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96. 🎂 two years of tiny driver 🎂
thinking about paying it forward
Hello, and happy Monday.
These past few weeks have been a lot here in the US, to say the least. It so happened that I wasn’t in the country when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and I couldn’t have been more relieved for the physical distance in that moment. It continues to astound me (though I know it shouldn’t) that women’s reproductive rights are regulated to such a degree in the United States. It also continues to astound me (though I know it shouldn’t) that despite the constant gun violence in this country, legislators still dig their heels into the ground in order to protect the second amendment.
Because I live in a state where my right to an abortion will likely be protected, I’m choosing to donate funds to organizations in states where the right to an abortion will likely be overturned. The Cut put out a helpful list of organizations who are doing work in these precarious areas. I’m also circulating this because it looks like it has a lot of helpful info on resources about abortion access. WBEZ Chicago also published a list of how to help those impacted by the Highland Park shooting.
I hope that you all are finding time to take care of yourselves. I’m honestly still processing all of this—it’s been a struggle.
✏️ Still processing.
This week marks the second year since I began tiny driver back in July 2020. Can you believe it?
For tiny driver’s first birthday last year, I wrote about consenting to learn in public, and the experience of writing a newsletter. This year, though, I don’t just want to reflect on the past year and what this newsletter has given me. Rather, I’m hoping to spend this space to encourage you to begin writing a newsletter of your own, if that is something you’ve been toying with. In other words, if you’ve been thinking about starting a newsletter, this is your sign!!
Sometimes, I get asked about the actual writing and maintenance of tiny driver—how I started it, why I started it, and how I keep going. I thought that it might be helpful to write my responses more openly as a way of encouraging folks to begin their own.
“How did you start your newsletter?”
I get this question a lot, and I think it’s an interesting one because I am not really a Very Online Person. I barely post to my twitter, my Instagram is private—I began this space with absolutely no online presence or pre-established platform. Looking back at my subscriber count, I had 29 subscribers by the end of my first day because I promoted it to my friends over an Instagram story, and they are a supportive bunch. 😊 This is all to say, you don’t need to have any prerequisite to begin writing a newsletter—I sure didn’t.
Rather, I gave myself the push when I realized that I was longing to join in on the conversations that were happening among folks I admire, and even wanted to begin some conversations of my own. It was really this strong desire that finally willed me to say, “Why not?” and begin writing online.
Because I am prone to perfectionist tendencies, I decided to only have a few things set before I began publishing my newsletter:
The name and logo of my newsletter (I created the logo myself on Procreate)
A paragraph of why I was writing the newsletter and what I hoped to accomplish with it (This is not something I shared publicly—it was merely meant to act as my own little “north star.”)
When I would publish during the week (Monday mornings! I’m still doing this!)
My “about” page — who I am and what I hoped to include in each newsletter
And that was basically it! I knew that if I tried to get more ducks lined up in a row, or perfect these things beyond just getting them together, I would ultimately never hit send. I resolved that I would learn on the job, and anything that I had neglected to think of didn’t matter for beginning in the first place.
“Why is your newsletter called tiny driver?”
Many people just have their name serve as their newsletter title. Others have really sleek names that describe precisely what it is they are writing about—I’m thinking about Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study. (When I saw that name, I was like, Damn!! So catchy!! So good!) I decided not to use my name because I wanted to make this space a little more playful than my more “professional” academic persona. I also could not for the life of me come up with a name that summed up what I wanted the space to be—mostly because I wanted the capacity to change course if I desired. So, I came up with tiny driver. I talk about making this decision in my first post:
So, all of this being said, you may be wondering, “Ida, why ‘tiny driver’?” Well, I was thinking about what I wanted out of this newsletter, and realized that I was invested in gaining momentum to move forward. I wanted to use this as a way to begin writing about questions and observations that would allow me to keep thinking—to drive forward in my work with greater clarity of purpose. And where am I driving? Toward building a more thoughtful world and a better future, hopefully, with all of you. I also wanted to acknowledge that I am but one, tiny person on the road trying to do my part. And I hope to share the road forward.
“How do you keep hitting send every Monday? It seems like a lot of work.”
Some of my friends have asked me this. Others who don’t know me as well say something like, “I could never publish a newsletter so consistently.”
Here’s the thing, though: one of my personal goals when I began this whole thing was to write consistently and hit send every Monday. A lot of the early parts of tiny driver was just getting myself to form a consistent writing habit so that I wouldn’t fear the page as much every time I sat down to do my academic work. Although I haven’t been “fully cured” of the fear that sometimes comes with writing, I have managed to work through it for the most part because I have shown myself every week that I’ve managed to make something from nothing. That I put a little letter in your inbox every Monday reminds me of this commitment to practicing and community, and ultimately makes me happy, not stressed.
