What is Examined Family, again?
A re-orientation for subscribers, lurkers, and loiterers alike
I got nice news yesterday.
That’s a checkmark I can be proud of.
It’s been awhile since I joined Substack and created this here newsletter/community. Maybe some of you are like, “I like what this lady is up to, but I’m not exactly sure how I got here?” (Trust me, I feel the same way many days.) Seems like a good time to go over the basics. (And shout out to Evil Witches for modeling how to do this so well.)
Examined Family the newsletter
Examined Family is a newsletter for people who get all twisted up inside about the brokenness of the world, and wonder how to actually live in it, loving and humble, but brave as hell.
It’s a twist on “the examined life,” which is what my favorite professor in college (shout out Dennis Dalton, one of the most dedicated commenters in this community!) told me was worth living (he stole it from Plato). The family part is because I’m a mother. Parenting comes with a whole new raft of questions and that’s part of what I’m yammering on about here much of the time.
My sense is that a lot of the dedicated readers of this newsletter are parents, and grandparents, but also a lot of people without children of their own that are more interested in my ethical meanderings than the maternal ones. I love that. I like writing for moms, and I also feel like there is so much that I’m drawn to describe and address that has little to do with my identity as a mother. Like rage and end-of-year reflections and intellectual humility. (For more on being someone other than a mother, even if you are a mother, see another favorite Substack, Good for You News.)
Here are the parts of Examined Family each week:
Wednesday essay (or the occasional poem)
Friday Q&A with an activist, author, or whoever I find interesting
Sunday 5 - a list of five endorsements of things I think you might have missed and be really into (articles, podcasts, movies, TV shows, that sort of thing)
Examined Family the community
The goal of Examined Family is for readers to think in new and fresh ways, feel optimally uncomfortable and unconditionally loved, learn from one another’s brilliance, and feel like they are investing in a little piece of the world they want to live in. Which is to say, a world where the “expert” (me!) is also just a wandering, wondering soul, who happens to have a gift for putting some things into words and seeing where they land with you, a world where children are taken seriously as maladapted geniuses, a world where elders are honored, a world where homogeneity is railed against and the inextinguishable abundance of community is revered, a world where there is as much beauty as tragedy, a world where anything (seriously anything) could be worth looking closer at in a newsletter.
I read every single comment. I mean it. Every. Single. One. That’s how I’ve gotten to know strangers like Fritzie and Asha and Brian and so many others who have so many insightful layers to add to my little foundation. I love our comments section. For those who are too intimidated to jump in, please consider it! It’s an unusually civil place as comment sections go, like we’re all just a bunch of misfits sitting around a fire having a too serious a conversation at a dinner party where every else is doing shots of tequila.
All newsletter subscribers, free and paid, can expect weekly essays and interviews.
Paid subscribers also get the Sunday endorsements (which they really seem to love, FYI.) And they contribute to our “giving circle” of sorts; I ask each Q&A respondent to identify a nonprofit organization and we collectively give $250 in honor of them.
But the real reason to pay for a subscription, as I see it, has little do with the endorsements. It’s more about who you are, what financial capacity you have, and how you think about investing in the artists you are nourished by. Case in point: I just read Easy Beauty on loan from the library. And the book FRICKIN’ BLEW MY MIND. So the next time I was at a bookstore, I bought the book as a way to support the author, and because I was hoping to either keep it like a safety blanket of inspiration next to my desk, or loan it out (which I quickly did because my bestie was leaving on retreat and needed the perfect book and this was it).
In other words, subscribe for goodness sakes! And if you’ve got the money and you like aligning your spending with your inspiration/nourishment—please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.
And if you’re like me, and just love to share the things you love, you can also give a gift subscription. A bunch of my most avid readers are, in fact, people who were given Examined Family as a gift and that just warms my already feverish heart.
Of course, plenty of us are struggling with money right now. If that’s the case, and you’re digging reading for free, perfect. You can love on me through comments or sharing this with others you think might like it. And if you are dying for the endorsements and can’t afford a subscription, just let me know. The qualification is pretty complicated: are you a human? Oh, good. It’s yours. (Even if you are a mangy dog or a miniature horse, let’s be honest, you’re getting a scholarship.) Oh, and you can also donate a subscription!
Who I am
I’m Courtney E. Martin, a writer living in a cohousing community in Oakland, CA.
This Substack is sort of the culmination of 20 years of my writing, thinking, questioning, researching, community-building, pattern-keeping, screwing up, starting again, showing up, showing up, showing up.
I’ve written multi-year columns for This American Prospect and On Being, and multi-part investigative series on care and the racial wealth gap for The New York Times. I was part of the founding crew at Feministing (the era in which I once debated Bill O’Reilly on live television with at least a pound of make-up on my face). Deep cut:
I co-founded the Solutions Journalism Network and FRESH. I’ve written a bunch of books, including most recently, Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from my Daughter’s School. Here’s my bud Garrett Bucks and I discussing it (you should really subscribe to Buck’s Substack, too!):
I co-hosted a podcast on problem solving with the brilliant Nguhi Mwaura:
I’ve done fancy shit, like gotten an honorary Ph.D. (my kids remember their dad getting a pink bunny in the grabber machine at the Denny’s more than my commencement address, so don’t worry about me getting too big for my britches on this one) and given TED talks and blabbedy blah muckety muck.
But what I’m most proud of is my relationships, my listening, and my willingness to always rewrite my own stories about goodness, success, pleasure, justice, and bravery. (I will not ever rewrite my story about fancy cupcakes, which is that they are overrated.) I grew up in one of the most conservative places in America (Colorado Springs) and I have lived in the most progressive places in America (New York City for 15 years and, now, Oakland for 10), and I know that everyone’s shit stinks.
I learn a lot from so many people—other writers and neighbors, parents and teachers at my kids’ school, readers and friends and people who I wish were my friends (you probably fall into this category)—but my best teachers are Maya and Stella, my 9 and 6-year old daughters, who couldn’t be more different from one another and couldn’t be more free and creative and hilarious.
Thanks so much for reading Examined Family. If you have questions or feedback, or suggestions for the newsletter you can reply to this email or talk to me on Twitter. I’m especially wondering these kinds of things:
Would you like me to create forums, like some Substack-ers do, where they simply frame up a question for the audience and let it rip? Or maybe utilize the new chat function in the Substack app that was just released?
Do you like audio essays or poems? Want more or less?
We did one pop up books club (on Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder) and it was super fun. Should we do more of those?
I’ve also thought about running entire classes through Substack - like maybe one on writing and the examined life. I’m imagining some written curriculum and then weekly live zoom sessions for like a month. Would you be into that?
Any topics you wish I explored in this space?
One last time, I hope you consider becoming a paid subscriber, if even just for a month.
A shout-out on social media if you love the newsletter would be great.