A 100-Mile Radius Life
aka, my 2022 January-June experiment...
My podcast co-host Seth recently announced his six-month challenge for the first half of 2022. It’s audacious and I love it, and I wish mine could be the same. It’s no secret how I feel about social media — I’ve written about it and spoken about it, probably to the eyerolls of some readers or listeners — but the more I read, the more I learn, the more I contemplate, the deeper we go into the inevitable metaverse, the more I’m convinced that the bad outweighs the good and that the prophets are right.
Yes, there are good things about social media and I’m grateful for those. I’ve met some dear friends because of the platforms and I’ve kept up with others through them. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve had my mind changed, and I’ve found solidarity where I probably wouldn’t find it elsewhere.
But it’s making us sick. It’s making us sick individually, and it’s making us sick as a society. Even that verb tense, “making,” makes me pause because I’m convinced that adjective is already here: it has made us sick. We are unhealthy. I’m convinced of it, and I’m convinced that social media is a large culprit.
This leads me to the reason I can’t join in Seth’s challenge at the moment, due to a symptom of this very illness (though admittedly not the most caustic): I have a book releasing in just a few weeks.
Yep. I can’t fast from social media right now because Bitter & Sweet, my lovely next book, needs to find its readers. I have my doubts that these online spaces actually move the needle much when it comes to sales, at least in comparison to newsletters and podcasts, but alas. It is what it is at the moment.
I love this book and believe in it 100%, so my frustration lies entirely in the digital world we’ve created and not the publishers who use this digital world. (…Well, I am fairly annoyed at the broad publishing world in general who’ve bought into the belief that authors should shoulder the bulk of their own marketing. But that’s another topic.)
If I didn’t have a book about to release, I’d sure as heck make sure in my next signed contract with a publisher that I’m crystal clear about what I’m willing to do to spread the word and what I won’t. There’s enough evidence out there from other authors to show that social media isn’t the be-all, end-all must have space to ensure a book sells well. But the lovely publishers of Bitter & Sweet naturally assume I’ll use my social media accounts to share about the book, and I want to honor that assumption. And so, I shall need to remain on social media for the first part of 2022.
(However, there’s a pretty good chance that’ll be my challenge for the second half of 2022.)
So, what to do from January to June? I want to join in Seth’s audacity of doing something genuinely challenging. My word for 2022 is “stronger,” and I’ll share more to subscribers soon about what I mean by that, but a six-month challenge lines up well with the “stronger” that I want for my overall year. As I was praying over this idea, I was reminded that ultimately, the entire point of a challenge isn’t just to do something to see if I can do it, or to stick it to some Man or whatever. As much as I’d love to spend my first six months out of the clutches of billionaires, I don’t think Bezos or Zuckerberg will much notice or care what I do.
The only beneficial point to me participating in an audacious challenge is so that I grow in holiness, and so that I further my vocation as a wife, mother, community member, and writer. That’s it. That’s the only real reason that would keep me pursuing a challenge all the way to June. Not for good writing or podcasting fodder, and not because I think my actions will make a dent in the whole of society. Only because it would ultimately make me a better person. Make me more human. Make me more who I’m made to be.
And so. What to do. In all my brainstorming, one idea among the several keeps floating to the top and won’t leave my imagination, so I’m moving forward with that as a sign that it’s meant to be.
I’m spending January through June living in a 100-mile radius.
I don’t mean I’m not leaving the 100-mile radius around my house (though thanks to the ever-lingering pandemic, that just may happen anyway). I mean that I’m living small and local. I’m choosing to, as best I can and only by the grace of God, only participate, buy, and invest my time in only that which is immediately around me, within roughly 100 miles. If I travel, that circle will move with me.
This is what a 100-mile radius looks like for me at home:
I live in a small town north of Austin, which means 100 miles is roughly between Waco to the north and San Antonio to the south, as well as basically middle-of-nowhere to the east and west. There’s some great small towns and big cities within this circle, and it’s larger than I initially imagined it would be. But that doesn’t mean this’ll be easy.