But—and this is an important thing to remember—writing consistently on the platform doesn’t have to be one of your goals if you don’t want it to be. In fact, I think that it should be said more often that you can publish a newsletter post whenever you want! There are so many articles (I’m not linking to them on purpose) that talk about the importance of consistency in building a newsletter. However, what seems to be unspoken in these articles is that they recommend consistency for the purpose of making one’s newsletter “successful.” And how to most people writing these blogs measure “success?” Subscriber numbers. I’m assuming here that vanity metrics like sub count don’t particularly matter, which means that the advice is not particularly sound if that’s not your endgame.
There’s also time when you can’t publish to the schedule that you set for yourself and you need a break. Back in the spring, I was going through a particularly busy time with work where the time I spend writing the newsletter was not worth the time I had to spend either working or resting, so I had to take a break. Similarly, I took a vacation for a few weeks just last month and didn’t write. No sense of dread filled me, because I know that my goal of writing consistently has now been revised to also make sure that I write sustainably.
Ultimately, the goal is to get your newsletter to align with your goals. Though this does take tweaking over time, but if setting up a consistent schedule doesn’t help you reach your goals, it’s not worth thinking about. Do what you want and publish when you want!
“Aren’t you scared that you’re going to end up getting cancelled or getting harassed by people who don’t agree?”
Neither of these things have happened yet, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t afraid of this when I first started writing more consistently online. In fact, I gave a talk last week about writing newsletters, and the conversation did move to folks’ fear of being discussed on Fox & Friends, receiving death threats, etc.
In all honestly, I don’t think that I am “online enough” or “important enough” or “large enough” of a platform for this to be an issue—this is tiny driver, after all. At the same time, I do recognize that there is some risk. Someone from my grad department actually experienced getting her academic writing trolled by right wing blogs (and wrote about the experience here and here). So, yeah. Like any writing that gets published, people can find it and have bad faith reactions to it.
However, I am at the point in my career where I feel comfortable in both what I do and don’t know. I feel comfortable sharing my expertise on issues and subjects that I study (like in my mena vs. swana letter). I also feel that I have created a space that allows for growth and re-thinking about subjects that I’m still learning about. I want to engage in principled disagreement and good faith conversations where I am able to change my mind. I try to write with humility and openness, and I think that most people are willing to meet me where I am at. Doing this every week also allows me to practice consenting to learn in public.
So, as much as possible, I try to create a space with this newsletter that encourages productive disagreement and conversation. Those who may potentially engage me in bad faith conversation are a risk, but I have found that the opportunities and community I have gained from writing have far, far outweighed this risk.
The bottom line:
Just start! And let me know if you do so I can follow along! 💞
🌀 Still consuming.
“Good faith criticism strengthens both how I think and how I communicate that thinking. Even if I bristle in the immediate, I always sit with criticism and try to learn from it. But then there is bad faith criticism, which finds its way to me on every single social media platform. It comes to my inboxes. It is mailed to my publisher and it all becomes a cacophony that renders me silent—the worst kind of feedback loop.” From Roxane Gay’s recent newsletter post.
“Only write the length that a story deserves, or your readers will know. Every time. And how do you know what a story deserves? That’s instinct. Does a particular story draw you down different avenues, are you eager to explore them, does one lead to the next? Do you feel like you could write 1,000,000 words on a subject? If that’s the case, do a book. Just trim it by 900K.” From an interview with Neal Bascomb in Agents and Books.
“While aesthetic components were once integral to the formation of traditional subcultures, they’ve lost all meaning in this algorithmically driven visual landscape. Instead, subcultural images and attitudes become grouped under a ubiquitous, indefinable label of a “viral trend” — something that can be demystified, mimicked, sold, and bought.” Terry Nguyen on “trend brain.”
“I suspect that true rest is akin to being truly present, where your whirring mind stills, where you’re not racing ahead to whatever is next.” Suleika Jaouad on the value of rest.
📖 Book club corner.
Friends! The votes are in! July’s book club pick is A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders! I’m so excited, and a big thank you to Lydia for choosing this month’s books and facilitating our meeting at the end of the month! You can purchase the book here and find meeting details below.
Here’s the event info:
Date & Time: Tuesday, July 26 @ 5PM PST/8PM EST
Suggested Donation (for those able to donate): $3-10 through Paypal or Venmo (@idyalz) (A note that 100% of donations will go to Lydia!)
If you are interested in facilitating a book club and have been to more than two book club meetings, feel free to reach out to me!
You can learn more about the tiny driver book club here!
🐶 A pup-date.
Girlie has been doing a big decompression from the fireworks last week:
As always, thanks so much for reading through, and I'll see you in the next one!