Burn out: from burden to blessing

A writer/publisher ponders what sheds light on the dark

vol. 3 issue 40


Happy Autumn. Time to take stock, not take with us whatever is unnecessary as we enter the coming season of prolonged darkness.

It’s also the last Friday of the month, and so the last docu-mental of the month, as well. Thank you to all those who completed the survey, I appreciated reading every word of your feedback.

Many of you noted that although you’ve been inspired and called to ponder things as a result of the exploration of hierarchy that I have done this year, you look forward to how I might apply these insights to solutions and new directions. To that end, I am still churning that over, frankly. But thank you for your faith in me!

Speaking of which…

A couple of you asked about whether I could explore burn out more. Okay, but probably not as you’re thinking of it. So, just in case, here’s an article on burn out in pandemic America, written by an internist Lucy McBride, MD: Burnout Is a Medical Condition - The Atlantic. That’s probably what you were looking for.

Still, here’s my take on burn out. It’s an amplification on what I wrote last week about surrendering to what is, rather than arguing for what is not nor ever going to be.

The pandemic has made too many of us feel as though there is just not much left within our control. But maybe that’s not entirely true. You do have control over whether or not you will have faith in what might yet come to pass, and more to the point, you do control if you will choose to have faith in your ability to face the unknown and integrate it.

In the spirit of those covid crisped frontline workers, such as Dr. McBride, who continue to give when there is so little left of themselves to give, I want to call attention to the many independent publishers who are increasingly legion, yet unique, often quirky.

We’re not putting ourselves on the front lines of disease. I am not equating what we’re doing with that.

But we are willing to put our reputations on the line, and to keep asking inconvenient questions, and to keep insisting on hard truths during times when truth is elusive.

Whatever we offer, it’s not prescriptive, unlike the ranks that teem from the corporate media mold, the one that accommodates what one of my fellow indy publishers and docu-mental readers, Greg Olear, calls the “supine” press. I love that. Lazy ass and mealy mouthed. Does what it’s told and tells us to do the same. Supine.

As I noted last week, small house publishers are facing a wave of burn out, on top of the national reaction to the pandemic (and all the bullshit that led up to and continues to exacerbate it, don’t forget). Just this week, yet another two more of those indies I read admitted to being fried, like Emily at HEATED, who offered what she’ll be doing about it, and Beth Owl’s Daughter who suggests how to cope with the pandemic fatigue she, and possibly you, are feeling.

Myself, this time I don’t feel the burn out so much as a burden than as a harbinger.

Burn out, in general, to me means grinding away at something without the agency to assign the task any meaning, to not have the option to take ownership of it. It is to be given responsibility without any authority over the outcome.

Well, duh. It’s my own publication, so why would I burn out?

Because when the only models for work we’ve ever valued in our economy are essentially either serfdom or entrepreneurialism, it’s easy to forget that weaving together new thoughts, new visions to lay the foundation of a new world, fits neither mold, even if it has traces of each.

It is, however, to my mind, an act of service that can’t be easily slotted into a category, especially since while I do hope to connect what I am doing with profit, I am not doing this for the money. What artist does?

Like so many other indy publishers, I do this as a labor of love, and I do see it as art. It’s a calling of sorts, a spiritual exercise that I and other indy publishers feel is essential. It’s a way to channel our authentic selves, the ones not permitted by the rank and file systematic molding of souls that funnels gain up and away from those who actually create anything of value.

So, I am going to crow a bit about that, both for my sake and for the other indies I admire.

From the time I was 8, I knew I wanted to be a writer. When I was 16, I knew I was a writer. But it was by the time I was 21 I understood fundamentally, I was more of a question asker, less a wordsmith, no matter what I did with my pen.

Over the years that I wrote first about music, then municipal law, then about medicine, health policy, healthcare economics and antitrust law, and then music once again, I always tried to ask the questions that my readers would ask if they had the same access to sources I had. I viewed my good fortune to be paid to ask questions as an opportunity to serve. That wasn’t always easy because I was self-conscious about my lack of formal journalistic training and my mushy education, thanks to an inability to focus while in college, the fallout of depression and sustained trauma.

Sometimes that meant I first had to ask really dumb questions. I had to make my sources my teachers. Most of the time they were okay with that, occasionally they weren’t, but those were the jerks, so to hell with them.

By the time I got to covering Capitol Hill, the jerkitude was plentiful and I was let down to discover too often I actually was the expert in the conversation even though the jerk in question was trying to make me feel like I was the horse’s ass. By then, though, I was nearly 50, a veteran of asking questions, and instead of being afraid, it just made me angry.

I decided being of service doesn’t mean having to take crap off dumb, mean, bloated, and pasty white jerks toddling around in matching suits and ties with cheesy American flag pinned on them, preening about stupid shit they don’t really care about, but have convinced you that you do, so they set you up and then pander, so they can steal your power and your money. We’ve covered that ground before.

So, I started docu-mental.

As a side bar, a few of my journalistic heroes (Hi, Leo!) keep slogging away on the Hill covering that nasty pile of steaming poop with grace and humor, mostly for trade publications you’ve never heard of, but that tolerate, if not demand, more penetrating and nuanced questions.

Independent publishing can be both energizing and enervating, because our readers are the bosses in our minds, and we’re not supposed to have bosses if we’re driven to be authentic.

It can be hard to trust that you, the reader, will be there if we deviate from our original course, the one that brought us to your attention. Yet it’s the divergence from the path that makes what we write valuable, sometimes even brilliant because it’s so different, so daring, so inspired.

But brilliance can only come with agency.

It takes an acceptance that as independent publishers, we are engaged in a strange performance art that blends service with daring, artistry with trust, curiosity with consistency. It means also having faith that if we write it, think it, explore it, you will be there to witness and support it.

It means owning who we are in the moment, yoking that to whatever delivers the highest form of service, and not trying to be something we’re not just to make a buck.

Losing faith in our agency as servants who publish is so easy to do because it’s so novel. But it’s so gratifying, even if for me at least, I am always somewhat nervous about being too far off the grid of acceptable ideas — but too late, huh? The mission statement of my publication includes mapping stuff, so wandering around in the wilderness and cutting a path is implied.

My lack of training, my “self-taughtness”, my not having been taught directly the rules of how this is done, is I think (and your feedback verifies) my strength. Mostly I see my pain and the way it has trained my ear as my gifts. I ask the questions that haunt me as an American, that drive me to explore what makes us anxious and depressed.

What questions remain? What questions are coming from the future? I’ve spent the better part of the summer and all of this month pondering these questions.

The harbinger that is my current burnout, then, is that something new is coming, even if the incubation of whatever it is has yet to offer its measure.

Something new is coming, even if it comes in darkness.

There will always follow the light after the dark. Whatever is there, I want to trace its outlines, enter its depths. What is it? What can I be responsible for bringing to your attention?

So, perhaps consider that even if you feel burned out, things are germinating…

Consider that you are not alone. Others such as the below sampling of independent publishers whom I support and read are trying to get their arms around the darkness, too. Some sentiments I agree with, some I don’t. However, I trust each one of them because all are writings based in the respective author’s expertise gained by fully engaging with their lives, examining it, and processing it — publicly.

Many of these publishers recently have expressed in some fashion how they are feeling a need to re-vamp, to re-consider, to refresh, in order to prepare for what is on the horizon, and not be burned out by it.

Not one of them parrots received wisdom from above. Bias, therefore, is irrelevant. What counts is authenticity, which is to say, they act with agency.

They are decidedly not supine.

Maybe you’ll consider joining the other seekers I’ve listed below, as they sniff the wind, so to speak, and find their way to the leading edge of all our Zeitgeist.

But lastly, if you’re feeling burnt out, maybe ask yourself at this time when the darkness is overtaking the light — for a season, not forever — how are you authentic? How does your authenticity give you peace of mind, and call you to engage with your life? How do you exercise that agency? Does doing so invigorate your faith in yourself, in others, in the future?



Prevail Pointing out the bad guys and what to do about their sorry asses. Well written, well researched, and funny.

HEATED For people pissed off about the climate crisis.

Popular Info For people who DO NOT want to rely on the supine media.

Elisabeth Grace For a look at the news from a heavenly point of view.

Tangle Both sides of every story, plus the middle.

Letters from an American Tomorrow’s history written as a letter to you today. Highly cited with news sources, mainstream and otherwise.

trickle down wellness Funny, scathing, provocative indictments of the conspirituality crowd, and other woowoo bozoness. Probably the most annoying but compelling publication I regularly read. Well-written.

ProPublica Because hold power to account, goddammit.

Beth Owl’s Daughter Some Boomers are not full-blown narcissists, but are generous and aware of what’s really going on all around, within, above, and below us all. Beth has a way of showing us how to see with new eyes.

Jane Friedman All about publishing, including memoirs and novels. Lots of funky digital hacks you will not know about unless you read her.

Simon Owens All about publishing digital newsletters.

Weird Times Compendium of interesting things to inspire. including a lot of bird sightings.

BIG by Matt Stoller Monopolies suck…the money out of your pocket, the safety from our borders, and the soul from our labor force.

Acute Condition by Olivia Webb Monopolies suck…the money from the pockets of patients.

misfit stars A community of people with a musical duo at the center.

DCMTA Theater in your nation’s capital.

Sarah K. Benning Because we all need a little beauty to hang on the wall, that’s why.

And, for those who subscribe, the September-October Ensouled is coming this weekend. It features a look at the mystery and meanings of the Moon, the ones it’s important to know and appreciate before it’s too late when Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, takes ownership of it.