What is Philly Clearing?

(This section focuses on Philly Clearing’s philosophical underpinnings. Skip ahead to “Notes on the Layout” for a practical guide to navigating the site.)

Start this video at 4:28 and watch until the transition to the next question:

Addiction, homelessness, filth, effete leadership, and civic apathy… all strewn throughout one short stream of consciousness. It’s not productive to pretend we can pull back the curtains on the hearts of our leaders — plus, I was raised to give people the benefit of the doubt. Amy isn’t alone in feeling that “no one cares,” but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it myself. In any case, whether or not our leaders care about the shortcomings of the institutions they run is besides the point.

Intentions aside, the shortcomings exist: far too many people are sleeping on Philadelphia’s filthy streets, far too many drug traffickers are making fortunes in them, and far too many murders are committed in them. The leaders elected to govern them deliver far too little relief, and their would-be successors deliver far too many empty promises.

Philly Clearing starts from the premise that we live in a time of institutional decadence and spiritual crisis. We’re faced with a dizzying array of intractable problems and our hope has worn thin, but we can’t take shortcuts or fire silver bullets. We can’t elect our way out of our predicament. The types of change we need the most, if they can be delivered, cannot be imposed from the top down.

Some of the problems we face are intractable because they’re so complicated that we wouldn’t really know how to solve them even if we were politically willing and able — e.g., addiction. Others are intractable only in appearance, because we entrust them to an ineffectual establishment — e.g., our trash crisis. Philly Clearing is devoted to figuring out which problems are actually intractable and which are solvable, and to shining a light on Philadelphia residents who are taking it upon themselves to solve the latter directly. None of this is to say that we don’t need our institutions — we do, but they’re insufficient. Instead of lamenting their insufficiencies, Philly Clearing celebrates ordinary people who step up to fill the void, like these. And these. And these.

Beyond the practical and political, Philly Clearing is rooted in a deeper, gut-level aversion to the doomsday posture that dominates our culture today. Yes, we’re living amid many converging crises. Yes, one of those crises is a crisis of leadership. And yes, the modern media environment coaxes out the worst in all of us precisely when we need the opposite to rise to the surface. These are the baseline realities to which we must adjust, and which we must learn to flourish in the face of. Philly Clearing strives to facilitate flourishing by relating local history, connecting readers with local artists and businesses and ordinary citizens, beautifying public spaces — i.e., cultivating a sense of community.

The outlook is grim, but Philadelphia is an incredible place, and there’s good work to be done, and there are good lives to be led.

Start this one at 7:43, and watch for a minute or so:


Notes on the Layout

Philly Clearing is centered around regular blog posts about cleaning trash off the streets of Philadelphia. These posts will be short, casual, and will usually feature music recommendations, often from local artists. And if Philly Clearing ever starts generating substantial revenue, I plan to reinvest that money here by scaling up the trash removal efforts.

s/o Marcie, my best friend’s mom, for creating this logo

The other newsletters are themed around a strange little slice of local history that I stumbled upon one day while walking along a trail in Wissahickon Valley Park not far from my apartment. In the late 17th century, a group of German mystic monks led by Johannes Kelpius came to believe that the end was nigh. Doomsday would come in 1694. The group decided that the best place to await end times would be at the edge of civilization in the newfound Colony of Pennsylvania. So they boarded a ship, sailed across the Atlantic, and settled on a ridge a few hundred steps from my front door.

In an effort to reclaim some territory from contemporary doomsayers, Philly Clearing’s newsletters are repurposing Pennsylvania’s first doomsday cult:

  • Cave of Kelpius: I spend hours on end sitting crisscross applesauce on the cold, damp floor of an old springhouse perched on a hillside in Wissahickon Valley Park that a dubious urban legend says was once the meditation-chamber of Johannes Kelpius. I think about something Philly-related, then I churn out an essay and I post it here.

It’s even spookier in person
  • Hermit's Hearth: Kelpius and his cult of apocalypse-anticipating mystic monks came to be known locally as the Hermits of the Wissahickon. I like to picture them huddling around a fire on a hillside not far from my apartment telling stories about life in the Old World. Come here to read stories about life in contemporary Philadelphia that might be nice to read by a fire but are unfit for an audience of pious monks.

“Kelpius and the boys” | Albert Bierstadt, 1863
  • The Observatory: Imagine standing atop a ridge in the Pennsylvania wilderness in the 1690s, gazing up at the stars on a clear night. It must have been pretty sick, because Kelpius and his boys built a whole-ass observatory just to get a better look. Supposedly it even harbored a functional telescope. Anyway, since light pollution wrecked all that, this observatory isn't for admiring celestial spheres. It's for cherishing the citizens, businesses, initiatives, places, and anything else that makes me happy to call Philadelphia home.

A sketch of the observatory from “The German Pietists of Provincial Pennsylvania,” by Julius Friedrich Sachse

And then there’s Far Away Places, which is where I’ll occasionally post pieces unrelated to Philadelphia.

A scene from Mad Men. IYKYK.

Why subscribe?

The central blog posts about trash removal will be free to the public, as will selected pieces from the other newsletters. Here are three reasons why you might want to become a paid subscriber:

  1. You appreciate the written content that I post — in any or all of the newsletters — and you want to get full access to every word.

  2. You don’t give a shit about my written content, but you think it’s cool that I pick up litter off the streets, so you want to support those efforts.

  3. You couldn’t really care less about anything I’m doing here, but you live in Philly and your street is covered with garbage, and maybe you cleaned it up once or twice, but it just keeps coming back, so you want to be able to submit clean-up requests to me directly. Paying subscribers can do so, and as long as it’s a job one Camry-driving man can handle, I’ll get on it ASAP.

Stay up-to-date

Also, paid or not, if you subscribe then you won’t have to worry about missing anything. Every new piece goes directly to your inbox. Or maybe to your spam folder, so check there if you aren’t seeing anything.

Join the crew

Finally, subscribing means becoming part of a strange, eclectic little community: my friends, their parents… that’s all, really. I’m working on it.

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