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No Rules

some thoughts on transactions and rituals

First, I need to tell you that the I planned to put this video at the bottom of this post but currently Substack does not have a way of allowing you to do this(??!!?). So here it is at the top—watch it whenever, of course, but it will make more sense if you read to the end. 🙃

I started this iteration of my newsletter (I’ve been casually dicking around with it since 2016) late this summer when I was feeling seasonally easy breezy, eager to write freely, wanting to dedicate time to it. I did so without a plan (and, I now realize, in slight denial about my fall commitments and travel schedule).

Frequency of posts? Free subscriber versus paid subscriber content? Incentives to upgrade to paid? Starting threads, discussions, and, by extension, building community? The simplest of schedules in which I reliably post on a specific weekday?

These are all basic ideas that many writers, particularly those who make—or hope to make—a significant income from their newsletters think through before they launch. I thought about none of this, went at it a little ass backwards. In all honesty, I was not and am still not particularly interested in creating a formal schedule, making this a work obligation. I only want it to be fun, to come to it when I have time and space and something that feels worth saying.

The things is, I didn’t anticipate that so many of you would be willing to give me some of your hard-earned money to support this project. It’s a nice surprise, a boost of validation. I am moved and I am grateful. But money, it turns out, is tricky for me.

Most days, emails arrive in my inbox notifying me that I’ve received payments from you. Lately the emails trigger guilt that I haven’t written anything in a while, a feeling that I should immediately be giving you something in exchange for your cash. I worry that you think you are getting a raw deal, that I am letting you down. I don’t like these feelings—the way that I’ve internalized the idea that human interactions have to be transactional to be of value. Rationally I’m not convinced that I even need to be grappling with these thoughts, but they are there and they are real. So here I am, unsure that I have anything interesting to say, but wanting to reach out, if only just to say hi and thank you.

Currently I am giving myself some time and space away from social media (Instagram, really), so I can reacquaint myself with interiority. This year involved me doing a lot of talking and self-promotion, being very outward facing. I don’t feel any type of way about this—it’s part of the job and the success of Essential Labor has been a dream. 2022 was, in every sense, an incredible year. I never want to stop celebrating that. But I’m ready to chill out, check back in with myself, sit still, let everything I’ve done and that’s happened settle into me without the distraction and chaotic input of my scrolling.

I still find myself wanting to share bits of the moments and people that made my year, that I am reflecting on and appreciating. I’ve always liked and approached Instagram, anachronistically now I suppose, as a place to put us—a simple sort of album, proof that we were here, together, that some aspect or feeling or vibe or ephemeral quality of whatever special or ordinary day we were living felt worthy of marking, remembering.

The other day I asked my therapist if she knows of any rituals people use to mark the passing of a year, a way of acknowledging and celebrating what they accomplished, what they survived. She was like, “Who do you mean by ‘people’?,” which felt like a bit of an own. Which, fair. She didn’t offer any specific ideas but, as I suspected she would, suggested perhaps I should make my own. Over the years, I’ve tried a few things: lists, gratitude lists, burning said lists, etc. I just decided, as I write this, to make this letter one way of marking/acknowledging/celebrating all that 2022 held for me. Here are two things I’m sharing with you.:

  1. This playlist I made that attempts to capture all my 2022 feels (there were a lot).

  2. A snippet of the online conversation I had with Dani McClain back in May as part of the Essential Labor tour, hosted by Women and Children First (please shop here IRL and online!) in Chicago. (Video up top 🤪.) I’ve known Dani for a few years now, have been in conversation with her in various ways, but have never actually spent time with her in person. She’s a writer, reporter, mother, daughter, person I respect deeply, who rationally I know I am friends with but still remain low-key stunned that she wants to know me. (Buy her book and read some of her recent work!)

    Yesterday I had one of those foggy, early morning wonderings about whether I might be able to pinpoint one moment as a high point of this year. I was surprised when the answer came almost immediately: when Dani McClain told me, “You are just real as hell.”1

    I went back and watched bits of the recording and, instead of cringing at the sight of myself and wishing I’d done something differently, I just felt grateful and satisfied. That fleeting sensation is a perfect distillation of what I want to take from this year and, more importantly, move forward with. Life is a complicated mess but committing to swimming through the muck helps you figure some shit out—and when it happens, it’s everything.

    I wish for all of us a few moments of this sparkling clarity in the year ahead. xx

  1. Thank you to Chelsea Conaboy, whose book you should also read, for emailing recently and reminding me of my conversation with Dani.

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Donita Reason
Angela Garbes