We have a relationship, so I want to go deeper with you than I would with a curious visitor on their first trip to my about page. Some of you kindly signed up to a reboot of my newsletter from several years ago called Profit & Delight. Others signed up because we’re friends or you were curious about me or Substack. Now it’s called Citizens of Nowhere. I want to invite you to stick with me because I think it’s going to be really bloody good. I also want to encourage you to…
…with one friend. You can do that by forwarding this email. They can take it from there.
My Substack began life as a byproduct of my mission to help NZ print media transition from an ad-driven revenue model to a subscriber-driven one. I’m doing it because I’m convinced Substack offers writers and readers a better, mutually beneficial relationship; one that’s not mediated by Google or Facebook algorithms, or by advertisers’ insatiable appetite for eye-balls.
Between us, I think Substack’s user experience (that’s for me) and consumer experience (that’s for you) will prove to be a significant moment in the future of writing and reading; as in, hand-writing-to-printing-press kind of big.
I think this because mobile is now 55%+ of all online traffic. Our phones are where more of us gather to read for work and pleasure than anywhere else. I also think this because media consumption is increasingly becoming a mental health issue. I have witnessed first-hand, behind the scenes, as adtech companies employ free-will overriding techniques to create and fuel an addiction to social media platforms based on a gambling CX. I suspect our pompous grandchildren will nag us with incredulous “how could you do 6 hours screen time a day” kind of crap. Just like my poor granddad had to endure my insufferable “how did you used to smoke three packs a day” rants. We know now, as he knew then, that we do what we do cos everyone else is doing it and no one knows much better.
My Substack evangelization has started pretty well. Dozens of great writers have either launched a Substack or are kicking the tires. My advice to them all is
“Just get going. Play. Do. Make it up as you go along.”
Cos this is new. And the old approaches won’t work.
Now I’ve gone and drank my own Kool-Aid.
I’m not going to pitch Substack to people unless I’m doing it myself. It’s not a chore. I’m into it. It’s rekindled something in me.
I’ve spent about 12 years as a moderately successful playwright and screenwriter. I’ve got some great stuff off the ground. I’m particularly proud of On the Upside Down of the World - the story of an unlikely pioneer who blazed a unique trail through colonial NZ when she was forced to foster a peculiar Māori boy. It went round the world and ultimately took me to New York.
I’ve written for film and created TV shows and I’ve always had about 10 things stuck at various points in development hell. Development hell is where everything’s waiting on the buy-in. Cash, sure, but mainly people willing to advocate it to key decision-makers. Waiting on well-known actors prepared to risk their reputations on something new and potentially shit. When my work was too risky to ask anyone else to do, I’d do it myself. As Arty Buckwhip, I married my sister and lived with my two younger brothers in a no-room caravan high on the hills of Corstorphine, Dunedin where we’d give voice to everything that we thought rich people thought poor people think.
As Richard Meros, B.A. I proposed as early as 2008 that contemporary voters were bored of policy and competence. I suggested that a candidate would stand a much better chance of winning if she were to embody scandal and notoriety instead. For a short time it saw me rubbing virtual shoulders with Jon Stewart, Lena Dunham and serial killer Robert Durst. Saweet!
What breaks my heart is that I couldn’t use stage and screen to introduce you to more of the characters I met - way more sophisticated and insightful ones. Animals, some of them. They weren’t well-known then or now, but boy did they have something amazing to say. I just couldn’t convince enough people. Or the right ones. So they’re trapped in folders in my cloud server, begging to be let loose. I’m going to let them have their say in Citizens of Nowhere - right here on Substack - where no one can stop me or slow me down. I think you are going to love it.
I’ve taken my title from Theresa May’s poorly received speech at the Tory party conference in 2016.
“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”
It’s taken out of context, but like with ‘deplorables’, I discovered a badge of honor encoded in an insult: a rallying call to me and the menagerie of characters I’ve been longing to show the world for up to 10 years.
I was born in Northern Ireland, raised in New Zealand, lived and worked in the US and UK. I feel profoundly uncomfortable about pledging anything to any of them. My only recurring nightmare is getting a tattoo. In my dreams I regret it instantly but realize there’s no going back. It’s stamped on me now. Forever. I wake up sad.
Other people in my life have needed me to commit to a simple, consistent brand or form for years. They were trying to help me succeed, but I couldn’t take to the yoke. It choked my creativity rather than unlocking it. I’d turn up in a television producer’s office with what I thought was a great idea and spend the first 10 minutes trying to convince her that yes, I had seen a TV show before and I did understand it wasn’t simply a filmed play. Or I’d turn up on a funding proposal as a producer - looking after the business instead of the script. I could usually drag people over the line eventually, but my career became a sloppy uphill shit push.
