2023 in Review
Looking back, looking forward
Earlier this year, an editor friend made a comment to me about “where you’d like to be at in your career,” by which she meant my writing career. It made me laugh a little, because my first thought was, “Wait, I have a career?”
But on reflection, I suppose I do now. This recently came home to me in a nice little exchange with a health insurance representative. As I wrapped up loose ends on my plan choice, I confirmed that I was a self-employed writer. “You’re a writer?” the rep asked, genuinely interested. Yes, I said, that’s all I do these days—just write. “Wow!” he said, “You made it!”
When I started this Substack, I wasn’t even writing under my own name, because I assumed it would only ever be something I did for spare change on the side, while I spent most of my time at my Real Job. Eventually, I decided it was better to just be myself. But I still had a Real Job too, namely teaching, which brought me great joy (albeit not much cash).
Teaching may yet be my Real Job again. But circumstances conspired to make this the year when writing itself became that Real Job, from an opinion column to a screenplay commission to the slow but steady growth of this little Substack. And even though next year might not bring all the same opportunities, I’ve realized that as long as I can still make Michigan rent, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
What exactly does that mean now? Well, among other things, it means I owe all you subscribers a lot of thanks. As I write, my projected income from paid subscriptions is covering said Michigan rent plus change. But I’m not just talking about money. So many of you have commented, left notes, and sent encouraging messages about what my corner of the Internet means to you. I can’t really articulate what this means to me. You never know how your encouragement will find a writer when you send it. This year, yours happened to find me in particular need of encouragement. All I can say in response is that it’s a privilege to write for you, and I only wish I had written a little more consistently this year. At one point, I became so busy with other work that I paused my paid subscriptions for a couple of weeks. Watching the behavior of the little graph that tracks my income was an excellent lesson in small business economics, one I was glad to learn but would rather not repeat.
These days, everybody has a Substack, and for a number of you wide readers, I’m just one of many on a long list. Substack allows me to charge no less than $5 per month, but I can make annual subscriptions as affordable as I like. The regular price is currently $40, with occasional sale price of $30 (still going!) I’m not going to pretend that I’m able to give you all as much bang for your buck as Bari Weiss’s Free Press or Andrew Sullivan’s Weekly Dish. Still, this coming year, I want to continue making sure that if you’re giving me your money, you’re getting your money’s worth. This year, I tended to average one piece of paid subscriber-exclusive content per week. That’s something I’d like to keep up, and perhaps increase.
I’m also exploring ideas for a Substack-integrated podcast in the mold of what Louise Perry does at her Substack Maiden Mother Matriarch. The idea would be to keep much of the content free (because I don’t simply want to disappear behind a paywall), but reserve some exclusive content that would be of real value to paying subscribers. For example, if I’m hosting conversations with interesting guests, I might make the first hour of our dialogue free, then reserve the final half hour. To fill the weeks in between, I could share some “bonus” musings of my own. While recognizing that I’m probably the last woman in the world who doesn’t have a podcast, I’d like to think some of you out there might find this a mildly interesting prospect. I’m leaving comments open for anyone who wants to add thoughts here. What would you like to see? What would you like to hear?
Meanwhile, thank you all again, so much. If you’ve gotten something from my work so far, and you feel it’s worth investing in for the coming year, I hope you won’t be disappointed. And as always, if you can’t afford $30 or $40 a year, let me know.
Below the button, please enjoy a little review of some of the work I was most happy with this year, in case you missed it—or, as my friend Ben Sixsmith likes to tease, in case you ignored it. Columns marked with an asterisk are paid subscriber-exclusive.
February: “Heaven’s High,” my curmudgeonly-but-soft-hearted-Anglican take on the Asbury revival.
Also in February, for First Things, “Killing Dead Name,” my review of a chilling new documentary on child gender transition.