But still… What does this mean? And why?
I’ll answer the second question first. The “why” is reflected in my recent piece to subscribers about online communities, which I’ve now made readable to the general public, if you’re curious. For the tiniest bit of pushback I received for that essay, I heard in droves from many readers who echoed my sentiment and lay witness to this ever-growing online trend. Readers, I’ve been convicted this past year that I haven’t lived as well as I’d like — as well as I’m supposed to, as a human being walking around in a real body — within my own community.
I buy too much online without concern for the cost (monetarily, in resources, and in time) of shipping. I buy online because it’s so damn easy and I don’t have to leave my house.
I don’t make enough effort to meet with friends over a real table with a real drink (ironically) because I default too much to social media to meet my people needs. It doesn’t fully scratch the itch, but it numbs the itchiness just enough for me to push down my nudging feeling that I really do need to connect with the people around me — at minimum as much as with people online, and honestly much more.
Even though I’ve long cared, deeply, about the sourcing of our food and eating seasonally, I’ve rather thrown that conviction out the window the past few years in the name of convenience. We eat “real” and “whole” foods as a family 95% of the time, but I don’t prioritize locally-grown produce. The fact that, in my research for this challenge, I discovered that several farms around our town have closed permanently since the pandemic downright sinks a pit in my stomach. I’m not the sole cause of this, obviously, but I’m part of the problem.
I give to larger charities online instead of prioritizing the local ones in our community. I spend any rare, precious free time I have usually doing something online instead of in the world around me. I don’t invite people into my real-life home nearly as much as I want or used to. I keep up with national news more than local news.
(Yes, part of all this is because of the pandemic. But a larger part is admittedly because I’ve used the pandemic as an excuse.)
A brief side note: When we were first exploring whether we wanted to enter the Catholic Church, I was put off by all the intrusion into our lives — the Church seems to want a say in just about everything in my life, from when I go to Mass to my biological reproduction. I had a very American, you’re-not-the-boss-of-me initial reaction. It’s now a thing I love about my mama the Church, that she cares about the particulars of my life, and that’s a whole essay for another time because I have oodles to say about it. But related to my overall point here in this essay is the idea of the Church’s tenets of Social Teaching. There’s a whole detailed concept of how to live in a society with others for the greater common good, and I flat-out love that this is a thing.
One of these concepts is the idea of subsidiarity, and again, there’s a whole essay’s worth of stuff to unpack in just that word, which I won’t at the moment. In short, subsidiarity is the idea that decisions should be made and action taken as locally as possible, and that the larger entities should only get involved when it helps strengthen the local ones. It obviously gets into the broad idea of what it means politically, economically, and globally, and there’s already some great stuff out there about it.
But to keep this shorter and to get to my own point here, I want to relay subsidiarity to what it means for me as an individual and for us as a family — and how it connects to living within a 100-mile radius.
If I’m convinced that God has made all of us humans to live here on earth, in the real, non-metaverse world, and within specific places in this specific time, then I should prioritize what I’m doing here and now. Literally, here and now. Subsidiarity calls me to prioritize my actual neighbor over my friend I know only on Instagram. It means I should first try to buy my next book in the bookstore three blocks away and not first from Jeff Bezos. It means I should care about the farm a few miles away from me more than the corporate-run factory that shipped my shelf-stable boxed goods 2,000 miles via an 18-wheeler.
Does this mean I don’t care about the far-away things at all then? Not at all. I still care about those I keep up with on Instagram. I still keep up with news from around the world. I completely get that the Amazon warehouse workers need to feed their families, too. And no doubt my neighbors who work at the big-box stores right in my town do, too. There’s so much nuance to this idea, there’s no way to perfectly live locally in 2022, and I am going to mess up.
But I’m convicted that I’ve used ease, convenience, and oh-well-that’s-just-the-world-we-live-in-now for too long as an excuse not to shift my priorities at least a little.
In the coming months, I’ll write more about what I’m learning about living within 100 miles, what the nuance means when it comes to actual, real-life application to this idea, and how I’m both succeeding and failing at this challenge. If you want to follow along, subscribe to The Commonplace because that’s where I’ll be sharing my thoughts the most.
The Commonplace is a reader-supported letter from author Tsh Oxenreider about what’s beautiful, good, and true in the world:
(I mean, if you think about it, this is a pretty subsidiarity-ish way to do the internet, if you ask me: prioritize people’s “local” newsletters before social media. More on that eventually, I’m sure.)
In the spirit of making this an actual six-month challenge, and not just a convicting, well-intentioned but fuzzy idea, I want to keep this practical. After all, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years of reading Atomic Habits and Essentialism, of watching productivity gurus on YouTube or subscribing to their pithy emails, it’s that to actually complete a project, I’ve got to:
Keep it ridiculously simple (avoid needless complexity),
Aim to make the project “done” (instead of “perfect”), and
Set a deadline (decide in advance when to call the project done).
The last point is easiest: I’m going to try my 100-mile life through June 30, 2022. The second one is a must if I’m going to make the first one true because I’m already thinking of so many roadblocks, caveats, and asterisks to this thing. But in the spirit of crossing the finish line imperfectly instead of giving up because I can’t do it perfectly, I’m going to make this as simple as possible…
Food: I’ll buy groceries only from my locally-owned grocery store (thankfully we have an amazing one), my nearby farms and farmers markets, and I’ll only eat at locally-owned restaurants. Do I want to make sure every morsel I put in my mouth was grown within 100 miles? Sure. Is it sure-fire possible? No. But I’ll do my best to research where a food came from before I mindlessly toss it into my cart and opt for the closer thing than the farther one.
Community: I’ll go to Mass weekly at our neighborhood parish (no online services unless it’s mandated), I’ll do my darnedest to meet weekly at a neighborhood coffee shop or pub with a local friend, and if I think of a friend, I’ll text or call them to see how they’re doing, not check their social media feeds. I’ll also say yes to nearby things more often, like my new neighborhood book club and volunteering in the area (I’ve got ideas), and I’ll invite a family over for dinner each month. I also want to seek out more options for local entertainment, like live music shows, before mindlessly scrolling YouTube or whatever.
Resources: I’ll redirect our giving to local needs and charities within 100 miles (except for those we’ve already committed to), I’ll shop only at local stores and do what I can to buy locally-sourced things — clothing, grooming products, household goods, books, etc., and whenever it comes up, I’ll opt for the locally-owned thing before the nationally-owned or chain. If I can’t find something sourced within 100 miles and I don’t absolutely have to have it, I just won’t buy it.
News: We already subscribe (with our own cash money) to both a left-leaning and a right-leaning national media outlet, and we give a tiny amount to our local NPR station. We’ll increase that monthly contribution, and I’ll prioritize reading or listening to the local news before the national and global.
My Own Work: I hope to channel most of what I write about here and say on the podcast toward encouraging you to live subsidiarily and in more solidarity with your own local communities, too. It won’t be all I talk about ad nauseam, but I do believe most of us need to walk out our front doors more and spend less time scrolling to find a sense of community through a screen. As I said, online communities really work best when they help you live better offline. They shouldn’t, and really can’t because of the nature of what they are, replace real-life communities.
Seth and I will spend our first few podcast episodes of 2022 unpacking our six-month challenges, so if you’d like to hear us talk more about our whys and hows, make sure you’ve subscribed to the show wherever you listen to podcasts.
And hey, while you’re at it — you should pre-order my book! It’s written to serve as your companion for Lent, and I really love it. I think you will too. Help me need to talk about it less on social media by going here:
…And thanks. Both for reading my books and for reading my words here in this newsletter. Gosh, I’m grateful for you.
Here’s to an imperfect but well-intentioned 2022.
Oremus pro invicem,