Issue 065
February 1, 2022

Oh no, Memberships

Three years of running SPECIAL PROJECTS and member survey results

Fine Rodenians — 

It is I, Craig Mod, proprietor of the Dreaded Yearly Membership Issue™ of this, Roden, the monthly newsletter to which you subscribed.

I’ve now been running my membership program, SPECIAL PROJECTS, for three years. Meaning — it has some history. History! A strange notion, something I never imagined when I started it.

And with this short history under our belt I come bearing a paean, can say with the fervent certainty of a convert: “Memberships Work.” That’s a link to my nearly 9,000 word look-back at what I learned running SP in 2021.

I’ve also written similarly loquacious essays for 2020 and 2019. All together, they comprise some 21,000+ words about membership programs. Everything I know.

I only run this “membership drive” once a year. I set a silly goal of “Hey let’s push for 100 new members in the next couple weeks?” There’s a little graph showing progress on the membership page. If you enjoy this newsletter (or any of my other projects), please consider joining.


Because: SPECIAL PROJECTS enables everything I do. I mean that. It provides the full financial (and emotional, to a degree — more on that, that “permission,” in the “Memberships Work” essay) backing to do all the weird stuff I do each year.

I mean, JUST LOOK AT what the program produced last year: Nearly 150,000+ words published out in the world for all, two short documentaries, two mega walks with attendant free newsletters, this newsletter, Ridgeline, Huh, a host of essays and a bunch more. Members get access to my working livestreams (and their 60+ hours of archives) and Q&As and pop-up newsletter archives, and Yearly Members get big discounts on my books and prints.

SP Survey Results

A month ago I surveyed members and got ~400 incredibly thoughtful and thorough responses. It took me four hours, sitting with printouts (40+ pages in small type), to go through a fraction of it all. (Some of this below is taken from the “Memberships Work” essay.)

So, who the heck are the 1,000+ SPECIAL PROJECTS members and what do they get out of the program?

years 1 and 2
How long have you been a member?

20% of all members have been with SPECIAL PROJECTS since 2019, 40% for 1-2 years, and 16% is newblood, which is heartening; this feels like a healthy distribution.

How old are you?

I’ve got to work on my TikTok game and middle school demographic but, SP members split 50% 20-40, and 50% 40-80.

I like this split!

I asked members: What “job” do you do? (multiple selection allowed):

  • 30%: tech-adjacent
  • 25%: design-related work
  • 20%: companies < 50 people (startups)
  • 17%: professional photographers
  • 16%: academia
  • 15%: directly involved in the publishing industry

Folks also wrote in some ~60 “other” professions including: applied mathematics, architecture, running non-profits, various law / layer permutations, librarians, medical, politicians and much, much more.

Clayton Christensen’s most famous business theory is probably his theory of “Jobs to be Done.”

It boils down to: Folks don’t “buy” stuff, they “hire” stuff. So goes the prime example: You don’t “buy” a milkshake from McDonald’s, you “hire” it to do the job of “satiating your hunger, slowly, via straw while you commute in a car” and other similarly unexpected jobs.

The theory enables simple, but profound insights into how to better find so-called product-market fit for the work you’re doing. I thought it would be fun to apply this theory to SPECIAL PROJECTS, to try and understand what jobs folks are “hiring” me / the program to do.

What membership “perks” provide the most value? (i.e., What is the program being “hired” for?) (multiple selection allowed):

  • 87%: Enabling my public-facing work (newsletters, essays, podcasts, et cetera, free for everyone; AKA “unlocking the commons”)
  • 50%: Discounts on books / prints
  • 50%: My members-only writing diary (“Nightingalingale”) for my next book
  • 39%: Office Hours members-only podcast
  • 35%: “Boring” work livestreams
  • 22%: Board meetings
  • And then about 20 other write-in perks that I hadn’t listed

So, the SP crew first and foremost, “hires me” to synthesize / write for a “broader good.” I had hoped that “enabling my public-facing work” was an understood / highly-valued perk. 87% is astounding. This makes me a) happy, and b) confident that my messaging around SPECIAL PROJECTS is unambiguous. Since day one of SP I’ve always listed the “main” perk as: Craig, ya weird bird, I wanna see more of your work in the world.

Unsurprisingly, “hiring” SPECIAL PROJECTS to provide discounts is the second most valued job. I love this, though; the confluence of discounts and “unlocking the commons” — memberships allow me to produce books / prints, write essays, go on big walks, synthesize, and share — mostly — for free. Being able to “pay it back” to members in the form of discounts feels extremely symbiotic. My goal is to “return” the cost of Yearly Memberships in discounts each year.

