Genius loci

[Genius Loci] January 2021

1 January 2021

Dear writers, pilgrims, friends, explorers, creators, flâneurs:

The pandemic continues, but we survived 2020. As vaccines roll out around the world, perhaps now is as good a time as any to be optimistic about the future. But perhaps now is also the time to come to terms with the fact that the world will never be the same. Truth be told, so much has changed in the last year—the way we think, the way we work, our priorities—that I wonder if we could ever go “back to normal,” would we even want to?

Many of us have taken up new creative projects in the last year—bread baking, painting, tie-dying, which supports the idea that our species really is homo faber.1 Creativity helped buoy us when the world sank to a dark place. When confronted with a species-threatening virus, we made things. When the hospitals and morgues reached capacity, we imagined and dreamed. When all was seemingly lost—family, jobs, friends—, we turned to the power of creativity.2

The pandemic has helped some of us realize that our priorities had been misaligned, that something had been missing from our lives—connection, creativity, meaning—, that in the last few months of death, discomfort, and uncertainty, we’ve encountered our creative selves again.

It has, at least, for me.

When historians look back on this moment, will they comment on how much we produced and created? Will they finger the pandemic as being the driving force behind a realization that the “old normal” perhaps wasn’t all that great? Will they remark that the pandemic helped many realize that they had been sleepwalking their way through life?


A new year faces us, this one hopefully the start of a new “Roaring Twenties” of creative and economic prosperity. With a little luck, the world will be unlike the one we had before the pandemic when it twitches back to life. And I’ll be fine with that if the beast looks more like the Frankenstein kind—though ugly and complicated, ultimately sensitive and seeking meaningful connection above all.

In terms of travel literature, one hopes that pent-up wanderlust will yield a period of travel writing prosperity. As I told a reporter for the New York Times, I hope people will travel longer, slower, and farther in 2021. And I hope we will no longer take mobility for granted, our travel becoming far more engaging and meaningful as a result.

Genius Loci newsletter

As if I didn’t already have enough on my plate, I’ve chased after the bandwagon, jumped aboard, and created a newsletter. I call it Genius Loci.

“What is Genius Loci?”

I’m glad you asked.

To the ancient Romans, genius loci was the term that referred to a literal protective “spirit of a place.” Mountains had them, as did cities and homes. Places had spirits (genii), which were tutelary, sacred presences, perhaps not unlike the concept of guardian angels but for places.3 Now, the term genius loci—spirit of place—most commonly refers to a place’s special character or atmosphere resulting from the nature of its existence and the sum of its characteristics: its people, climate, history, architecture, etc.

To me, Genius Loci will be a monthly-ish newsletter on the spirit of place, travel, and literature. I want this newsletter to be a public exercise in writing about place and the topics that interest me, a public journal of sorts where I test ideas and write about the world with no regard for SEO and pandering to an algorithm.4 You can think of it as a “blog” before keyword research, monetization, and search intent redefined the term by dictating what was written on blogs and how it should be written. Hallelujah!

I know many people have “newsletter fatigue.” They’re worn out by the onslaught of “auto-responder email sequences” and annoying “onboarding funnels.” I know these methods have their place in the (bleak, dismal, sad) world of marketing, but they seem a bit too mercenary to me. Genius Loci promises to be a different sort of newsletter, if we can even call it that. It will mostly be about place, travel, literature, ideas, culture, nature, creativity, and whatever else has been on my mind. I’ll email once a month. That’s it. No more than that.

The newsletter will also include updates about Travel Writing World and my new… Oh! I almost forgot. I created a new podcast.

Sonus Loci: The Sound of Place podcast

Sonus Loci: The Sound of Place is my new podcast that brings you binaural field recordings capturing the soundscapes of our world.5 At first, the recordings will be local. But, as the world begins to open up, they aim to be more global in nature. I will also publish brief comments, location data (for those nerds among us), and a photo or two (taken during the recording) in the show notes, which will only be visible on my site. There will be very little commentary; that’s what the newsletter is for. Sonus Loci is mostly an exercise in listening. For more information about Sonus Loci, including how to subscribe and its inspiration and goals, listen to the first episode.

Why am I doing this? What value does it bring? What purpose does it serve? Why am I, as someone who already has a full-time teaching job, another growing podcast and website, and a goal to liberate myself from the academy to write full-time, put more on his plate? One need not justify, ever, the creative impulse. It is a human need, much like sex, food, and community. We are homo faber, after all.

If any of this sound remotely interesting to you, please join the newsletter:




  1. Man the maker, builder, craftsman. The term, in Latin, was probably first used as a way to state that everyone has agency in forging their own “destiny,” “fortune,” or path in life. This last point is particularly relevant here. ↩︎

  2. I realize that many people were not furloughed and worked even harder than before without the time to pursue new hobbies, and that many people had to juggle remote work and struggle with new technologies while, say, teaching their children or caring for an elderly parent. Yet, I’d argue that there is something creative in all work. ↩︎

  3. Darrin McMahon, Divine Fury, pp 20-21. ↩︎

  4. Search engine optimization: “the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” ↩︎

  5. An immersive, stereo sound that records audio in a configuration similar to the human ear. ↩︎