The Best of 2023
My Most Read Pieces This Year
A lot of hard work is hidden behind nice things. —Ralph Lauren
Above: This new year, welcome the small, good, innocent things eager to be born into your life.
As thunder follows lightning, another year has come and gone.
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Whether laughing mirthfully or holding back tears, time flies and the Earth continues its interminable, slow turn.
In my search for words to capture the year that was, English fell short.
Instead, Spanish rose to the occasion with the Mexican expression: Lo bailado quien te lo quita.
Roughly translated as “no one can take away what you’ve already danced,” it does a tremendous job encapsulating a year that was a very many paradoxical things: happy and horrific, joyous and joyless, worthless and yet worthwhile.
And yet, that it was gives meaning to the fact that we still are.
That is, living through the good, bad, and ugly means that we are six feet above, that we are the most precious of things: alive.
Of all people, comedian Stephen Colbert articulates this ethos beautifully.
For so overtly goofy and jocular a man, Stephen Colbert has lived through a series of blows that would make even the strongest person weak-kneed. His ruminations on the tragedies that have made up his life are serene and raw. They cuff you in the face like an unexpected blow and startle you from the relative comfort of your existence. His profile in GQ is very much worth reading in full, however, the below excerpt speaks volumes about his embrace of pain and suffering (emphasis mine):
“I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died.... And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.
“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ he said. ‘Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.
I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien's mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’”
Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn't mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I'm grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.”
Throughout his life, Colbert has ingested a heavy dose of amor fati. As Frederich Nietzsche describes it, “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it...but love it.” The power that Colbert has gained in life by accepting his fate is so immense that it is difficult to fathom. It is security in the knowledge that everything happens for a purpose, and that it is up to him to make this purpose something positive and active.
In order to be great, you must first be grateful.
Enter this new year with the energy and enthusiasm that gratitude begets.
To that end, I hope that this is the year that you show up.
The year that you change your life for the better.
The year that you create what you dream and discard what you must.
The year that you delve deeply into your soul to extract those quiet, buried dreams.
The year that you shed light onto your true, private wanting and bring it forth for the world to see.
The year that you experience unembarrassed joy at life’s inherent beauty and wonder.
Without further ado, below I share 2023’s five most read pieces alongside a favorite excerpt from each. I invite you to read any that speak to you in preparation for another year of learning and loving.
5) When Things Fall Apart
Alongside death and taxes, existence all but guarantees suffering, heartbreak, tragedy.
These elements are near-impossible to see.
When you go about your day, you are seldom aware of the woman reeling from heartbreak, the man sliding into dementia, the terrified child en route to abusive household.
Though horrific, these things make us, are us, imbue us. They mean we have not merely existed, but instead lived.
To be human is to have warts and wrinkles and scars.
To be wise is to love each and every one.
Ashes nourish soil.
Refuse bears fruit.
Crucifixion can represent perfect love.
We are all broken in some way. That, ironically, is what makes humanity whole.
And yet, even the most twisted things can not only be rescued, but also fashioned in a new, vibrant way.
The raw material of life makes for durable wisdom. Shrapnel can make bridges and rubble buildings—you don’t need to be given something you had in you all along.
4) Dante's Nine Circles of Hell: Updated for the 21st Century
Scrolling and swiping, texting and TikToking, we collectively enter “dark forests” in which we “lose the straightforward path” by texting instead of talking and making memes instead of memories.
Such are our modern tools of mass distraction. Much like their cousins—weapons of mass destruction—these platforms promulgate lies used to justify the bad behavior of tired creatures and lonely ghosts the world over. It is a slow death by a thousand clicks versus an instantaneous envelopment by mushroom cloud.
An aphorism reads “As above, so below.”
Inspired by the technological hellscape in which we find ourselves, below is a refreshed imagining of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell
3) Speaking about my Syndrome
For me, things are a bit harder.
Walking is harder.
Talking is harder.
Opening up is harder.
Sitting (still, no less) is harder.
Typing these very words is harder.
Such is life with Tourette—one lived at the uncomfortable intersection of control and chaos; one lived with thorn in both head and heart.
And yet, I am careful not to quiet its pain.
I treasure my scars—those visible and invisible. For I know I did not bleed in vain…
I have been writing long enough to know that when it comes to something deeply personal and idiosyncratic like a disability—something few people have ever lived with or thought deeply about—it takes an intimate story to draw readers in and help them relate. Without the emotion of firsthand experience, the topic is too abstract, too out-of-reach.
[In this episode, w]e talk with the eloquent Tom White, who works in the space of startups, in a great conversation covering [his] pursuit of intellectual curiosities and how to keep momentum through often serious challenges.
What follows is the most raw, vulnerable conversation I have ever had about my condition.
With this searing display’s intimate detail, I attempt to give color to the void that can sometimes be life with a disability.
This is my unvarnished truth: pits, pockmarks, and all.
2) When Cancer Infects Colleges
[T]he Academic Industrial Complex is in dire shape. If, as Erasmus wrote, the main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth, we are rapidly hurtling towards hopelessness.
Much like cancer demands a decisive, exacting procedure to halt its metastasis, universities large and small must identify, root out, and destroy the tumor that has consumed its corridors. They must now put on their metaphorical gloves and wade directly into the filth and carnage of their own creation.
University leadership ought to act as the interlocutors of faith and reason that they purport to be by unequivocally identifying the contagious malady, disinfecting the wounds it has produced, removing the cancer in its entirety, and monitoring for any and all signs of its return.
That such drivel and idiocy can be written and signed by the purported leaders of today and tomorrow speaks volumes. Namely, common sense and reality have exited the
building campus, the call is coming from inside the house dorm, et al.
1) How to Write Good
[G]rammar is important.
It separates the wheat from the chaff, the man from the beast, the Oxford comma enthusiast from the…well, you get the idea.
As a discipline, grammar has been, is, and will continue to be vital to commerce, communication, and community. Its mysteries remain myriad and its wonders apparent to all those who look closely.
If words are bricks and paragraphs walls, then grammar is the mortar that holds everything together. If absent, broken, or misapplied, all inevitably falls down.
To aid your pursuits with the pen, I present the below list of ten grammatical edicts.
Lastly, if you read just one more piece of mine for the rest of your life, make it Standing Firm.
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email or following me on
With sincere gratitude,
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