In the grand historical scheme of things, 2005 largely sucked, but personally it was a very fine year indeed. I hope the two are not related, since I want things to get better for everybody else, but I’d also, you know, like to keep on doing what I’ve got going. I suppose if there were some sort of verifiable inverse relationship, I could take a hit for the team, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
In many ways 2005 also represents the closing of one significant chapter of my life. When one is young, one keeps a list of all the things one wants to do with one’s life, and I’m no different in that regard. This year, I published a novel — two, actually — and edited a magazine, and in doing so, I checked off the last major experiential goals of my youth (other ones included, in no particular order, being a newspaper columnist, getting married, being a father, writing an astronomy book, and being a fill-time writer). No matter what else happens in my life from this point on, I can say definitively that I got to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. I am naturally happily gobsmacked at the fact.
This does naturally lead to the question, “well, if you’ve done everything you wanted to do when you were a kid, why don’t you just shove off?” (Well, maybe it doesn’t naturally lead to this question, unless you’re morbid. But what can I say. Hi.) The short answer to this is that, yes, I’ve achieved the goals that I set out for myself as a kid, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have other goals, formulated as I’ve gotten older and I’ve seen what opportunities, desires and challenges lay before me. That said, allow me to enumerate some additional life goals that I have presently, which remain unfulfilled at the moment. In no particular order:
* I want to create a solid body of fiction. Which is to say, good reads that draw people in and make them look forward to whatever I make up next. This is separate from a best-selling body of fiction or even a significant body of fiction — in both of those cases it’s not entirely up to me. What is within my power is to write fiction that is worthy of being read, by the relevant metric of being work I’d want to read. What would I define as a “solid body”? I think 20 novels would be a fair start. I mean, right now I’ve written four and I’m contracted for three more. Unless I’m hit by a bus, 20 novels seems doable.
* I want to evangelize science. I firmly believe that 80% of all science is understandable to anyone who can walk upright — it’s just a matter of presenting the information in a way they want to read it or experience it. Writing my astronomy book was a life goal, but I’ll tell you what was a real eye-opener: Writing pieces for Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe. I wrote about a third of that book, with short little pieces on everything from types of clouds to the evolution of the eye to the signs of the zodiac, and I wrote them in a fun and entertaining way, and I had a ball doing it. And you know what? From what I understand, the book sold more than 100,000 copies — that’s 100,000 people (at least) who now know a little bit more about science thanks to a non-intimidating, humorous format. Perhaps it’s not dignified for people to be learning about science while they’re pinching one off, but look around us today and tell me people shouldn’t be learning about science by any means necessary.
I’m not a scientist, but I understand quite a great deal of science — and more importantly, I can explain it well to people who have no real experience with it. Out of anything I do, I would consider this a calling, a thing I do out of a personal moral imperative… and also because I simply love the ideas of science and want to try to make other people love them too. It is a joy to share ways to understand the universe. Writing is the obvious way to share, but I’ll do it however I can.
* I want to help my daughter become a good human. Because its what parents are supposed to do, and in helping her become a good person, I will hopefully become as good a person as I hope I am helping her to become. Raising a child, in my experience, makes you want to be a better person, for the sake of your child and for your own sake as well.
* I want a species named after me. Because, how cool would that be? Any species in any kingdom would be fine. I’m not picky. This is the only life goal I have that is entirely out of my control, unless I hack my way into the Amazon and find a frog species no one’s bothered to classify before, and, well. I’m not likely to do that. So all you biologists out there: Help a guy out, here. First biologist to get a species officially named for me gets a book dedication. See: I get something, you get something.
* I want to stay married, and happily so. Takes work. It’s worth it.
* I would like to teach writing in a formal setting (which is to say, at a college). I think this may actually be the most difficult goal, not because of the task of teaching itself (which is formidible enough, to be sure), but because no matter how many books I publish, I have only a bachelor’s degree, and the idea of going back to school at this point to get a master’s degree that I don’t particularly want or feel that I need seems pointless and stupid, and a PhD. even more so. This is not to say you MFAs and creative writing PhDs have wasted your youth and vigor. Just that it’s not for me. I’m more inclined to slap down the four novels I’ve written and sold so far, and maybe toss in my astronomy and SF film book, and suggest they indicate a decent mastery of that whole writing thing. Call me a practical experience snob if you will.
* Related to the goal above, I want to write a book on writing. I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years, I’ve been making a very comfortable freelance living from it for several years, and with the exception of screenplays, I’ve written and sold pretty much every possible form of writing there is to make money off of. I feel sufficiently competent in both the craft and business of writing, in other words, to bore people about it in book form. I’ve been talking with my non-fiction agent about this, off and on, since about 2002.
The major issue with this goal is that it’s not as if there aren’t already books on the subject, ranging from the practical Writer’s Digest “how to sell your manuscript” connect-the-dotters to things like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which many people love but which I found a bit twee (I was more engaged by Stephen King’s On Writing, but I suppose this should not be surprising). If I’m going to write a book on this subject, it damn well better not be the same crappity crap everyone else has to say on the subject, or at the very least, it should be the same crappity crap done up in a way that’s not already tiresome the moment one cracks the cover. If I’m going to try to compete with Stephen King on the same ground, I’m going to get squashed, and rightly so. I mean — hey — I would read King’s book on writing before I’d read my own. So I want to find the right way to do it that’s going to be new and useful to the people who read it. Writing about writing is already like admitting you’re masturbating; putting it into book form means you’re admitting you’re an exhibitionist, too. So you might as well give your audience a good show, one that leaves them shaking their heads in wonder and saying “Wow, I didn’t know you could do it that way.” That’s my goal. Bring a poncho.
* I want to visit New Zealand. Why New Zealand? Dunno. Just always wanted to go. Yes, even before Lord of the Rings. I’m not that shallow.
So those are the unrealized life goals at the moment — some of them, anyway; there may be others I’m not telling you about, or still thinking about whether to punt them into “life goal” status. How long will I work toward these goals? Well, it took 36 years to realize the first set of life goals; I guess if I have all of these addressed by the time I’m 72 I’ll be doing just fine. As you can see, I’m not in a huge rush. That’s why they’re life goals.