I wasn’t, per se, aware that I was finding my way into the newsletter community. Renee recommended the podcast Reply All to me, which got me into podcasts in general and whose newsletter I originally signed up for. It was through Reply All that I heard of Drawing Links, which I then also signed up for. 

That’s where I was for the next two years: on the periphery of newsletter-dom. Emails piled up in my inbox; I regularly still read (and hoarded) Reply All’s various recommendations, but I rarely clicked into Edith’s notes. I signed up for another newsletter (probably also linked from Reply All) to send me easy audio prompts in the hope that it would push me into messing around with audio (hint: it didn’t). I had an even worse run with Ordinary Plots, which I believed would get me to read more poetry, just like how I thought The Slowdown would get me to read more poetry. The emails just kept stacking up in my inbox, taunting me with their little “unread” flags.

Yet, in spite of my newsletter failings, I found myself in bed on January 9th, subscribing to a number of recommendations from Edith’s best of 2020 list, staunchly positioning myself as a newsletter person. Why?

Before, I thought of newsletters as a way to “better myself” and “learn about things other than English, education, and bad Tumblr memes” and “stop scrolling through Twitter.” But I wasn’t particularly drawn to the newsletters on Edith’s list that were outside of my wheelhouse—like design or finance or celebrity gossip—but instead to the ordinary ones.

I’ve always wanted to know what other people are reading and discovering and mulling over and delighting in. As a kid, I always hung around the adults during family holiday parties, latching onto the stories they laughed over. I love the post calvin for how deeply personal stories sit alongside essays that say, “I’ve been thinking about this thing as specific as brutalism! Here’s some stuff about it.” Social media told me that I could find these connections if I just subscribed to the right people on their platform. Social media lied.

But there are people who do this—people who have decided for whatever reason that they are willing share the things that spark life in them. They are brave enough to say, “Yeah, someone else may find the stuff I love as cool as I do! These are Links I Would Gchat You If We Were Friends.” They sit down, write an email, and send it to strangers.

At the core of my frenzied newsletter subscribing, I have finally realized, was that craving to see the world as filtered through someone else’s eyes. I typed my email into Drawing Links because Edith thrust essays into my orbit that I would have never otherwise stumbled across. Due to Chris Duffy having to write a packet, I was able to tell my housemate he wasn’t going crazy—he couldn’t find my old people cereal at Meijer because there’s a national shortage of Grape Nuts. Aminatou Sow taught me about Philip Guston and his exploration of his own whiteness in art. Reading these newsletters is the online equivalent of glimpsing a stranger in a coffee shop and immediately grieving the fact that you two will never be friends but, instead of haunting you, they slip you a paper with a book recommendation and smile.

Nowadays I’m actually reading these newsletters, burrowing my way into the newsletter sphere. Perhaps I’m more inclined to do so since I see these emails now as invitations from strangers, coaxing me out of my cozy email tavern. In letting them into my tiniest corner of the internet, they are leading me out to the edges of the world.

10 Comments

  1. Kate Parsons

    Oh my goodness, I see myself in this! I used to easily get 30 newsletters PER DAY between newspapers and magazines and podcasts and super-specific listserves. A few months ago my inbox was so choked up I unsubscribed from all of them and resubscribed with a separate “newsletters” email. Highly recommend this! It’s like my own curated news portal that I can pop in and out of without being overwhelmed every time I check my email.

    Reply
    • Alex Johnson

      I did something pretty similar: made a filter in my email so they are automatically tagged and marked as read. Makes me much more willing to actually read them. Yay for organization!

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    This is relatable!

    Reply
    • Alex Johnson

      What can I say, I’m hip with the twentysomethings!

      Reply
  3. Kyric Koning

    The edges of the worlds sounds like just the place to be to discover all kinds of mysterious and wonderous things. What a fun little journey you’ve had. And just had to invite us on.

    Reply
    • Alex Johnson

      The internet is a much better place with worthwhile guides, for sure!

      Reply
  4. Gwyneth Findlay

    this makes me want to read all the unopened editions of Drawing Links in my inbox

    Reply
    • Alex Johnson

      Edith is truly a national treasure (even if I cannot relate to all the running content).

      Reply
  5. Cotter Koopman

    Adding to the chorus of “relatables” and also, “Social media told me that I could find these connections if I just subscribed to the right people on their platform. Social media lied.” hit me like bricks!!!!! I binged Reply All early in the pandemic—it and the ensuing rabbits holes have totally helped scratch this itch (being glued to twitter has not.)

    Reply
    • Alex Johnson

      Reply All is something that makes me believe in the best parts of the internet, to be sure. And yup, I keep looking for the good stuff on social media and there’s just too much dang noise to find it in (and yet I keep going back. Someone can only resist for so long). Glad it’s not just me 🙂

      Reply

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