Thursday, November 15, 2012
Letters, I get letters
It’s time, I think, to repeat something I’ve said before. I get lots of reader feedback -- in the form of emails, combox remarks, letters, and so forth -- and (apart from the scribblings of the occasional nasty crackpot) I appreciate all of it. But I’m afraid that I am able to respond to very little of it. I get long and detailed emails asking various philosophical and theological questions, people requesting that I read manuscripts or help them get something published, people raising detailed criticisms of my work and asking for a response, people asking for advice about which books to read or which academic programs to consider entering, people requesting spiritual or other personal advice. In one case a got a request for help in getting a movie made; in another I had a reader turn up in my classroom out of the blue wanting me to sign a book. I also get people in the blog combox asking me to answer various questions or to respond to various objections. Sometimes I feel like Harry Tuttle. It is simply humanly impossible for me to respond, in detail or even at all, to most of these requests. I’m sorry, I wish I could, but I simply cannot.
At the moment I have five book projects going in various stages of development, two of them under contract and a third with a co-author. That means deadlines, lots of background reading, writing and rewriting, and in one case the editing of other people’s work. I’ve continually got academic articles, book reviews, conference papers, other editing duties, and the like to attend to as well. That means further deadlines, reading, writing and rewriting. I try to write up at least one substantive blog post a week, and sometimes more. Occasionally I have to travel. I teach five classes a semester and have various other work-related duties. I have a wife and six children. We’re remodeling the house just now. And I’ve no doubt forgotten something. In short: I’m as busy as all hell.
So, if I fail to answer some question either sent by email or posted in the combox, that does not mean that I don’t think it is a good question, or that I don’t know the answer, or that I am trying to insult the person who asked it, or that I don’t appreciate reader feedback. If I fail to respond to some criticism of my work posted in the combox or on some other blog or sent to me by letter or email, that does not entail that I think it is devastating and that I do not know how to respond to it. If I fail to delete some crackpot comment from the blog combox, that does not entail that I agree with it or that I think it is anything other than a crackpot comment. If a comment ends up in the spam box or moderation queue and I don’t approve it for several hours or even a day or two, that doesn’t entail that I am trying to censor the person who posted it. If I fail to ban some troll from the combox, that does not mean that he is not a troll or that I am giving tacit permission to other readers to feed him. Here’s what all these things do mean: I simply don’t have enough damn time to get to all this stuff. That’s all.
Occasionally I can and do respond, but there is bound to be, from the reader’s point of view, no rhyme or reason to when and how I do so. Sometimes it’s because I just happen to have ten minutes between classes on some particular day, and thus can reply briefly to some email or comment that I happen to notice at that moment. Sometimes it’s because my brain is so fried on a particular day from reading, writing, or grading exams that spending a little time answering the reader combox comment or email du jour is a welcome diversion. But there’s no predictability to it. If you email me or post a comment one day, you might get a prompt and substantive response; the same email or comment might, if sent or posted on another day, get only a very brief response, and on yet another day no response at all.
Sorry, but them’s the breaks. If you like the blog and my books and articles, please consider that it is precisely because I have to devote time to them and to other things that I cannot also, on top of that, answer every, or even very many, of the queries put to me. I think most readers understand this, but occasionally there’s a complaint. “When will you respond to my email?” “Why don’t you respond to this comment I posted?” “Why don’t you monitor the combox discussion more carefully?” Hey, I’m only one man!