My favorite exclusive piece this month was “Life’s Little Day”[*] prompted by some tragic headlines about a couple suffering through pregnancy with a disability diagnosis. My mind went back to it recently during the controversy around this case in Texas. In the piece, I offer by way of example the story of a Christian couple I know who lived through that tragedy and provided a holy model.
March: “Healing Streams”[*], a long read on Lonnie Frisbee, Aimee Semple McPherson, and the mystery of faith healings.
Also in March, I launched a fun series called “Christian Dreams” reflecting on the history of the “God conversation” from the Enlightenment to the present, which has been a hot topic this year. Part I is free, as is Part III (an old essay by my father), but Part II and Part IV are paywalled.
April: “Day of Horrors,” on the Covenant School shooting, one of my most-read pieces of the year.
Also in May, I had some thoughts on the passing of New York pastor Tim Keller at The Federalist.
June: June was a very good month, so I’ll link a few different things here. Probably my favorite piece overall was “The Watermelon,” a very well-received slice of people-watching from my Saturday in a community kitchen. Then for paid subscribers, “Fire of Our Fathers,”[*] on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I joke that I have a habit of discovering famous people after they’re dead. True to form, I discovered Cormac McCarthy late, but better late than never.
June is Pride Month, of course, so I wanted to write a few things that might be more interesting than the usual schlock that gets circulated this time of year. Surprisingly popular was my retro review of the niche Anglican work Letters of a Christian Homosexual, an anonymous young writer’s “sexual autobiography.” I also looked back at two gay-themed films, Victim[*] and And the Band Played On[*] (which turned 30 this year).
July: “Based On a True Story,” some reflections on watching the surprise hit movie Sound of Freedom. I was fascinated by the story, but I also wondered how much of it was true.
August: “Lifting Up the Lowly,” my cover story on the persecuted Indian church for the August issue of World magazine. This is the single piece I was proudest of this year, and in fact it’s probably the piece I’m proudest of in my career so far. It is dedicated to a dear friend who is on the ground serving the poorest of the poor, and I’m happy to say that this story has raised significant awareness and funds to help him keep on doing so.
Also in August, “All Our Guilty Stains,” my Stack review of Oppenheimer. I had thoughts of reviewing Barbie as well but lost interest. What can I say? I guess I’m not a Barbie girl.
September: Both J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis marked round deathaversaries this year. I wrote something short on Tolkien’s 50th for World Opinions. Also for World Opinions, I wrote about the trial and imprisonment of several progressive pro-life activists, whose crime was peacefully protesting the operation of an abortion clinic in Washington, D. C.
Popular this month at the Stack, “All the Single Ladies,” some personal reflections on a viral TikTok video and female singleness.
October: The October 7 massacres in Israel filled my feed and took over my writing for the month. My most-read piece was my first, “While Rachel Weeps.” For paid subscribers, among other reflections, I offered this meditation on the problem of prayer.
November: Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s conversion sparked some happier discourse this month. My contribution, “Why You Should be a Christian,” seemed to resonate.
This month marked C. S. Lewis’s 60th deathaversary, for which I threw in a few thoughts here. I wished I’d found the time to say more, but considering that he’s inspired this Substack’s name, logo, and general oeuvre, I had to say something.
My favorite exclusive piece this month was “Jesus, Meek and Wild”[*], reflecting on Jesus as people see him versus Jesus as he is.
Also in November, I covered the sad case of baby Indi Gregory in the UK for World Opinions.
December: I reviewed my friend Justin Brierley’s book The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God, which does a nice job summing up the state of “God conversation” to date. You can also hear my commentary throughout the long-form podcast that goes with it, which has found a wide listening audience.
For paid subscribers, I really enjoyed writing “Shane MacGowan’s Vision of the Street”[*] in which I once again discover a famous artist only after he is dead. I also put together some stray thoughts on A Man for All Seasons, inspired by my invitation to discuss the play on National Review’s Great Books podcast.
There’s more where all this came from, but I hope you enjoy (or enjoyed) some of these highlights. Thank you all for reading. See you next year!