I Am Working on a Book

I began research for this earlier this year, and I’m tempted to just wait until I’ve actually got a draft (a while from now) but I’ve decided to take a page from Austin Kleon’s book and show my work.

Two or three years ago I tried to read Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Virtues. I expected, based on what I’d heard and on this EconTalk interview, to find an extended argument about how commerce has made us more moral and more expressive. What I did not expect was a big treatise on virtue ethics in general as well as applied to middle class and commercial life. I pushed my way through it, but frankly I didn’t absorb much of the book at the time. Her second book in the series was much more accessible to me, but didn’t touch much on ethics.

Last year, on Nassim Taleb’s recommendation, I picked up Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. Seneca and the Stoics in general are an odd lot, in many ways too cold and too rationalist—one of the letters involves Seneca chastising a friend for crying too much after the death of his child. But I was reading the book during a difficult time, and I found it helped in a number of ways—if I viewed the book as a source of wisdom rather than a potential ideology that I needed to take as a whole. Seneca’s advise to simply assume that the worst was going to happen, rather than allowing the possibility of it to be a source of stress, was of great help to me in a particular situation.

I knew that Seneca and the Stoics in general were part of the larger conversation about virtue in the ancient world, and I was anxious to learn more. Though it had not stuck with me in the first read through, I could tell that McCloskey’s Bourgeois Virtues was a highly researched, broad exploration which included not only the ancients but the Christian contribution (Aquinas in particular). So in February, I gave it a reread. And this time, its message resonated, and resonated strongly.

I’m not going to do a book review here but suffice to say that I think McCloskey’s project of demonstrating that healthy commercial culture includes the exercise of virtue is both worthy and, to me at least, persuasive.

The end of the book includes a call to action, which goes as follows:

We need to revive a serious ethical conversation about middle-class life, the life of towns, the forum and agora. We need to get beyond the project of damning a man of business because he is neither an exalted aristocrat nor an unassuming peasant-proletarian. The conservative program of handing things over to a class of pseudoaristocrats trained at Andover and Yale or the radical program of handing things over to a proletariat-friendly party of bourgeois-born young men has not worked out very well. We need an ethical bourgeoisie.

When I read these words I knew I wanted to participate in this revival. To that end, some friends and I have launched Sweet Talk as a hub for conversation. But I also want to make a contribution in the form of at least one book.

Finding the Right Implied Author

There are two books I have in my head, with two very different implied authors.

One book is a long treatise on virtue ethics in the market, written by an implied author who is capable of addressing the main critiques that would come out of the philosophical community. This implied author is very well read in the conversations of philosophy in and out of ethics, and is well equipped to engage in that conversation. The problem is that Deirdre McCloskey has basically written this book already, and even though my version of virtue ethics may differ slightly from hers, I don’t think that this is the best contribution I could make right now, nor am I well equipped to make it. It would take me several more years of research before I could comfortably write as this implied author.

The second book has an implied audience of the people who buy books in the business section of a book store (or Amazon). Unpretentious, practical minded people who nevertheless view consulting books as both enjoyable and useful. The implied author is well read and confident in the subject he is writing about, but not an expert or a specialist in philosophy or economics. He works for a living and thus experiences the world of business forty hours a week or more, and has so for his whole career—but not as an executive or entrepreneur or anything more exciting than a salaried employee. His value proposition for his implied audience is that his life is similar to theirs, and he can offer a framework for looking at that life that is very clarifying, but also satisfying. Useful, but also enjoyable to engage with critically or from the inside.

I believe that that is an implied author I am capable of becoming within a reasonable timeframe, and that is more or less the book that I want to write.

Respecting a Pre-existing Conversation

One thing that I have learned from McCloskey, both explicitly from her works on rhetoric, and by example, is that there is no worse scholarly vice than taking shortcuts. Any subject that you think you have a novel idea or framing for has been discussed to death by countless numbers of people much more intelligent and well read than you are, and over a course of generations rather than years or even decades. There’s nothing new under the sun, philosophy is a footnote to Plato (who was himself a footnote to the traditions that came before him), etc, etc.