A few years ago, when I had a stash of cultural capital and no actual money, I was crashing for free (in a great place) with my brother. I couldn’t figure out how to get financial or creative independence without writing a hit play - which I knew from experience would take years. I was a bit low, itching for change, confused how to make it happen and then a miracle occurred: I met my future wife, got married and took her last name. An unanticipated result was that Arthur Warring was free from historical assumptions about his character, abilities or likely behavior: whether imposed from without or within.
Arthur Warring (which always feels like just the same me) was free to create a profile on Upwork and take some low-paid copywriting gigs for a rental car company and a flight school and eventually meet Evan who would give me the platform to start making real money creating pitch decks and business plans with him. 2.5 years later we’ve helped business owners and entrepreneurs raise more than $1 Billion - heaps eh? I feel financially and creatively independent, and I pity anyone who’s ever asked to condense my life story into a clear beginning, middle and end. I’m confident that won’t happen, so everyone’s a winner!
I have personal experience of how much better my life can become by letting go of some old habits and assumptions and embracing a change of style and approach. I’ve also realized that I have an entire hard drive full of fellow Citizens of Nowhere - characters who simply don’t fit in to traditional life or art - but have a lot to say to both. I realize that they could have a great time living here.
You’re going to meet them. It’s going to be awesome. Bring that friend.
Hello, I’m Arthur. I have two last names: Arthur Meek, and Arthur Warring.
They mean different things to different people, but they’re both just me. I’ve spent nearly 20 years writing for stages, pages and screens. During that time I’ve encountered some incredible characters - many IRL, more through reading (often because they’re long since dead). I’ve brought several to life on stage, but most don’t fit. Usually I don’t figure that out until I’ve spent months and years with them. I know them really well and I want you to know them too.
One of my favorite books is I Claudius by Robert Graves. I don’t know much about Graves, but his writing makes me feel like I have intimate knowledge of the thoughts and deeds of a person who ruled the Roman Empire from AD 41 to 54.
That sheer believability is a magical experience conjured by a delicate dance between good writing (that’s on me) and a distraction-free reading environment - that’s the uniquely digital, mobile-first experience that Substack offers you.
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship
Every issue of Citizens of Nowhere is delivered directly to your inbox, so you can read it in peace on your phone with no buzzy ads or fussy browsing. It's the online relationship I've always dreamed of: contemplative, curious and word-first - with lots of opportunity to play. The comments section offers us a community forum where you can ask me to fill in gaps and expand on things that pique your interest. If that sounds interesting, sign up now.
I’m going to take you with me on rambles into characters and situations worth writing about well.
You’ll meet them through one-off issues - about 10 minutes worth of reading - or through serials - multi-part episodes of one-off issue length. I’m excited about these because they give me the chance to toss in a cliffhanger or two!
The characters I’ll be introducing you to include - but are by no means limited to:
George Leitch - a 19th-century theatrical impresario behind The Land of the Moa - the most ambitious, most disastrous melodrama in Antipodean history.
The Wanker will take you into the mind of a homophobic failed politician from the US bible belt who exiled himself to New Zealand to assist in the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Somehow he ended up becoming a house-calling sperm donor to a jaw-dropping number of lesbian couples - which helped to fulfill their mutual ambitions to become biological parents.
I want you to meet Charisma - the short, fat horse with the massive heart whose relationship with Mark Todd took them both to double Olympic gold.
I want you to know Samuel Butler the anonymous author of one of the most influential satires of all time - who saw his career fade out after revealing his name to an underwhelmed public. Did Banksy learn that lesson?
I want you to experience the mind of Antonie Van Loewenhoek - the 17th century self-taught Dutch scientist who used home-made lenses to become the first human to see microscopic life. But the Royal Society wouldn’t believe him! He was only a draper, after all, and he couldn’t speak Latin.
I want you to witness the life and death of The Special Patroller - the ferocious free-range hamster that showed me the value of refusing to inhabit a perfectly comfortable cage.
I’ll publish a new issue every other week on a Friday night (or Saturday morning in New Zealand)
So you can enjoy it over the weekend. Back issues will be available on my website so you’ll never have to start half-way through!
It’s free-wheeling and free
Nothing profits me more than good writing. Check out this from James Baldwin:
“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel… the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”
from Notes of a Native Son
That’s valuable to me. I’m prone to sentimentality - and it’s prized by audiences in each of my various pursuits. Thanks to Baldwin’s writing, I can recognize it as a vice to be avoided, repented and never indulged. For now, I’m not putting a dollar value on our relationship. It’s not because I’m sentimental about writing as a public good. It’s because I don’t know what I’ve got, what it costs me or what it will mean to you. Once we’re clearer, we can figure out a range of options. One of them will always be free. In the meantime, let’s conversate.
To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com.
This is what I looked like on April 24, 2020 in Grantchester, England.
Photo by Sally Warring.