A Room Of One’s Own

When we moved into this house, I was excited to have a room of my own, a place for books, and a writing desk. When we lived in North Carolina, I had an office at work but did my serious writing at home, in the mornings, and often at the kitchen table because we lived in a tiny house but not a Tiny House (TM), and there was no room for me to have a separate office. I would drink coffee and work on my laptop in the quiet house in those still hours when no one was stirring.

But here! Here I would take over what was designed to be the formal living room, fill it with books and a desk, and make it a study of sorts – a place I could be out of the way and write when other people who live with me want to watch TV or cook something or have the audacity to actually live in the house they, you know, live in.

Because I had always had an office elsewhere, my “work from home” space didn’t need to be complicated – it just needed to be out of the traffic pattern. It did not matter that it was by the front door, didn’t have closing doors, and was visible to everyone that visited.

But then COVID happened, and I wasn’t just working from home occasionally, and I wasn’t just writing – now I was doing everything at home – from video production to writing to zoom calls – so many zoom calls! I got a larger monitor, additional hard drives, a docking station, and… I took over my study, and it became an office. But nobody was visiting, so while it was a bother, it wasn’t critical.

This is all just temporary, we told ourselves.

But now, people ARE visiting, and I am now permanently and completely working from home. Our eclectic study at the front of the house has become the office of a caffeine-riddled ADHD-diagnosed madman with object impermanence, who needs everything to be in front of him, or else it does not exist.

Our living room/study is filled with evidence of my creative process. It’s a damn mess, is what it is. I need an office. A room of my own, with doors and walls, lots of electrical outlets, shelves and corkboards. Then I can have the mess I need to be creative, and we can have the eclectic book-lined study at the front of the house back, and harmony (and hopefully productivity) will reign in our house once again.

After an audit of the available spaces in our house, I concluded I would have to build an outbuilding in the backyard for my small office. I don’t need much space – 8×8 would serve fine – but the combination of the time it would take and the cost has had me in a holding pattern for several months.

But the other day, I went to the store room in the back of our carport to get something and realized it was actually larger than the 8×8 shed I had planned to build. And it had a concrete slab foundation, stud-framed walls, and a functional roof over it, so it was as if someone had handed me an 85-square-foot shed on a concrete slab that just needed to be finished inside.

Even better, it has six feet of windows which face east, so there is lots of natural light. The door to it is through our carport, so on rainy days, I won’t have to walk in the weather.

It presents some problems – one of which is where to store the things currently inside of it. But we were already planning on enclosing the carport, and much of it is junk that needs tossing anyway, so that problem would solve itself. Our HVAC unit is slightly oversized, so it can easily handle having an additional 100sf added to it. The room would need more outlets, but it already has power, so adding more outlets is just time and (not much) money. And, of course, it will need insulation and sheetrock, but so would any shed I build in the yard.

In short, what would have been a $5,000 project has now become something like a $1000 project. And instead of a few weeks of work spread out over winter, now it’s only a couple of weekends.

It’s more square footage than an 8×8 shed would be, but not much. The room is about five and a half feet wide and 17 feet long, making it roughly double the size of your average hall bathroom here in the US. I envision half of the space being a built-in desk and shelves, and the other half being storage.

I ordered the materials Sunday – they arrived this morning. As I was placing the order, it occurred to me that it would be fun to document this process here. So, stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted.

Somewhere along the line, we lost our way.

I feel like writing is magic. It’s the old magic, the original sorcery. Because I can not know what I think, sit down and hit the keys, and suddenly, ideas come up.

Like today, I was unsure what to write about, and all I had was a line that kept turning over in my head. So I sat down to write, stream of consciousness. What follows is what I came up with.

Normally, I wouldn’t stop there, but I wanted to illustrate my point about magic. This is what I think of as a pre-draft. It seems like this idea wants to be several things – maybe a launching point about generosity vs. capitalism. Or about the generosity of the creative act. Or a lament for the early days of the internet. Or a bitch session about my own dissatisfaction with my schedule and routine.