The point isn’t to downplay originality or novel contributions, the point is to respect what’s already been done, and to avoid as much as possible reinventing the wheel. The amount of work you need to do to familiarize yourself with those conversations, and the specific conversations you need to focus on, depends on the implied author that you want to project. If you want to project an implied author who is simply an enthusiastic amateur, then you will need to do much less reading than you would for either of the implied authors described above. The point is to be persuasive but also to be honest; choose the story you’re going to tell based on what you’ve actually credibly developed the knowledge base to defend.

Don’t pretend to be more knowledgeable than you are—the greatest sinners in McCloskey’s work on rhetoric are inexperienced youth who think they can take the shortcut to Authority by acquiring some Popperian or positivist demarcation that allows them to write off huge swaths of the conversation as not worthy of being read. It does not work that way—if you’re going to critically engage with an area you have to actually engage; that is, make a real effort to understand what it is that you are criticizing.

There are a few overlapping conversations that I need to get myself up to speed on before I feel comfortable writing this book. Here’s the basic sketch:

  • Philosophy. You know, that set of conversations that has been going on for thousands of years? For this book I’m focusing primarily on the community of virtue ethicists, but also a few others that I think will tie in well, like Oakeshott. I’ve been reading books in the virtue ethics strain for a few months now; two books that have stood out are The Morality of Happiness and The Fragility of Goodness.
  • Business Ethics. This is less cohesive, as it seems there are several strands. There are philosophers that write about business ethics, and then there’s what’s taught in ethics courses in business schools, with apparently very little overlap. I’ll be looking into both. I’ll also be reading From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, on McCloskey’s recommendation.
  • General Business Books. I’ve read a few of these in my day but I feel I should really familiarize myself with the big hits in this genre if I’m going to engage it as well as sell to its audience.
  • Self Help Books. I cringe even writing it. This is the part of the research project that I am least looking forward to. But the ancient schools which inspired modern virtue ethics tied ethics together with the project of living well. Today, ethics and self help are essentially segregated; different sorts of authors, different audiences, minimal crossover. I would place the book I’m going to write in the business books section, but it’s going to be in some ways muscling into the turf of self-help. As I said above, I don’t believe in writing off an entire sphere of conversation just because I want to. So I’m going to try and look at the five top selling self help books of all time, then of the last ten years, and then of the last three to five years.

Again, the goal is not to become a specialist in any of these, at least not for this book. The goal is to respectfully engage with what has come before, and to be informed enough to become the implied author I want this book to have.

Timeframe

I have a full time job and I’m writing in a couple of venues these days. Also I’m married and I have a life. Part of the joy of doing a project like this out of love is that I don’t have a hard deadline. But I also don’t want to let the process linger and stagnate. In short, I’m going to straddle the line between taking as much time as I need and actually getting this thing done in a reasonable timeframe.

The tentative timeframe I have in mind is 2-3 years (starting from near the beginning of 2014) for researching and writing it. The research is at this point going much faster than I thought—I gave myself a list of virtue ethics books (suggested by Matt Zwolinski, Aaron Ross Powell, and Drew Summitt) to read by the end of the year but I’m almost done with it already. But I’m still saying 2-3 years because I want to do this right and I don’t want to rush myself. And if it takes longer, it takes longer.

I also want to shop the book around to traditional publishers after it’s done, rather than going the self-publishing ebook route. If self-publishing is the only way it’ll get out into the world at all, I will naturally do that. But I live in New York City, the publishing capital of this country—I figure I might as well give it a shot.

Show Your Work

I mentioned Austin Kleon at the beginning of this post, so before finishing I’ll explain what I was referencing. Austin’s latest book is Show Your Work, and as the title implies it’s all about putting your creative process out in public while you’re in the middle of it. Austin argues that it’s better to let go of the pretense of a creative work as this pristine thing that springs fully formed from someone’s brain. People will find it more approachable if you show them the messy, flawed, human process that goes into making anything. And you’ll open up the possibility of getting useful feedback along the way, rather than after it’s too late to do anything with it for the specific work.

