Discover more from An Ordinary Disaster
Let’s kill 'content,' and reclaim "growth", OK?
And, this is the house where they're giving out full MFA's
This is part of a series of periodic community updates for my Substack readers — and if you’re reading this, it’s because I’ve reached that initial major milestone of Substackery, the first big four-digit ring-a-ding-dinger of one thousand readers!
⚡️🖤⚡️THANK YOU FOR READING 🖤⚡️🖤
Although the evidence at this point shows that I’m pretty OK at doing things, my fear is that in even mentioning this milestone, I’ll fall into the trap of demanding that you celebrate with me by sharing this, so I can “get” even more subscribers, or of giving you a perhaps marginally-useful list of tips and tricks, hacks and verbal tics that I used to get to this point.
I even went and looked at several other Substackers’ retrospective posts to borrow ideas and cute emoji and nifty survey questions that might entice more of you to respond by clicking the little heart icon, or commenting, or restacking or whatever (and don’t get me wrong, I love it when you do!)—and then I read what I’d written, and I was a little grossed out—but mostly just bored.
I mean, I do really think it’s worth celebrating, because as Sarah Fay put it recently,
I’m not sure people understand how hard it is to get anywhere close to 1000 subscribers writing essays. It’s VERY hard. This is a testament to @davidroberts’s writing.
…and is hard, and maybe even more for writers of memoir—but it’s worth celebrating even more so because I really do believe in supporting each other in our growth—which is not, by the way, some sort of code for “more subscribers.”
Let’s kill “content,” and reclaim “growth,” OK?
Growth has become both an obsession and sort of a bad word at the same time, while losing sight of what growth really means. Growth, for me, is learning, evolution, expansion, creation, depth, fire, soul, and heart, and let’s not let it be corrupted, or co-opted, or used alongside “content,” whatever that is, for fuck’s sake. At the same time, I’m not going to try to convince you that it doesn’t matter how many people appreciate my work. It does—but I don’t write to get more readers, or fans, or clicks.
👁 This piece is probably too long for email, so if you’re reading it in your inbox, you will eventually come to a “View entire message” link - click on that and the rest of the piece will show up. You can also click here and read the entire thing online.
I write to grow
You know what? I write to grow—myself. That’s it, and that’s why I started writing in the first place—because I was compelled to answer the question, “who am I, and how could I not know?” and as cheesy as it might sound, I really do feel that “I’m here to tell the truth” by way of typing into this little box (and sometimes, writing in my notebook) was both the first ~answer and the way to the deeper answer.
That little ~ tilde is not a typo. I use it to mean like hmm, sorta, like sortof answer. Let’s say I got it from math, or programming. Take that, ya strict punctuationists!
I write to grow, and I don’t know if you’ve seen it (have you?), but I’ve certainly felt it myself. I’ve only been on Substack since July of last year, but I first started writing publicly in 2019, and I’m at least an inch wider than I was back then. Contrary to what you might expect from all the hours sitting and writing (standing desk? I’ve tried ‘em, but I don’t last long in that position), my waist size is actually the same, but I’ve gained some width in the shoulders from doing pushups in between paragraphs. I did 150 this morning already!
The point is that I do feel like I’ve gotten better at telling the truth, and also that I’ve gotten closer to a satisfying answer to that question of who am I?—and even to the question of how could I not know? I made some progress on both of these, I hope, in the memoir that I serialized here on Substack as a work in progress.
The book is called An Ordinary Disaster.
Catchy, right? (Really, what do you think? lmk down below ↓)
You can read the entire book as it stands today right here—and if you become a paying subscriber now, you’ll be able to order a copy of the book when it’s published for free*.
I do want to celebrate that growth—so, yay me!
More importantly though, I want to celebrate the people that I’ve met along the way, and that have helped me get here.
There’s no way I could have known what it might feel like to write something and have a stranger, let alone a thousand of them, tell me with any regularity that these words have meant something important, impactful, and even life-changing. Closing the loop from feeling like I just gotta put my personal soul transmission out there in the ether, to actually hearing back from so many of you—that, my friends, is deeply gratifying. It’s not why I write in the first place but, damn straight, it sure does serve as top-quality motivation.
Two friends, and a lover
Before I started writing here on Substack, I used to post some of my early writing on Facebook, and in the forum of a mens group I’ve been part of. At one point I shared an early version of what became chapter 7 of my memoir. I got a couple of appreciative notes from friends, but what really hit me were the comments from people that I’d never even met saying that they’d been “captivated” by the “lyrical, evocative, magical, painful” writing that felt like “art as it is meant to be.”