But if you just survey folks with a bunch of checkboxes, you miss a lot of nuance. What does it mean to “enable my public-facing work?” What is it about that writing diary that’s useful? In broader terms, I believe it means that members hire me to be an “archetype”-at-large.

I had a few write-in questions on the survey: “Anything else I missed?” and “What was the thing/moment that made you flip from casual reader/fan to card-carrying paying SP member?” Allow me to share some responses. (The surveys were anonymous, but I told folks I would share some responses publicly.)

On hiring me as a “guide” or “archetype” or, even, “mentor:”

I love the sense of inclusion in your work, that my participation means something. I also love enabling you to do whatever you fancy creatively as I appreciate the power of that (and the older I get, the less I can abide the waste of human potential; if I can help someone enrich their own creative life, I will).

My nephew is 18 yrs old and I want to someday show him yr life and say, dream of things that might seem impossible, but you can do whatever you want if you work at it.

I love the work you’re doing, but I’m more inspired by the way you’re doing that work than the specifics of any given project and I truly find your (public) worldview extremely invigorating. I consider you a mentor-from-afar.

Thank you for sharing with us. It’s great to be along for the ride and glad you are able to sustain your art in this way. Please don’t stop. If we need to pay more we will!

Thanks for being a thoughtful, measured voice in a loud and immediate world!

Thanks Craig for sharing so much about your process and being thoughtful about your members. Love your work and using it as an archetype for my own. One of my favorite things about your membership is feeling like I’m part of a community without investing a ton of energy into socializing with people.

I’m so glad you exist in the world and do what you love. It’s such an inspirational bright spot for me. I get so much joy from what you do because of how you do it.

Your candor in bringing us into your work and process has really helped me in my own non-“job job” work (ie the work is really like to be doing) and I find that super valuable. Also very happy to be able to help, in whatever small way :)

One thing I have been relating the concept of Special Projects to, is tenure (in the academic sense). It is as if your crew has granted you creative tenure - the freedom to explore, create and fail. (ed: I like this framing!) At least I see it that way!

I value not just the beautiful work that you do—but your philosophy around the work itself, which seems to have little to do with monetization. Yeah we all need to make money—but I’m so sick of it being the focus when it comes to creating things. Thanks for the honesty too—e.g., writing about pizza toast, walking, the “mundane” and surprising—for being open to seeing things a certain way, and for being unapologetic about valuing and sharing that perspective.

Thank you for everything that you do! You are a voice for a better, saner, more generous and creative internet. Your contribution is important to building a human-scale, handcrafted internet in opposition to the ocean of mediocracy and thoughtlessness propagated by the corporate monoculture. It just occurred to me that what you (and people like Robin Sloan) do is create a ‘walkable’ internet — something idiosyncratic and diverse, that can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace as you wander from neighbourhood to neighbourhood; rather than screaming through bland, undifferentiated sprawl, passively looking out of the window from your car on the freeway of ’the feeds’.

I really appreciate your tone; you’re so relentlessly positive (like a Ross Gay poem) that it really helps to temper my own pessimism. And you’ve done a bit of this, but I’d love to see you write more about process – from writing, to how you arrange a workspace, to living day-to-day. You’re just so damn productive!

Thank you Craig for your generous, persistent work. I don’t even know if I would choose to read this sort of work out of the blue, but you’re one of the few people who I read just to read you. So thank you for taking us all on a journey, and make sure you get all the rest you need! We’ll still be here when you get back.

I don’t just value your writing on the physical paths you take, but also on your creative path. It gives me a vantage point to think about how I could also support myself doing “weird” creative work.

SP has helped me commit to rigorous creative work and even though I do this work in somewhat isolation, I feel less alone in wanting to do it (being an artist is not my job, I didn’t go to art school, and I’m not part of a collective)

Seeing you do it at your scale and feeling both inspired and guilted into making more/better headway with things in my work.

I enjoy telling other people about your work and it’s a privilege to be a small financial facilitator of the body of work you’re creating.

I’m partial to artists who lead their lives as a Gesamtkunstwerk, and let folks into many different layers of their creative process (the business parts, the raw materials & idea generating, the edit, etc.). You do that super effectively and it’s probably the biggest perk for me.

Watching Craig suffer the artistic process like a some delightful slow reality TV documentary

There is also a contingency of members who hire SPECIAL PROJECTS to be “part of something” — a framing I hadn’t considered! (Mainly because I do so little to “bring” everyone together; but this is now something I’m thinking more about for 2022. Like, starting an “official” Discord server; would that be valuable? And if so: How, precisely, would it be valuable?)

I saw that you were building a community around your philosophy and writing and being a paid member of SP was a way to affirm my identity as being a part of that community.

