The Radical Sincerity of Nathan Rabin, Part Two:

Tiny-Yet-Powerfully-Adorable me (Heidi Juniper) chilling as equal with the Massively, Massively Successful Professional Weirdo, Nathan Rabin.

Nathan & Me, Up Close & Personal

(Or: Believing that if Jamie Flam Could Be as Big as “The Next Mel Brooks” Maybe We Could Too)

by heidi juniper

I’ve been following—and attempting to understand Nathan Rabin—for awhile now.

 

Not as a serious project; it’s been more of an incidental hobby. (Nathan is an interesting dude; but more than that, understanding people is kind of my “thing.”)

 

This effort began, in earnest, the day (about two years ago, at the time of this writing) that Nathan was fired from The Dissolve.

 

I’d become FB friends with him by then (I believe because of our shared love for the podcast The Long Shot and co-membership in its FB group). On the cruel and disheartening day of his firing, Nathan posted the following on FB:

Me, outwardly serene–internally striving effortfully to Understand Nathan Rabin.

Nathan Rabin

April 30, 2015

“Working in the media in 2015 is like being part of an epic game of [m]usical chairs. Everyday the music starts and you race madly to hold onto your fragile place in the world.

And when the music stops, it’s usually an older, more eccentric character who ends up without a home and without a job. Your heart goes out to these people and their families but there’s also some guilty part of your psyche that’s glad it wasn’t you.

Well, yesterday the music stopped and I was left standing. So as of today I am a man without a job. I took a big chance when I left [T]he [O]nion

But as of today I am a free agent. And I am looking for work of any kind. Ghostwriting, tv, books, pr, advertising, it doesn’t matter. I just want to be able to feed my six month old son and make my stint living in my in-laws’ basement as short and painless as possible. So if you have work of any kind, contact me…

I’ve been riding a long streak of bad luck as of late–books, tv shows, columns, refinancing mortgages, podcasts that almost happened, then fell apart. So I appreciate the opportunity to do an honest day’s work. I’m fast, prolific and passionate and while there’s [a] part of me that worries about feeding my family… I’m also embracing this as an opportunity to do new kinds of work for [new] people so if you have even a whiff of a lead, it’d mean a lot to a guy who’s struggling but also doing his best to stay positive.”

I saw that, took note, saved his email address. And a handful of days later, I sat down and wrote Nathan perhaps the bravest (and most embarrassing) thing I’ve ever sent anyone.

 

I did it out of a genuine desire to help him—a hope I might, in my own extremely modest way, support his new freelance career—and out of hopefulness for my own dearest and most ambitious creative project, ever. I offered to pay him to write for the site I was planning… And by “planning”, I mean, dreaming about, scribbling notes about, telling no one I knew, save my husband, about.

Me, actively Reaching Out to Nathan.

It was, I realize now, a profoundly unconventional and impractical offer.

 

In spite of—or, more likely, perhaps precisely because of—how naïve and adorable my offer was, Nathan wrote me back, several days later.

 

I’ve gotten Nathan’s permission to share portions of that correspondence with you.

 

(BTW—It was harder than I expected, deciding to reveal this publicly, due to its exquisitely awkward sincerity and, true to my usual form, absurdly comprehensive length. It’s also hard to share such a tender personal memory.)

 

From that private email correspondence:

From Heidi Juniper to Nathan Rabin: (5/1/15)

“Dear Nathan Rabin,

 

…Embarking on this letter to you, I’m feeling mildly absurd…

 

[W]hat I would like to propose is:  My commissioning you to write an essay for the Radical Sincerity-based blog… that I am in the process of creating…”

 

I then attempted to describe what I understood Radical Sincerity to be about. I quoted from the  manifesto, by Esmé Wang, that had introduced me to the idea, sharing her rallying cry to oppose the tide of an often mercilessly cruel and alienating culture, to heal the widespread “plague of loneliness” that is both the cause and consequence of people feeling shamefully separate and unworthy. I discussed the agonizing situation of thousands of strangers, alone in their homes, feeling excrutiating shame, without the knowledge that could save them—that so many others feel the exact same way.

Me waiting to find out if the Reaching Out worked.

Have I found my opening?