Especially for someone who felt left out of so many things early on (my own damn fault of course), these first words of such dramatic encouragement (I mean, wow, “captivated” “lyrical” “art” !!!) from real humans that knew nothing about me other than my name and my words were a jolt to the heart of this nascent writer.
A couple of weeks later, I got a nasty flat passing through Reno on my way across the country to meet a girl I hadn’t seen since college (always a great idea, amiright?), and had to turn around and spend the night there while I waited for a new tire. The next morning I posted something about my journey in that same forum, and one of the guys commented again, adding that he lived near by, and suggesting that we get together sometime.
Another month after that, as I was making my way back west after a kinda fun, kinda sexy, definitely problematic, and briefly quite painful encounter with the woman I’d driven across the country to visit (and who, as I was leaving, accused me of showing up just so I could write about it. Not quite true, but… nice try!), another piece I posted elicited even more enthusiastic comments—and another invitation to meet in person.
Maybe (maybe?) I should have taken that flat tire as the clear sign that it was, and skipped the hungry rendezvous on the Cape—which woulda saved several hundred in gas, to boot—but I did end up meeting both of those guys who left encouraging comments soon after I returned from chasing the old flame that flamed out quick.
Those two men are now both among my closest friends—and the first of what are now many people in my life that I encountered entirely because of my writing.
Roddy, Adam, I love you guys. And, it strikes me that that right there—new friends because of writing—is also some very real, actual growth.
That same year—Covid One, let’s call it—I’d started taking writing classes with Jack Grapes on Zoom, and immediately become entranced by the voice and writing and beautiful face of one of the little Hollywood-squares boxes that would light up my screen every Thursday morning at nine am. I’d sometimes comment on her writing, and she’d sometimes comment on my mine. We exchanged notes like this for a few months, and then began speaking on the phone. I’d go up the up the trail behind the house on Sunday mornings, talking with her as she did her morning walk on the beach in Venice. We became friends, at a distance. Again, Covid times, strange times—everything was at a distance, and we were both grateful for the connection.
One day, right before Christmas, I spoke with her again and after we hung up I was left with the most striking physical sensation—a warm, sparkling glow all around me that felt deliciously comforting and sweetly invigorating at the same time. Love on the telephone—that’s what it feels like. A few weeks later we met at a rented house on the coast, shaded by a huge fig tree from which a pair of owls sang to us all night. We loved each other as hard as we could for the next year—and then… my heart broke—but only for a month, and not in the tragic, down-spiraling way that I used to break, just in a way that was tender and sad but true, and done. We did our best and it was good—and it was our writing that brought us together.
Your help along the way
Jack’s classes were my first deep dive into the world of writing, and man, the guy is a slugger of a writer, poet, teacher—and in the ring. Check out his book, Method Writing. Great stuff, and his classes attract brave and talented writers of all stripes, including a lot of seasoned pencil-pushers who return year after year to stay in shape.
As I started to produce more material for the book I was aiming for, I formed a writing group with a few of Jack’s students who were also focused on memoir, and I’ve been with those beautiful geniuses since then, for more than two years now. We called the group All The Way to memorialize our commitment to take our book projects to completion. Being with them, it’s amazing—I get to jam with pros, and the experience of supporting each other as writers, month after month, has been foundational and transformational. Gali, Robin, thank you sisters, you’re amazing.
Although not all groups do this, the main point of most writing groups is to give you the opportunity to read your own work out loud, so you can hear what it sounds like off the page, in your own voice. I have a piece in the works on writing groups, and so I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions about how they work, what they’re for—anything, just ask!
Since then, I founded and co-host a monthly group for men on Substack writing memoir, autofiction, personal essay and other first-person work. The mission of the group is to support each other in our growth as writers, and it already includes several strong writers includingand as well as myself. We published our first writing series, on fatherhood, last month and will be doing another in a few weeks. If you’re interested in the possibility of joining us, please complete this questionnaire.
There are a ton of other people who I’ve run into along the way, most of whom remain out there on the internet, but others who’ve written in, and, much as I did with fellow vanning aficionado— just said hey, I like your grey hair, your gravely podcast voice, and your typing skills—and then turned up on my doorstep! Those people who just print up their own back stage passes, and people like and , and also like and who are not only real peers but people who feel like friends that I’d love to hang with, sometime, somewhere—and I’m sure we will. I love you guys—and I love all the old friends of mine who used to know me as that guy who was always leaving or coming back from somewhere but was never around all that much, and that now know me a little better by way of the wider window that I’ve opened up into my psyche—and all of you who’ve subscribed, liked, commented or written in, shared, or read any of my work along the way.
