By Brendan Loy
[UPDATE, 7/14: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! FYI, a group of Alan’s “rare readers” — myself included — have launched a group blog in an effort to keep alive the wonderful community he built. It’s called “Sullivan’s Travelers.” Please join us!]
Author, poet and blogger extraordinaire Alan Sullivan has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 61.
Alan’s partner, Tim Murphy, confirmed Alan’s death a few minutes ago, writing in a blog comment at 12:48 PM MDT: “Alan died peacefully.” This was a follow-up to Tim’s 12:09 PM comment, in which he wrote: “I just talked to Dr. D. Alan is sleeping peacefully, smiling, and he will wake in a better place.”
I first discovered Alan’s blog in 2004, during Hurricane Ivan. Like me, Alan was a “weather nerd” — not a meteorologist, but a layperson with a keen interest in hurricanes and other meteorological phenomena, and a knack for translating that interest into excellent blog coverage. His commentary on the tropics was indispensable to me in 2004, and became even moreso in 2005, when the Atlantic erupted with a record 28 storms, including Hurricane Katrina (my blog coverage of which was, of course, a defining event of my decade).
But before long, I found myself drawn to more than just Alan’s hurricane coverage. Here was a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, a superb writer with a keen intellect and a broad array of interests that he eagerly blogged about — weather and other natural disasters, yes, but also politics and religion and culture, not to mention the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ideologically, we could hardly have been more different. But Alan challenged me and fascinated me. Even when I thought he was absolutely dead wrong — wronger than wrong — his commentary and analysis was always worth reading. And so was the lighter fare: Alan was a person who loved aesthetic beauty for its own sake, whether in the form of scenic vistas or pretty pictures or beautiful prose and poetry. That came through in his blog, too. So did his love of the sea — Alan was an avid sailor, until his declining health turned him involuntarily into a landlubber; his blog nickname was “seablogger” — and of nature and God. He had a unique perspective: a gay man who came of age in the ’60s as a liberal, but became a staunch conservative and, ultimately, a deeply religious Catholic, fully at peace with himself and his beliefs. He did not fit neatly into any “box” or stereotype. He was his own man, always, to the end.
All of which adds up to the broader conclusion that, as I wrote in May, Alan was “a near-perfect blogger, with a remarkable knack for weaving in captivating discussions of his own life, alongside political flames, alongside miscellaneous thought-provoking posts about assorted and sundry topics, all without seeming narcissistic or navel-gazing in the slightest. In short, he accomplishes something I was once accused of: ‘Thousands of bloggers have failed to make themselves interesting enough to cause virtual strangers give a hoot about their lives, but you pull it off effortlessly.'” I can’t speak to whether I ever deserved that praise, but I know Alan absolutely did.
Alan’s talent as a blogger was never more on display than in the final years and months and weeks of his life, as he gave his “rare readers” — as he called us — an intimate window into the nitty-gritty details of his declining health and impending death. He was always brutally honest and straightforward about it all. At the same time, he was philosophical and spiritual: another key point, as his late-in-life conversion to Christianity took place in full view of his blog, giving his readers a rare glimpse of the workings of not just his body and his mind, but also his soul.
Not surprisingly, given his skill as a blogger, Alan attracted a wonderful and devoted community of readers. That has become more apparent than ever in recent weeks, as tributes and well-wishes have come pouring in from regular commenters and “lurkers” alike. His audience, which was sizeable, skewed conservative and religious, but was by no means exclusively so — there are plenty of centrists and liberals, like me, who were regulars, and also plenty of folks with no particular dog in any ideological fight, but who came for the hurricanes, or the volcanoes, or the psalms, or the maritime wisdom, or any of the countless other topics that Alan covered so ably, and then stayed for the rest of Alan’s writing because it was such a joy to read. The end result was one of the more vibrant blog communities I’ve ever encountered, and part of the sadness of Alan’s death is that the community will surely now drift apart. There is no one else who could hope to keep such a diverse group together. In that regard, as in many others, Alan is irreplaceable.