Between The Umlaut, Sweet Talk, and R Street, I haven’t had much to say on this blog other than personal stuff or philosophical dialogues. But this is the right place to talk about what I’m working on. So moving forward, the tag “book bleg” is going to have all the posts talking about the process of working on this book. I’ll try to update fairly regularly, and with much shorter posts than this one, which is working through a lot of stuff that’s been in my head and I have only talked about with a handful of people. Future updates should be more targeted and less verbose—at least, I hope so.

That’s all I have for now. I’m excited to have a project like this to work on; it’s fun and I enjoy having a target to be aiming towards. Any feedback you have would be highly appreciated, as becoming the implied author I want to be is still very much a work in progress, and I could use all the help I can get.

On Hustle

Hustle is in many ways the master virtue of New York City, and especially of Manhattan. So it may come as a bit of a surprise when I say that most of my struggle with this sometimes-virtue, sometimes-vice occurred before moving here.

2008 was a year that required a great deal of hustle from me. I met Catherine, and so began that terribly awkward dance that is what passes for wooing on my part. I got my first non-retail job, 40 miles away from where I was living at the time. I started grad school, which involved two or three night classes a week, more than 40 miles away from where I worked. And at that point, I was living about a half hour drive away from where Catherine was.

There was a lot of time spent on the road. So much so that I moved on from the family car to a brand new one I bought myself. Nevertheless, it was a tiring thing, to drive so very much. I very quickly grew sick of it, though podcasts helped to ease the pain.

Crunched for time on so many sides, I embraced hustle to what was in retrospect an unhealthy degree. My average driving speed, when traffic allowed it, was 80 mph. That was the average, to repeat—I frequently exceeded it. I fought for even inch of gain I could, weaving around slowpokes (by my skewed standard of slowness) without hesitation.

This embrace of hustle went beyond my driving. I would push my way past people into elevators, almost knock people over on the sidewalk, and so on. Got into a couple of nasty spats for no good reason.

I was already in the process of dialing back on this when we came to New York, but coming here actually helped me get to a healthier place in a number of ways. First of all, I was no longer driving regularly, though I’d like to think I would be more responsible and more calm on the road even if I was. Second, it is impossible to be the person with the most hustle in New York City. It just is. It’s a fractally nested hierarchy of hustle. There’s no point trying to be at the top, so you just shouldn’t.

Finally, it became clear to me, as it already had been becoming clear, that unbalanced hustle doesn’t help anyone. Peace of mind matters, and so does being charitable to strangers. Today, for instance, I’m willing to accept a longer commute in order to avoid having to switch trains, or to minimize the amount of times I do so. In the past, I would try and fight for every minute I could get—but in the end I have to ask myself, what’s the point? I’d rather be relaxed and leave a little earlier if I have to than give up my peace of mind to shorten my journey by five or ten minutes. And I don’t want to remember myself as the asshole who knocked someone’s grandmother off her feet so he could achieve his aspirations of being a minute faster.

Hustle is part of New York’s charm and also one of its frustrations. Like all virtues, it must be balanced with the others; such as temperance, prudence, and love.

I Can’t Hide From My Mind, Though I Try

(warning: naval-gazing)

I’m going through a bit of a change at the moment. If you follow what I write, you may have guessed this from a couple of recent posts. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I got here.

The first big influence on how I thought about the world was my dad (of The Fifth Wave and the now-neglected but still excellent Vulgar Morality). Arguments I had with people in High School (in person and online) usually consisted of appropriating an informed opinion that he had and bullshitting my way around it from a substantially less informed point of view. After I started to grow up and actually take reading up on the things I talked about more seriously, I held onto Burkean traditionalist instincts and an interest in specific thinkers such as David Hume that I had first heard about from him when I was too young to approach their writings myself.

I learned about the blogosphere from him first (he was a media analyst by trade), and started my own blog, Sophistpundit; the name derived from the Greek sophists, which he was reading a great deal about at the time and talking about constantly, and Instapundit, a blog he introduced me to. The start of that blog marks the beginning of the time I began to take the matter of discovering my own point of view seriously, as the simple act of writing about it regularly restructured the way I thought.

