After a decade as a travel writer, I’m writing this
newsnerdsletter to explore the practical skill of curiosity. Specifically:
how it can be learned and applied even when you’re not going anywhere much (yay lockdowns)…
the cognitive shenanigans that stop us from being as joyfully curious as we could be, and all the ways we can become more aware of awareness itself…
the scientifically proven benefits of getting out of your comfort zone, and the knee-trembling fun of asking really annoying questions and embracing your inner adventurous weirdo.
There’s also a paid version! As a supporter, you’ll get:
a ‘season within a season’ of this newsletter (details on the upcoming one on living geology here)…
chapters of my upcoming first book, “How To Be Rained On”…
free access to my upcoming nonfiction storytelling course (for yearly subscribers, or monthly subs signed up for half a year or more)
the satisfaction of helping me keep making this thing, and therefore bewildering even more people than I first anticipated.
Huh. Well, that was certainly a word salad. Can you run that past me again?
It’s a newsletter about curiosity. Mine and yours.
Have you ever met someone who is enthusiastic about everything, who is always so much fun to be around (turning everything into an adventure) - and who never, ever seems to be at that kind of loose end that can make Sunday afternoons an interminable hell?
Have you ever looked at them and thought, with a mixture of admiration and envy, “damn, that must be a fun way to live”?
Yeah. Me too.
So what? Some people are just annoying.
No! Wrong take. (I bet you’re fun at parties.)
Don’t you want to steal some of that enthusiasm for yourself, and be able to bring it into normal, everyday life?
Don’t you want to rekindle that excitable thirst for novelty, knowledge and fun that you had in absolute bucketloads as a kid?
Don’t you want to get better at discovering all those amazing, life-improving things out there in the world that you’re still so clueless about?
I guess. But - how?
Glad you asked!
Yes, some of this is about me chasing my own specific nerdy interests - and as the designated crash-test dummy for this newsletter, I will be putting myself through the most spectacular indignities on the path to hopeful enlightenment. If you occasionally learn something new and laugh at me for making a total fool of myself, I’ll be doing my job properly.
But I’m also challenging you to go do stuff. Weekly quests, ridiculous calls to arms against the forces of apathy and boredom, heroic bouts of applied idiocy. It’s all optional, but I reckon it’s where the real fun is here.
To borrow a favourite quote of my deeply curious friend Jonny Miller, “knowledge is only a rumour until it lives in the muscle” - and I intend to give your curiosity a really good workout.
Some Ridiculously Kind Words Said About This Newsletter
"Everybody needs to subscribe [to] Everything Is Amazing. We need to be reminded now, more than ever, how much there is in the universe to be in awe of."
- Mary L. Trump, psychologist, bestselling author of “Too Much & Never Enough” and “The Reckoning,” and Substack newsletter writer of The Good In Us.
“Everything IS amazing, and this newsletter points that out with glee. Lots of very cool facts about, well, everything.”
- Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait, astronomer, writer, author of the Bad Astronomy Newsletter, popular science communicator (Twitter), and formerly part of the Hubble Space Telescope team.
“Even if you already consider yourself a curious, well-rounded person, Mike Sowden will make you feel like you've been looking at the world through a fogged up windshield.
Reading Everything is Amazing is like turning the vents on high, blasting away the fog to reveal the most random and surprisingly significant topics you didn't even know to wonder about before he showed up in your inbox with his self-deprecating brilliance. Reading Everything is Amazing might at first make you feel a little down on yourself for failing to acknowledge how much cool stuff there is to explore, marvel at, wonder about. But fixing that is great fun. And Mike shows you how.
We will all be more interesting people, thanks to the perspectives and stories found in Mike's newsletter.”
- Britany Robinson, journalist & editor, and author of One More Question, a (superb) newsletter for freelance writers.
"If your inbox is not that fun, you can do at least one thing to change that and subscribe to Mike's newsletter, which provides a weekly dose of wonder and joy.
Actually, you can do two things: you can also unsubscribe from those promotional emails you get from that website you bought a USB dongle from 18 months ago, and from that date forward, has emailed you every single day to remind you that it's still in business and sells other products.
But you should subscribe to Mike's newsletter first. Because it will make your day better every time it arrives."
- Brendan Leonard, author of, most recently, I Hate Running and You Can Too, and writer at Semi-Rad.com (home of some of the funniest writing on the Internet).
“The Everything Is Amazing newsletter is a perfect investment in your year. Mike’s deep dives into the fascinating stories behind everyday things make him a compelling guide to the world. He is also ridiculously funny. I’ve long enjoyed his writing, and I am sure you will too!”
- Jodi Ettenberg, lawyer-turned-curiosity-writer, author of the award-winning Legal Nomads and the newsletter Curious About Everything. (Read more about Jodi at CNN Travel.)
