New Pieces: Marie Kondo, Digital Media Infrastructure

Two new articles plus updates on my book progress.

I published two new pieces! One book-related and one not so much, but maybe in the future.

New Work:

— The Exhausting Minimalism of Tidying Up (The New Republic): I reviewed Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show about throwing out all of your stuff if it doesn’t spark joy as well as two other recent reality shows that demonstrate how we’ve commodified domestic space — houses are always spaces to be rented or upgraded instead of lived in. Netflix’s Stay Here, about designers renovating owners’ properties so they make more money as Airbnbs, was a kind of dystopian guilty pleasure.

— In the Shadow of the CMS (The Nation): Content management systems are software for digital publishing. Too far on the back-end to be noticed by many readers, they nevertheless influence how media companies create and publish stories. Lately, media companies have been creating their own CMSs, partly in order to compete with the tech platforms that dominate digital advertising. They can sell licenses for the software as a revenue stream and have better control over their infrastructure.

(There’s a problem that I think about a lot when it comes to writing about more technical topics. An article has to both chart the ground that it covers, showing unaware readers why it matters without alienating them, and establish a critique or narrative for the subject. In response to the CMS essay, I got called an idiot by experts for getting the terminology wrong and an idiot by non-tech-y readers because they couldn’t understand why any of it actually mattered, lol.)

Book Updates:

I’m finishing up my final manuscript for my book on minimalism now. (Soon I’ll get to procrastinate by making a website for it!) Even after writing the proposal, it took me a solid year to figure out how to write the book: what the structure I had laid out meant and what tone it required. Over the course of working on the manuscript, the breadth of that idea widened, if that’s the right way to describe it. I learned that the book could include different tones, different subjects, and different approaches that I hadn’t originally seen as being within its bounds.

As my editor told me, a book is also a collection of things you pick up in the process of writing it. (This seems particularly relevant to The Friend, Sigrid Nunez’s recent novel that I’m finishing now, which is as much a story about writing the book and being a writer as it is about a dog. This is not something all readers will find enjoyable.)

I feel like I’ve figured out what my book can be only as I’m finishing it. The last part is the introduction, which is also the first chapter of the book, out of four. It’s also been the fastest part to write — I’ve spent so long thinking about these subjects, particularly the contemporary trends that the first chapter focuses on, that I know what I think of them. The tone is chatty and observational, laying the ground for the more difficult concepts later in the book, establishing the pattern.

These are the ideal writing conditions, when you already have so much material and so much time dwelling on it that you can just put your analysis or narrative on the page without pawing through documents for spare facts or checking dates. When you can communicate your personal understanding instead of rehashing someone else’s. The fastest transmission from (well-tested) internal monologue to page.

It’s hard to hold anything else in my head at the moment, though. I don’t want to spend time thinking about any other topic or decision. I have to go to Japan in the next few weeks to do my last bit of research / reporting for the book, to find the ending, and I haven’t bought tickets yet because all I want is to have the writing done and finish getting the thoughts down.