Last year I did a lot of “looking at the big picture” thinking and tasks, some more emotional or future-ambition-focused and others more practical like finances. I was preparing to take some time off so one of those financial big picture things was needing to work out a real-life budget. Not the kind of budget where I glance at the numbers and wave my hand like “I’m sure it’ll be fine”. Narrator: It has never been fine. And that task required completing another task that was tedious, to say the very least.
I needed to, once and for all, put together a comprehensive list of everything on God’s green Earth that I subscribe to, and figure out how badly those $9 and $14 death-by-a-thousand-cuts things were costing me in total. It was sort of stunning to realize the variety and range of subscriptions now. Streaming services. Workout platforms. Razors. Tampons. Squarespace. Backblaze and Dropbox and iCloud and Google One. Zoom and Patreon. And, of course, magazines and newspapers, and also now newsletters.
Needless to say, that exercise led me to canceling a whole bunch of shit. Through Substack alone I was subscribed to 22 newsletters, about 8-10 of those were paid. I don’t love unsubscribing from newsletters because I figure I must’ve liked the writer or their work enough to subscribe in the first place. I don’t like pulling my support — even if it’s just my eyeballs, for free. But as I experienced complete attention overload and deep time-on-screens toxicity during book promotion, it became less about whether or not it was a paid subscription and much more about the pressure I put on myself to read all of these newsletters. How much attention did I really have to give? They never stop coming.
When I was a young gal, I created a completist nightmare of a habit for myself via a brief foray into small crimes. And I’ve been continuously unlearning this bad habit since. I was very, very broke and in my early twenties (old enough to know better), when I dabbled in shoplifting magazines 😬. I didn't do it often but … I did do it. And I guess I decided that my penance for tucking the occasional Vogue or GQ under my arm at the grocery store — as if I had walked in with it, I was that blatant — was to make sure I read it cover to cover. I read every sidebar and contributor bio, I read every single page right up to the very last one.
As you might imagine that was fine at the time (I mean, the petty theft aside, that is). But it created an unsustainable habit for me long-term, especially in what became a rapidly morphing, expanding, and collapsing media landscape. You can’t complete the internet (BRUH, if only). And eventually I gave myself permission to not finish reading books I didn’t like either. But I still felt like I had to read every issue of every newsletter I subscribed to because shouldn’t I be able to do that? They’re short and what’s the big deal, really? But frankly it is just impossible.
Of course, this reflecting on other newsletters and which ones were and were not worth keeping led me to reflect on my own newsletter. Shouldn’t I try to make this into a real thing? A real thing with a sharp point and a reliable subject focus? A real thing with a schedule and a path toward paid subscriptions?
I was catching up on Brandon Taylor’s newsletter the other day, one of the few I still subscribe to. I read every single one that he sends out, even if it takes me some time to get around to them. Let me be clear, I am not smart enough to grasp some or even most of what he writes about, but this part about his own newsletter (and social media presence) resonated with me:
“I am only ever talking about my own feelings. My own thoughts about what it means when people do or say things to me or that I observe. You do not have to internalize anything.
And then people say, Well, why do you share it then? If you aren’t trying to convince people of things? And, like, that is kind of my point, no? Like, has digital life gotten to the point where everything is an argument to be won? Is every piece of writing trying to exert an influence upon you? When I sit down to write, I am not always trying to convince people of things. Sometimes, I am just writing down my thoughts, like things I would say to a friend. Sometimes, the mode of digital life can be merely expressive.”
I was supposed to start a newsletter to help sell my first book because that’s what “they” tell authors to do. You are supposed to constantly be building, brick (tweet) by brick (book swag) and trowel of mortar (Instagram posts) by trowel of mortar (TikTok???) so that one day you’ll end up with your very own book-selling machine (that you were not actually paid to build). I mean, I get it, I really do. But I think it’s very telling that I, a person long ago trained as a project manager and someone who is extremely good at time management and prioritizing tasks, simply didn’t “get around” to starting my newsletter until after that book came out. Seems suspicious.
As I have mentioned many times before, I have worked in the advertising/brand/design space almost as long as I’ve been a working person so please know I have zero problems with shaping a brand and selling the absolute shit out of it. But with this one thing, my own personal work, I guess I must’ve subconsciously grasped that I just wanted one place, one non-optimized, one non-monetized place where I could simply be expressive.
As proof, when it came time to launch my second book I finally took the oft-repeated advice to sell super hard in my newsletter, and also in a detailed email packed with links (that I sent to almost everyone in my address book, which is also recommended), for the express purpose of directly asking for preorders. I felt completely embarrassed as I did it. I mean, I did it, and for a moment I felt like good, look at me, I did the thing people told me to do. And then I felt … really fucking gross about it.
In looking back, I’m realizing it was actually the first loop in what became a serious downward mental spiral. I hated it, I hated it so much. Did it boost preorders and sell books? I mean, it did. Was it worth it? Absolutely not. It felt pathetic to be perfectly honest with you. I think if my second book had been a novel I would’ve felt very differently about doing this, but it wasn’t and I didn’t. So this is just a reminder to not ignore your gut feelings about things. You think you will stop ignoring them as you get older but you won’t. And then your gut is like, bitch, I tried.