My recent interview with Substack:
OK, I’m moderately intrigued. How does this thing work?
The plan loosely follows the following, :
Deep nerdy dives into wonder-filled topics, and watching me chasing the answer to “stupid” questions (Free List):
You know - the kind that kids ask, before they’ve learned that asking stupid questions is impolite and a sign of poor adulting. The kind of questions that sound uselessly foolish, but when you try to actually answer them, you plunge down a deep rabbithole of inquiry you never knew existed. Good, healthy curiosity is all about asking daft questions!
(Also, about discovering that some of those daft questions lead to entirely daft answers. That will happen too.)
Anyway. My main hope is that by watching me chase my questions, you’ll get some ideas about how to chase yours.
Interviews with curious people + investigations into the scientific mechanics of curiosity (mix of Free & Subscriber-Only):
Of attention, of cognitive bias (the thing that often gets in the way of our attention) and of every tiny, fascinating bit of cutting-edge research that feeds into this relatively new school of inquiry.
Also, because I’m a massive nerd and a bumbling wannabe outdoorsman, there’s going to be a lot of pop culture & literary references and also plenty of Great-Outdoors-related input, bringing in my background as a travel writer and, before that, a University student of landscape archaeology.
And I’m also going to add to my list of famous people who have ended up Blocking me on social media by running interviews with some of the most curious people I know. All this and more, as I’ve been unreliably told the kids say.
Be challenged to get out there and see (and do!) something new (Paid-Supporter-Only).
Half a decade ago, I did an experimental paid newsletter called You’re So Not Bored: “12 weeks. 12 challenges. One great big adventure into the unfamiliar.” It quickly became one of the most popular things I’ve ever done by email. This will be its continuation, in a slightly different form: a little more refined, a little more fun, slightly more sadistic in a cheerful sort of way.
The challenges began in a form appropriate for a locked-down audience, because of the weird, geographically limited times we’re emerging from - but later? Ah, later. The plans I have for you, my pretties. Insert an evil cackle here, if you like.
That’s more or less the plan - and everything will be arranged into Seasons. You know, like Netflix, or your favourite podcast.
Each season will have a theme, and will normally consist of about 8-10 weeks of emails, followed by a couple of weeks to allow me to eat a hot meal or two, grab a shower, that kind of thing.
Click here for the very first post - and find the first four seasons here and here and here and also here.
Sounds…tolerable. So exactly who are you again?
My name is Mike Sowden.
This is where I could, and perhaps should, parade all the items on my CV as a writer, namedropping important publications you’ve vaguely heard of, humblebragging my achievements and making you feel like I’m an expert you can really trust.
But - no. Let’s be super-clear on this. I am not an expert here. This is going to be as much of a learning journey for me as it will be for you. I’ve spent most of the last year doing my own research, but it didn’t put any fancy letters after my name or land me a TED talk. Didn’t happen. Might never.
Instead, I am approaching this not as a world authority, but as a journalist - someone who asks interesting questions and doesn’t stop poking and prodding at the world until they’ve found satisfying answers. I’ve spent a decade learning how to be pretty good at doing that. It’s the form of my favourite non-fiction reading material, and it’s a really fun way to write. And I intend for both of us to have fun here.
So! You could Google me, I guess. (Please note: I’m not the famous chap who makes bow hair for musical instruments.)
But the following description, from my blog’s About page elsewhere, is as true a flavour of my presence as I’ve ever put down in words:
One of the happiest moments of my life was drinking a cup of tea at 8am in a steamy cafe in the middle of Kirkwall, Orkney.
I was happy because I’d just spent the night trying to sleep in the middle of a field in the freezing rain, sans anything even remotely waterproof.
To my surprise, not only was I not dead, I’d also rather enjoyed it, in a horrible, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-me sort of way.
This should tell you a number of things about me:
1. I really like tea.
2. I’m easily pleased.
3. I’m a fan of the kind of unconventional outdoorsy experiences that involve a little bravery, a lot of stoicism, a hefty dollop of life-affirming misery, and anything that yanks you out of your comfort zone and gives you a thrilling new perspective on the world and your awareness of it.
4. I’m some kind of idiot.
If you want to become more curious and more questioning about the world around you, especially in these times where we seem under assault by attention-hijacking diversions and timewasters – that’s my beat. If I can open your eyes wider and prick up your ears a bit, I’m doing my job.
That’s the important stuff. The rest is just me playing at being an adult (and fooling nobody).
OK. You’ve convinced me. Where do I sign up?
Hooray! Try clicking the button below to see the options:
(And to find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com.)
Thanks for reading! See you in your Inbox.