Or maybe it wants to be all of those in a long, wandering essay that I tie up in the last paragraph. But in any event, I got nearly a thousand words of starting points off an 8-word sentence.

See? Magic.

# # #

“Somewhere along the line, we lost our way.”

That line played itself over and over in my head while I was on my walk today. Was it from a poem I read once? From a song buried deep in the lizard part of my brain? Or was it just a truth I felt deep in my bones that I knew in the way one knows one is tired, the way you know that you have missed a turn, the way one knows they have, indeed, lost their way?

It’s like that sometimes. Sometimes I have an idea, a theme if you will, and I want to explore that, and so I work out a narrative around it because I don’t understand things I can’t tell stories about.

Other times I have a story I want to tell, and it works the other way – I tell a story, and a theme presents itself. Sometimes I can tell the same story twice in a row, and a different theme shows up each time. It’s as if I’m not in control at all.

And then other times, it’s like today – I just get a line, and I have to figure out what to do with it.

“Where does this fit?” I ask myself.

What do I do with it? Is it the opening line in a novel? A short story? The apologia by a character for missing their son’s school play? Or is it just a thing I notice about the world around me?

Because it does seem as if, somewhere along the line, we have lost our way. I think Merlin Mann was onto the same sort of thing when he said that it seems like we have lost the recipe for America. But it isn’t just politically – it is pervasive. We all seem to be lost, wandering in the wilderness. A bit dazed, a little confused, somewhat weary, but cautiously hopeful that, around the bend, just over the hill, it will all be back to right again.

At least, that’s how it’s been for me. I was talking to an elementary school principal the other day, and she told me that the last “normal” school year was the one that started in the fall of 2018. Of course, I knew that, but hearing it in that context was staggering.

But I think we lost our way a long time before that.

I was thinking about Instagram this morning. It was once a cool way to show your friends a picture you had taken.

“Here, look at this cat I saw lying in the sunlight. Here is a cool sign I saw in a shop window. Check out the way the light refracts in this pool of water in the parking lot.”

It was generosity. Sharing. It was hopeful.

“Here is a thing I made. It’s for you.”

That was before it was bought by Facebook. Before the rise of the influencers, and back before Facebook sought to extract every possible click and pageview, sought to own every second of your attention. And way before Stories and Reels and who knows what all.

Back then, it was just generosity.

But we seem to have lost our way.

It shouldn’t surprise me. The same thing happened to us bloggers.

Around the turn of the century, blogging took effort. You had to find a host. And you needed a CMS, or you had to know how to write HTML, or you needed an HTML publisher. There was friction.

So those of us who did it did it because we had things we wanted to share.

Here are my thoughts about this thing I’m excited about. Here is a cool thing I found. Check out this article – I think the author is a moron.

There was no real way to monetize in those days. Some people were trying banner ads but losing their asses at it. The blogs were acts of love.

But in 2003, Google developed Adsense, where anyone with a website could put a bit of code on their site and get paid when people clicked their ads. Now, the goalpost changed. It wasn’t about love anymore – it was now about getting clicks. Attention. Views.

It was a short jump from there to corporations developing walled gardens where we still wrote for love, but they made money from the advertisers. I’m looking at you, Social Media.

It seems we have lost our way.

Or maybe it was my anger at how the comments on a cooking forum I belong to have suddenly turned political, with commentators managing to find grist for political jabs in posts about fruitcakes and cranberries. I sometimes think that even Gandhi would despair for humanity if he had spent time in the comment section of Facebook.

It’s also probably that I personally feel adrift as well. I have not had a full weekend at home since August sometime. My life feels chaotic, adrift, and unmoored. This time last year, I was writing an 800-word post every day on my blog. These days I count it a success if I get a post a week up, all the while recognizing it would be easier to not. Since starting the new job, my schedule has been off, and my routine has not yet settled. This frustrates me.

