It took me a while to absorb the fact that Andrew Sullivan is leaving blogging after 15 years. As he says in his note to readers:
The second is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.
I want to spend some real time with my parents, while I still have them, with my husband, who is too often a ‘blog-widow’, my sister and brother, my niece and nephews, and rekindle the friendships that I have simply had to let wither because I’m always tied to the blog. And I want to stay healthy. I’ve had increasing health challenges these past few years. They’re not HIV-related; my doctor tells me they’re simply a result of fifteen years of daily, hourly, always-on-deadline stress. These past few weeks were particularly rough – and finally forced me to get real.
Andrew and I have had a love-hate relationship over the years, since the very beginning of his blogging. No need to go back over it here, but the fact is that I owe the guy a lot. When I began solo blogging on Beliefnet back in 2006, links to my posts by Andrew was, if I remember correctly, the single biggest reason my blog grew so fast. And when I started blogging here at TAC after the Templeton hiatus, Andrew throwing me links had a lot to do with me regaining my audience. When my book on my sister came out, Andrew promoted it on his site with a video interview series. We had a long dinner that night, which I enjoyed hugely, and came to respect him more and to have more affection for him. This, despite his “Christianist” stuff. People are complicated. I depend on my friends putting up with my own nonsense and hysterias (peak oil, anyone?); it’s part of what makes writing and the writing life fun.
I’ve spent periods where I’ve not read Andrew for weeks (after one too many of the Palin gynecological expeditions), but of course I always come back, because inevitably I miss him. And now he’s going to be gone. Selfishly, I regret that he’s not going to be there to hate and to love but always to read. On the other hand, assuming he’s got a financial cushion, I don’t blame him for doing this.
Blogging professionally is one of those jobs like being a movie critic. Everybody thinks it’s easy, until they try to do it. It’s not so much that you have to stay “on” all the time as it’s that you can’t turn it off. When Andrew says he’s burned out, I believe him. In the past four years, I’ve written two books, and am in the process of finishing co-writing a third, all the while continuing doing this blog, and other writing projects. And I’m not complaining! I really love my job. But for reasons outside of my control, the work got incredibly intense for the last three months of the year, and I lost my health again (though I seem to be bouncing back, Deo gratias). It’s stress. I regret to say that I don’t know how to unplug digitally. I can’t stand still in a line without checking e-mail, approving blog comments, living digitally. That’s messed up. What’s even more messed up is that I love this stuff. I really do. This is the best job I’ve ever had, and the best I can imagine having. And every time I start feeling worn out, I’ll be driving and seeing some guy busting their butts on a road crew in the Louisiana sun, and I’ll realize how easy I have it.
It does take a toll. I spent five hours on a phone call today with my writing partner on this next book (out this fall), and still blogged. I was so wiped by day’s end I couldn’t even walk around the long block with the kids after dark. My wife feels like a blog widow a lot of the time, and my kids feel like blog orphans. I wonder sometimes what it would be like if I took a three-month hiatus in which I wrote nothing, or at least nothing that I published instantly. I can’t afford to do that, but I think about it.
So, good luck to Andrew Sullivan. I hope he gets healthier, calmer, and finds a still place in which to dwell for a while. It’s got to be hard to walk away from one of the most successful blogs on the Internet. The year that I was working at Templeton and wasn’t allowed to blog was really, really stressful. I wouldn’t be surprised if after six months of resting up, Andrew didn’t come back. That would be fine too.
I wish his talented staff well, and hope they find work soon. They’re nice guys, at least the ones I’ve met: Chris Bodenner and Patrick Appel, and the staffer with whom I’ve corresponded, and whose work I admire, Matthew Sitman.