A World of Hilarity - a club for the nice people
"I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter."
So, at the suggestion of my old friend and fellow writer, Steve Skojec, I've decided to add a Substack post to the daily life proceedings, twice a week. This will be available to subscribers only on the Substack website and directly in the email of subscribers. I intend to link my World of Hilarity posts to my existing blog at Ko-fi, “Hilary White Sacred Art,” to allow my subscribers there to access it directly.
I’ve been asked pretty often by friends and former regular readers whether I will ever start writing again about general topics. I’ll admit that a blog about Byzantine and Medieval Italian sacred art and spirituality has a somewhat narrow audience range - things I find fascinating could, possibly, have limited audience appeal. I do want to keep Hilary White Sacred Art more or less closely focused on those topics, though. I think it has a nice little niche, and there’s plenty to talk about within it for people with similar obsessions. And since that is where I am focusing most of my professional work - painting icons and learning about them - that’s what I mostly want to spend my time on.
But that does leave me with this itch to read and write about all the Other Things.
Scrolling down my Twitter feed - the only remaining outlet for my more general interests - I see that I tend to get struck with the writing bug pretty regularly, doing long threads on a very broad range of topics, including my old subjects related to the Church. But though I do often get the urge to write on other things, I still don’t think that the open, public blogging format is a place I want to be right now.
This is where Substack comes in. As I understand it, Substack is a platform that allows you to create the equivalent of blog posts - with all the normal things one would find in that format like photos, embedded videos, hilarious memes, etc - but that can be set up only to go out to a selected email list. That means, for me, that I can essentially create a sort of club of people who have read me and would enjoy more of my stuff, but without the stress of being exposed to the radioactive hostility of the outside world. It’s a private blog, for the nice people I already know and trust.
I started blogging for fun in 2003, well before most people who blogged had any solid idea of how to “monetise” their work - you just did it because you had something to say. In those far-off days most people used the free Blogspot site, chose their own templates and did their own html adjustments. There was no YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Big Tech Monopoly “platforms,” and no one had Paypal or anything like it; online banking was just in its infancy for most normal people.
If you wrote for a living - for which blogging was starting to be an entry - you did so either freelance by selling articles to existing publications - that might or might not have had internet-editions - or by getting hired as a staff writer, with a byline. But those days are almost gone, with most of the advertising revenue for publishing getting hoovered up by the Big Three Platforms. This means it is harder and harder to “get a job” as a staff writer in the traditional sense, and even freelance becomes an iffy and spotty, inherently unstable way of writing for a living. Increasingly, People Who Write, have to start being more entrepreneurial, independent and creative. And this is where other, smaller, more user-oriented independent platforms like Substack and Ko-fi are picking up the slack. It gives me a certain amount of “cover” by being a mailing list that I control, does the annoying technical work of setting up templates and buttons and doing the html stuff. All I have to do is write.
And I’ve just realised that, apart from my long-neglected Orwell’s Picnic blogspot blog, it’s been years and years since I’ve just blogged. The writing has always been focused on a particular topic or set of issues. I’ve been thinking vaguely about where I could flog articles on other, more broadly ranging subjects, but just haven’t had the energy. And writing for existing publications is always a giant pain: “We love it! We just wondered if you could make these changes for us…” or “Oh, our board of directors…” And the ultimate insanity, “Great! We will publish this in three or four months. Where can we sent the cheque?” (“The cheque”???… What are you, my grandma? Is this 1983?) So, mostly when something grabs my interest, I’ve just been throwing stuff up onto Twitter.
In 2003, I was still working for Campaign Life Coalition, a national pro-life political lobby as the Director of Research. I was doing briefs and legislative analysis for Canadian MPs and Senators, information packets for clergy and political activists, newsletters for schools and university groups, scripts and speeches for frontline activists… It was fun… sometimes. But the scope was narrow. I focused mainly on a piece of legislation working its way through the process about embryonic stem cell research and New Reproductive Technologies. You can imagine that as a person with no academic background in science I had a steep learning curve, and it was exciting to work closely with world class experts in such interesting fields.
But there was a lot of other stuff going on in the world that I couldn’t ignore. So a friend, the editor of a small weekly Catholic newspaper I sometimes wrote for - who also had broad interests - suggested I try blogging, and building up an audience. And I guess I’ve been blogging, more or less, ever since.
I gave up writing my What's Up With FrancisChurch blog two years ago, for several reasons, primary among which was that I just didn’t feel the urgency of purpose anymore. I had started that work as a way of using my existing audience to publicise what I felt were the serious dangers of the Bergoglian pontificate, particularly as it was manifesting itself at the time at the Vatican’s “Synods on the Family”. I kept going for a few years as more and more really quite terrifying information came my way. But after a certain point - and a few personal disasters that had nothing to do with the Church at all - I began to be more confident that the effort of warning the world had more or less been accomplished. While it was good to know that a critical mass of the public had been made aware, it really did drain the energy out of writing about it. One can only be an outrage-machine for so long, and at that point, I just didn’t see any benefit in continuing.