I described Wang’s (and Brene Brown’s) antidote to this plight: the norm-challenging, radical act of boldly expressing true sincerity—on social media, on blogs and in business—through public openness and vulnerability.

 

To heal and connect, through unmasking our unique-yet-somehow-universal pains and hopes and loves and fears.

I also wrote:

 

“My response to Radical Sincerity was, an instant and overwhelming, ‘Yes Yes Yes!’  This sort of openheartedness…   has long been a part of me.  Yet, for various reasons, I’ve felt isolated and invisible, a lot of the past decade and a half.  It’s time to come out, to join the fray.”

 

I wrote about how I hoped a Radically Sincere blog, and even community could work… I brought up (incredibly randomly) neuroscientist Stephen Porges’ work, on the importance of face-to-face communication, and also invoked Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed… (All evidence for why my idea wouldn’t work!)—in order to declare:

 

“I feel a certain skepticism… But perhaps, if it is possible to shame people online… it is possible to UNSHAME them, online!”

I then wrote (with the knowledge that Nathan was also a fan) about Amber (Kenny) and Jamie (Flam) and Sean (Conroy), from the podcast, The Long Shot—how much I identified with the brave, daring creative journeys they are all on. I wrote in a super-exposed way about my cherished hopes of success and my self-conscious fears of failure. I wrote,

 

“Nathan—although I have no idea how seriously you’ll take this, I have utter faith that at the very least, you won’t consider me stupid or lame.  I hope I’ll strike you as effectual (vs ineffectual) but if I were to receive this from someone…  I don’t know.  Even if I thought they might be overstretching, I would honour the courage… and consider them rather adorable.  (That’s how I feel about Jamie Flam, believing he is/ could be the next Mel Brooks…  Well, WHY NOT!)”

 

And I end with a declaration (a declaration I did not/ could not follow up with) to write to Sean and Amber of The Long Shot, to Jon Ronson, to “as many people as I can think of, to see if they want to join this Radical Sincerity” movement.

 

Because—WHY NOT!  The world is, after all—more open, in some ways, than it’s ever been!  And perhaps the podcast community has the power to show the rest of the world that the internet CAN BE USED FOR GOOD.  Even in the comments section.

 

I will reach out to these people… if you go first, I imagine others will take me more seriously.  🙂  Maybe your writing, can help me rally the…  well, ‘troops’ is the wrong analogy…  but the…  ones who’ve been listening, and sympathizing, and relating—but in secret—all along?”

Radically Sincere Enchanter of the Masses, Jamie Flam.

The Gorgeous, Godly, & Radically Angry Sean Conroy.

With the charisma of a female George Clooney, and a laugh so infectious it could give you AIDS, I present… Amber Kenny.

(That’s the end of my email. YIKES is it hard re-reading, and sharing, all that!)

A creative re-creation by Nathan’s son Dex, of Nathan looking thoughtful about the Upside of Getting Fired.

Nathan so-graciously and beautifully replied (in language that only a long-time professional writer could give an email): (5/14/15)

”Hey Heidi,

 

Thanks so much for writing to me. The upside to getting fired at the worst possible time is that I’ve gotten so many emails about potentially working with me that I have spent much of the past two weeks simply returning emails. I started sending out borderline form responses today just to deal with the backlog but I felt like your email merited a much deeper response. First off, I’m sorry I took so long to get back to you. Boy oh boy are you speaking my language. I feel like my professional evolution has been largely a matter of eschewing glib irony and embracing naked sincerity and raw emotion.”

 

Nathan then expressed some personal things I don’t feel at liberty to share, but that nonetheless, as a caring but utter stranger, were an honour to be trusted with.   He mentioned his being fired from The Dissolve, saying,

 

“they made me sign a nondisclosure agreement, so I cannot talk publicly about what happened, which sucks. I’ve prided myself on being open and honest in my writing so it sucks that legally and professionally, I can’t really talk about why I’m hurting so bad right now.

From your email, it very much seems like we’re kindred spirits. I’ve found that listening to podcasts has been a real source of comfort for me and I feel a kingship* with anyone who loves The Long Shot and identifies with Jamie Flam, and I have two podcast-based ideas for essays for your site…”

 

[Note: the “kingship” was, I think, a typo; Nathan must’ve meant “kinship”–but I love the idea of people who share Jamie’s brave ability to dream big and keep dreaming, as sharing a Kingship with him.]

