They Say It's Our Birthday
Slack Tide turns one
Apologies for the discordant, celebratory tone of this headline. I realize the world is falling apart. Then again, when isn’t it? As we write, the news is chock-full of violence, treachery, deception, familial breakdown, stupidity, and hypocrisy. And that’s just the Herschel Walker story! But as the very name of this site suggests (Slack Tide in case you’re disoriented from all your other subscriptions), we build in a certain slackitude here. That’s by design. We are often on the news, but not completely of it, meaning we reserve our right to also run the other way. And by “we,” I mean me, since I’m the only one here.
Fleeing the news might sound like an odd thing for a professional opinion-slinger to suggest. But don’t let that notion panic you. The bad news will still be here tomorrow, when you return to it. The cynicism merchants who sell you non-stop fear have endless inventory. They will never suffer supply-chain shortages. But the cleanest way to stay sane does not come from constantly submerging yourself in maximum insanity. Too often, we wallow in the undesirable, which is where most of our problems start. It irritates us. It agitates us. It causes us to react to people who don’t have our best interests at heart, instead of acting in the interests of our higher selves, with whom too many of us remain unacquainted.
Often, this is because of the media we consume. This is not to say you should be disengaged. But to say that if you don’t take measures to preserve your sanity, engaging with current events as yet another bug-eyed inmate in the insane asylum isn’t going to help matters. Our balance and perspective, our critical distance and awareness of absurdities - these are always the first things to go in the short slide to insanity. The best way to keep your country in good shape is to do the same for your own head. The more sane people who populate this place – who don’t give in to madness and passing ideological fevers – the better chance we all have of preserving something that is most definitely worth saving.
All of which is a long way around the barn of saying happy birthday/anniversary to us. One year ago today, I launched this thing of ours. It might feel longer ago than that to you. It often feels longer ago than that to me. (It was 227,597 published words ago, but who’s counting? If anyone wants to share the burden and knock out a few of these columns, DM me.) On the other hand, time flies while you’re watching civilization collapse. Yet in my experience, time also tends to fly when you do what you’re supposed to be doing. A fair sign that you’re in the right place.
My Substack gurus tell me a first-anniversary post is one in which I should restate my principles. If I ever get any of those, you’ll be the first to know. Likewise, they say, you should underscore your mission statement. Those of you who’ve been here a while know that I’m the sort of person who abhors mission statements, which too often come to reflect the opposite of their original intent. (See Google’s “Don’t be evil.”) If I wanted to fit my readership with the cement shoes of a mission statement, I’d have become a corporate flack instead of becoming what some have called a legendary fly fisherman/thought leader, a poet in prose, and a co-equal partner in the search for truth. (Reader Michael Trosino called me that – after I slipped him a fifty.)
If we did fashion anything like a mission statement, it might have been the site’s tagline: “Taking life as it comes, not necessarily in that order.” I’d inserted that as a half-assed placeholder when launching Slack Tide, but it seemed to accurately reflect what we do here, so I left it. I’m not pretending we never jump into the mosh pit to throw elbows and crack the teeth of the usual suspects. I’ve tooled on Joe Biden for being a couple decades past his prime, and on Donald Trump for being himself, along with his diabolical elves who do his overturning-democracy handiwork. But sometimes, we go for the bank-shot surprise. Here’s a piece in which I dismount my moral high horse long enough to admit that while I argue endlessly with my MAGA-addled father, he’s still the better man.
But of course, life is much larger than merely assigning blame to whichever politician is presently steering the country into a ditch. Which is why we try to get after just about everything: from music to dogs to obsessive fish-counting to magic on the river to good writing to saying goodbye to dead subjects and to old friends like P.J. O’Rourke to the sanctuary of the front porch to the sanctity of fishing hats to whether God has a problem to how bugs with the light of God in their asses can illuminate your darkness. We stood against performing monkeys and glorifying obesity, we stood for graciousness and cheerfulness. We didn’t know where to stand on Christian furries, but we wrote about them anyway. We sometimes go to strange places in these essays. Our most viewed piece of the last year observed how a massive melee after a sirloin shortage at the Golden Corral was a mirror for our uglified souls. Proving, as if we needed any more evidence, that Americans can’t get enough of fistfights and all-you-can-eat buffets. Actually having a fistfight at an all-you-can-eat-buffet? That’s just too good for most to pass up. We examined bluebirds and Tony Soprano and the book of Job and suicide and loss – and that was all in the same piece, one of the most personal I’ve ever written, Kind of Blue: God and Man and Bluebirds.
If you’re still with me after all those hyperlinks, I keep saying “we” for two reasons.