My point is, I guess, that I know how to build a brand and I know how to sell that brand. I’ve built several of them. I know what I could do to make this newsletter a little clickity-click powerhouse. I could attempt to own a TOPIC then give you my opinions and what-not on that one area of EXPERTISE then try to parlay that into another BOOK which I would then try to sell you via this NEWSLETTER.
But I don’t want to do that. I’m just not interested. It helps that I a) have another job and b) don’t care if I ever write another book again, which is one of the reasons-for-being for many newsletters. It’s a snake eating its own tail, constantly. Write about the subject so you can be the subject expert and get a book deal. You have a book deal so write a newsletter so you can sell that book to an audience waiting with their mouths open. In summary:
I’m going to go about my business, thinking some things, and some of those things I will want to write about and share. I enjoy having this space where I can do that without deadlines, word count, or pay. When I’m paid to work on a piece? Well that’s pretty much a guarantee I will do anything but that. I mean, I’m supposed to be writing two paid pieces … right now.
What you can expect from this newsletter going forward:
I’m going to keep writing essays. I’ve been moving away from blog-y updates that aren’t all that valuable or worth anyone’s time (sort of like this one!) and instead continue working on more crafted essays. Those take time and I can’t do them all that often. Original humor pieces are going to be a more regular feature, which I will perhaps write about in more detail soon. I have a few cultural pieces I’m thinking about but, is it going to require me doing research? Well, the research better be easy or I’m not doing it. I’d also like to do more interviews because I think one of the best things a newsletter can do is bring attention to other women doing interesting work and/or having interesting opinions and thoughts. And I’ll probably keep bitching about publishing because I’m a giant baby who clearly doesn’t ever want to get another agent and/or another book deal ever again.
Anyway, that’s probably it.
If you want to unsubscribe from this newsletter please trust me when I tell you, I will never know. Live your life! I’m putting my work into the world for free so: I don’t owe you anything and you don’t owe me anything and isn’t that a little refreshing?
Lastly, if it’s of any interest, here are the newsletters I still subscribe to in case you want to add some new ones to your mix:
Bitches Gotta Eat
Mothers Under The Influence
Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar
The Loneliness Project
The Biblioracle Recommends
P.S. The images in this newsletter have nothing to do with newsletters. I dug them up a week ago when I remembered that Jon and I went to New Orleans 5 years ago just to see Radiohead. The entire experience of that trip feels so completely foreign now. It was nice to see these images again, to remember how crazy and fun life used to be (even though it didn’t feel like it at the time), and how life used to happen IN SO MANY LOCATIONS and around SO MANY DIFFERENT FACES.
NEW FROM ME
• Can you believe The Washington Post asked me to do a book review? I simply cannot. “What is ‘toxic positivity’ and why is it a problem? A new book explains.”
THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE
• I’ve lived in Vermont for almost 20 years now and one of my favorite things about living here are the general stores scattered across the state. Two great and quick stories to listen to (vs. read, which is nice!): “So much depends upon a small post office, in a store on Route 12, beside Lake Elmore” and “A popular general store asked its customers to work part time. They came through.” both from VPR.
• I remember when this piece first came out and given the big snow storms we’ve had lately, The New York Times shared it again. “In Case of Blizzard, Do Nothing” It’s just so great: “There’s something cartoonish about the menace of a blizzard, in which nature’s wrath assumes a fluffy, roly-poly form and tries to kill you.”
• I loved this: “‘I Was Not Whole’: Why a Grandfather Went Back to College” in The New York Times. “Moving along with a mission among people who were decades younger, he had not imagined acquiring a social life, but his classmates gravitated toward him — students from the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean. “We’d finish up after class and they’d say, ‘Hey, Ciro, what are you doing? Want to go get coffee?’ and I’d think What?” One evening he found himself joining his new friends to hear music at a tavern in Gowanus.”
• I hope to god whoever buys this place retains some of the incredible vintage details. That art deco bar! Those bathrooms! Those windows! What a time capsule lover’s dream: “Mix a Cocktail Behind the Bar of This Time-Capsule Mamaroneck Hofbrau, Yours for $1.4 Million.”
• I enjoyed this, for lots of reasons: “On Not Talking To Someone Anymore” by Sarah Miller.
• My family and I stumbled on this 9 years ago and I am not exaggerating when I say we have watched it a thousand times since and I laugh until I cry every time. The heavy sigh! The bursting into laughter! All the one-liners that can be incorporated into multiple conversations for the rest of your life! “Two Chips”.
• When I think about the next stage of my life, all I think about is getting out of Vermont, making new friends, adopting a bunch of dogs, and having zero romantic relationships. So. This was a good piece: “Why Making Friends in Midlife Is So Hard” in The Atlantic.
BUT YOU SEEMED SO HAPPY is out now. You can find my copywriting and creative direction work here. You can find my writing-writing work here. You can find me on Twitter. You can find me on Instagram. Please do not find me in real life, I’m busy expressing myself.