world that I forgot perhaps the most important thing about him: The man could really write.
His writing, of course, is why he became the sensation he did. (If you don’t know the backstory of how we went from middling chef, to New Yorker-published writer, to worldwide publishing sensation, it’s worth listening to him tell it in his own words). What struck me while reading his words is that his unmistakable writing voice was clearly fully-formed way before he became a household name. The only reason we got to know about it is because, after those 15 hour shifts, he sat down to write.
Part of the reason so many of us love Bourdain, I suspect, is that it was pretty clear he never wanted to be famous. His unfailing humility was always rooted in the fact that he never expected any of this to happen to him. As he wrote in the chapter of his book when he gets sent to Tokyo to overhaul the branch of Les Halles there, “Though the game had long since gone into overtime, I still had a few moves left in me, and I was content to play them out where I started — New York City, the place I believed, heart and soul, to be the center of the world.” He wrote not out of aspiration, but because he simply wanted to. The fact that those same words had such an impact on the world was an entirely separate phenomenon from the act of creating them.
It begs the question: What are the rest of us not doing outside of our day jobs that we should be doing? I don’t mean side hustles and businesses and potentially money-making ventures that neoliberalism has romanticized into something other than just working all the time. I mean, what are we just doing for the hell of it? Because we feel in our marrow we have to? Because we’re simply curious about it? Because it helps us make sense of the world? Because creation is an act worthy in and of itself, even if no one ever sees the result of it?
I’ve been trying to drill down into this question recently, making time in my life for writing and doing things that won’t necessarily get me anywhere, but just feel good to do. I’m lucky that I have a day job that is often creative, but to be honest, I don’t think the full breadth of my creativity can be contained within the rules of journalism, within the confines of the workday.
The professionalization of creativity has robbed us, I think, of the sense that writing and drawing and painting and creating in our spare time isn’t just a lark or a waste of time; it’s nourishing and worthy of our attention. If we spend time making something (cakes, watercolors, ceramics) everyone starts pressuring us to sell it, promote it, spin into something lucrative. Then we do that, it becomes a job, and we spend more time facilitating that job than doing the thing. We should resist this, I think. The act of creating is more important than the result.
Things I Wrote
After America’s mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso a couple weeks ago, I couldn't stop thinking about what kind of travel advisory the U.S. State Department would issue for a country that had experienced 253 mass shootings since January 1. So I wrote a column.
With my colleague in Singapore, I co-wrote a deep dive on what the tense (and escalating) situation in Hong Kong might mean for its travel industry — and indeed its future as a SAR.
I interviewed Jen Rubio, co-founder of Away Travel and truly a preternaturally great mind when it comes to building a brand in the internet age. (Also worth listening to her episode of How I Built This).
Does it make sense to tax tourists if you also want them to keep booking trips to your destination? I investigated the paradox of tourism taxes.
I also went on Canada’s public radio broadcaster, CBC, to talk about Instagram’s effect on tourism (no, I do not think Instagram is to blame for overtourism).
Things I read:
“Once a belief is incorporated into someone’s identity, it’s very hard to counter.” On chronic lyme disease becoming a kind of identity. [The Cut]
I don’t believe in love at first sight, but this story makes me want to believe it. [Washington Post]
I’ve been obsessed with walking lately, usually working in a two mile walk after work to wherever I’m going next (including home). I think it’s totally underrated as a form of exercise, and so I’m glad to hear this expert does too. [The Guardian]
I’ll admit that I have, on more than one occasion, complained about the lack of AC in Europe. But this piece makes great points about the insanity of cranking AC as the world burns. [The Guardian]
“So doesn’t it break your heart that there are those that don’t feel that yoga is for them?” Yes, it does. I love this piece and this philosophy of yoga, which is from the blog of the studio where I practice. [Yoga on the Lane]
I read this piece years ago when it was assigned during the first week of student newspaper in university. It resurfaced on my Twitter feed recently and, after re-reading 11 years later, it remains one of the most harrowing features I’ve ever read. [Washington Post]
While it makes me super sad to think about the beaches I grew up on ceasing to exist because of climate change (which is already happening) I find a weird relief in the idea that the planet is going to force us to confront this problem whether we can intellectually grapple with it or not. Nevertheless, this is a grim peek into that future. [Los Angeles Times]
If you care to indulge your optimism for a moment, consider: “These are the dying days of a rancid old order.” [The Observer]
One podcast for good measure
A lot of hyped investigative podcasts these days are pretty bad, with shoddy reporting and blatantly unethical standards. (Same with that Netflix documentary “Hacked.” It’s garbage imo.) This podcast is not like that. The Bellingcat is an open-source investigative journalism outfit, and their five year investigation into the downing of MH-17 is a mammoth feat. I’ve been walking around London to it all week. [Bellingcat]
I realized I have never promoted other newsletters in this here newsletter so I am going to do that now: Luke Leighfield’s Friday “Ten Things” newsletter is a reliably crisp list of links where I always find a few things I hadn’t yet seen. My former colleague Ali Griswold’s Oversharing newsletter is a must-read if you are interested in understanding the inanity of Silicon Valley startup giants, tech bros, and their magical fairy dust IPOs. Ali is a great reporter and utterly ruthless with these dudes, and I enjoy it very much.
“In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid to change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, happy in small ways.” —Edith Wharton
“Our days are limited on the earth. We may – for the sake of true riches – willingly, and with no loss of dignity, opt to become a little poorer and more obscure.” —The School of Life