Reader Request Week 2019 #4: The Things You Outgrow

For this entry, Amysrevenge wants to know about:

Things you fall out of love with as you age. Example: Heinlein was super relevant to 22 year old me in 1997. He was enjoyable to 33 year old me in 2008 in a nostalgic sort of way. He basically isn’t relevant to my interests anymore at 44 years old in 2019. Do you find yourself letting go of things that you’ve… I don’t know if “outgrown” is the right word, but let’s say outgrown, that once were very important to you but now aren’t part of your life, or do you hold on to those older interests?

I generally let them go. For one thing, time is short, both on a daily and on an existential basis, and there is only so much of it that I can devote to enthusiasms. So for the most part I’m going to go ahead and focus on the things that I’m enthusiastic about now, rather than the things I used to like when I was younger (which is a lot of things when one is 50) but no longer really have an interest in anymore. I have enough stuff I like now, you know? It’ll keep me busy enough.

Also, I think it’s perfectly fine to let things go, and to realize that just because something was important to you at a particular time and place in your life doesn’t mean you are beholden to it your whole life. Times change, people change, hairstyles change. Equally valid, it’s okay to still like things you liked when you were younger, but just have them be less important — a thing you were super passionate about ten years ago can be something you interact with only occasionally now, for example (and vice-versa). Additionally, some things you may find you never outgrow, and that’s cool too. It’s okay to have things that are part of you all your life.

I think what can complicate this festival of enthusiasms is when, as sometimes happens, there’s something that you liked or loved that has become part of your self-identity, and thus it becomes much harder to separate it out as you get older. Lots of enthusiasms have communities around them — look at the fandom of science fiction and fantasy as a very relevant example of this — and in those communities people often find friends and partners and an identification that speaks to their soul. Separating one’s self from something like that (not just SFF fandom but any community) is hard. It’s easy to feel like you’re turning your back on people when that happens.

(The flip side of this also happens — sometimes the community and the enthusiasm just plain disappear. 25 years ago I was active on USENET and on the newsgroup alt.society.generation-x. The people there became a community and would have things like get-togethers (called “tingles”) and group events and so on. Then USENET stopped being a thing and people drifted away from the newsgroup (it’s still technically there, it’s just a shell), and the context for that part of my life went away. Some things are bounded externally rather than internally. Moments pass for all sorts of reasons.)

I look at my own life now and I can think of things for which my enthusiasm level is in flux. I used to play video games a lot more than I do now, as an example — I tend to play them less now because I have less time for them, and also because so many of the major video games really really really really want me to have to play with other people (which I mostly don’t want to do) or either pay for things within the game itself, or grind away senselessly to get a hat (or whatever) that I don’t care about. I was really into making electronic music at the first part of the century, then got away from it for years, then picked up guitar and ukulele for a few years, and am now swinging back to electronic music again. I like science fiction fandom about as much as I used to, but these days when I go to conventions I tend not to do a lot of panels, which was a thing I used to really enjoy, but these days I find not as much fun (and also, I get bored with myself on them pretty easily). On the other hand conventions let me DJ dance parties now, and I’m really enjoying that.

Then there are the creative people whose output meant one thing to me when I was younger but means a different thing to me now. To use the example of Heinlein above, I can’t read Heinlein at 50 years old with the same simple joy that I read him at 15 — but this doesn’t mean I don’t still read him. I read Time Enough For Love, Citizen of the Galaxy and Friday this year alone, mostly on airplanes because that’s where I do “comfort food” reading. My reading of him today is, I think, more nuanced and rather more aware that the hand that created these characters and incidents is not neutral. As a result, my relationship with the work and the author has changed. I wouldn’t say I’ve downgraded my opinion of Heinlein; I still admire him and his writing skill. I would say I have a better understanding of him as an author and creator and a person of his time, with work that now exists outside that time and has to be recontextualized because of it. Everything is more complicated there, and that’s not a bad thing.

And also, there’s the fact that at 50 years old, my frame of reference for writing and writers is a much broader and wider one than when I was 15, so Heinlein’s relative position in that frame has changed substantially. It’s not just him, it’s also every other thing I liked and enjoyed at 15: films, music, television, art, etc. I still enjoy Heinlein; I still enjoy the music of Journey and Depeche Mode; I still enjoy a lot of things that were important to me at 15, and acknowledge their significance to me at that age. I also have better idea where they stand in the larger landscape of art. Doing so does nothing to diminish their importance to me in a certain place and a certain time in my life.

With that said, there are some things I enjoyed when I was younger that I just can’t go back to. Jo Walton famously describes this as your favorite work being visited by the “suck fairy” — you re-read (or re-watch, or re-listen) something you remember loving and you’re appalled at how terrible it is. The art itself hasn’t changed, but you have, and that makes all the difference. This too is okay, and a reminder that before you recommend something you loved 30+ years ago to anyone else, maybe check in on it again to see how it holds up. The number of GenX parents who fired up Sixteen Candles for their own kids to watch just to be horrified at the racism and sexism that they totally forgot was there is too damn high.

The gist of all of this is: Yes, I can let things go when they aren’t speaking to me anymore, and I think that’s fine and a natural aspect of life. You can and should too, and when you do, it’s okay not to overthink it. Times change. People change. Hairstyles change. And you’re making room in your life for new things and experiences to speak to you in ways that engage and inspire you. If you’re lucky, you get to have that happen to you your whole life.

(There’s still time to ask questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! Go here to see how to get your own request in.)

