TL;DR: I started a club in the form of an email newsletter. I call it Friends of a Long Year. We meet once a month, digitally, in your email. If you’d like to join, drop your email address in the box below. If you’d like to know why you might want to join, and where the name comes from, read on.
Late last year I got it into my head that I should start a club, a good old fashioned club, like the Elks or the Masons.
But then, we travel, how the heck would that work, traveling while trying to have a club that has meetings? Hmmm. Well, then, a digital club. But what does that look like? And what is a club really? Why would you join one?
There’s actually a really good book about this, but I think it boils down to getting together with people and talking, building a community, usually around a common interest or theme. A good club is a way of bringing together people from all walks of life who have some thing in common.
Around the same time I was thinking that I should start a club, I pitched (but later abandoned) an article about the email culture of the early 2000s, what now looks like the golden age of email. Perhaps you remember that time? The days when you would email friends just to say hello, just because frictionless simplicity of email was still new and exciting.
I distinctly remember the emails my friend Mike used to send. He was traveling around Southeast Asia in those days. He didn’t blog about 13 Things You Have to Do in Thailand or some bullshit. He emailed us. Like we were people, not readers or supporters. He didn’t write to an audience, he wrote to us, his friends, his club if you will. He wrote about the things he did, riding elephants, walking on beaches, visiting ruins. They were little things these emails, but they were great. I looked forward to those emails more than I look forward to anything on the internet of today.
This is all I want to do with this club, to bring a little bit of joy back to your inbox.
So this club is an email newsletter in the spirit of Mike’s emails1. I call it Friends of a Long Year.
I know what you’re thinking, that’s not much of a club there Scott, that’s just you email us. And, well… that’s true. I do have some additional plans. More things to build, which takes time. But as they say, you have to start. You have to overcome the inertia. First email. Then the world.
Now, that name. What is with that name?
The name comes from Mary Hunter Austin, and we need to say some things about Austin because I think she might be the sort of beacon we need just now. Certainly she will be the guiding beacon of this newsletter.
Mary Hunter Austin was an explorer, botanist, desert rat, author, mystic, misfit. She was also far ahead of, and out of step with, her time. All qualities we could use more of just now.
Austin lived in, explored, and wrote about the Mojave desert of Nevada and California at the turn of the 20th century. What makes her writing special is that she saw things other people did not. At a time when most people saw the Mojave desert as a wasteland to be mined, Austin saw a thing of raw, majestic beauty.
Most people in her day hurried across the desert to the central valley of California to farm. Mary Austin stayed behind to wander the desert. She dug down, got to know the sand. She wrote about the sand. She wrote about dry, cracked, brutal expanses of sand. She wrote about the hills rising out of the desert heat, about the mountains above the hills. She wrote about the natives calling this strange place home. She wrote about the immigrants trying to make it home.
She saw what no one else around seemed to notice because she paid careful attention to details. She did not hurry through. She did not gloss over.
These are qualities we need more of. We need more adventurers, explorers, more curiosity, more DIYers, more attention to details, more mystics, more misfits digging in the sand.
I think it’s possible Austin and friends founded our club. Austin’s collection of short stories, Lost Borders, is dedicated “to Marion Burke and the Friends of a Long Year.”
It’s a mysterious dedication. Who were the friends of a long year? What were the friends of a long year? When were the friends of a long year? I like to think it was some kind of club. Some kind of gathering of explorers out in the wilds of the desert.
So I decided the Friends of a Long Year is the club we will build, or perhaps rebuild. In the spirit of Mary Austin. And Mike’s emails.
I don’t know exactly what it will be, or where it will go, but it will be done in the spirit of the emails we used to send back in the early 2000s, it will strive to bring joy to your inbox. It will be about things Mary Austin would have enjoyed talking about: deserts, mountains, trees, oceans, misfits, mystics, and marvels of the mundane. If you’d like to join Friends of a Long Year, you can do so right here:
Two things to note: First, I built my own mailing list software. This was an adventure (natch) and took a lot longer than I expected, but it was worth it. I looked around for some existing software that respected your privacy, the way email did in the early 2000s, but found nothing. So I made my own. There are no tracking codes, no pixels, no sneaky links, nothing. It’s just an email. I will have no idea if you read them or not.
The only way I will even know you got the email is if you hit reply, and I encourage you to do so. It’s set up in such a way that you are only replying to me. There’s no way to accidentally reply to the whole list — we all have a painful story about that happening. Don’t worry, that can’t happen here, no one else will ever see your response. And I encourage you to respond, that’s the point after all.
I don’t think I’ve ever given my friend Mike the credit he deserves for propelling me on the trajectory that my life has been on since 2005. But he does deserve credit. And some of it goes to those emails. ↩