I wrote this letter of appreciation to a musician and New York Times best-selling offer (#7 with a bullet!) that I admire. And after I finished it I decided to share it with everyone.
I’m the woman who asked you the question at the end of the Minneapolis show. Thank you for answering me. The show sold out before I could buy a ticket, but you retweeted someone from the Minneapolis house party who had an extra ticket. Her name was Kate and I walked down the line looking for her outside the show and found a woman named Kate with an extra ticket. We chatted happily as we waited to get in and then after getting inside I discovered she was not the same Kate, and the original Kate was in the row behind me. The show was magnificent. You must have been exhausted but you were absolutely brilliant.
I’m alone this Thanksgiving. Being alone on a holiday isn’t terrible. It’s the fact that everyone takes on this exaggerated pity for your loneliness on this one day and don’t give a rat’s ass that you have been alone all year. Being alone this makes me think back to when I was happiest. I used to spend weekends bringing pizza and movies over to my sister and her kids. That was my family. My dad was dead, my mom and other siblings not very kind, but my sister and her kids were enough. I loved them and would do anything for them. But my sister didn’t really want me around. Last fall I fell in love. I am on the mild end of the autism spectrum (the end where you are treated like a fraud if you reach the end of your coping skills and actually need help because you’ve been faking it so well for so long) so falling in love with someone isn’t easy for me but when I fall I fall hard. I am all in. I thought I had someone I could give all my love to for once, but he wasn’t very kind to me and walked away. Some friends have abandoned me over the past year because I had a sort of breakdown and didn’t live up to their expectations. You see, in a small community I was kinda famous and I walked away from that. People had a plan for me, and I failed in their eyes for not sticking to it. So I am alone a lot without anyone to take care of or who takes care of me, and that can be tough when you are creative in a public way.
In early 2010 I was unemployed and looking for an accounting job. Someone advertised for a religion writer and I thought that might help keep me sane while I looked for a “REAL JOB.” I ended up talking them into hiring me as an editor and after an agonizing amount of work I turned the Pagan section of Patheos.com into a huge success. Every month 12,000 people from all over the world took the time to read my thoughts on modern Paganism, polytheism, and indigenous religions. Yet working for Patheos was like working for your label, and it was as if the Catholics were Bono and I was Jonathan Coulton. Being wildly successful within my religious communities wasn’t a “hit” by the standards they were measuring me against. If it were a non-profit I could have funded my own little corner of the site and served my community and been fine. But Patheos was in the business of making money and the presence of my band of spiritual anarchists and ancient revivalists and loving weirdos actually hurt their monetary prospects. They would ignore my 12,000 fans and entertain the one asshole who hated me, talk to them for an hour, and then come back and tell me why I was shit. They didn’t get what I was doing or what my community was about, but I hope that has changed since I left. My successor has the degrees to lend her voice the gravitas that my prolific quirky hustling lacked. I hope her experience is kinder because after a couple of years there I ended up having a crisis of faith and I think a slowly unfolding nervous breakdown.
My fans were loyal and loving, but they didn’t always drown out the hate. Sometimes they helped me, like when I needed a new laptop or when my roommates kicked me out and I was suddenly homeless. But at the end of the day I was always alone. People liked what I wrote but no one wanted to grab lunch with me. People saw my social media feeds, but they didn’t see me. And I was deeply ashamed of my inability to cope on my own and rise above my loneliness. I was deeply ashamed that I had accepted help from friends and fans to get back on my feet. I am ashamed that I shut down and stopped writing. I am ashamed that I let the sheer terror and panic show as I realized I had created something bigger than myself and had no way to keep this community of readers I had created going because I was exhausted and collapsing in on myself.
Does it matter that I worked seven 9+ hour days a week? Or that I gave around 15% of my small and unpredictable income back to community projects or to people in need? Or that I have all these messages from people telling me they love what I write because it makes them feel less alone? Or that people were happy and willing to help me because it helped make them a part of what I was doing? Or that I see ideas, organizations, and writers thriving that are to some degree influenced by my work? No, it doesn’t. I still felt like a shameful fraud and my critics agreed with me.
But after listening to your music for years I am reading your book, and it is healing me. I used a lot of your methods for community building over the years to great success, even when people didn’t understand what I was doing because it wasn’t the kind of “marketing” they were used to. I failed at asking a lot but I also triumphed in unexpected ways that created great connections and opportunities for myself and others. Your experience is really different from mine but also so surprisingly similar. Your vulnerability and openness has helped me see myself with kinder eyes and consider forgiving myself for the shame that engulfed me. Most importantly, it reminded me that I was at my best when I was open and vulnerable and acted as a mirror for other people, when I helped other people feel less lonely.
I have so many books inside me and I am now considering the real possibility of writing again. I am trying to figure out how to solve the problem of loneliness and lack of support system. I am trying to figure out how much I can reasonably do on my own. I am trying to figure out what I need to ask for help with, and how to ask. I am beginning to recognize that what I do is art and that there is merit and value to being an artist like me.
So I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your example and your sharing, because you have helped resurrect the artist inside of me. That is no small thing. Thank you for creating and cultivating such a loving supportive community, especially the all the generous people named Kate in it. I plan to give copies of your book to friends, and when you figure out the exchange tech, to buy copies for strangers.
All my love,
P.S. Fuck it all, I’m posting this on my blog. LOVE.