The progressive blogosphere is—pun not intended—a-Twitter with the news of one of its most respected members, Grist’s Dave Roberts, announcing he was taking a year off to avoid burnout. His explanation resonated deeply with a lot of political writers and gabbers:
I spend each day responding to an incoming torrent of tweets and emails. I file, I bookmark, I link, I forward, I snark and snark and snark. All day long. Then, at night, after my family’s gone to bed and the torrent has finally slowed to a trickle and I can think for more than 30 seconds at a stretch, I try to write longer, more considered pieces.
I enjoy every part of this: I enjoy sharing zingers with Twitter all day; I enjoy writing long, wonky posts at night. But the lifestyle has its drawbacks. I don’t get enough sleep, ever. I don’t have any hobbies. I’m always at work. Other than hanging out with my family, it’s pretty much all I do — stand at a computer, immersing myself in the news cycle, taking the occasional hour out to read long PDFs. I’m never disconnected.
It’s doing things to my brain.
I think in tweets now. My hands start twitching if I’m away from my phone for more than 30 seconds. I can’t even take a pee now without getting “bored.” I know I’m not the only one tweeting in the bathroom. I’m online so much that I’ve started caring about “memes.” I feel the need to comment on everything, to have a “take,” preferably a “smart take.” The online world, which I struggle to remember represents only a tiny, unrepresentative slice of the American public, has become my world. I spend more time there than in the real world, have more friends there than in meatspace.
And then there’s the grind, the pressure to interpret each day’s development through the lens of which team it will benefit. I spend a lot of my time being angry: angry at Republicans for being crazy assholes, angry at enviros for being so hapless, angry at the media, angry at random people on Twitter. It’s not just that U.S. politics involves daily offenses against decency and good sense, it’s that it just keeps offering the same offenses, over and over — same gridlock, same cranks and ideologues, same arguments, same grind.
I feel like I’ve had every discussion related to climate change or energy at least a million times. The “how to talk about it” discussion, the “is Obama a climate hero or the worst thing since Hitler” discussion, the “should climate scientists be advocates” discussion, the “carbon tax vs. cap-and-whatever vs. innovation” discussion, the “clean energy is intermittent” discussion, on and on and on. I’ve had them all so many times I’ve gotten to the point where I’m irritated and impatient with pretty much everything everybody says about anything.
And I feel bad about that. There are waves of new people coming into the climate and clean energy world, full of verve and ideas. They are going through the same process of discovery I went through. I have tried to provide them with perspective and context, insofar as I’m able, but lately I just feel like yelling at them to get off my lawn. That is unfair to them and unflattering to me. I don’t want to become a bitter person.
I need some time away from all of it: from climate change, the media, blogs, commenters, Twitter, the news cycle, the endless battle for a livable future. I need to clear my head.
So Dave’s bailing for a year on Labor Day, when he’ll unplug, get in shape, and maybe write a novel. I am curious about what his re-entry will be like. Baseball great Jim Palmer was once asked how a pitcher can get over a sore arm, and he replied: “Take a year off. And then retire.”
All full-time political scribblers and gabbers fear burnout these days, and have different coping mechanisms. Mine is to take “weekends off” seriously. Others take long vacations or develop hobbies a million miles psychologically away from the day job. In other professions, people plan their retirements; in political journalism (other than in a few privileged pockets), “retirement” in the conventional sense is rarely in the cards. But we get by, and will follow Dave’s experiment with fond good wishes and more than a little envy.
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