[UPDATE, 7/14: As I mentioned earlier, a group of Alan’s “rare readers” — myself included — are trying to prove that I was wrong about the inevitability of the community drifting apart. We’ve launched a group blog called “Sullivan’s Travelers.” Alan is irreplaceable, obviously, but hopefully we can create a worthwhile blog that will give people a reason to stick around.]
Meanwhile, as exceptional as Fresh Bilge was, Alan wasn’t “just” a blogger. He was also a published novelist and memoirist and poet. Indeed, the great project of the end of his life — which he viewed as divinely inspired — was a complete Hebrew-to-English translation, in poetic form, of the psalms of King David, which will be published posthumously in book form. Like Mozart’s Requiem, it is unfinished; Alan was not quite able to complete the final revisions before he died. But my understanding is that it’s close enough to be publishable. I’m neither a poetry critic nor a religious scholar, but my impression from the commentary on Alan’s psalm posts is that his work is excellent.
Alan was of a completely different generation than me. In fact, he was born on August 14, 1948 — exactly six months after my dad. So here was a staunchly conservative, devoutly Christian, gay man who was old enough to be my father, whereas I am center-left, secular, straight, and young. Superficially, aside from a few common interests like hurricanes and Lord of the Rings, we had little in common. Yet that didn’t matter. It’s hard to put Alan’s greatness as a blogger into words, despite my best efforts here, but greatness is what it was. Alan Sullivan was sui generis, and suffice it to say that, though his blog, I felt like I knew him — an extreme rarity in my experience — and I will really miss him.
Rest in peace, Alan.
UPDATE: In a comment on Alan’s final post, his friend Paul Mussell — to whom he entrusted the publishing of said final post — posted a full obituary:
Alan Thomas Sullivan was born August 14, 1948, in Brooklyn, NY, the only son of Betty and Andrew Sullivan, and died July 9, 2010 in Aventura, FL. A 1970 graduate in English from Trinity College, Hartford, CT, he moved to the Midwest with Timothy Murphy in 1973. He lived in Minneapolis, MN, then Fargo, ND, for 32 years. Diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2005, he relocated permanently to the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida to pursue medical treatment and be near the sea he loved so deeply and missed so dearly during his decades on the prairie.
Alan was a tireless poet, polemicist, raconteur, translator and teacher of poetry. He wrote many books, and much of his writing can be found at http://www.seablogger.com, the blog he maintained which drew an eclectic group of readers drawn by his disquisitions on weather, volcanology, foreign and domestic policy, poetry and matters of the spirit. Alan was a spiritual seeker all his life, and toward its end he turned to the Catholic Church from which he drew great strength and solace. In his final year he undertook to translate the poems of King David. With the able assistance of Seree Zohar in Israel, he completed this great, metrical work, which will soon begin appearing in periodicals, and ultimately in book form. All who knew him marveled at the energy he focused on this final task which he completed on June 24, 2010.
Memorials can be sent to Church of the Little Flower, 1805 Pierce St., Hollywood, FL, 33020. Attention Fr. Tom. Please indicate the memorial is for Sullivan. Funds will be used for relief of the parish poor, and they are many. Fathers Thomas O’Dwyer and Patrick O’Shea will say masses for the repose of Alan’s soul.
I had forgotten that Alan graduated from Trinity College in Hartford. For the first 4 1/2 years of my life, I lived almost literally across the street from Trinity. … More importantly, it’s good to hear the psalms described as “completed.” I believe Alan still wanted to do a bit more editing and revision, as I indicated earlier, but the obit confirms my belief that they’re sufficiently complete to be publishable, and will in fact be published.
P.P.S. Googling Alan’s name, I found this lengthy interview about poetry of Alan by Tim. Very high-brow stuff, but also very personal, and interesting, and replete with nuggets of information about Alan that I didn’t know.
The Internet is a strange and wonderful place.
P.P.P.S. To give you an idea of the community I’m talking about, and its depth of feeling for Alan, here are some of the comments that have been posted to Fresh Bilge’s penultimate post in recent days:
Alan, thank you for your perspective, insight and most of all your common sense. You helped me understand our complex world far more than anyone.