Another reason was the climate of online writing, particularly on Catholic Church subjects, had changed significantly; it was just getting too toxic. As the energy drained out of my motivation, as I grew more bored and disgusted than outraged at the antics of this manifestly evil pope and his horrible minions, as it became more clear that the people interested knew what they needed to know, I also became less and less eager to face the seething, screeching world of online Catholics - especially those who seemed to consider me some sort of rival. On the one side we had the Catholic Traditionalist Trollverse, constantly trawling the internet to find “gotcha!” moments… literally, seriously, screencapping and filing away tweets and blog posts to remove from context and use as weapons… because that’s not psychotic at all… And on the other the ever-growing threat of the Woke Mob prowling about the internet seeking whom to devour. The atmosphere had changed completely since the early days of blogging, when a writer just set up a Blogspot site, and could use it to throw out ideas and have mostly polite conversations.
In 2004, the poisonous miasma of screeching rage, finger-pointing, envy and raw hatred - not to mention “doxing” - had not yet become the leading characteristic of online discussion. But in the last year or so, we have to add the danger of “de-platforming” and “demonetising” to the whole business, if you should say the wrong pronoun or mention some belief that is not approved by our moral and political betters in Big Tech. People who mention the US election or Covid and come to some unapproved conclusion are being threatened and sometimes - if their audience share is big enough - even losing painstakingly built businesses. And this, all together, is what has driven a lot of people with Ideas back onto email lists - which are at least somewhat less open to the Big-Brotherish all-seeing lidless eye of the Billionaire Oligarchs in California. Substack is really just a fancier and more slick version of the old email lists we used to have before Facebook took over the universe.
Between my loss of interest in the Bergoglian debacle, my disgust with the ongoing state of collapse of the Church and my disinclination to make myself more depressed and downcast about them, and the growing horrors of the feral world of online interaction, I just dropped it all. But since losing my home, town, monastery and all my social interaction in the aftermath of the 2016 Norcia earthquakes, I’ve found myself increasingly turning in on myself. 2020 and Covid lockdowns - of which Italy had the distinction of being first, most restrictive and longest outside China - have sent me almost into a spiral of depression and anxiety, in which fighting off despair has become my nearly daily, hourly, task. I don’t know about you, but I really need to reach out.
I don’t mind admitting, in this new situation where quite a lot of people seem to be thinking similar thoughts, that for the first time, I’m scared. I’m scared of the dystopian world that seems to be getting created right in front of our eyes every day. 20 years ago, when I was first starting to pay close attention, I had long conversations with my colleagues about where those currents were going to flow. We saw then that the sides were lining up for some kind of horrific conflict, and that it was global. There was almost nowhere in the world *It* wasn’t happening. The Church seemed to collapse first, and in the last few years the World has dived off the cliff as well. And how do we live in all that? How are we going to manage in the world being created? How are we going to cope psychologically and spiritually, or even simply materially?
Alert Readers may have noticed that I have become interested in Jordan Peterson’s ideas. One of these is his belief that writing is one of the most important therapeutic tools we have - you can write your way to self -understanding, he says. And I think that may be the underlying intention I have had all this time. I don’t want to bore my audience with egoism and introspection, but there do seem to be themes and ideas that I’ve written about that have resonated with some people. At least, so they’ve said many times. A while ago in a conversation with the Oblate Master of my monastery, Father said that a good thing to focus the mind on is the question, “How can I help?” It has not got past me that a great many other people are increasingly in similar circumstances, and maybe I can try to help. At least a little.
So here’s what you can do. First, subscribe. I’m just this evening figuring out the nuts and bolts of this site, how it works and how to create email lists and subscriptions and all that. At some point I’ll get it all sorted and there will be a twice-weekly mailing.
Second, comment. Let’s talk. If you’re scared too, if you don’t really understand what’s going on in the larger sense, if you just want to vent a little… I’m here. So are a bunch of us. It’s safe. No one will be mean to you.
As for “monetisation,” well, of course I have a motivation there too. I haven’t had a paying gig since leaving LifeSite in 2015, and when I stopped the WUWTS blog, it cut more or less my entire regular income that was coming from quarterly funders - about US 24,000/year. What I hope to do here is provide some value - create a product worth paying for by subscribers, and to have that supplement what I make from painting and writing about art elsewhere. Think pieces, research and material of interest on a broad variety of topics. At the moment, this Substack site is set up to work only with an online banking alternative that I am still trying to work out how to use. Right now I’ve hit a roadblock because it’s impossible to use the Stripe platform if your bank is in Toronto and phone number in Italy. Ex-pats live a strangely peripheral life and in all this time I haven’t ever had an Italian bank account. So for the moment, I’ll just be adding a note at the bottom reminding readers that I have an active PayPal button, with a link. (And right now, with the ten Euros I just put on my phone, my account is in double-digits, so I could use some help there, to be honest.) One step at a time, eh?
If we can’t get together in Norcia for beers, let’s do at least what we can from our separate bubbles. This thing is not controlled by the Big Tech corporate monster. Email isn’t being listened in on. I figure most people are fed up with Social Media - “Soc-Meds” - and want to find some way to get off, but often feel that in our increasing isolation, they’re all we’ve got to keep in touch with each other. So, let’s give this a go, and see if it helps.