The Kyle Chayka Year in Review, 2014

On the way to Colon, Michigan, for The Verge (Photo by John Lagomarsino)

I‘ve been a full-time freelance journalist since May 2013. In some ways, I feel like an old hand at this. But maybe it’s that I’ve become more accustomed to the unique and constant blend of anxieties that my 1.5-year-old company-of-one requires: investing in pitches before you know they’re going to pay off, waiting for emails, enduring the necessity of hard editing, accepting the fluidity of cash flow. For me, actually writing remains the fun part.

Whatever the process was, I got through it (rent office space, your sanity is worth it), and I put out a lot of work that I’m really proud of this year. Here is an abridged, annotated list of my favorite stories.

Arcosanti: Paradise at the Crossroads (Modern Painters)

I went to Arcosanti, a surreal commune/city in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona, in September 2013 to attend a memorial for its creator, the Italian architect Paolo Soleri. It’s hard to maintain a utopia when its mastermind is gone, as I found out. This piece came out in February of this year. Please, please read it, I think it’s one of the more unique things I’ve written.

Biometric Surveillance Means Someone Is Always Watching (Newsweek)

The best stories deepen as you tell them. That’s how this Newsweek cover story went as I researched the U.S.’s scary Next Generation Identification database, which will soon be able to identify millions of Americans from camera footage alone. Stumbling across the magazine cover on newsstands in Grand Central was also a huge highlight of my journalism career so far.

Welcome to Colon, Magic Capital of the World (The Verge)

On assignment, I was told to travel to an obscure, oddly named part of Michigan with a video team. What followed were several madcap, incredibly fun days spent documenting a century-old magician festival in a very weird, very American small town. I hope to do many more features like this, though I expect none will ever be quite the same.

The Life and Times of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (The Awl)

In 2014, I was obsessed with Internet memes. Sometimes it felt pointless documenting such ephemeral phenomena, like being an archaeologist of garbage! But Shruggie was one of the great ones. I had a ton of fun with this piece, which I think pinned down one of the Internet’s fundamental seams of cynicism. Garbage, after all, can be very telling.

“Wow. Scare. Amaze.” (Matter)

I continued my meme writing with this rangy essay about the aftermath of discovering the Doge meme’s true identity. It can sometimes be difficult to have your pet go viral, as one Japanese elementary school teacher discovered. I like the highbrow/lowbrow combo of bringing extended critical thinking to meme culture. (See also: THIS., #amwriting, and Health Goth.)

The Only Intimate Experience Left Online (Gizmodo)

So I have this group chat with friends, and it’s really great? And I had some thoughts about it. Then I talked to some psychologists. This is what came out. 2014 has shown social networks to be harsh environments, but my group chats have meant a huge amount to me in my personal life online and off, and I’m happy to have had the chance to think more about them.

What Was the Job? (Pacific Standard)

Over 2014, I wrote a weekly column for Pacific Standard, most often about the future of money. The present of money, at least, is less about Bitcoin than it is about tech companies like Uber finding new and creative ways to exploit their lower-end workers. By the end of the year, it felt like what we once thought of as the full-time job was dead in the eyes of Silicon Valley.

Sit-ups for Start-ups (The Baffler)

On the theme of technology and labor, I noticed the strange confluence of entrepreneurial ideology and exercise at a rock-climbing gym in Boston. The result tends to make fun of itself, but here I helped it along a little. Still, I’ve found that climbing after a long day in the content mines is a great reminder that your Twitter presence isn’t everything. There’s also gravity.

The Reality Show That Wants to Save the World (Matter)

This story seemed irresistible: a high-budget Fox reality show trying to create a perfect society with a dozen random Americans on an idyllic farm in the Los Angeles hinterlands. So I went to go see Utopia before it started filming. What I found was more bizarre than even I had expected, from the former-cult-kid show director to the laboriously artifical set. (Postscript: A few months after this show started airing, the ratings plummeted and the plug was pulled, leaving its stars to abandon their Eden. Utopia failed, as so many do.)

Babes at the Museum (Adult)

Art writing was my entry into journalism, and I still love doing it. This essay describes my extensive personal past with nude figure drawing and traces the erotics of the body through art history, via a trip to the Met. The combination of memoir, criticism, and ekphrasis makes me particularly happy, though it probably bores everyone else to tears. But whatever! This is my list, and everyone should look at more art (nudes) in 2015.

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As with last year’s Year in Review, some resolutions for next year: Getting stories in major print magazines, something I did not commit enough time to this year. Developing my voice as an essayist. Editing other writers and building a better community both online and off.

Now would be a good time to note that I am also interested in moving into a staff writing/editing job next year. If you are hiring and like what you see above, or want to talk about freelance work, please email me at chaykak@gmail.com. You can also keep up with my writing by signing up for this newsletter, starting January. My full clips, as always, are here.

~*Previously: The Kyle Chayka Year in Review, 2013*~

Formatting inspiration from Adrian Chen’s awesome What I Wrote in 2014.

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