I’m really enjoying this little community. It feels like something out of an earlier era of the internet, but with better aesthetics and UI/UX. :)

My first year as a member of the SP community has been fantastic and I can’t wait to follow along on future projects. Thank you!

Being “in” on something special, and enabling interesting work.

As good if not better than NPR membership (ed: Ha! ha!)

Whether intentional or not it feels like being a member of a community.

A sense of belonging in this little community whose size I know not, but whose collective patronage has enabled work that has inspired and delighted me.

I feel connected to my far away friend, who’s a member, too. Also – seeing that this is possible, and being a part of it.

Just a sense of community in a very big crowded internet.

(amusingly) a sense of community, and reassurance that it’s maybe not as weird to still like books and walks and people who are perfectly happy making great coffee or giving a good buzz cut ¯\(ツ)

I feel a bit like an art patron, I’m that I get to support your work only with the expectation that you get to produce something genuinely “Craig” and explore new outputs feel. It’s cool!

I’m also being hired as a “cultural translator”1 — a lot of my writing is about Japan (by dint of me being here), and folks seem to value that:

The transportation into a culture I’ve always wanted to be a part of. You help immerse me in the traditions and culture of a place I long for.

The joy of following along as you walk around and explore. It’s really fun to get such a view of rural Japan.

I feel better connected to Japan. Would even love to see you explore places close to home so I could experience them in a new way. Perhaps even Kamakura or Tokyo.

I learn a lot. Japanese culture and topography, and design thinking broadly speaking.

Especially during the pandemic, the window that you provide into Japan is invaluable to me. I’m happy that I’m able to support your projects in some small way.

Unique view from non-Japanese view and sights at the same level of the local people.

I’m mentally and emotionally transported to Japan on a regular basis

It’s neat to read/watch/listen to things I can’t experience firsthand. You’re a great communicator. Thank you for sharing your gifts

And regarding hiring me as a “distributor of coupons” (and seeing how it nicely commingles with other jobs):

It was Kissa by Kissa that made me join. One reason being that I wanted more objects like it but also realizing how much I enjoy your “missives”. ;-)

Maybe the discount on Kissa By Kissa, but also not long after you started SP membership I became very interested to support thoughtful, calm, interesting work. Basically the antidote to 99% of the internet.

I was buying Kissa by Kissa anyway, and with the discount I got to support a talented creator in the process. Winning.

The Kissa book. Had a friend who I knew would like it

Kissa by Kissa launch, a month after signed Ridgeline

Wanted to buy the third edition of Kissa by Kissa so took the opportunity to become a member at the same time

Hopefully sharing these responses doesn’t seem too narcissistic. All of the above is more valuable than it might seem at first blush. I mean, I guess it’s obvious: try to be a force for good, write compelling stuff, provide discounts, et cetera. But, I dunno, seeing all those wild notes written out — printed out — really helped crystallize if my messaging is hitting home (I believe it is), and made me realize nobody cares about the wallpapers (“What perk could disappear tomorrow and you wouldn’t even notice?” 56%: Wallpapers; 9%: Boring Livestreams).

More than anything, the survey helped me believe folks were deriving value from both the work itself and the way the work is presented. As obvious as it may seem from the outside, sometimes you lose perspective on this from the inside.

To get to know members even better, I also asked some “fun” questions, like:

If I came to your town for a walk, where would we go?

Venice to the Palisades via Rustic Canyon

If you were to come to Austin, we would start the walk early in the morning, watching the sun come up over town from Zilker Park, then walk along the trail around Lady Bird Lake to a breakfast taco joint. From there the walk would meander through town, east toward the hipster coffee shops of the East Side, then north to the pink granite capitol building, further north to the Harry Ransom center for a quick (free) peak at the older photograph and the Guttenburg bible. Pointing westward toward an art park and then back south toward the river. The walk finishes with a jump into the chilly Barton Springs.

Into the woods, then down by the 20’ milk bottle, then maybe over to the river. Depends on what time of year it is.

The 8 immortals trail (Pat Sing Leng)

Forest outside of Berlin. There’s hundreds of trails around here, all with start / end destinations reachable by train

Currently I am living in Istanbul. We would set out along the Marmaray Sea walking path for 5km, until we get to the end and are forced to hop a ferry to the European continent. Then we’d traverse the narrow streets exploring every manor of tea house, kebab shack, and jazz cafe - all the while documenting the controlled chaos of daily life in a city of 20 million people from every part of the world.

I’m in Milan, I’d say either a urban walk in the city from the outskirts to the centre and back (it’s a pretty walkable and not so big city) or somewhere starting in the city and going towards the countryside (could be done cycling too).

In Mumbai, an 8 Km walk from Byculla Zoo to Crawford Market through Gowalia Tank.

