I’ve been updating this site daily for 12 years. That is, to put it mildly, a very long time.
Four houses, four cats, three cars, two counties, thousands of books, millions of words, gallons of tea — how do you quantify the passage of time? How do you put it in terms that people find accessible, understandable? Is it possible to articulate a life in numbers?
I wrote my first entry on this website when I was still working in an office, and it was summer, and hot, and I felt restless and dull. I was, honestly, kind of disappointed with what I was making of my life and I wanted to push myself to do better. I wrote some things. Most of them weren’t very good. People read them anyway, and slowly there were more and more of them, and I made friendships and contacts and built a network. Just a few months later, I had said farewell to my office job and my zip code and joined the precariat.
I used to produce much more confessional writing, much more creative nonfiction. I wrote some really outstanding, compelling personal essays that I’m very proud of. I wrote some really mediocre and sometimes terrible things. I wrote hot takes and bad takes and tried to sort through my thoughts about issues on a very public platform. I really fucked some stuff up, too. It’s all here. This is not just a website but also a personal history, a captain’s log in the sense that blogs were always intended to be — oh, I know we’re not supposed to use that term anymore, but let’s not kid ourselves. That’s what this website started out as. That’s what it has always been. There’s no shame in that.
Over time, the idea of writing daily — you know, like they tell you to do if you want to be a real writer — became a fun challenge, but also an odd fixation, and I know that many of my fellow mentally ill people will understand me when I say that fixations can become obsessions can become toxic, driving us forward like those ants colonised by fungus, an empty shell with a brain controlled by something else. Must. Persist.
The last six months or so have been, as some of you may have noticed, a struggle.
For a lot of different reasons. Because I deal with cyclical depression and I am in a dark place right now. Because my amount of free time is shrinking, and I cannot sink hours every week into unpaid work. Because I have said a lot of things here, and I’m not done saying things, but I don’t always have something new and engaging to say. Because often when I do have something compelling, I want someone to pay me to write about it somewhere else, I want the ability to go in much deeper. Because I have been doing more and more reported features and less opinion and commentary, which is mostly what I tend to run here. Because sometimes I finish a draft and feel like it’s a boring, insipid, cliched, irritating lecture, not a new and interesting addition to the conversation. Because the type of writing I do here has become, less and less, the type of writing I love, and the type of writing I love isn’t well suited to this format.
Of late I have begun to dread writing things here, to put it off, to find something else to do. I have started and stopped this draft any number of times, will likely struggle with it countless more before I finish it, as much as anything is ever finished, really. From a fun project to a way to communicate to a home for things I couldn’t fit elsewhere, this website has become a chore. And that is not a good thing.
This is a year in which I have been forced to make a lot of difficult choices, and in which I have tried to change the way I lead my life, the way I allocate my time, the way I interact with the world. Some of those changes have been internal and subtle, others public and more obvious, as I sift through the demands on my time, experience, and energy, and decide which should be prioritised. I have taken the challenge of leading a life that is healthier for me and managing my mental health more effectively and appropriately seriously this year, because I don’t subscribe to the notion that it’s better to burn too bright and flame out than never burn at all anymore. I believe it can, and should be, possible to do great and wonderful things without killing yourself in the process, and 2017 is the year in which I am trying to make that happen.
Because 2016 was the year when I started to see my cognitive capacity lagging, when the quality of my work and my critical thinking skills began to decline, when I struggled with things that would have been easy even a year before. It was a year of fear and frustration created by outside events, but abject terror about what was going on within my own mind, a constant sense of doom exacerbated by the very real possibility that I had reached, and passed, my cognitive peak. Something, I began to understand, needed to give.
In May, I lost my cat Leila, and I had a conversation about the complicated rubric surrounding end-of-life decisions for pets with my friend Louise Hung. What do you do, I asked, when they’re alert and happy and enjoying life, but their bodies aren’t there? She was fighting to breathe, at the end, gasping and choking, but she was still eating, and purring, and playing, even as she looked at me with a sense of betrayal, failing to understand why every breath was a ferocious struggle and why I wasn’t doing anything about it. We sat out on the lawn she’d never set foot on except for a few brief escapes and I watched her nose around the ferns, simultaneously thrilled and delighted by the scent of the forbidden but also miserable.
So what do you do when your mind is here but your heart is not?
You take a rest.
For the next month, I’m not going to think about this website. I’m not going to update it, I’m not going to fuss about in WordPress doing the growing maintenance that creaky huge sites entail, I’m not going to brainstorm post ideas. I’m going to let it rest. And on 1 July, I’ll see how I feel.
This is a both liberating and terrifying sensation. I don’t now if I will come back in July rested and prepared to plunge back in to daily posts. If I will be ready to return, but also determined to radically shift the nature of what appears here. If I will decide to post sporadic updates here when I feel moved to do so. Breaking the streak frees me to understand that I don’t have to update every day, that it is okay, that this is not a contest or a race, that I am not a failure.
And maybe this will be the last post that ever appears here. I will take the next month to decide if I’m okay with that, too, with leaving the site up as an archive for people who find it useful (please do not reprint content without permission, it’s not going anywhere, I promise, and it makes me incendiarily angry that people continue to do this). Term limits exist for a reason.
I don’t know what’s ahead for this website. But I do know that I’m certainly not going to stop writing. I often assume that people who read me here read me elsewhere, but if you don’t, and you like my work, now is probably a good time to start. I update my Twitter when my work goes up elsewhere — just in the last few weeks I’ve written about sending cremains to Congress, the fight for better treatment options for patients with perinatal mood disorders, and much more, with writing on marijuana policy and labour practices on chicken farms to round it out. My journalistic tastes remain as eclectic as my personal ones — I once described this site as a silva rerum, and that’s accurate — though sometimes confounding for my career, because I don’t fit into neat, easy boxes. If you care about the issues I care about, you’ll find them woven throughout my writing. If you like how I write, you’ll like me even better when I’m edited.
You can find me on Instagram, too, if you like things more casual and just want to see what I’m eating, which cats I’m meeting, and what I’m reading.
I don’t bite, I promise. I’m always interested to hear from readers, and my inbox — sesmith at realsesmith dot com — is always open, as is my physical mailbox: PO Box 2764, Fort Bragg, CA 95437. If you have a burning question, or just want to say hi, don’t be shy (be advised that I don’t always see Twitter @replies — email is really the most direct and reliable route). If you found something interesting and you think I might like it, don’t be afraid to send me a link. If there’s something you’ve been longing to see me write about, poke me, and there’s a good chance it will interest me as well, and maybe I can find an editor who shares my passion and wants to work with me on bringing a rich, layered, fascinating piece to life. If you’re an editor who wants to work with me on an amazing project — whether it’s the fight over accessibility and ridesharing, the exploitation of contract labour in Silicon Valley, abuse of LGBQT disabled people in home care settings, the modern pet death care movement, how the left is reclaiming patriotism, or any number of other things I’m researching and thinking about, you know where to find me.
In the meantime, be kind to one another. And remember that liberation for some is justice for none.