Goodbye 2015!

2014 was the year that everything changed, and 2015 has convinced me that it was all for the better.

I’ll always think fondly of 2015 because of the people it ushered into my life. I suppose it all started with Tyrell Mayfield who DM’d me in late December 2014. We’d been tweeting back and forth about Afghanistan, and all writers need editor friends. We met for drinks in a dive bar in Rosslyn and I’ll admit, riding the train home, I worried I’d made a fool of myself somehow–I still wasn’t used to people taking me professionally seriously.

That meeting led me to the monthly Cigar, Scotch, and Strategy gatherings (where I met Nate Finney). It also gave me the courage to seek out more people on my own, which led to more than a dozen other meetings with people who I met first 140 characters at a time–some were #NatSec tweeters, others Central Asia hands and journalists, and some simply just interesting people. Ty and Nate pulled me into the nascent Military Writers Guild. We’re still building it, but I’m happy to do my little part to help others move the thoughts in their heads onto the page.

Put simply: For a hermit, I sure did a lot of “networking” in 2015.

In April, I resigned from my contract at the World Bank and started full-time with The Diplomat. In addition to continuing to manage the Magazine, I took over the Crossroads Asia blog and took on editing the authors already writing there. I started writing every day and although I sometimes still have self-doubts (a mean little voice in the back of my head that says “you don’t know anything” and “your writing is total shit”) I have become more confident in what I know and what I don’t, what I do and how to work on doing it better.

In last year’s goodbye post, I listed the things I wrote. This year, that’s nearly impossible to do. By my estimation I wrote more than 300 pieces for The Diplomat in 2015, plus 12 Magazine exclusives. I also published a piece with my friends over at the Strategy Bridge.

Looking ahead, I have big plans for 2016.

Writing: I want to write more broadly, not just in terms of outlets but in subject matter. Thankfully, this effort is off to a good start already. I don’t want to say too much–in case it doesn’t work out for some bonkers reason–but look for something cool at the end of January. In 2016, I want to dig into my roots in US conflict history and write for the Strategy Bridge again. I also have a fiction project in mind that I want to make actual time for this year.

Reading: I read fewer books in 2015 than in any recent year–mostly because I stopped commuting. I’ll remedy this in 2016. I have a big enough list of books to read.

People: The best thing about 2015 was the people I met, so I want to continue to pull offline the connections I make online. I know for some it’s a bizarre concept–and possibly a scary one–but I’ve had great experiences and made some truly fantastic friends.

Places: The great tragedy of 2015 was that I didn’t really go anywhere. I worked and worked and worked and forgot to plan a vacation (aside from a rafting trip to Tennessee over the 4th of July weekend that I had no hand in planning).

In 2016, I’ll be making a trip to New York CIty in September (BECAUSE I HAVE HAMILTON TICKETS! HOLY SHIT I HAVE HAMTIX!) And I am going to plan a trip to Chicago to see family. I also want to plan a trip to Central Asia–likely Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.

Goodbye 2015, hello 2016: We have serious business to get to and big dreams to make happen.

Library of Congress

22478914061_178fba7790_zOn April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the United States’ capital from its temporary home in Philadelphia to the District of Columbia–a move set in motion a decade earlier in the Residence Act of 1790. The bill also appropriated $5,000 to obtain “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress… and for fitting up a suitable apartment to contain them..”

The first Library of Congress died in flames only 14 years after it had been established. Housed in a wing of the Capitol building, the small, 3,000-book collection fell victim to British torches in 1814 during the burning of Washington.

22280365228_abacc11eeb_zAlthough he did not create the Library, Thomas Jefferson–for whom the current main building is named–saved it. A month after the capital was burned, he offered to sell his personal collection to the government.  Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer in January 1815, appropriating $23,950 to purchase 6,487 of his books. Jefferson had spent 50 years gathering his collection. He was in debt (he almost always was) and made a good pitch for the universality that the present Library of Congress is now famous for:

“I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection,” he wrote. “[T]here is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

22467961005_58e6d58ff9_zThe Library of Congress was rebuilt, eventually, in marble. Fear of fire forged a building that will not easily burn. When the Thomas Jefferson Building opened–situated on the corner of 1st and Independence SE, east of the Capitol building–it was the first electrified public building in the city. The year was 1897.

One hundred years after Jefferson offered up his collection, the Library has grown immensely. Its “more than 158 million items includes more than 36 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages.”  The Library’s resources are available to the public–to request materials (and read them on-site) all you need is a reader card.

Twice a year–on President’s Day in February and Columbus Day in October–the Library of Congress opens itself up further. There’s no one researching on those days, but anyone and everyone can wander into the main reading room and down into the card catalog. Photographers, usually barred from wandering freely, crouch in corners snapping away.

21846855743_b9c88ebb9d_zThe Great Hall is almost indescribable in its complexity and universality. One corner will tell you “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty” and the ceiling in another spot reminds you, in Cassius’ words that “the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” There’s Minerva, presiding over a stairway, and one of the marble babies is holding a phone. To describe the Great Hall in the language of today: it is filled with Easter Eggs. The good news is that you can visit the Great Hall whenever you like.

And then there’s the Main Reading Room. The real value there is the reference librarians, but the ceiling is worth seeing too.

It’s the kind of room you feel smarter standing at the center of.  Looking up you see a circle of figures, in the lantern at the center of the dome is a woman–Human Understanding–“in the act of lifting the veil of ignorance and looking forward to intellectual progress. ” Around her are 12 figures representing great civilizations or eras which, when the library was constructed in the 1890s, were viewed as having contributed the most to the development of Western civilization: Egypt (Written Records), Judea (Religion), Greece (Philosophy), Rome (Administration), Islam (Physics), The Middle Ages (Modern Languages), Italy (Fine Arts), Germany (Printing) , Spain (Discovery), England (Literature), France (Emancipation), and America (Science).

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If you’re in Washington make sure to visit the Library–the Great Hall is a glory to behold and the viewing balcony will let you get a glimpse of the Main Reading Room. Remember, on two days a year it becomes a (photographer’s) playground.  In 2016, the lucky days are February 15 and October 10.

More pictures from my visit can be found here.