Portugal: start in the historical village of Sintra, up the mountain through the national park, to the westernmost tip of continental Europe at Cabo da Roca, and along the coast to Cascais.

I live in Tallinn and most likely would take you for a walk to an area called Lasnamägi. It’s mostly populated by old residential panel buildings and home to the largest Estonian-Russian community. I go there not so often but it has the most sincere character. It’s one of those areas that hasn’t been “cleaned up” since we joined EU. Most likely we would have a lot of pirogi and chat with a lot of interesting characters :)

Out to the Fort bij Rijnauwen, stopping to drink coffee & browse vinyl at Koffie Leute, and passing by the Rietveld Schroeder House. But it’s the Netherlands, so maybe we’d also consider biking or taking a boat around the canals.

To Newtown Creek through the warehouse wastes of northeast Brooklyn to the giant salt mound at Streets and San HQ.

(Missoula, MT): It would be silly to not head directly into the mountains here. Day hike? Mission Mountains all the way. Two nighter? Glacier, baby! 4-6 days? Absaroka Beartooth. Duh.

I live in a small town in Michigan which is surprisingly walkable for the US. We’d take a stroll through town, check out the library built in the 1800s, grab a burger or maybe some barbecue, stroll by Jeff Daniels’ theater before heading to the state recreation area for a 50 mile loop through hills created by the glaciers in the last ice age and wetlands.

This is just a random smattering of responses (there are like 380 more of these!). I want to do all of these walks!

And finally:

What new skill (recipe, language, magic trick) have you acquired since the start of the pandemic?

Really been working now on my Swedish via Duolingo—a 759 day streak

Scanning and processing film at home. I wish I could say developing, too, but I haven’t figured out a way to do that in our fairly-tiny apartment yet. Or maybe that’s just an excuse. I’m not sure.

Playing the ukelele

telling power harassing bosses to fuck off; being comfortable doing nothing

With a one year old, you find yourself with lots of leftover bananas… so lots of banana bread and banana pancakes 😂

Data analytics with python

I can now do 3 pull ups

I sort of learned how to sharpen knives (but not really 🙂 ). Also chili crisp

I’ve started learning Russian (still along ways to go). I’ve started surfing and backcountry skiing (novice at both). You gotta start somewhere!

I kick ass at getting the wood stove burning each morning. Also am playing around with making my own granola. Haven’t come up with a signature mix yet, but I keep trying new combos.

Haha! Your framing of this question = “Say you don’t have children without saying…”

Cooking - my daughter and I have been making meal prep kits and recipes since March 2020. We’ve both learned our way around the kitchen, its tools, and various techniques.

Observing my my feelings and breathing

Utilizing Ho’oponopono

I started just before the pandemic but I’ve become a full time flight instructor, achieving all of the required certificates and ratings in just over a year.


So, there it is. Another year, another set of things having been made. 2021 was one of the most productive and satisfying years of my life — in no small part because of the members and SPECIAL PROJECTS. In my big lookback essay, I frame 2021 as the “year of maturing” — a kind of “refactoring” of logistics and production and program infrastructure. A kind of leaning into video a bit more, getting a bit better at it all. I also think the November / December Ten Cities, Tiny Barber walk was one of the most inspiring trips I’ve been on (personally) and one of the most formally rigorous in terms of output. And yet, it felt natural, unforced, like a system and set of habits has been established and we’re able to learn on and leverage that system.

Anywhooooooo. Thank you all for your kind words and notes of encouragement in this last year. I’ll shut up now, for another year, about memberships. But please do consider joining, if you haven’t already. And if you already have, a million more thanks.

I’m going to take two days off, and then it’s back into Book World — working on the followup to Kissa by Kissa, and publishing the members-only working diary, Nightingalingale. Join if you wanna follow along.




  1. Hard cringe that this phraseology. (Also: Double hard cringe at my hard cringe; cringe recursion warning!!) I don’t desire to be some “magical facilitator” of “the mysteries of the orient” or anything horrifying like that. By dint of pandemic, by nature of language skills, and because I have a twenty-two year (!!) history with the country (this is, for better or worse, my home), Japan has been a good place to focus for the last few years. I feel no “ownership” of Japan knowledge, have no desire to be seen as an academic. My main “goals” with my Japan-related work are simply to reflect the less visible (but ultimately, I believe, universally fascinating) aspects of the country as filtered through my own life history; I’m drawn to dingy diners, insane mythologies, slap-dash meals, clunky sprawl, and sloppy farmers, as opposed to ancient shrines, twentieth-generation inns, and cherry-blossom snowstorms (though I love and respect all those things too; but there’s no pressing need for me to write about them). ↩︎