⚡️🖤⚡️SF BAY AREA SUBSTACK MEETUP 🖤⚡️🖤
Fellow Substacker and Carl Jung fanand I are co-hosting the first ever Bay Area Substack Writers Meetup to be held in or near San Francisco on December 6, 2023. Sign up here → https://lu.ma/l08hen0k
I’m no expert
I was gonna share a bunch of things that have helped me this past year or so, like daily workouts, drinking almost no alcohol, frequent deadlines, doing what I call the Goat Work, analyzing my dreams, taking naps whenever I feel like it, and all that jazz, but hey, if you want to read about those things, the links are right there ⬆️ so, have at it.
I’m just here trying to tell the truth, by which I mean learning to be myself as much as possible, which is really what we’re all here to do. I’d already arrived at that on my own, but it was great to hear how Garry Shandling puts it in The Zen Diaries doc — check it out, part one is great. Just be Garry!
I’m no expert. I haven’t solved anything much beyond a little bit of my own self-reflexive mystery of youthful misery—which might well have solved itself anyhow, with the same long string of years. I’m clumsy. I’m still striving. I want attention, but I do ok not chasing it all the time. I’m a good person—and I’m a good man—at least as well as I know how, and as much as I honestly have energy for on any given day. I know I talk like I think I know what I’m taking about, and I also know I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about any more than any of you—but I’m not going to qualify every single sentence reminding you of that. You’re smart enough not to figure that out for yourselves. Sure, I’m confident—maybe I’m over-confident— and it helps, dammit. It helps. And, I love to change my mind. Try me!
Mutual admiration society
I’d say that one measure of actually ‘being’ any one thing—like a bricklayer, or a writer, for example—is that if most of the people you come into contact with are through that particular pursuit, that’s evidence enough to call yourself that thing.
Much love to my fellow writers, especially those that recommend my work:Tangentially Speaking with Chris Ryan
as well as many others that I love, includingSparks from Culture by David Roberts The Unspeakable with Meghan Daum Sherman Alexie The Abbey of Misrule Persuasion Homegrown Humans Newsletter
👁 If you enjoy my writing and don’t yet recommend me, please consider this an invitation to do so — just follow these instructions and add An Ordinary Disaster.
I’ve been interviewing other writers from the start, and there are now more than twenty five interviews in the can, including fellow Substack writers such as Michael Mohr, Lyle McKeany, Sam Kahn, and Sex at Dawn author Chris Ryan as well as master coaches like Michael Lipson and Robert Ellis, ultra-ultra-runner Charlie Engle and legendary sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve got interviews coming up soon withand — and I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to be part of this series.
🗿 Most of all, this is to say THANK YOU
That lovely big round one thousand only matters at all in that it shows that more than just someone is out there, and I love each and every one of you for all of your support, comments, likes, shares, and recommendations.
Even though I haven’t placed a huge priority on squirreling away a big part of my ‘stack for subscribers only—and at some point I’ll have the courage to do more of that—a good number of you have already chosen to become paying subscribers, and just the other day I got my first founding member—all the way from Lucca, Italy.
⚡️🖤⚡️GRAZIE MILLE, PAT! 🖤⚡️🖤
If you believe my work has value and enjoy reading on a platform that doesn't attempt to hijack your attention with ads (gross!), please consider becoming a paying subscriber. The cost is just $5.55 a month or $55.55 a year, and right now you’ll get 20% off if you subscribe before Nov 11, which makes it only $4.44, or $44.44 / year!
or just leave a one-time tip ⬇️
Some questions for you, dear readers
What is ‘the house’ where they’re giving out full MFA’s? Substack, of course!
What would you like to see more of in my writing? Less of?
Is there a way you’d like to connect more with me — in open threads, chat, live AMA sessions, or some other way?
If you’re a writer, what are some of the comments you’ve received that have had the biggest impact on you?
What’s your biggest challenge right now in your own life? The second-biggest?
What’s been most helpful to you in your growth as a writer? ok, as a person?
Wanna know what the heck the bear-can diet is?
What would you like to know about writing groups and writing classes?
What do you think of An Ordinary Disaster as the title for my book?
Let me know you’re out there!
Especially if you got this far, please do leave a comment—and click the little ♡ heart
👇🏻 right there to let me know you found this worthwhile.