Good Night, and Joy Be To You All

There’s no good way to do this, is there? Okay, fine. Land hard, roll left.

This is my last post at First Draft. I’m hanging up the hockey skates and parking the crack van, leaving Adrastos and the boys the keys. I know it seems like 2020 broke everybody, but this isn’t that. Look, it’s been 16 years. SIXTEEN YEARS.

This blog is in high school. It’s got its drivers license, can make itself a peanut butter sandwich and knows how to do its own laundry. It’s time.

In 2004 I had a nice, normal, adult life doing what I was always meant to do, the only thing I’ve ever been good at, which was being a reporter. You have to understand this was the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my life. My first newsroom was like being switched on, like the first fireworks on the Fourth of July, like oh, here’s what I’m for. I chased that high for a decade afterwards, met some truly outstanding people and some real bastards, learned a lot from having my head bashed in a few dozen times, and told some stories I’m still proud of.

But around 2004-ish, it wasn’t working anymore. If you don’t know how scary it is when the thing you are, when the only thing you know how to do with any kind of skill, stops working, God I hope you never find out. I got up every morning and I dragged myself to the job and I wrote for my life and it all felt terrible, stilted and dumb and bad. I could not convince myself it was worth the powder but I also had no idea what else to do.

Enter the internet. The first internet, the one run from the Salon comments section and Television Without Pity, with writing that conveyed the urgency of things, that seemed adequate to a moment in which absolutely everybody had just lost their whole entire minds. Things were SO STUPID and nobody was really saying anything about how stupid it all was.

The switch flipped again. I wanted to write like the people I started reading, I wanted to stay up all night talking with these smart weirdos about things that mattered, which is what got me into journalism in the first place. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT and this was the only place I could do that.

I wanted to write a book. I wanted to write posts. I wanted to write, again, and it was like lightning in my veins. Again.

What I didn’t expect, actually, was that anyone would read it.

Or care.

Or, like, donate money or book flights or buy books or do anything I asked them to do.

All we do here, all any writer ever does, is say what we have to say with the voice we possess. That’s why I get so angry at people with megaphones who spend their time hating and dividing, that’s why I get so angry at the people who pay those people. Your one job is to put something out in the world and this is what you do with it?

We fought Bush, and lost, and we fought for and with Obama, too, and won some, and lost, and we argued and made up (some of the time) and good Lord did we do some good. You guys cleaned pelicans when there was an oil spill and gutted a house after a hurricane and you funded a food pantry’s gift giveaway four years running, during the worst of the worst, and when all of this shit started you helped out each other. You were, and are, fantastic.

I had a kid, I worked two jobs, I got a new job, Trump got elected. I lost friends, I lost lots of illusions I didn’t know I still had. And somewhere along the line this became harder than it should be, and I’m not doing what I need to do for you here if all I’m doing is dragging myself to it. I feel like I talk and say the same things over and over. But:

In the past 16 years, through three presidents, and a house and a kid and eight ferrets and two cats and a couple more career changes, this place and the community we built has been my constant. I don’t quite know what I’ll do without you.

I have made lifelong friends here, people I talk to every day. I have always believed that people are basically good and want to be brave and true, but I had no idea. God, you’re all amazing.

I don’t want to end this by dumping on anyone, by the way. That this part of the story doesn’t end with me taking some fancy editorial page gig is okay. A lot of people I started out with have left. Some got famous and sucked into various modes of living in the political world and I have opinions about that and likely always will; no one but me is responsible for where I ended up. I don’t always want to hustle hard and that bites me in the ass. Look, at my age you’d better know what you are.

Things may change. Sometimes the work you do sleeps until it’s called and you don’t get to decide when that is.

Never throw your notes out, is what I usually say when asked advice about journalism. Never forget a source or lose track of a story, because one day when you least expect it there will be a knock on your door and everything you thought you’d given up on will be there to claim you. Understand the aftershocks, understand there’s no such thing as getting over. You just get on, and if you’re lucky you learn to live peaceably with all the yous you ever were, and forgive and love them, hard and mercilessly.

