What I’ve learned about newslettering
Reflections as Parent of Adults approaches its first anniversary, and what's brewing for Year 2.
In 2018, I got an unexpectedly big royalty check in the mail. Instead of defaulting to my habitual, slightly-anxious frugality, I made what felt like the revolutionary choice to spend it on a dream: landscaping my back yard with the help of my genius designer friend, Darcy.
I’m a plant nerd, but arranging everything into a garden that suits the plants and the space is an art. Darcy’s gardens are beautiful, practical, and particular to the Pacific Northwest. I handed her the check and said, “what can we do with this?”
What we “did” was spend that late summer and fall turning my back yard into a colorful sanctuary geared toward birds and pollinators.
In the years since, my garden has been a constant source of pleasure, solace, and discovery. I work there, I rest there. But mostly, I observe. I watch the birds, bugs, and squirrels. I smell the jasmine and daphne and taste the blueberries and listen to the trickle of the fountain. I watch plants grow, die, and interact in ways I didn’t plan or intend.
My garden is a landscaped space, but its wildness reminds me I was never really in charge.
Which brings me to this newsletter.
This is Parent of Adults by Asha Dornfest, a newsletter & mellow community for parents of young adults. Become a free or paid subscriber:
The wildness of creativity
When I sent out the first issue of Parent of Adults in August 2022, I had a good idea about what I wanted to build and why. I’d made it through some cataclysmic years + the empty nest transition and was standing on relatively firm ground. I had many unanswered questions about what lay ahead, but how to write a newsletter wasn’t one of them. I didn’t expect miracles, but I was pretty sure I’d figure it out as I went along.
For the most part, I have. But I forgot about the wildness of any creative project.
Past experience doesn’t predict the future. Anyone who has parented more than one kid can attest to that.
I had to develop a new vocabulary.
I thought I’d just jump back in to writing. But there is no going back, is there? This new empty nest life in this new post-COVID, post-2016, post-grief world required new language.
And the firm ground I was standing on in August 2022? Turns out I needed a new map.
I had to change my habits.
The last few years have
obliterated transformed my rhythms and routines. I’ve had to construct a flow that fits my new life while pushing me to grow (“Do what I did before” didn’t work.).
I had to get more disciplined about daily writing. I had to prioritize my health and relationships by getting more efficient with my work. And I had to get better at protecting my focus. This is all very much ongoing.
I had to face some fears.
I’ve written about how healing can turn into hiding. But I’ve also grappled with the vulnerability of telling personal stories. This newsletter isn’t a tell-all, but it is a snapshot of my experience as the parent of young adults. My kids, mom, friends, extended family, and future loved ones may be surprised to learn things about me they don’t already know.
I had to dig deeper into Substack.
A Substack newsletter is a specific genre. It resembles an email newsletter, a blog, and a social media profile, but it’s more than any of those things and it continues to evolve. Learning the technical and cultural ropes takes time. Getting the details right is surprisingly subtle and complex (at least it has been for me).
I had to loosen my grip on my identities.
“Writer,” “mother,” “wife,” “daughter,” and “friend” mean different things than they did before. Certainly before 2019, but even before I launched this newsletter. I’m less sure of myself now, but in every arena of my life, I’m more willing to say, “let’s just try this and see what happens.”
I’ve had to give myself some grace.
As a result, I’ve spent 11 months fiddling with this newsletter’s format, timing, and approach. My head knows experimentation is good, but my gut feels anything less than a bullseye is a broken promise.
Isn’t it strange how we cheer others on as they learn in public but we so easily shame ourselves? I’ve had to accept my own fallibility and reframe the messiness as part of our journey together.
What’s ahead in Year 2
Here’s where I’m supposed to say and now I’m wiser and have it all figured out. WELL, SURPRISE!
I’m still working out the details but I am sure about the direction we’re headed, which is…
…less me, more us.
Details to follow in the coming weeks, but here’s a glimpse:
For paid subscribers: a new community feature that will allow you to guide our discussions and tap into our collective wisdom.
For free subscribers: comments on public posts are permanently open and ENTHUSIASTICALLY encouraged.
For everyone: fun perks for referring friends.
I can’t believe our first anniversary is almost here. Whether you’ve been here all along or are just reading for the first time, thank you, thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this.
I’d love to hear what you’d like to see here in Year 2. Questions, suggestions, feedback…whatever you got.