I’m a storyteller by instinct; even when I was just bullshitting my way around arguments as a teenager I was trying to take things I wanted to be true and fit them into an overall framework. I wasn’t satisfied with one-off explanations or answers or arguments. So when I began to really read works of philosophy and social science, and write about it, I started seeing things about the individual components of what I thought that dissatisfied me. Whether intellectually, or from a storytelling point of view, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not sure I know the difference.

My introduction to serious philosophy began with Karl Popper. I picked up a collection of his essays and was hooked. He had a very accessible style and his ideas seemed incomparably elegant. For a brief time, I was completely won over; I thought I had found the keys to unlocking the universe. Ultimately, Popper was just a great place to start, and though it wasn’t too long before I started drifting from his (quite rationalist) point of view, I’m still glad that I started with him. He was a great place to begin.

From then on I had a fairly regular diet of nonfiction books ranging from classics of philosophy (like David Hume) to more popular stuff (like the Long Tail). Not to mention reading a ton of politics, economics, technology, and personal blogs.

The next big change that came into this brain of mine was libertarianism. And big it was; I’m still reeling from it years after its onset.

I was always generically small-government minded, in the way that most Burkean types are, I think. But there were key differences between where I was and where the libertarians I had exposure to were. For one thing, I was a hawk on the war at the time. For another, I had vague acceptance for labor regulations such as the minimum wage. I also respected traditions generally, including traditions of government. And I was very strongly pro-democracy. Perhaps most crucially, I viewed libertarianism as a rationalism, and I was (and remain) strictly anti-rationalist.

The crucial moment came when I was still working on my BA in history at GMU. I knew I wanted to go into economics by that point, but opted to finish my BA and go for the MA in econ. In the meantime, I would take the prerequisite undergrad courses, starting, of course, with introductory level economics.

The 101 and 102 level courses at GMU are taught by Dr. Thomas Rustici, who is an excellent communicator of economic theory but also a firebrand-style preacher of libertarian ideology. I was made a convert practically before I even realized what was happening. The process was both fast and gradual, in a way. I kept looking at the margin between my positions and full blown, all-encompassing libertarianism and telling myself that I hadn’t been truly converted, but slowly and steadily that margin was chipped away.

I think in retrospect that Dr. Rustici was simply responsible for the initial breech, and the rest of the erosion of that margin came from going straight into the MA program in economics at GMU. The effect was stronger there, less due to the ideology of the professors particularly, and more because of the fact that said ideology (in some form) was widely shared by the peers I encountered there.

Looking back now, it kind of feels like libertarianism was an invading force that entered my mind and started pretty substantially rearranging things. I used to think Richard Dawkins’ theory of religion as a mind virus was just condescension, but frankly it feels apt here; it’s like I came down with a chronic case of libertarianism. It got to a point where arguments I had previously mocked now seemed like the only point of view that made sense. At its pinnacle, I had that “I have the answer to everything” feeling I got from Popper, only much, much more so. Libertarianism (the variety popular among GMU types) is far more all encompassing as a theory of everything from human behavior to morality to history.

With time and distance between myself and GMU econ, I’ve slowly begun to shrink the size of this ideology’s partition of my mind. It will always be part of the pantheon, but I’m starting to move on to other things. I suspect that those other things will be far messier, less internally consistent than libertarianism. But that’s OK; it’s a messy world and even as a storyteller I was always wary of how very clean the ideology is.

Lately I’ve been swayed by people like Nassim Taleb and Nate Silver who think probabilistically about things; an approach that helps me think about challenges to libertarianism posed in forms like this. I’m also exploring more and more of the social sciences beyond the boundaries of economics. And I’m going back to the classics of philosophy I never got to; I recently read Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, and I’m hoping to read something on Epicurus’ philosophy next.

