Hi. I’m Lauren Hough. Since we’re here, it’s pronounced “huff.”
Before I was a cable guy, I got a job in a call center, same cable company. I took calls from people whose screens were snow, and I told them to switch to channel 3. They’d switch their cable box to channel 3 and tell me the screen was still snow and mutter about me under their breath about how I was a fucking idiot. I’d ask them to find a remote that did not say the cable company’s name on it. “Samsung? Good. Now press 3 on that remote.”
They’d pretend they hadn’t said the thing under their breath. And I’d switch my open tabs from their account to the blog I’d been reading when they so rudely interrupted with their cable problem.
I started with political blogs—Joemygod, the Stranger, Wonkette, DCist, and Andrew Sullivan. These were blogs people in the DC area recommended when you said like reading blogs. Later I discovered everyday people just sharing their lives—a lady in New York learning how to cook. A waiter in Dallas who hated his manager. A bartender in New Orleans who loved dogs. The more personal, the more I connected to them. I celebrated their wins and mourned their losses. I missed them when they didn’t post, when they went dark. I read them to pass time, sure. But I also read them to connect with people outside my circle, to understand the way others experienced the world.
The beauty of blogs is they curated their audience much the way they curated their content. You had to search to find them. A friend told you “hey you’ll love this blog.” If you didn’t, you never saw the blog again. If you did, you bookmarked the page and checked in the next day or week, and the next. You developed a relationship with the blogger, learned their voice and style, their likes and pet peeves. You understood the post because you’d read the last. And because you understood, the blogger was understood.
We write to connect, hoping someone, anyone will hear us, understand us, maybe want to know us. I wrote a book to broaden my circle. (And to travel and stay in hotel rooms with tiny bottle of shampoo and one bed to eat on and one bed to sleep in. Maybe make eye contact in the signing line and fall hopelessly in love.) Instead, I talk to people on screens—tune in at 7 to watch Lauren Hough cry—and connect to no one at all.
Social media may have its uses. But posts reach far beyond the intended audience. Just lines with no context. Is it satire? Sarcasm? Next thing you know, I’m called a domestic terrorist for feeding a piece of cheese to my dog. This is a thing that really happened.
This is my dog, Woody Guthrie:
I started this substack because I needed a new way to connect. I want to write those essays I enjoyed writing, before I worried about who would read them and how they’d react. I want to remember that writing and connecting to an audience was fun, before the fear of being virally misunderstood.
I’ll be using this space to do just that. I’ll write the essays I love to write—about my dog, about my life, about Dolly Parton. I’ll talk about what I want to want to talk about, and what I think we should talk about. What pisses me off. What I love. What I’m doing and where I’m going. I’m going to be traveling some more and I’ll be writing about all the ways it’ll surely go catastrophically wrong, because, as my mother recently pointed out, I’ve now made a career off my poor decisions. Might as well keep making them.
Maybe in context, we can understand each other a little better.
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I’m Lauren Hough, the author of a few essays you might have read like I Was a Cable Guy. My work has appeared in Granta, Wrath-Bearing Tree, the Guardian, Huffpost, Harper’s, and Texas Highways. I wrote the essay collection Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing, which enough people bought that it made the New York Times bestseller list, twice. I was born in Berlin and raised in 7 countries. But I’ll claim to be a Texan because my family is, and I went to high school in Amarillo, which counts for a hell of a lot. I served in the Air Force and worked a long string of shitty jobs—everything from bouncer, to barista, to construction labor, to bartender, to cable guy. I live in Austin with my dog.