That’s the substance of a novel I started working on last year. This year I might finish it, I think; I’m working on it every day now, three sentences at a time, and it won’t leave me alone, the same way the last book I wrote wouldn’t leave me alone, which means it’s time to write it.

This isn’t Goodbye Cruel World. I’m not leaving the internet, and I’ll still be freelancing for various places. I’m on Twitter. I haven’t changed my e-mail address for 20 years. I’ll be around if you need me.

But it’s time to chase that high again, and this place made it possible for me to recognize that.

I owe you all everything, and I’ll love you all always.


28 thoughts on “Good Night, and Joy Be To You All

  1. Fair winds and following seas, Athena, and never doubt that you made our world shine a little brighter for pouring your passion into it.

    1. What @driftglass said – and full tankards!
      We know ye’ll keep fighting the good fight and we’ll be out there listening for your voice in the digital wilderness!

  2. You are the best damned writer on the net. I hope you succeed brilliantly as a novelist; all you need is luck. The talent and the drive you were born with. Thanks for all you’ve done in the past, and thanks in advance for what you will do.

  3. Your work here will be greatly missed. I know you will do well in whatever you put your hand to. If you get a sudden attack of the snarks, come visit Baby Blue.

  4. Well, my very best wishes, Ms. Hantschel. I am sure that we will all read your next successes. You are smart, funny, full of experience and depth. Thanks for sticking around as long as you did.

  5. A – thank you so much for 16 years of ferrets, cats, Freeperati, Quitting Time Booster Shots, and especially the commentary on journalism. You built something special. This blog has an identity and a personality. That is not easy to do for a. short time, let alone 16 years! I wish the gang all the luck moving forward – I will still be a loyal lurker, but to reminisce a bit some of my favorite things:

    1. The Gaggle. This is what brought me to the blog, because calling bullshit on Ari Fletcher (though now it seems quaint after DJT) was something I didn’t think the media did competently.

    2. The calling out of journalists that just mailed it in and were defect stenographers.

    3. The insight into the print news business.

    4. Jude’s post on “I Didn’t Fight for your Freedom” – this was one of the most powerful and (mostly) elegant pieces on war and service I have ever read.

    5. Seeing the birth of the webs first “Ferret Influencer”. We just didn’t know that is what we were supposed to call you.

    6. All the other great content and perspectives, written by a group of people that were independent in thought but unified in purpose (and I believe friendship).

    7. Making an Ohio State guy like Badgers. At least 364 days of the year…..

    Good luck on all you do A. To the rest of the team, thank you and I look forward to continuing my consumption of your writing and ideas.


  6. Thanks for the wild ride and outpost of sanity, Athenae, and all the best on the next adventure. May it have few shitty people and more good ones in it.

  7. A profound shock. Let me be honest — it’s because I will be losing a wonderful constant in my days. But, grateful for the uncounted times you made me laugh, cry, be angry, donate, and get off my butt and try to do something. Never think that your efforts have not been inspiring. All best wishes to you and your family.

  8. It’s been great fun, and enlightening. First the ferrets, then Kick (who must be close to making her own PB&J sandwiches), and now a novel! Best of luck and stay in touch.

  9. You do you. I’ll see you on Twitter, and I eagerly await the book. And, God willing, at some point you and Adrastos and Jude and the gang and I will hoist a pint together in the real world.

  10. I can’t even tell you how many times your writing lightened the load. More than a few times it was magic that carried it entirely. Your writing about Battlestar Galactica got me fired up to face the day so many times and I didn’t even watch the show. You are a good egg.

  11. Popped in for an end-of-year Athenae fix and burst into tears when I read of your departure. I’ve been lurking since 2005, never commented but always returned for the fierce brilliance of your writing. Thank you Allison, for raw, bottom-of-the-soul writing, for sharing yourself, your family and your critters with us these past 16 years. May the road always rise up to meet you, wherever it leads. So say we all.

  12. I’m very sorry to hear this, Athenae–I’ve always loved your wit and passion and insight. Best of fortune to you in all your future endeavors, and thank you for all you have given us.

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