The First Third and the First Half

Of the newsletter and of 2021, respectively

I’m writing this in my favorite café, while suffering from mild but annoying aftereffects of the Pfizer vaccine. We’re a July 7th, five days after the first half of 2021 has officially elapsed. “This” is the 34th issue of Light Gray Matters. When I began, last November, I said I would write 100 of those. So I’m done with the first third, around the the end of the first half of the year.

Significant fractions. Might as well use the occasion to reflect back.

The First Third of this Newsletter

The idea of making 100 of something is that it’s such a large number that you will necessarily be transformed along the way. How has Light Gray Matters evolved?

I first started writing it as a way to develop a weekly writing habit. In this it has been wildly successful! I have not missed a single Wednesday since I started. Well, technically, there’s this one time I published the post after midnight, so on Thursday. I cower in shame at the thought and I hope it will never happen again.

Beyond helping with habits, Light Gray Matters was intended to encourage me to write unseriously, to promote my “real” blog, to play around with ideas. I think overall it’s been useful for those goals. My 12-part exploration of diversity was fun and may come in handy in my future thinking, although I’m a little tired of the topic right now. I have put to the page many thoughts I entertain but had never properly crystallized, for example on spoilers, the IQ bell curve meme, and the evolution of beauty.

One thing I did not optimize for is growing my audience — and, lo and behold, my audience didn’t grow! It didn’t help that I completely avoided promotion in the last couple of months, simply because I didn’t care. I wonder if I should put in a more focused effort for the second third of this thing.

Perhaps also I should change the content somewhat? These days I’m refocussing on Dark Gray Matters (currently writing a piece about scientific writing that I think might be important), so it may make sense to put less effort here in comparison. I could switch strategies — make sure to keep Light Gray Matters easy, maybe by sharing links of things I’ve read, or just writing quick thoughts, or summaries of other writing I’ve done.

I’m not sure. What do you think?

If you are a regular reader and you have ideas, suggestions, comments, whatever, please let me know!

The First Half of this Year

What about this first half of 2021?

It was… unusual, I suppose.

I turned 30. I’ve made new friends over the internet. I finished writing my novel. I’ve survived what’s been arguably the worst part of the pandemic, mental health wise.

Last winter, I burned out from my software engineer job and quit it. I still blame mandatory work from home, a concept that apparently the entirety of society loves, except for me. I have used every imaginable way to work in places that weren’t my home — coworking spaces, libraries, parks, cafés. Of course, quitting my job meant I would also work from home as a freelancer, an irony I was fully aware of, but the increased control over my time has been worth it.

After that, a lot of my energy this past half-year has been expended on working for Interintellect. For one thing, I have been hosting several Salons — mostly a book club on stories by science fiction author Ted Chiang. For another, I’ve been a part-time member of the team running the company, with my focus being developing the tech platform.

I’m quitting the Interintellect team this month. But I’m quite proud of the work I did — we went from a very basic website, manually updated each day, to a functional platform where users can submit events and visitors can purchase tickets, and things look super promising for what comes next. I wish luck to Anna and the team and am confident the company will grow into something even more beautiful than it already is.

For me, though, this means I need to decide what to, again.

I have accepted a long time ago that I would have a chaotic professional life. (I suspect it’s either that or a chaotic romantic life, and a chaotic romantic life hurts people, so better avoid it.)

It would make sense to focus again on programming. It is the most lucrative thing I can do. But how exactly? I have an ongoing freelance iOS programming contract that I’ve been, quite frankly, not very good at. (It’s a mix of not having any deadlines and having other things taking all my energy.) I’ve been meaning to design apps on my own, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Otherwise I could go back to employment. There’s something that draws me to American Big Tech, for some reason. Even though I believe most people in my circles have a negative opinion of those companies. I think I want to see for myself. (And also it is very lucrative.)

But the truth is, I’m drawn towards anything intellectual-minded and writing-related. It makes no sense from an economic perspective, but perhaps it is my true self revealing itself after years of studying and working in science and technology.

I read today that anxiety comes from “not doing what you know is their best.” I haven’t been feeling anxious at all in the past few months. That doesn’t mean I’ve found exactly the one thing I should spend my time on, but ‘tis a good sign.


I’m finishing this newsletter in the evening, at my dining table. A hockey match is playing on the TV; I never watch hockey, but tonight is an exception, because this whole city is electrified from having its team the playoff final. Even if I don’t care, it’s a good atmosphere.

Earlier, I wrote parts of this on my patio, enjoying the cool, cloudy weather. And then parts when sitting on a bench on a pedestrianized commercial street, full of people enjoying their day.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with the world these past few months. Many times I have found it… not terrible, exactly, but mildly disappointing.

I feel that things are changing somewhat. That there’s the potential to be in love with the world again, this next half of 2021.

I’m going to keep reporting on this relationship as I write the second third of Light Gray Matters.

Étienne