I always wanted to be a writer but, when I was a kid, I didn’t know how. So I thought I’d become an electronic engineer. I got a PhD in it! Then I was miserable so I quit. I tried public relations. It turns out that I can’t tolerate inauthenticity so I quit that, to0. I couldn’t stand the thought of living a life without ever really trying to be who I was “meant to be.” Sometimes I say I’m a professional quitter and that, also, I help other people to quit. I help us quit all the things that aren’t important to make room for the things that are! Quitting what wasn’t important was how I came to be a writer. Writing (and speaking and communicating in general) turns out to be one of the passions I have where I disappear to myself and go into flow.
What I write about is what I also do: quest for a way of life that is better and happier and more authentic for us and better for our communities and planet. These books and movies are the result of my quitting what felt unimportant and inauthentic so I could actually pursue what felt important and some of them are about that quitting too!
How To Be Alive
The root of happiness, both the science and the wisdom traditions tell us, is to find the freedom to be who we really are and use the talents that we really prize in ways that have a meaningful positive impact on the people, communities and issues we care about. Searching for this root of happiness for myself, helping others to find it and working for a safe and fair world where everyone can have that freedom is my life’s work. How to go on that search for yourself is what my book How To Be Alive is about.
The subtitle is A Guide To The Kind Of Happiness That Helps The World because lives spent questing after this kind of authentic satisfaction automatically help the world. On the other hand, most of us know that lives spent chasing after material satisfaction not only don’t truly make us happy but they harm the world and lead to climate change and other environmental and social injustices. This is what I discuss in my interview in Mimimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things.
No Impact Man – the book & film
I wrote How To Be Alive in answer to questions I received from lifequesters who were looking for meaning and satisfaction by being part of solutions to the world’s crises. I met these lifequesters as I traveled the world giving talks and making appearances related to my book and documentary film, both titled No Impact Man. On one level, my No Impact Man project was about my living as environmentally as possible in New York City for a year. But it was also about how one person–me–can become free from all the societal shoulds and find a path to meaning and purpose.
Before I wrote No Impact Man, I was lucky enough to have found a path to being a professional writer. But it was with No Impact Man, that I finally found the career part of what I consider the good life: I got to use the talent I felt most passionate about–writing and communicating–in service of the world crises I cared most about.
Creating a society where we all get to pursue meaning and purpose and the planet is safe from climate change is the subject of my interviews in the films Surviving Progress and Occupy Love.
Before I created the body of work that includes How To Be Alive, No Impact Man, appearances in these documentaries and various articles I’ve written [link to articles], I wrote two books of narrative non-fiction. The second, Operation Jedburgh: D-Day And America’s First Shadow War, is about a group of Allied soldiers who parachuted behind enemy lines in Occupied France to work with the French Resistance.
Paradoxically, learning intimately about the horrors of war while writing Operation Jedburgh led me directly to writing No Impact Man. I had interviewed over 80 former soldiers about what it was like to fight in war. During my interviews with these men, many of them cried. When the Iraq War broke out–a war for oil–my Jedburgh experienced sensitized me to the trauma of war. I didn’t feel I could continue writing stories from history when there was so much of concern in our present. No Impact Man became my response to the war in Iraq and the mounting news of climate change.
Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and The Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science is the story of Henry Faulds, the man who first discovered that fingerprints could be used as crime scene evidence. The idea was ultimately stolen from him and Fingerprints interweaves his story with the story of the first murder trial that used fingerprints. This is the book that launched my career as an author. It is the first book I wrote after I quit electrical engineering and public relations. It was the beginning of becoming, in my career, my true self.