The other day, heading into a farmer’s market to buy the makings of dinner, I ran into an old, dear friend named Marnie. I hadn’t seen her in at least seven or eight years.
She hugged me and said, “Congratulations on everything with The Bitter Southerner. I just love it.”
I thanked her, and then this came out of my mouth: “Well, it looks a lot prettier on the outside than it does on the inside.”
“Most things do,” she replied.
Ain’t that the truth?
To the folks who read our online publication, The Bitter Southerner looks for all the world like a successful publishing venture. So many tremendous writers and photographers and videographers — many of whom we never dreamed we’d have the opportunity to publish — have allowed us to share some of their greatest work with our readers. Last month, one of those writers, Atlanta’s Wendell Brock, went to New York and brought home a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for his beautifully written profile of the longtime restaurant critic Christiane Lauterbach.
So, yeah, things look pretty from the outside. On the inside, it feels like I made the decision, at age 52, to drop out of life and join a band — like one day I just decided to get in the van and hit the road. The similarities between this publication and a band traveling the country in a beat-up Ford Econoline are very real. Just ask anybody you know who’s ever been a touring musician. For an hour or so a day, they are on stage, doing what you believe they were born to do, in front of an audience. The rest of the time, you’re just driving, eating junk food from truck stops, and wondering how many days you can go without a shower before your bandmates remark on your odor.
God knows The Bitter Southerner has taken a toll on the lifestyles of its founders. We’ve all gone back and forth between being able to pay ourselves a little bit and having to take on freelance work or full-time jobs. For me, the BS meant leaving the regularity of the paycheck for a tenuous venture. My wife and I have gone from a house we owned on a lovely street in a desirable neighborhood to a small place we rent, out on the edge of town. Our lives are very different now than they were four years ago, when Kyle Tibbs Jones, Dave Whitling, Butler Raines and I hatched the idea of The Bitter Southerner.
The bitter truth is that on more than one occasion, The Bitter Southerner has come dangerously close to disappearing. During one of those periods, back around Christmastime, I got a call from an old friend who works in corporate communications at a large company, just as I once did. He told me about a job opening with a large paycheck attached to it. A paycheck of the sort I used to get myself. “You’d be perfect for it,” he said.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted. Regular hours. Paid vacation. Not having to worry about whether there’s enough money to get through the end of the month.
I told my wife about the opening — and about what I was feeling. That’s when my dear Stacy pointed her finger at me and said, “If you give up on your dream, I will kill you.” I love my wife, and one of the reasons I do is because she understands this about me: Being the editor of The Bitter Southerner may not put much money in my pocket, but it puts something far more valuable in my soul — the feeling that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do.
Why do I feel that? Well, it’s hard to put into words. But maybe it’s this: I finally realized I would always wrestle with my conflicted feelings about the South, so I made the decision to try to make a living by doing what I do best — tell stories — to help other Southerners do the same.
That’s what The Bitter Southerner is all about — the eternal tug-of-war between loving the South with a great ferocity and hating with equal ferocity the crimes committed in its name. And somehow, that has connected with folks. I’ve had perfect strangers come up to me and thank me for The Bitter Southerner and its work. I’ve had young people tell me that after reading our stories, they decided that their talents might be better used at home than away. But mostly, I’ve had people tell me this, “What y’all do makes me feel like I’m not alone here.”
We’ve said it before: The Bitter Southerner is here for anyone who yearns to claim their Southern identity proudly and without shame, regardless of what church they go to or don’t go to, regardless of who they are attracted to, regardless of how they choose to live their lives. We believe the South is plenty big enough to welcome everyone who loves it. We believe those difficult discussions about our shared history should no longer happen in whispers.
What we want is pretty simple. Truth is, if you change one little letter in our name, you’d have the answer. What Bitter Southerners want is a better South.
So … after three years, can a venture like this still work? We believe it can, but only with the help of its readers, people we have come to think of and to know as family. We’ve learned the South is slap full of wonderful people who don’t necessarily fit the stereotypical pictures — the images that people elsewhere conjure up when they think of a “Southerner.”
CLICK HERE FOR A BASIC MEMBERSHIP, NO SWAG, JUST SUPPORT.
OR PICK ONE OF OUR CAMPAIGN SWAG OPTIONS BELOW!
About a year after we launched, the folks at Warby Parker, the spectacle-makers, got in touch with us and offered to host The Bitter Southerner’s 2014 Christmas party at the store they had just opened in our hometown of Atlanta. I remember that night well. There was actually a line outside — lots of people trying to get into a small store. Three of our bartender friends were there, having whipped up special holiday cocktails just for the occasion.
Inside that store, drinking one of our cocktails, was a rather cranky, local business journalist. Several folks heard him scoffing at The Bitter Southerner’s prospects.
“Ha,” he said. “It won’t even be here another year.”
That was 17 months ago.
We’re still here, dude.
And we will be — as long as y’all have our backs.
May 11, 2016