When I started May I Recommend, I went to a lot of trouble to remove as many audience indicators as I could from my radar. I knew from past experience that if I could see analytics such as opens, clicks, subscribes and unsubscribes I couldn’t help but fixate on them, re-reading my letters wondering why one got opened more than another, why this one prompted a dozen unsubscribes or that one didn’t get as many click-throughs. I wanted to banish cold numbers completely and pretend I was writing just for myself, unless I got notes back from real humans (which I often do, and every one delights me!). The only number that I couldn’t find a way to hide from myself was the total amount of subscribers, but I eventually made peace with that. The effect was like talking on the phone late at night in the dark. I could hear soft breathing on the line, and occasionally a murmured response, but in the darkness I could talk freely without the weight of eyes.
As more callers joined the line (thanks in large part to Robin and Edith, y’all are the best), I started wondering about the people on the other end. Who are you? Where are you in the world? What do you eat for breakfast? This is why I conducted a readership census, and much of the reason I decided to switch up the format of my whole newsletter into Good Question: fortnightly survey responses on low-stakes, open-ended questions.
If the census responses are any indication, this was a fantastic decision. This readership, I learned, is chockablock full of thoughtful, fascinating, eloquent humans around the world with intriguing browser tabs and lovely things to say. Here is the data I got back on YOU (specifically, the 80 of you who responded):
You hail from around the world (!) with an unsurprising concentration in Chicago and the eastern seaboard of the United States. (Click through for an interactive version where you can zoom in and mouse over the dots.)
You are mostly in your thirties, with a long tail into the 60s, which I somehow find very flattering.
You mostly identify as women, and use a variety of terms and labels to describe yourselves.
In response to my demand that you tell me something nice, you massively overdelivered. My heart grew three sizes, Grinch-style, every time I read a new wave of submissions. Many of you had incredibly kind things to say about my newsletter; I can’t thank you enough. And so many of you had delightful things to say about your lives and the world! Some adopted puppies (my favorite names: Lupin, Spencer, Juniper aka Junebug 😭). Some were getting joy out of holiday decorations (my favorite comment: “It maybe turned out a little bit Melania T.-esque but I’m going with it.”). Here is a smattering of other excellent nice things, grouped into a few themes:
Nature updates around the world
“It is currently 30 degrees C in Melbourne and I am sitting here thinking about going to the beach.”
“It rained this morning. Everything was cool and crisply wet. The smell was like a sigh from the dirt.”
“The tide is going out right now.”
Due to the decline in cruise ship activity in 2020, the oceans were quieter than they have been in decades, which provided a unique opportunity for whale researchers to understand the effect of ocean traffic sound on whale populations. [Much love to the person who wrote me 232 words on whales that I had to cut for space. Click the link to learn more!]
“There was a beautiful and colorful sunrise yesterday.”
“This week, I am going try and attract cardinals to my garden by putting out a tray of cut fruit and seeds.”
“It’s a nice day here and it feels like the fog and darkness are lifting.”
“I just received good news! My professor complimented a project I submitted that was like a first step for a Master’s thesis. He said it was ‘exceptional work’. I so often get the feeling that I’m just muddling through things, plodding along, and so, getting positive feedback is delightful.” [CONGRATULATIONS! That's the best feeling!]
“I have a very cute 2-month old baby! She is named Inga, after my great-grandmother :)”
“I haven’t drank in 36 days.” [That’s fantastic!!!! Good luck in your journey my friend!]
“My almost 4 month old daughter is currently sleeping on me”
“I just ate a chocolate cookie with caramel cream cheese frosting, and it was delicious.” [woahhhhhh this sounds absurdly good]
“When I’m working in my basement office, sometimes I can hear my young daughter singing to herself in her bedroom directly above me.”
“I danced around my apartment this morning while I was getting ready for the day in a way I probably haven’t done really since high school and it felt great and silly and fun and I decided I should do that more.”