I don’t know what the line means, in other words. I just know that I know it, deep down, in my bones.

“Somewhere along the line, we lost our way.”

The Hughniverse

Let me tell you the backstory behind this post.

A few months back, I was holding office hours for people on the membership team. I mentioned the wide-ranging projects I am working on that they are supporting, and I jokingly called it my empire. He laughed and said I was creating a Hughniverse.

I am a sucker for puns on my name.

Then, a few weeks ago a close friend made something pretty amazing, and I mentioned it in The Hughsletter. Later, when I was talking to her, I mentioned I had shared it in my newsletter, and she said she hadn’t seen it. It turns out she hadn’t seen it because she didn’t even know I have a second newsletter called The Hughsletter (again, I love puns on my name).

I am the worst promoter of my work, but even I recognize that of the literally billions of people on the planet who did not read anything I wrote last year, the most common reason they didn’t wasn’t that they don’t like my style, or they disagree with me politically or any other logical reason, but because they simply do not know I exist.

So, here is an up-to-date list of the projects I am currently working on. At least this way, I can say that I told you.

The Membership Team

The more than 120 folks who pay contribute between $5 and $25 a month to keep the bills paid around here. Literally, everything springs from this – they pay the hosting and the internet domains and the subscriptions for the software and, not incidentally, for my time when I am writing jibber jabber on the internet instead of doing something else.

They also serve as an advisory board of sorts – they know about projects before anyone else, and I seek their input on directions I am considering. They get the satisfaction of knowing that because of their support, I get to keep making cool stuff.

Food is Love

This is the narrative cookbook I am writing in partnership with the membership team. They are getting a chapter a week delivered to their inbox as I write this, and then I take their input and feedback and will edit it down and publish a physical book this winter.

We are a ⅓ of the way through this project. So far, members have gotten the stories (and recipes) behind such things as fancy rice, Salisbury steak, pulled pork, and Aunt Louise’s chicken soup. And this winter, when I do get the physical book made, they will all get free copies.

Membership has its privileges. If you aren’t a member, you can buy it when it comes out.

My Blog

I continue to post on my blog two to three days a week at Humidity and Hope. My most read post over the last 30 days or so was my story of our ragtag rescue cat Pepe.

Links to the new posts are posted in several places: My Facebook page, Twitter, and Tumblr. I also publish a full RSS feed if that is your jam (it is mine!). If you don’t know what RSS is, here you go.

And I publish the entirety of the text of most blog posts on my Facebook profile page as a public post. I want everyone to have the opportunity to read my stuff, despite the fact that it probably costs me subscribers by not forcing Facebook readers to click through.

The Hughsletter

This is the accidental newsletter. Back in August of last year, when I began blogging regularly again, I set it up so people could get an email whenever I wrote a post. So far, so good. But then I began publishing multiple times a week, and people freaked out a little and asked if they could just get one email a week from me with links to everything I wrote that week.

So, I did. Then I would think of other things I had seen or liked that didn’t really merit their own blog post but that I thought would appeal to people who like my blogging style, so I added those links. Or I would mention a follow-up to a previous post I knew they had read. Before long, it was its own thing.

This is my most personal publishing venture. It’s the smallest audience, so it feels like talking to people I know rather than the internet at large. You can sign up or peruse the archives here.

Life is So Beautiful

Every Monday morning, I wake up, make coffee, and then sit down and write an email to several thousand folks in at least five different countries. I write a blog-length reflection on where I see beauty in the world right then, and then I share links to five things I had seen that week that struck me as beautiful. Because the world is beautiful, but sometimes it’s hard to notice it.

And I’ve been doing it for seven years. It’s my biggest project, in terms of readers, and my longest-running one. You can sign up or peruse the archives here.

Whew.

That’s a lot. There is talk of other things in the works. I’m working on an idea for the next book I will serially write like I am this one. There is talk of a podcast. I want to set up a live streaming cam on my birdfeeder and pond. I will get to it eventually. Or not. But I am having a blast, regardless.

Thanks for reading my stuff. It means more than you know.

Food is love.

If I were to make a list of the things I know for sure, that food is love would be one of them.

I have known that since I was old enough to know anything. That the secret ingredient in the biscuits Aunt Monty stood in front of the counter and rolled out every day of her life was pure love. That the tender pot roast after church on Sunday was as sincere a sign of my mother’s affection as she was capable of making. That I have never felt as at home in the world as I did all those years ago, in the fellowship hall of Emory Methodist Church, eating Miss VanHook’s chicken and dumplings.

I come from working-class stock. We did not have money for vacations or new cars or even health insurance, but by God, we could have green beans seasoned right and biscuits fit for gods and jelly that came from the efforts of women who loved you sweating over a kettle in the heat of summer.

It was the way people who loved me but didn’t have a lot of tools to express that love, showed it.

I don’t believe I am alone in that. I have polled large groups of people, and always end up with the same results: If I were to ask you your favorite memories of people you loved who are now gone, most of the time, those memories involve food.

Because food is love. It is the product of love, and it’s how we show love, and it’s how we feel love.

So, I’m writing a book about that. It’s a cookbook, in the sense that it will have recipes, but it’s also a book of stories because the stories give meaning and context to the food. Think of it as a narrative cookbook, organized around 18 meals and 40 recipes.

This has no commercial potential. Rachael Ray will not have some dude from MS on her show to talk about sausage gravy and the way it felt when his family had driven 8 hours through the night to get to his grandparent’s house and the weary travelers were groggy and sleepy but a hot breakfast was waiting on them.

But because I have members who support my work, I don’t have to worry about that. So I’m gonna publish it myself, with the financial support and encouragement of my members.

Here’s the plan: Beginning Friday, July 1, members of the Membership Team will get an email with a link to download a PDF of a chapter of the book, and will then get a chapter in their inbox every Friday until Friday before Thanksgiving.

Then, on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the finished book will be available for purchase on the major platforms (print and ebook) but everyone on the Membership Team in November will get a free print copy in the mail as my way of saying thanks for their support.

So, if you are not part of the Membership Team, you can buy my narrative cookbook Food Is Love on Black Friday. But Members will get Chapter One in their inbox on July the 1st.

You can learn more about how to be part of the Membership Team and support my work (and get a free copy of Food Is Love in the process) for as little as $5 a month here.

Membership Month

Sunday, June 5th, is my birthday. I will be 50 years old. Yes, I know, I seem young and sprightly, but trust me, that is just the Tylenol talking. In any event, the last year has been my most creative year ever.

Over the last year, I launched a new blog, Humidity and Hope, on which I have published 186 articles just since October, consisting of more than 152,000 words. I published my weekly newsletter, Life is So Beautiful, where every Monday morning I send a short (previously unpublished) essay and five links to beautiful things to thousands of subscribers. And I launched The Hughsletter, my personal newsletter, where I share what I’ve written that week and links to cool things I’ve found.

And now I’m launching something new: A membership program to support my work.

Figuring out how to monetize this sort of work is hard, especially if you have scruples. I don’t want ads everywhere, scraping your privacy. I don’t want to limit access to only people who can afford it, like a paid newsletter. And all of this *waves hands* costs a lot of money to do – my email service alone is hundreds of dollars a month, whether I send anything or not.

I’ve had a Patreon account for years, but we are transitioning from it to a simple membership program: People who want to support my work, who want to keep my public work free and ad-free, and who want more of my work in the world can contribute as little as $5 a month and help make that happen by clicking here.

One more thing, related to this: Just like there is Pledge Week at NPR, June is “Membership Month”, because of my birthday. I will be making a big announcement next week about a secret project that is for members-only, for example. And I will each week, highlight more of the creative work I do, made possible by the members who support this work.

And to the existing members who all kick in to keep this train going: Thank you. Seriously. I could not do this work without you.