God’s grace will be with you forevermore, Alan. Thank you for the journey. My life and the lives of the not-so-rare readers are immeasurably enriched by what you shared with us on a daily basis. I will miss you.
Good bye my friend. You have managed to invent a new literary form by blogging the last period of your life to a geographically diverse audience who would not otherwise have known of you and your creative struggle. I am currently visiting a neighbor daily in hospital here in Australia and am watching him slip away. We have little in common but just being present with him seems to help. But this blog was something different. Less personal in one way but with deeply held values shared and also ideas and sacred poetry. You are a highly developed man morally with a keen intellect that informs us brilliantly about much of what is happening in the world from weather to politics. And you were able to share it with a wide audience right up to the end. That will help many of us handle our deaths better than we might have been able to otherwise do. I think that is one of the best gifts that we can leave behind. Again thank you.
Lord, you can overlook some of Alan’s politics, but remember those Psalms, okay? He spent his last days on a big project for You. And it’s really great.
Alan, here’s an old hymn for you: “May angels lead you into Paradise, and may Lazarus, who was poor, receive you into the Holy City.”
An exemplary run, Alan. The afterlife aside, your spirit will live on here. You wrote well and I suspect a good deal of it will survive you.
I’m not much of a poet, but this is my poor best in tribute for the wonderful Psalm interpretations Alan has given us.
May angels greet you at the Gate
Conduct you to the Gloried Throne
And scarred hand heal your own scarred soul
And, give you joyous welcome,
Goodbye, Alan. May heaven hold the bluest seas and the finest boats. I wish thee only the best.
“Never give up.”
He had a good run.
And now the cup
runneth over and done.
There are all kinds of ends,
many and one,
but to die among friends
is better than none.
I don’t want to die
in the ICU.
May where I lie
be close to you.
Good bye, Alan. We — your not-so-rare-readers — will miss you. Me especially. As a resident of New Orleans, I have followed your advice on whether to leave my city when a hurricane threatened. No one can take your place. No one has your wisdom. And I, at least, think your political judgements were as wise as your judgements on the weather, and the climate.
God Bless, and I know He will.
Goodbye, Alan. Thank you ever so much for sharing both your life and your passing. For sharing your insights, your opinions, your view of the depth and breadth of the world. For your cantankerous attitudes, your drama, and your wit.
Goodbye, friend. May the Lord and the universe bless you and keep you. Smooth sailing to you, amidst the worst of hurricanes; the hurricanes will miss you, too.
Those who are brave enough to know that they are dying and not flinch are rare enough, but it takes a special courage to endure that knowledge for months on end and keep on doing something beautiful for God. Thank you, Alan, for the erudition you have imparted to your readers, for the insight into the weather and the volcanos, for the poetry, for the sailing, and especially for the comfort of knowing that you are sailing into a safe harbor.
I didn’t know Alan beyond his works here but he ultimately became a very important part of my life. It’s been with a combination of hope and a greedy desire for a few more months of Alan’s exquisite insight that I’ve clung to every positive scrap of news.
Ultimately everything happens for a reason even if those present can’t fully comprehend. My prayers of joy go with Alan to his richly earned final reward while my prayers of comfort go to all his friends and loved ones in this painful transition.
Alan created a thing of great beauty. Fresh Bilge is a remarkably sculpted work of art and we have been privileged both to observe its development and to participate. Providentially, I believe, for me, I came upon FB early in December, 2008, at a particularly low time in my life, just in time to witness the manifestation of a real life miracle: the effect of the grace of God in Alan’s life. That buoyed and inspired me considerably. But the work is now complete and the artist has left the studio. We mourn him for our own needs; Alan will soon embark on life everlasting.
Thank you so much for your wit, your wisdom, and for sharing your life with me. What a strange and wonderful thing this world has produced that I feel so close to someone that I have never met, and that I feel such sorrow in losing him.
I will dearly miss finding your insights in my RSS reader each day, but I shall not forget you.
Smart, faithful, steadfast in opinion, and a man of letters. A unique voice in a small corner of the web is quiet.
Rest in Peace.
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