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Notes from a Small Place - Issue #1 (Beginnings)

Welcome to Issue #1 of Notes from a Small Place, a newsletter about nature, writing, and being at hom
Notes from a Small Place - Issue #1 (Beginnings)
By Jake Meador • Issue #1 • View online
Welcome to Issue #1 of Notes from a Small Place, a newsletter about nature, writing, and being at home in the world.

Writing for the Common Good
It’s hard to find things these days that unite conservative and progressive Americans. We all hate Congress, so there is that I suppose. But here’s another: Almost no one is happy with journalists.
Conservatives think that the mainstream media is hopelessly liberal, biased against conservatism, and doesn’t even understand why conservatives think or act in the ways that they do. (They’re mostly right.)
Progressives think the media is overly invested in an attempt to be fair and balanced, that they handed the 2016 election to Donald Trump, and that they’re prone to treating national politics as entertainment and fail to understand the real-world stakes of elections, policy, and so on. (They’re also mostly right.)
Whatever your politics, you can probably find common ground with someone on the opposite aisle by complaining about journalists, writers, broadcasters, and the like.
My goal in this newsletter, amongst other things, is to think about how we can fix this. I’m interested in how writing can serve the common life of our nation and, in more Christian terms, how writing can be a means for loving one’s neighbor.
To begin that work, we need to ask why so many journalists do what they do. One explanation is that they’re all bad and evil people who do bad and evil things. But I’ve worked in multiple newsrooms, written for many publications, and known a lot of journalists. And I don’t find that explanation terribly compelling. Here’s another: American media is doing precisely what it is incentivized to do by its underlying business model.
Most American media outlets are financed chiefly through advertisements. And to make that business model work, they need to either sell a lot of ads, sell very expensive ads, or both. In any of these scenarios, they need a big audience. The big audience motivates advertisers to buy ads and it allows them to charge money for ads.
And how do we build large audiences in American media? We do things to make people mad because attention-grabbing antics produce anger and public anger draws attention. The problem, of course, is that the practices encouraged by such a business system are almost antithetical to the practices necessary to be a good writer.
A tweet from an American writer named Joy Clarkson made the point well:
Joy Clarkson
It is a shame that what is required these days to be a writer (i.e. sizeable presence and regular engagement on social media) is precisely what is likely to dull the mental capacities necessary for deep thought (i.e. quiet, contemplation, lack of mental noise). How do we fix it?
1:49 PM - 24 Jan 2019
Our day’s writing economy creates a competition between one necessary component to being a good writer—cultivating what you might call the writerly virtues (on which more later)—and another necessary component to being a good writer—being compensated enough for your work that you can dedicate adequate time to the task.
The writer’s work is further complicated by the simple fact that most writing jobs are now in major coastal cities. For those of us committed to our homes and to small places (and writers who wish to be useful in a world like ours must be committed to home and place) this means that finding a way into a writing career is challenging. Indeed, the only way to get enough attention to compete for jobs in many cases is to behave badly by misrepresenting opponents, inciting outrage, and making oneself into an object of discussion and debate.
The result of all this is that writers are incentivized by economic factors to write in ways that draw attention, provoke, or trigger. They are also incentivized to spend large amounts of time on social media which would be better spent reading, learning a new skill, or repeatedly slamming one’s hand inside a car door.
Is it any wonder, then, that so much of the writing currently being produced is ephemeral, superficial, and ordered more toward eliciting a strong emotional response than it is to actually teaching or informing someone about what is true, good, and beautiful?
I’m writing this newsletter because I want to push back against these dangerous trends. And to do that I need more than just good intentions; I need a different model for reaching readers.
Newsletters provide writers with a chance to reach and build an audience that they control. What’s more it allows them to work in a space that is shaped according to their interests rather than shaping their work to align with the algorithms of various social networks and search engines and to anger their political opposites.
Such projects are perhaps a final attempt to take back the internet and to restore some measure of sanity to the writer’s calling.
I have my doubts that such a project is possible. I rather suspect the tech giants are too large to overthrow, our public square too degraded, and our government too corrupt.
But I want to make an attempt at it anyway.
This newsletter is my trying.
But, more positively, it is also my attempt to cultivate a quiet life in which it is still possible to write patiently, to take the time to observe the place around me, to attend to its needs, and to talk about that work with others in hopes that it can serve the life of my home place and be a means for loving my neighbor.
So for now I’ll leave you with this, an old toast given by J. R. R. Tolkien at a party he attended in Rotterdam in the 1950s with readers of his works:
To the hobbits! And may they outlast all the wizards!
What I'm Cooking
One challenge to hospitality, which is simply a means of cultivating community within your own home, is lacking the confidence that one can be hospitable. That lack comes from many places, but one of the primary sources is often the kitchen. We are intimidated at the thought of preparing food for a small gathering; it is easier for us to simply not do it. So we don’t.
One answer to that concern is to simply say what Brandon McGinley said at Mere O last year:
Stop Making Hospitality Complicated | Mere Orthodoxy
But, of course, there is another answer as well: Become confident in the kitchen.
Learn to cook a few basic dishes.
Understand how ingredients work.
As you develop these skills, hospitality might stop looking so scary and may actually become fun because it is the opportunity to share your good work with other people.
So, toward that end, try out this easy roasted chicken recipe. You’ll need kitchen shears, olive oil, salt, pepper, an oven, and a sauce pan (to make the jus). (You probably have those things already.)
The result will be a juicy bird with crispy skin that can be the star of your meal when served on a large platter or that can be used to build any number of other dishes—just pull the chicken from the bone and use it for soup or sandwiches or tacos or anything else that comes to mind.
Save the bones too—homemade stock is great and easier than you might expect.
Spatchcocked (Butterflied) Roast Chicken Recipe | Serious Eats
What I'm Reading: Features and Essays
When Work and Meaning Part Ways
Why Doctors Hate Their Computers
Imagine Nations Were Selfless—It’s No Paradise
What I'm Reading: Books
Writing a book makes you realize exactly how ignorant you really are. So my big project in 2019 is taking a step toward correcting my theological ignorance.
Toward that end, I am reading Calvin’s Institutes (my first time going through the whole thing cover-to-cover) and Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. I’ll likely share some thoughts on those projects as I go along with them.
As far as new books go, I’m also reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work, Alissa Quart’s Squeezed, and Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism. I will probably also have notes to share on these books as well.
The Final Word
“The universe fills man with its glory, and you do not know it. The star of evening set against the darkening sky is lonely, it wants a place in your thought, and you refuse to admit it. You write, you compute, you string propositions together, you elaborate your theses, and you do not look.”
~A. G. Sertillanges
I’m Jake Meador. I am the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy, a classical Christian online magazine. I also serve as the Vice President of the Davenant Institute, a ministry working for the renewal of wisdom in the church.
I live in Lincoln, NE, 15 minutes from the home I grew up in. I’m married to my wife Joie and we have three kids: Davy Joy (6), Wendell (3), and Austin (1). My first book, In Search of the Common Good, will be out on June 25 from InterVarsity Press.
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Jake Meador

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Jake Meador, Lincoln NE