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Two years ago I quit my job and started writing this newsletter full time. It feels important to commemorate, because that decision has ultimately ushered in the most significant changes in my adult life — bigger, somehow, than leaving academia back in 2014. When I started this newsletter, I wanted it to be a place where I could bring together longer essays, meandering Q&As, and workshop ideas still very much in process of solidifying. I wanted to be able to be at one nimble and slow, to write about things with absolutely no “news peg” other than “this is an thing that has mattered, and will continue to matter.”
I wanted to cultivate and reward an audience that approached new ideas in good faith. What’s wild, what’s truly wild, is that I’ve been able to do all of that.
When I started writing, I didn’t realize just how much this newsletter would come to focus on figuring how we can get better at caring for one another. I had no idea just how much of my writing I would dedicate to parenting, to grief, to infrastructures of care, and, most of all, to how we form and strengthen community. But just as I shouldn’t be surprised, given the extent of my obsessiveness with the early ‘90s copies of Entertainment Weekly, that I went on to a PhD in media studies (and a dissertation on celebrity gossip)….I also shouldn’t be surprised, given the tight and loose networks of care and community in which I grew up, that I would become obsessed with rebuilding them. Not just for myself, but for all of us.
This work is only possible — and not just possible, but sustainable — because of you. You served as book and gift and podcast concierges for each other, in threads that topped 1000 comments. You shared your teenage heartthrobs, your perfect albums, your favorite streets, and your relationship with being alone. Over two rounds of Mutual Aid, one in December and one in June, you raised over $35,558 (!!!!) to take care of each other. You helped collectively donate $3400 to the First Annual James Welch Festival. You trusted me when I told you “just trust me” in the links. You read interviews about things you didn’t even realize you’d be interested in. You modeled generosity and kindness and curiosity over and over and over again — in the comments, in your conversations with each other — in ways I have not ceased to find astonishing.
You helped make the Culture Study Discord a wild, addictive, delightful, challenging place that really does feel like community, and has served for the launching point for so many projects and member-led collaborations, including the upcoming Culture Study run/walk for the ARC Southeast abortion fund. You have made the comments section a place where I actually want to hang out, instead of a hostile cesspool of vile where no writer dare ever tread. I’m using the second person here, the deliberate you, because it’s true: so many of these initiatives, from the running club “Club Pickle” merch to organizing and administering each round of mutual aid, were spearheaded and executed and supported by members of the community.
I’m grateful for the ability to work at a cadence that allows me to avoid burnout, but I’m also grateful to be a part of this community myself. I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing it, or how a much I needed to replace online habits that made me feel like shit with ones that felt nourishing. Earlier this year, I finally felt liberated to quit Facebook, the home of the group that helped fuel so much of my original success. I spend far less time on Twitter, and the time I do spend on Instagram is 1) looking at gardening accounts and 2) interacting with members of the community.
It’s like I’d spent years looking at a laptop screen whose brightness had been turned all the way down, and every day was a painful slog just to, like, do my job, squinting and getting headache…..and then I realized it doesn’t have to be this way. You helped turn up the brightness on that laptop screen, and made my every day life — both on and off line — much less of a slog, and much more of a delight. I hope I’ve turned it up that brightness, in some small way, for you as well.
Depending on when you first subscribed, you might be receiving a notification that your annual subscription is up for renewal. I know there are all sorts of reasons why people who want to be part of this community might no longer be able to pay, and if that’s the case for you, just email me, no explanation necessary, and I’ll extend your subscription. Crucially, if you do have the means to pay, your help makes that scenario possible.
I have no solid plans for the coming year other than to continue to allow my curiosity — and your own — guide me. I want to come up with thread ideas that are both earnest and, occasionally, bong-rippy. I want to continue to challenge myself and others to figure out ways to be better stewards of community — even when it’s hard, and uncomfortable, or tedious. I want to keep annoying you by overflowing your library waitlists and Bookshop carts (all affiliate proceeds go to CS Mutual Aid) and TBR piles. I want you to continue to feel that this is a good place on the internet: a place where you are welcome, and where you can be vulnerable, but you can also find solidarity with others who want to build a better way forward.
What I said last year, right around this time, holds true, and feels worth repeating: You all help me see the stars as constellations, to continue to seek meaning and narrative amidst that vast, swallowing unknown. This is all very corny, but sincerity and softness are guiding principles of this community, and I won’t apologize. I am so grateful to be doing this work with you.
Are you ready to join the community? Do you want access to the weekly links and “Just Trust Me?” Do you to be able to comment and be part of the Discord? Well, then:
Subscribing is how you’ll access the heart of Culture Study. There’s those weirdly fun/interesting/generative weekly discussion threads, plus the Culture Study Discord, where there’s dedicated space for the discussion of this piece, plus equally excellent threads for Job-Hunting, Reproductive-Justice-Organizing, Moving is the Worst, No Kids Club, Chaos Parenting, Real and Potential Austen-ites, Gardening and Houseplants, Navigating Friendships, Solo Living, Fat Space, Lifting Heavy Things, and so many others dedicated to specific interests, fixations, obsessions, and identities.
If you’ve never been part of a Discord: I promise it’s much easier and less intimidating than you imagine.
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