Talking with Noah Smith yesterday got me thinking about all of this even more, as he seems (from my limited exposure) as ideology-free as is possible for a human being to be. His beliefs seem to have some themes consistent with modern progressivism, techno-futurism, and a dash of libertarianism, but for the most part it appears as though he’s got a grab bag of ideas he more or less believes in that don’t add up to a consistent story. When I asked him what his most absurd belief was, he had trouble answering because it seems he wasn’t quite sure what his beliefs were. This is neither good nor bad, but it’s kind of interesting. I don’t think I have it in me to be that way—the more stories I gather, the more I instinctively try to edit and combine them in my brain to see if I can make a single consistent one. Anti-rationalist though I desire to be, I’m a cathedral builder at heart.

A Cathedral of Their Own

I’m not sure I could tell you what this all adds up to or why this blog is an expression of these ideas. But I like the idea of a consecrated but untamed place, and the spiritual development the term implies, not impressed by a conquering army, or ritual defenestrations, but by those who hoped that one day others might enjoy a cathedral of their own.

-J Arthur Bloom, missionary ground: A brief word on this blog’s title

Jordan’s post made me realize that I have always sought to make my little corners of the web into missionary ground, in the sense that he is describing.

Growing up, I would tell my dad about the stuff I had learned in history (mostly) or English, and he would say something to the tune of—“That’s totally wrong. But remember it because it’s what your teacher will want you to say on a test.” I found this very troubling. Teachers were authority figures, but my dad was the king of authority figures. That their stories did not line up—that they straight up contradicted one another—was really quite unpleasant.

Since that time I have consistently sought certainty in a world where so many stories are presented as though they were born of the true knowledge of the storyteller. Any certainty would do; even a Pyrrhonian certainty that no one knows anything at all. I’ve tried that one on for size many times, and it will always have a hold on me.

In 2004 I set out to conquer the untamed stories by declaring a little corner of the Blogger empire my missionary space—again, in Jordan’s sense. I was not looking to convert the world—I was looking to build my cathedral.

And I did attempt to build it. First, from Protagorean foundations. Then, from Popperian ones. Then, from Humean and social science inspired ones. Between these episodes of attempted craftsmanship was a virtual ocean of reading, quoting, linking, writing, and arguing. Between attempts to raise up an elegant edifice was messy trial and error, and intense devotion to particular ideas for brief and longer periods of time.

The truth is in the mess, and not the edifice. No matter how many cathedrals I start I am always living in the untamed lands, where stories vie for my allegiance. Where sometimes I think Pyrrho was right and we are all little more than dreamers and storytellers, and the rest of the time I am merely certain that my own mind is systematically working against me.

Writing at The Ümlaut this year has been good for me; I have followed trains of thought in a far more focused, less messy manner. Still, I scrutinize my work and wonder whether they form a whole or if they are incompatible pieces to entirely distinct puzzles. Are this, this, and this part of one story or am I contradicting myself? What about this and this? I often have trouble trusting my answer to this question.

Still, I continue to work on my next cathedral, clinging to the hope that this will be the one. I feel I have made a great deal more progress than the last time I made the attempt. But is this an accurate reading of my circumstances or is this the same false confidence I always feel when setting about a task of this sort?

If I have given the impression up until this point that I have some sort of anxiety on this score, I hope you’ll forgive me for that bit of stylistic indulgence. I actually love it down here, in the untamed lands, where I’m never more than half-sure of anything. I don’t know if I’m going to ever finish a cathedral with solid enough foundations to last long, but I do know that I am so much better at navigating these parts than I was even a year or two ago. And I am incomparably better than the 19-year-old kid who planted a flag in the blogosphere nine years ago.

When it comes to cognitive biases and imperfections, I have grown comfortable thinking of my mind as a table at which many strange characters sit. One of those is GMU-style libertarianism, informed largely by people like my friend Eli and the GMU professors who have a large presence in the blogosphere and on Twitter. Then there are people close to me in my life, whose idiosyncrasies I know well; I often think about how any one of them might react to a particular story I have read. Then there are the people I seek out who often force me to experience the cognitive dissonance of disagreement when I know the person I am disagreeing with is intelligent—people like Noah Smith, Claudia Sahm, Bernard Yu—they are numerous these days, I am proud to say. And there are others.

