Exploiting our Archives, Paternity Break Edition The Struggle

 When the chips are down, got me feeling like Charlie Brown. 

When the chips are down, got me feeling like Charlie Brown. 

Well, folks. As of today, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place is officially ten months old. In just two months it will have its first anniversary. It’s been an amazing journey that has completely changed my life and my career and empowered me in ways I never could have imagined. I wake up every morning excited to share what I have with the world. 

In the space of just ten months, I feel like I’ve built something special, something unique, something that could only be the product of my particular brain and my particular set of life experiences. It felt like when I launched Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place I found an escape hatch from the icky commercial demands of pop culture media, with its unrelenting emphasis on page-views and revenue and ads and going viral. 

I had no idea what a control freak I was until I had an opportunity to write and control every facet of my website, with the exception of my sister-in-law Romy Maloon, who designed the website, and my Happy Cast co-host Clint Worthington, who handles everything involved with producing, editing and uploading Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast.

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As much as I love my website and the people who make it possible for me to devote such an unhealthy, borderline pathological amount of time and energy and enthusiasm to it, I feel like I hit a brick wall a while back in terms of page-views and Patreon and popularity. I guess I was hoping at some point a metaphorical strong wind would carry this website from its current state to that proverbial next level that rappers speak of, or at least they did in the 1990s, when I last paid attention to music.  

Instead, while I could not be prouder of the site, I feel like commercially it’s plateaued in a way that makes me feel like I need to promote every article, and the Patreon, and my whole weird, fragile-seeming career as aggressively as possible or the slow/non-existent growth it’s experiencing now will turn into substantive losses in terms of page-views and Patreon and then the whole thing will start to unravel. And that fucking sucks. The repressed, self-conscious Midwesterner in me feels guilty about both promoting my work so relentlessly and feeling like I need to engage in relentless self-promotion just to keep my head above water. 

For example, I set what I thought was a realistic goal of one hundred dollars in new or increased pledges a month and for a while hit that goal. Over the last couple of months, however, the new pledges have slowed and the deletions have increased, along with the credit card charges that don’t go through every month to the point I’m pretty sure that I actually lost money last month. That’s probably going to happen again this month: so far, we have 40.34 in new pledges from 10 patrons but once those 50 to 70 dollars in declined charges go through, that 40 plus becomes something closer 30 dollars in the negative. I’m fine with slow growth but the idea of my income decreasing month by month, even a little bit, is disconcerting 

The upside to making the majority of your income dependent on fans who’ve read and supported you for years, if not decades, is that when someone pledges money it’s a wonderful form of affirmation and validation. It feels like the universe is saying, “Right on, buddy! Keep on doing what you do!” The downside to this, of course, is that when those deletions happen, the apocalyptic part of my brain begins brooding, “Oh my God, people don’t believe in you anymore! You’re failing your readers and that’s why they’re abandoning you!” 

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I know I shouldn’t take things so personally but it’s hard not to, particularly when your livelihood seems so fragile and you write about your demons and your pain so extensively.

I know what my strengths are. I can write like a motherfucker. I love to write. It brings me joy. It makes me feel alive. I’m an idea man. I’m insanely prolific and incredibly passionate about what I do. 

But I also know what my strengths aren’t, and sometimes day-dream about a scenario where I could just write and write and write and then someone gifted in those fields could market my writing and copy-edit my writing and make sure that everything looks as shiny and polished and professional as possible. 

I would benefit from help but I also know that I am bad at asking for help and equally bad at accepting help. I’ve always had a weird love/hate relationship with money and success. When I look at the Analytics, something I do way too often, and way too compulsively, and see that they’re down those doubting voices reappear in my head. It’s hard not to obsess on the dispassionate email killing My World of Flops at The A.V Club listing “the ever changing needs of the pop culture landscape” and “declining page-views” as the reason the most popular thing I’d ever created needed to be, to borrow their euphemism, “retired.”

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Over the course of 21 years in the pop culture media I’ve deeply internalized the message that if you aren’t continually growing in popularity then you’re fucked. After all, declining page-views killed My World of Flops at a site I wrote for for twenty years. Insufficient growth and popularity (and a need to wipe money-losing divisions off the books in anticipation of an upcoming sale to Conde Naste) killed The Dissolve two years in. Even though I know the expectations are different with my website, it’s hard to turn off the conditioning that insists that unless you’re constantly getting bigger, you won’t survive, or you'll become a husk of what you once were. 

Here’s the thing: I love, love, love making this site. It's goddamn life-affirming, is what it is. I just wish that I was better at managing the sometimes overwhelming anxiety that comes with it. 

You know the drill: y’all can totes pledge at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace