The Hughniverse

Let me tell you the backstory behind this post.

A few months back, I was holding office hours for people on the membership team. I mentioned the wide-ranging projects I am working on that they are supporting, and I jokingly called it my empire. He laughed and said I was creating a Hughniverse.

I am a sucker for puns on my name.

Then, a few weeks ago a close friend made something pretty amazing, and I mentioned it in The Hughsletter. Later, when I was talking to her, I mentioned I had shared it in my newsletter, and she said she hadn’t seen it. It turns out she hadn’t seen it because she didn’t even know I have a second newsletter called The Hughsletter (again, I love puns on my name).

I am the worst promoter of my work, but even I recognize that of the literally billions of people on the planet who did not read anything I wrote last year, the most common reason they didn’t wasn’t that they don’t like my style, or they disagree with me politically or any other logical reason, but because they simply do not know I exist.

So, here is an up-to-date list of the projects I am currently working on. At least this way, I can say that I told you.

The Membership Team

The more than 120 folks who pay contribute between $5 and $25 a month to keep the bills paid around here. Literally, everything springs from this – they pay the hosting and the internet domains and the subscriptions for the software and, not incidentally, for my time when I am writing jibber jabber on the internet instead of doing something else.

They also serve as an advisory board of sorts – they know about projects before anyone else, and I seek their input on directions I am considering. They get the satisfaction of knowing that because of their support, I get to keep making cool stuff.

Food is Love

This is the narrative cookbook I am writing in partnership with the membership team. They are getting a chapter a week delivered to their inbox as I write this, and then I take their input and feedback and will edit it down and publish a physical book this winter.

We are a ⅓ of the way through this project. So far, members have gotten the stories (and recipes) behind such things as fancy rice, Salisbury steak, pulled pork, and Aunt Louise’s chicken soup. And this winter, when I do get the physical book made, they will all get free copies.

Membership has its privileges. If you aren’t a member, you can buy it when it comes out.

My Blog

I continue to post on my blog two to three days a week at Humidity and Hope. My most read post over the last 30 days or so was my story of our ragtag rescue cat Pepe.

Links to the new posts are posted in several places: My Facebook page, Twitter, and Tumblr. I also publish a full RSS feed if that is your jam (it is mine!). If you don’t know what RSS is, here you go.

And I publish the entirety of the text of most blog posts on my Facebook profile page as a public post. I want everyone to have the opportunity to read my stuff, despite the fact that it probably costs me subscribers by not forcing Facebook readers to click through.

The Hughsletter

This is the accidental newsletter. Back in August of last year, when I began blogging regularly again, I set it up so people could get an email whenever I wrote a post. So far, so good. But then I began publishing multiple times a week, and people freaked out a little and asked if they could just get one email a week from me with links to everything I wrote that week.

So, I did. Then I would think of other things I had seen or liked that didn’t really merit their own blog post but that I thought would appeal to people who like my blogging style, so I added those links. Or I would mention a follow-up to a previous post I knew they had read. Before long, it was its own thing.

This is my most personal publishing venture. It’s the smallest audience, so it feels like talking to people I know rather than the internet at large. You can sign up or peruse the archives here.

Life is So Beautiful

Every Monday morning, I wake up, make coffee, and then sit down and write an email to several thousand folks in at least five different countries. I write a blog-length reflection on where I see beauty in the world right then, and then I share links to five things I had seen that week that struck me as beautiful. Because the world is beautiful, but sometimes it’s hard to notice it.

And I’ve been doing it for seven years. It’s my biggest project, in terms of readers, and my longest-running one. You can sign up or peruse the archives here.


That’s a lot. There is talk of other things in the works. I’m working on an idea for the next book I will serially write like I am this one. There is talk of a podcast. I want to set up a live streaming cam on my birdfeeder and pond. I will get to it eventually. Or not. But I am having a blast, regardless.

Thanks for reading my stuff. It means more than you know.


Today is payday for my day job, which means that I sit down and pay the bills that will be due before the next payday. Perhaps it just means the capitalists have won, but the feeling of it being payday and sitting down and being able to pay all of your bills – there is truly nothing like it.

I get how sad that sounds. But I have spent a not-insignificant portion of my life – both as a child and as an adult – not having a lot of access to money to pay just the regular, everyday bills. Poverty changes your brain.

In my twenties, my business card said I was an “Account Executive”, but basically I helped rich old people hide their money from the government.

I was successful, in that I made good money and I was praised for my performance, but a failure, in that I hated the pressure my managers put on me, and I hated the pressure I felt to push people into solutions that made money for me but were of dubious real long term value for them. I was a failure because I hated my life, and wouldn’t do anything about it.

If you know the movie Glengarry, Glenn Ross, my life was a lot like a weekly visit from the guy from Mitch and Murray. I once was told by a manager that I just needed to buy a more expensive car – because then I would have more debt and thus be more motivated to close deals.

I hated that money drove everything in my life. I hated that it was the only way we kept score. I hated that it was all that mattered. I made good money (especially for a 28-year-old kid) but we spent it like drunken sailors, too.

Eventually, I noticed that I had to drink a pint of vodka in my car to work up the courage to go into the office, and I quit.

