In the early nineties, my Father started a non-profit organization to support our family’s ministry. Missionary Ark for Families. It was our sole source of income for six or seven years in Lorain, Ohio and Reynosa, Mexico. My Mom and Dad would put together a monthly newsletter and send it out, with pictures and some stories and updates. We received monthly donations by mail. While living in Mexico we had a post office box in Hidalgo, Texas, just over the border. I loved to go to there to raid and read all the religious junk mail with the free medals and holy cards. It was tough, thankless work. We were incredibly poor. Crazy poor. But it was honorable and it taught me something that I am only now beginning to understand and admire.
I’m not afraid of the internet anymore. Technology is what it is. Wendell Berry can kiss my growing sense of self-restraint and the fact that I am pretty sure that I’m not a farmer. I used to suffer from a metaphysical aversion to virtual reality. It was less real somehow. I know virtual things are not exactly the same as the reality of my body and the clicking of my finger tips against the black plastic squares in front of me, but I also know that there is life here just as there is life in the pages of books and the colors of murals. It’s not all dead electron space. There’s a lot of beauty here. There is room for God in the virtual.
I’ve been watching some stuff by Jaron Lanier, the guy who supposedly coined the expression “virtual reality,” that has helped me understand some of these things and sort them out. The bigger reason is that I now do some serious reading and study online, and have benefited from it greatly. Since joining Patheos, I’ve also begun to see some of the possibilities and realities for having genuine community in online spaces. I still write handwritten letters, but I also send out long, rambling e-mails a lot.
I just found out that Andrew Sullivan is leaving the Atlantic to host his own page sans advertisements. Two years ago he posted a link to something I wrote on boredom and I became aware that he is a big deal in the short history of blogging. I wish him the best, I suppose, but I prefer Maria Popova’s site, Brain Pickings. There is a nice write-up on her and the site that just came out in the Guardian.
There are also a few others I could mention and many more I don’t know much about. They all more or less strike me as digital versions of my family’s humble, but altogether brave and audacious, little newsletter from the early to mid nineties. I’m not trying to go full-time, not right now, not with a blog. As I wrote once before, I prefer the compositional style and delivery of the essay to the blog post. I’d rather aspire to prose that falls off the bone than to a bunch of hyperlinks, memes, and videos. I do like artwork and visuals though.
A student and dear friend of mine at Wabash College once told me that if I didn’t get a job, he’d stop smoking and send me fifty-dollars a month. It touched me deeply. I did get a job, but the gift was given in potentiality. Those possible fifty-dollars really help me each and every month. I’m richer for it. There is a really nasty habit of expecting art and religion to be free. This is not only from the side of the people who should be happy to pay for it, who’s lives would be impoverished without it. It is also deeply embedded in the psyche of ministers and artists. You don’t do this stuff for the money, and no one wants to look like a Philistine or an opportunist. Well, I guess lots of people don’t mind this, but no one who is serious about it wants to appear that way.
I sometimes feel this way in the academy, too. Guilty. It’s been slowly wearing off.
Jaron Lanier argues that “free” sites are actually stifling creativity and limiting the enormous potential of the internet. I see his point. But I also like free stuff. Open access is cool. Advertising drives so much of what we can do, only new money will replace it. I used to read the Rumpus a lot, they seem to have the best women essayists around. But their politics are suffocating sometimes, and all the super vulnerable stuff does begin to get old, plus they always reject the stuff I send them. So these days I only read the e-mails their editor, Stephen Elliot, sends. I really like them. Less for the content than for the sentiment. The rarely if ever feel forced. They read cleanly and stink of hipsters. I’m thinking of maybe trying to do my own e-mail thingy. What do you think?
I’ve got to get my keywords in sometime. This Notre Dame vs. Alabama national championship game has got to pay some rent around here. Plus, the reviews and popular posts attract new people and I like that. I enjoy writing those things, too. The Patheos Catholic portal is a great place to hang out, but I want to earn my keep. But maybe some of you would enjoy the really raw stuff: the meta-commentaries, the more descriptive updates about my creative work, a more bare psychoanalytic exercise of a young man imitating his parents’ homemade newsletters from his childhood? Is that right? Are you out there? Would you subscribe to it and read it? Leave a comment or send an e-mail if you would, please. It’ll take some trouble to set-up and I want to be sure there are enough people out there to justify doing it. The next question is: should I ask for a subscription fee for the e-mail list? Is there added value there? I could use the money right now; I’m selling some music gear as we speak. But the real reason is about the value of religion and art and my time.
It’s a new year and I want to try and make this a place that is worthwhile for someone besides myself and the advertisers. You. Whomever you are. Out there, in the electric expanse of the internet. I know many of you, don’t I? You have no idea how many times I read my monthly report and wonder just who, exactly, you all are. Maybe that is what the e-mail idea is about. Achieving a degree of closeness I can’t reach here without leaving this place behind. Either way, I plan on staying here and doing my best, so long as The Anchoress doesn’t kick me out. But please, let me know what you think about this e-mail/subscription idea.
Why does it take so much to ask so little?
**There is no present danger of getting dropped from Patheos and I certainly do not want to give the impression that Scalia, our wonderful editor at the Catholic Portal, has been anything but supportive of me and my work. I’ll do a follow-up once I get some more of your feedback to offer even more explanation and my decided plan. Thanks!