1. I sound like a narcissistic jackass when repeatedly saying “I.”
2. This site isn’t just about me, it’s about we. And there is no “I” in “we.” Though there is an “I” in “Wei,” as patrons of the Pei Wei Asian Kitchen will attest. (I recommend the firecracker chicken.)
I don’t mean to turn public-television pledge driver here. To the extent that I do, there will be no giveaway tote bags. (Though on the upside, neither will there be any John Tesh Live at Red Rocks concerts.) But without your continued support in the form of paid subscriptions, this site isn’t a living for me, but a vanity project. One that I would quickly abandon like so many of my former vanity projects, from my sock-puppet theater troupe to my Stryper cover-band, Rahab and the Harlots.
But financial support isn’t the only kind you’ve lent. A bonus surprise for me is that I’ve been graced with some of the most engaged, thoughtful, good-humored readers I’ve ever had. And I’ve been writing in public my entire adult life. When I launched, I nearly didn’t include a comments section. As all writers know, comments sections tend to be the cesspools of the internet, filled with cranks, axe-grinders, and sociopaths of all stripes. I wouldn’t typically go near one – not without a rabies shot.
But Slack Tide’s comments section, I’m proud to say, has regularly been one of the most civilized places on the internet. Partly, that’s because I ruthlessly bounce abusive bullies. But that’s almost never necessary. Not even when discussing heated topics, like abortion. (I have readers who fall on both sides of that issue.) In fact, I’ve been so moved by my own readers that I’ve even written a couple pieces on them. Here’s one in which a reader tried to buy a subscription for another who’d fallen on hard times. (I kept the aspiring benefactor’s name on background in that piece, but it rhymes with “Michael Trosino.”) And here’s another - a good-natured tussle I had with reader Tom Missler, an atheist who told me he was dying in hospice, and didn’t know how long he had, but who still wanted to buy a sub. I told him I’d comp him. But a paid receipt showed up from him anyway. And then we went to town in an email exchange on belief vs. unbelief, which you can read here. Despite my best efforts, Tom’s still an atheist, and still with us (thank God). I told him I’d say a prayer for him anyway. He told me to go ahead, figuring there’s no harm in hedging his bets.
You’ll sometimes find Tom in the comments section (always available to paid subscribers, as is every paywalled piece and the entire archive). And you’ll often find me there, kicking life around with people I’ve never met, but some of whom I already feel like I’ve known for decades.
So thanks sincerely for that, readers. The best gifts are usually the ones we don’t see coming. Even some of you atheists have restored my faith……..in humanity. These aren’t easy days for most people. And yet I’m reminded of Paul’s words in One Corinthians, as Mr. Trump would put it: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.
Sure, it’s been a hard year for plenty since we started up this thing of ours. But there was a lot of goodness to be found in it, too. So let’s have another…
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Housekeeping: Substack has just added a new feature, which I have activated. While I always encourage you to share what you read here on your Facebook, Twitter, and OnlyFans pages (I’m not on social media, and yet, I ask you to be on my behalf, because my hypocrisy knows no bounds), there is now an additional and very direct way you can share what you read here. Substack’s Reader Referral now allows paid subscribers to bestow a trial subscription on up to five of their friends. At the end of your friends’ trial, they’ll be given the option to sign up if they wish, though if they walk away, that’s fine too. No skin off your nose either way. Or theirs. They will not be auto-charged if they ignore it all. Nor will you. No credit card is even asked for. If they decide to sign up at the end of the trial, they can do so on their own. (This is different than outright buying a subscription for friends, which you can also still do on the “give a gift subscription” button above.) All you have to do is nothing. In the coming days/weeks, Substack (not me) will send many of you an email invite to their Gift Rewards page, where you click into your account and then enter up to five names and email addresses of people to whom you’d like to send a one-month gift subscription, free of charge, along with a personal message if you wish. If you have any questions, or any questions for our “Ask Matt” feature, I’m always at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bonus Track: There’s really no choice on our anniversary but to play “Let’s Stay Together.” It’s out of my hands. You should always listen to Reverend Al, whenever possible (Green, not Sharpton). Many refer to me as the Al Green of Substack, and it’s probably obvious why. There are many striking similarities: we both love JC, Memphis soul, and outfits that require no shirt (see below video). Of course, Green did stay together with his first wife, Minnie. Perhaps a little too long, as she once accused him in court of beating her with a boot while she was five months pregnant for the crime of not having sex with him. I don’t want to set the bar too high, but I think we can do better than Rev. Al and Minnie. In any case, thanks, in advance, for staying together with me for another year. Or month-to-month if you have commitment issues.