After offering up two actual pitches (for Radical Sincerity-based writing) Nathan then addressed some payment-related details, and concluded with:

 

“It takes strength to put yourself out there the way you plan to do in this project. I really admire that and I feel this is a really great and worthwhile idea. You’re putting something really positive and constructive (and I very much look forward to getting over the sadness and bitterness I’m now feeling so I can go back to being a positive and upbeat person, something that will hopefully come sooner rather than later) out into the world and regardless of page-views or popularity or any of that superficial stuff that shouldn’t matter, and shouldn’t affect us, but inevitably [does], I salute you for taking a big chance in the service of something you believe in. When we started The Dissolve I felt like I could be a purist and dreamer and idealist again and that faith and belief has been irrevocably scarred, but focusing not on the ugliness that came before but rather on exciting things to come, like your project, is a good way, and maybe the only way, to get beyond the anger I’m experiencing to a place of optimism, hope and excitement.

 

So thanks again for reaching out and I very much hope we can work together. I already feel like we already have a lot in common.”

A creative re-creation, by Nathan’s son Dex, of Nathan kindly offering me a seat at the table.

Revisiting these words, nearly two years later, I still experience something akin to shock at how incredibly kind, connected, and encouraging this response is. A seasoned writer speaking to one who was yet to publish anything, as an equal. Peer to peer; hopeful heart to hopeful heart.

 

This exchange still strikes me as surreal—even though the literal fact of it having actually happened is a big part of why this site exists at all. (Which is also how the “Kindful Community”–the people who’ve signed the pledge, or joined the group, or support and encourage from behind the scenes–was ignited.)

 

Telling Nathan my Big Secret, and him believing in me, made the future in which I did, indeed, “come out and join the fray” of People Who Do Things profoundly more likely. In a way, the boost I got from this exchange (& the encouragement I got from the LoShoPo, feeling an ongoing sense of connection & community with other brave creators facing tough odds) is the secret origin story (or at least a big piece of it) of the whole second act of my adult life.

 

This site got launched, unsurprisingly, a lot later than I’d planned and in somewhat different form; so Nathan’s writing never found a home here. What was life-changing, in the long run, was the symbolism of this exchange—the sheer kindness of it.

 

Few things any of us do, are ever as impactful as that.

 

I’m not sure what I would have done without the openness, generous vulnerability, and kindness of these random strangers; whether I would ever have come out of hiding, and joined the fray. Their example, and Nathan’s belief in me, made being me, out loud, as wholehearted in my creativity as Mel Brooks has been in his… that much more conceivable and possible.

 

It’s worth remembering—when contemplating small kindnesses we might undertake—that life-changing impact could, conceivably, be at stake.

Wasting no time to claim my spot at the table!

Disturbing foreshadowing of Things to Come.

(See Part Three.)

p.s. My email correspondence with Nathan occurred after Eddie had left the Long Shot (it’s a podcast) and before Joe Wagner had joined. But they’ve been also been a deep source of connection, community, and inspiration to me.

Joe Wagner–way too Talented & Kind to ever be an afterthought!

Eddie Pepitone–far too Bitter to ever be an afterthought!

STAY TUNED

for PART THREE: Making Sense of the Weirdo by Enlisting the Help of a Spy on the Inside

(in which I grapple with feeling awkward, out of place, possibly judged & misunderstood)

PHOTO CREDITS

Photos courtesy of Scott Waterhouse & Nathan Rabin.

DISCLAIMER

Nathan read this piece before publication but I claim full responsibility for any factual errors and for my interpretation of his life, his writings, and his personal and artistic example. The way I’m presenting Nathan is the way I see him rather than a claim about who he empirically is, the way he sees himself, or the way others who know him well might describe him. This is Nathan Rabin as I have experienced him from a distance, and what his example means to me.

If something on this page touched you, please *SPREAD the KINDNESS!*
heidi.juniper
Founder at A Kindful Place
Heidi Juniper is a recovering perfectionist and self-connection coach, helping people gain power and insight from their emotions, by honouring each person’s own inner wisdom, and offering tools from psychology and neuroscience.

She sincerely hopes that this fledgling community, as it grows, may help you find something meaningful or helpful you've not found elsewhere.

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