Hi, {name}:

Welcome to Shenny, a fortnightly newsletter of things I wish more people were writing about. I've added you to this list because you're a friend or you've liked my writing in the past (or both). I know from overfull inboxes, so using the unsubscribe link below will not change my fondness for you.

I've started Shenny for two reasons. One is practical: to share writing and news now that I'm no longer on Twitter and since Instagram isn't so link-conducive. The other is personal: January marked the 20th anniversary of The New Yinzer, another fortnightly I started with friends back in Pittsburgh, and looking back over those years I found I missed the joys of publishing something perfectly useless that wasn't tied to building a career or getting positive reviews.

To this end, Shenny (I'm learning Branding, can you tell?) will have low (or no?) standards—like the gal at the laundromat who wears beads and talks to anyone. The idea is to shape each newsletter into 3 departments:

  1. Letter from the Ed: Diaristic updates for those who know me personally, or who'd care to. (Max 300 words.)
  2. Endorsements: I read books, I find new (to me) music, I watch lots of TV, I hear jokes worth retelling. Each newsletter, I'll share exactly 2 of these.
  3. Main Matter: An idea I've had, or story I want to share. I'm an essayist, and San Franciscan, and homosexual, and teacher, and MFA program director, and former H.S. drum major. Here, I'll write from one or more of those perspectives, or I'll share some work in progress and talk about that progress, or I'll have some VH-1 Behind the Music–style thoughts about a recent post. (Maybe 600 words.)

So whence 'Shenny'? That'll be the Main Matter for this first issue.



1. Roc a Rol Cymraeg!
That is: Welsh rock-n-roll. With friends, I do a monthly playlist challenge via Spotify, and March's was a mix of songs by Great Britain bands from 1976-1979. Turns out my dad's DNA is 30 percent Welsh, so I took the opportunity to explore um ... my heritage. What can I tell you about Welsh rock in the 1970s? It's a ton of schlager (famous Welshers Tom Jones and Bonnie Tyler were only singing sentimentally in those years). But when you search online and dig through the catalog of Sain (the first independent Welsh recording label), you find some good prog (Man, Huw Jones) and folk (Mary Hopkin, Geraint Jarman) and punk (Beggar, Trynau Coch). Here's the final playlist for your enjoyment:

2. The word 'attend' & attending as a concept
Barthes has written about a word being beautiful 'never by virtue of its sonorous charm or of the originality of its meaning' but rather 'because of the notion that I am going to do something with it.' In this spirit, I'm finding the word 'attend' very beautiful, mostly thanks to Maggie Nelson's outstanding On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint:

[A]ttending to nuance in the so-called gray areas of sexual relations is not a sideshow primarily indulged in by astralized academics with their own degenerate asses to cover, or by “free thinking” reactionaries.... It is critical to seeing, feeling, and acting on whatever freedom is also everywhere, and growing it.

And this related form:

This comment draws us into one of the most common stigmas attending women and addiction: that addiction derails the natural desires of the female animal, which should properly circulate around the needs and desires of others.

Given the book's overall concerns with care, attending is a useful term, drawing from its secondary definition of 'give practical help or care to' to spotlight the need for compassion and big-heartedness amid the work of critical thinking. Then in the second example, drawing from the word's quaternary definition of 'occur with or as a result of', I'm given the image of the subjects of Nelson's focus (i.e., women and addiction) being paired with attendants, guides, assistants who are paying these subjects mind.

At any rate, expect this word to attend much of my talking and writing while I work through this new crush.


On 'Shenny'

The idea came first: an online magazine of essays with a West Coast focus, run by a communal group of 6 editors. I don't know why 6, but in casting around for a name I needed only a minute before I found it. I took the names of my sisters, Shani and Jenny, and smooshed them together.

'Shenny Does Essays'—that was going to be the tagline. Like Debbie Does Dallas. But editing a magazine, even with 5 colleagues, was more work than I could take on, so I dropped the idea quickly, but the name stuck around. Why do I love it? I love my sisters, who are both older than I am and, as such, have been something of stars in my life. I mean this both ways: what they wore and who they dated were the news I craved, and I looked to them, up above, as guidance through the dark night.

It wasn't always that way—Jenny and I at 2 years apart could fight like two cats in a bag—but now in middle age I'm starting to think on how much of myself was shaped, for better or worse, by my two older sisters. That female leadership, I grew up always presuming it. Here's how I wrote about this recently in my book-in-progress:

These were the days when groups of girls stood like sibyls at the center of our social lives, when it seemed at any random lunch that another girl would come to the table to report that Deborah Agurkis and I were back together. Or we'd broken up. The girls announced everything. They made up all the rules and they knew what was not acceptable to wear, the right juice to choose at lunch, the new slang to say when something was good and you liked it, and I took all this in stride because I’d learned from birth that girls were wise and made all the rules.

In adolescence and adulthood I pushed hard against the feminine, first out of fear of what it might reveal about my desires, and later out of anger of what the world presumed of me as a homosexual. At 43, I'm done with this struggle. I'm not here to essentialize the feminine, but I want Shenny to be of and from the feminine in me: tough and pretty and the first to know what's right.

Also: social and collective. If you have anything you'd like to endorse or write on any topic and publish it on maybe the smallest platform around, let me know (shenny@davemadden.org). The best part of publishing anything is the work of getting other voices out there. 

Thanks for reading.



— — —

In Case You Missed Them: