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.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of the Creston neighborhood in Grand Rapids. When she isn’t reading Young Adult fiction, she’s playing board games with her housemates, listening to podcasts, scrolling on education Twitter, and preaching the gospel of intentional community to anyone who will listen.