My Year in Review: Pieces from 2018

A recap of my work from this past year.

I spent most of 2018 working on my book, which will be out January 2020!! Still a while to go but the deadline looms for the manuscript and editing process. Over the course of the last year I also had a handful of features and essays published that I wanted to recap here. (Not counting the long magazine pitches I wrote out that will perhaps find homes next year, among other new ideas...)

If there's a theme among these pieces, it's a certain preoccupation with replicability and authenticity. What does a cultural experience — shopping, traveling, eating, listening to music — mean when it's filtered through so many layers of social media? Technology seems to act as a scrim, distorting whatever the real — physical — quality of an experience is in favor of its digital aura, which is more often than not homogenized and repetitive, no matter how unique it seems.

When You're a Digital Nomad, the World Is Your Office (New York Times Magazine) — I lived for a week in a compound designed for digital nomads, people who travel while they work remotely, in Miami. Is it really traveling if what you're doing is holing up in an authenticlocal coworking space?

The Designers of the All-Day Cafe (T Magazine) — I profiled the MP Shift, an interior design and branding firm that's behind some of the most influential cafes in NYC. They created that look that we all recognize: a clean, well-lit, subway-tiled space that will serve you coffee, wine, or a salmon grain bowl no matter what time of day or night it is.

The Brand Builder (The New Republic) — This is an essay / review of the work of Bjarke Ingels, the young architect whose firm BIG is redefining what architecture, and the industry of architecture, means. BIG has turned into an international brand for a certain kind of urbanism (and economy).  

On Allbirds and Everlane (The New Republic) — A short piece on how start-ups are influencing fashion, turning clothing into products and emphasizing seamless, uniform efficiency rather than the traditional promise of trendiness and uniqueness. The brands' new retail stores are a trip.

Algorithmic Taste (Racked) — A twisty essay modeled on my fav Within the Context of No Context about how content platforms — Netflix, Facebook, Instagram — warp our sense of identity based on what we consume. It's harder to identify with your fashion, TV, or book choices if they're served up to you by a robot. Or maybe it isn't. (I also talked about this piece in an On Point radio conversation.)

Group Therapy for the End of the World (Garage) — On the opposite side of technology, I gave up my phone and computer for a week to do a workshop in rural Sweden on the more abstract damage of climate change: the pain and instability we feel all around us. I wasn't really prepared for the... immersion the workshop had in mind, but the sauna was extremely fun. (Please read this if you missed it!! I feel like it kind of got lost.)

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My work resolutions for 2019 are to finish the book, lay the groundwork for it to come out, and write just a few more features or essays. I find I have somewhere between three and five good ideas a year. Anything else is overkill. 

I think working on the book has changed the way I write quite a bit, as has writing more long features. I think a lot more about characters and dialogue, embodying the narrative of a piece rather than skipping from idea to idea or filling in the blanks with citations. I'd like to think I'm more present in the text and more willing to explore one thing in depth rather than getting too scattered. Of course I'd like to get much better at all of these things also.  

PS I moved this from Tinyletter to Substack because Tinyletter abruptly stopped sending me drafts. Email me at chaykak@gmail.com.