This isn’t to say that I have cataloged the sources of my biases and elevated myself above them—I am just as imperfectly human as anyone else. But I am more comfortable living with my biases than I used to be.

I really am serious about this next effort to build something, but I am also keenly aware that a cathedral is something that no individual can build alone—indeed it cannot even be built in a single generation. We speak of people like Daniel Kahneman or Everett Rogers—to say nothing of Adam Smith or Charles Darwin—as having done immensely important work because after decades or centuries of other people building on top of what they did, we now know that their work was, indeed, important.

So I will continue to do work in the hopes that I can add a few pieces to something bigger than I could ever possibly accomplish on my own.

And in the meantime, I will revel in the madness of this perpetually untamed space of stories and uncertainty.

Moving to Manhattan

Exactly one year ago today, Catherine and I took a Bolt Bus up to New York. The trip was one we had been saying we would take for a long time; more and more of our friends had moved there, and we had promised all of them that we would be coming to visit at some point. We were finally making good on those promises.

We arrived around lunch time, and headed over to Murray Hill, to our friends Peter and Jordan’s apartment, where we would be staying. Peter, Jordan, and I had gone to high school together, and Peter would be my best man at our wedding later that year. We’re close, and we were happy to have the chance to spend some time together.

It was a lighting tour, as we came up Saturday morning and returned to DC Sunday evening. Other than a trip to the MoMA, we did basically no tourist activities. We had lunch in Peter’s neighborhood, and walked around a bit. That evening, we went to an Italian place called Bianca that had a two hour wait, but it was worth it. We met up with our friend Laura, who Peter and I had gone to middle school with. The next day, we met up with our friends Alanna and Nasira for brunch; Catherine had gone to middle and high school with both of them. Alanna would be her maid of honor at our wedding, Nasira one of her bridesmaids.

As we sat on the bus ride home, our minds drifted to the same thought. We had never really seen New York as a place you could live, in all the times we had visited it before. It just seemed too big, too fast, too overwhelming. Great place to visit, but live there? Forget it.

But spending time there with residents, rather than as tourists, had shown us a whole other side to the city. Both of us could, for the first time, imagine living there. The idea even seemed a bit appealing. I, personally, had had this curiosity growing since we visited San Francisco the year before, about what it would be like to live in another city.

But at the end of the day, we had no reason to move. Nearly all of my friends and family were still in the DC metropolitan area, and Catherine had been there for about eight or nine years. Her family was mostly concentrated in the Boston metropolitan area. And we both had jobs already. Neither of us are the kind of people to just pick up and move because we felt like it.

That very week, Eric Litman reached out to me about the possibility of working for his company, Medialets. A company based in Manhattan.

Intercity Commuter

The recruiting process ended up taking about a month. Since I was leaving a very small company, I set my start date for Medialets at about a month after that, on June 4th, 2012.

That week was the first time of many that I would take Amtrak from Union Station in DC to Penn Station in Manhattan, and then spend my nights at the Yotel near Hell’s Kitchen. It was one of only three times that Catherine would come up with me, during the four months between when I took the job and when we moved up here.

We stayed that whole week, and after that, I would work from home for a week, then come up for two or three days, and repeat. It was an exciting, but difficult time. I was caught between two cities and Catherine was dealing with the logistical run-up to our wedding. At first it was quite fun to come up, maybe see Peter every other time or so. But it got to be very tiring, and—I learned—there are few things more depressing than going to a tiny (but so efficiently designed!) Yotel room alone. More than once I monopolized Peter and Jordan’s time far too long because I didn’t really look forward to heading back to my room.

In DC, we had only ever needed to look to Craigslist to find a place to live. As far as we could tell, it was totally unreliable for Manhattan, and we weren’t too confident in what we could see in the alternatives, either. So on the advice from a few people I worked with, we got a broker. The results were mixed. Since we weren’t in New York yet, it was good to have someone to arrange viewings for us before I was in town. I think I saw over twenty apartments, something like fifteen of which I saw in a two day span in September in which we finally picked a place and jumped on it.