I made $96,000 in my last year of selling money at the beginning of this century. The next year I made $18,000, got a divorce, and moved into a friend’s attic apartment.

So, all that is to say, I have lots of screwed-up narratives in my head about money.

Earlier this week, one of our cats had some weird symptoms that we needed to take her to the vet. This was unplanned and unexpected, and I hate that my only hesitancy around taking her was that I was unsure how much this would cost. To be clear – it wasn’t that we had no money to pay for it – we do – but that open-ended question just hung over me.

I have broken teeth in my mouth I am scared to go to the dentist for. Not because of fears around pain or fear of dentists or even that it is likely that at some point in the next ten years I shall have to migrate to dentures – it is that it is a huge open-ended question mark around how much it will all cost and that there is every possibility that I will have a pleasant visit with a professional who will, at the end of our meeting, tell me I owe them $3500, with no warning in advance.

The lowest I have ever felt in my life was one summer morning in May, in Durham, NC. We had just left Duke Hospital, where my wife was being evaluated for eligibility to have a heart transplant that would save her life and give her a normal life expectancy, rather than the 3-7 years she had if she did not get it.

That morning, we had a meeting with the financial counselor, who looked at our insurance coverage and told me that if we did not get approval from one of our insurances to cover this procedure, I would have to show evidence that I had $20,000 in cash before they would list her as eligible for transplant.

I did not have $20,000. I worked at a small, scrappy grass-roots severely underfunded nonprofit that I had founded, and I made very little money while doing good work. I did not know where I could get $20,000. I had very little hope, under normal circumstances, of ever seeing $20,000 at one time.

And so, with a smile on her face, this nice person at Duke told me that because of choices that I had made around vocation and income and yes, money, my wife might die.

Spoiler alert: We got it worked out, she had the surgery, and she did not die.

But I still feel all sorts of anxiety about money. While writing the passage above about that day at Duke Hospital, I had to stop and get up and walk around, because even though it is almost 7 years later, it is all still too fresh in my brain.

So, when I decided to launch the membership program earlier this month as a way to make my writing economically viable, I had butterflies galore. All the old stories reared their head.

“Who are you to try to get paid money because you write things on a blog? It’s not like it’s real writing.”

“You aren’t good enough to get paid to write.”

“Nobody will support you, and you will just look stupid.”

“Writing is fun for you. Things that are fun we should do for free.”

“You are just going to be let down.”

But those are just stories I tell myself and have no bearing at all on what happens in reality. Because my brain is filled with old stories. Stories that are not kind to me.

In the Spike Jonze movie Her, the titular character says that the past is just a story we tell ourselves. And we can learn to tell ourselves better stories.

So, I’m trying to write (in my head) better stories about money, abundance, and scarcity, and better stories about my worth as an artist, as a writer, and as a person.

I’m trying to learn to tell myself better stories about myself.

And part of that is coming to believe that my labor has value and that other people believe that as well. That I need not apologize for making money for doing something which I both enjoy and do well. And that it is OK for me to ask for what I need.

Food is love.

If I were to make a list of the things I know for sure, that food is love would be one of them.

I have known that since I was old enough to know anything. That the secret ingredient in the biscuits Aunt Monty stood in front of the counter and rolled out every day of her life was pure love. That the tender pot roast after church on Sunday was as sincere a sign of my mother’s affection as she was capable of making. That I have never felt as at home in the world as I did all those years ago, in the fellowship hall of Emory Methodist Church, eating Miss VanHook’s chicken and dumplings.

I come from working-class stock. We did not have money for vacations or new cars or even health insurance, but by God, we could have green beans seasoned right and biscuits fit for gods and jelly that came from the efforts of women who loved you sweating over a kettle in the heat of summer.

It was the way people who loved me but didn’t have a lot of tools to express that love, showed it.

I don’t believe I am alone in that. I have polled large groups of people, and always end up with the same results: If I were to ask you your favorite memories of people you loved who are now gone, most of the time, those memories involve food.

Because food is love. It is the product of love, and it’s how we show love, and it’s how we feel love.

So, I’m writing a book about that. It’s a cookbook, in the sense that it will have recipes, but it’s also a book of stories because the stories give meaning and context to the food. Think of it as a narrative cookbook, organized around 18 meals and 40 recipes.

This has no commercial potential. Rachael Ray will not have some dude from MS on her show to talk about sausage gravy and the way it felt when his family had driven 8 hours through the night to get to his grandparent’s house and the weary travelers were groggy and sleepy but a hot breakfast was waiting on them.

But because I have members who support my work, I don’t have to worry about that. So I’m gonna publish it myself, with the financial support and encouragement of my members.

Here’s the plan: Beginning Friday, July 1, members of the Membership Team will get an email with a link to download a PDF of a chapter of the book, and will then get a chapter in their inbox every Friday until Friday before Thanksgiving.

Then, on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the finished book will be available for purchase on the major platforms (print and ebook) but everyone on the Membership Team in November will get a free print copy in the mail as my way of saying thanks for their support.

So, if you are not part of the Membership Team, you can buy my narrative cookbook Food Is Love on Black Friday. But Members will get Chapter One in their inbox on July the 1st.

You can learn more about how to be part of the Membership Team and support my work (and get a free copy of Food Is Love in the process) for as little as $5 a month here.