In case you had any doubts, the New York rental market is insane. No one lists square footage, because the buildings are so old that the information isn’t readily available. And in the time that it would take the broker to go in and measure the place manually, they could have already rented out the place. I saw so many places there were 40% more expensive than what we were paying in DC but only about a quarter the size, with ancient appliances and few amenities (other than location, of course).

As a result, we ended up very, very upper west, but the place is quite good (especially compared to most of what I saw) and it’s basically the same amount that we were paying in DC (not as big a place, of course!).

The broker cost a small fortune, and the broker on the other side of the transaction took forever to process everything. We ended up having to pay for movers and arrange a move out date with our DC building before we even had a signed lease! It was…stressful. But we made it, and my intercity commuting days came to a merciful end.

Adjusting

It is a very, very different place than anywhere I have lived before.

To begin with, I sold my car before coming here and commute entirely by subway. The Metro in DC is just incomparable to the subway system here. You can get almost anywhere in Manhattan so quickly from anywhere else there. In DC, ten minute waits are not uncommon, even at rush hour. In Manhattan, when you see that there is a four minute wait it often means that you only just missed a train. You also get the life experience of more than occasionally being packed into sardine can-like subway cars during rush hour, something you do not really experience in DC.

Nearly everywhere I’ve been in Manhattan has so many amenities within a couple of blocks. Our apartment is two short blocks away from a ton of stores—including a grocery store—for instance; there wasn’t anything that close to us in DC, and we were in a fairly dense neighborhood. There are an enormous number of lunch options literally on the same block as the Medialets office.

Living in the Upper West Side also means we have great access to parks; Riverside Park is right across the street from us and Central Park is five long blocks away. We enjoyed this to some extent when we first moved here, though it got to be winter quite quickly. Looking forward to spending more time walking around these parks—and the different neighborhoods around the city—as it starts to actually feel like spring.

The level of intensity is several notches up across the board. People here will run you over on the road and walk over you on the sidewalk if you do not get with the program and move your ass. Catherine was interviewed and given a job offer within the space of a week and they insisted that she start almost immediately. The sheer level of energy and churn in the business world here is astonishing.

It’s only been six months now that we moved here. Some things came more easily than expected, but it’s safe to say that we still have a lot of adjusting to do.

Is it Worth it?

After we got back from our trip a year ago, and before Medialets was on my radar, I wrote the following:

We spent the weekend in New York City. Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you were living it in another city? I do that more and more lately, and this trip to the Big Apple just served to fuel that all the more. I think it really started after our trip to San Francisco last year; that city really worked its charms on me. In the end, it’s just fantasizing—the people I care about are more important to me than the particular attractions of particular cities. Still, who doesn’t wish that they could take everyone they care about and relocate them to their ideal city?

My friend Lauren reblogged this and added:

There are a lot of cities I’d rather live in, but my family is here. Life is too short and I already see my family too little for me to intentionally do something to put more distance between us.

I agreed with her at the time, and in many ways this is still how I feel. I am very close to my immediate family; for most of my life my family would have dinner with my paternal grandparents and my aunts and uncles on that side every Sunday. I miss being able to do that. We both miss our friends in northern Virginia and in DC who we could see a lot more often than is practical now that we’re up here.

However, we have a lot of friends and I have a fair amount of family both in and near Manhattan. It is nice to be able to see them more often. And we’re much closer to Catherine’s family, who live in the Boston area, so we can make more quick weekend visits than was practical when we were down in DC.

One thing I can say is that there are more career opportunities in New York for both Catherine and myself. A lot more. She’s in market research, and I’m in digital advertising—there is just nowhere on this coast that can compare to New York in those industries. And of the alternatives, DC does not rank high.

All of life is trade-offs, and it’s not always easy to say when you’ve struck the right balance, if such a thing exists. But we were aware of the trade-offs coming into this decision, and however long we end up staying here–whether it’s a couple of years, five years, or more–I know we’ll have gained something from it.