Reader Request Week 2019 #3: Blogging With Extreme Confidence

David Orr asks:

One noteworthy aspect of your blogging style is your extreme confidence. If you have an opinion to offer, you may caveat it in various ways, but usually not in ways that indicate any uncertainty. For instance, you rarely prefix statements with “I think that” or “Probably” or other indications that while this is your view you acknowledge that you could be wrong.

To what extent is that conscious? Waffling on opinions doesn’t necessarily make for compelling blogging, even if it might be good epistemology. Do you aim directly for “authoritative and confident” as your blogging voice, or is that just how it comes out?

Well, first, I’m not sure I agree with the suggestion that I don’t put qualifiers like “I think” or “probably” in my posts here, since I just did a search for both phrases in recent pieces and they both pop up not infrequently. Second, I’m pretty good at admitting when I don’t know things, because I think it’s fine to admit there are things I don’t know, and that as a consequence whatever I’m saying about a particular subject I don’t know much about will have to be tempered by those facts.

Third, there is a site disclaimer, accessible on literally every page of this site, which covers this pretty clearly:

Everything on the site is my opinion (except comments written by others, which are their opinions). I have strong opinions. At times, you may not agree with these opinions, or how I choose to express them. This is not my problem.

Having written in the site disclaimer that what I write is here going to be my opinion, I don’t feel obliged to hem and haw about things every single time I write a post. It’s covered, you know? And if someone is all “well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man,” I’m all, well, yes, obviously, did you not read the Site Disclaimer? It’s right over there in the sidebar.

So, I don’t think it’s that I write in a way that’s heedlessly unqualified; it’s that I’ve set up the site — and my internal world view — to entertain and accept the possibility that what I’m writing is a) my opinion, and also b) I might occasionally be wrong and indeed c) I might have my head entirely up my ass. Having done so, I’m able to proceed with a minimum of fuss.

It is absolutely true that when I’m holding forth here on one topic or another, it’s of a tone that could possibly be best described as “avuncular omniscient” — the voice of someone who is both confident in their opinion and in the belief that what they are saying both should be heard and heeded, and who pitches that voice to be generally accessible to a wide audience. Why do I hold forth in this manner? Well:

1. I used to be a professional newspaper opinion columnist, and “avuncular omniscient” is (or was) the default tone for newspaper columnists.

2. Before I was a newspaper columnist, I wanted to be one, and read a whole bunch of them both for entertainment, and to internalize the stylistic and rhetorical elements of that format. So one could say the “avuncular omniscient” is part of my baseline writing study.

3. I’m a straight white dude and straight white dudes are used to both expressing their opinions and also assuming those opinions will be heard. As I’ve gotten older and smarter I’ve better internalized the idea that in the great wide world I need to bring more to the table than just “Hey, I’m a straight white dude and I got opinions.” Because that sort of person is not exactly thin on the ground, if you know what I’m saying. In the world outside this blog, I try to be better at making space for people who aren’t like me to have their say. I want to be part of the mix of voices, not necessarily the only voice. But here, in my own personal space that no one has to visit unless they choose to, my holding forth is not getting in the way of anyone else having an opportunity to be heard.

4. Also, and in a general sense, I’m not exactly shy, am I, and have never been. In addition to all the reasons noted above, this particular tone is me, or part of me, at least, the part that is tuned to addressing an audience. And I like addressing audiences — writing for me has always had an assumption of a readership outside of my own head. I’ve always written outwardly. And when you do that, you write to project your thoughts, rather than keeping them small and quiet, and hoping someone who wanders by peeks in to see what you’re up to.

Are there drawbacks to this “avuncular omniscient” tone? Oh, my, yes! This sort of presentation can make one comes across as heedless, clueless and obnoxious, especially if one is indeed some combination of those things. It is the tone of “that asshole with an opinion,” and in recent years one could easily say it’s been weaponized by the sort of alt-right chucklefuck who understands the rhetorical value of swaddling hate and bigotry in a moderate-sounding tone that your grandparents were trained by years of daily newspapers to file under “reasonable” in their brains. These chucklefucks aren’t good at maintaining that tone, I should say, and the minute you poke them they revert to a sort querulous whining. But that doesn’t mean they don’t use it.

Nor have I in my time avoided these drawbacks entirely — not the alt-right bullshit, mind you, that crap has nothing to with me. I’m talking about the “heedless, clueless and obnoxious” part. There’s a non-trivial number of people who find me and/or my tone here exhausting and enervating, and as a result choose not to have anything to do with me or the site any further. Also, there has been more than once where I led with tone and then showed my ass and then had to try to find a way back from that, which usually involves apologies and redoubled effort to do better in the future. As I’ve become a better writer and, I think, a better person, I screw this up less, but it’s not to say that I don’t still screw up, or that I won’t screw up again. Life is a learning process, or at least it should be, and you try to keep doing it better.

At the end of the day, however, I write the way I write because I am who I am, and I while I heartily admit I am and will always be a work in progress, sometimes wrong and always learning, I don’t see the presentation of who I am on the blog changing all that much over time. On balance it’s served me well, and I think it’s served the people who read here well. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

(There’s still time to ask questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! Go here to see how to get your own request in.)

Reader Request Week 2019 #2: The War Between the Generations

Cristoph asks:

What’s your take on the generational conflicts of our time, currently manifesting in the “Ok Boomer” saying?

I think it’s par for the course, actually. Generational conflict makes for a good story and for good copy, and for the last 100 years or so in the US, at least, there’s been a low-grade panic about the disrespectful kids flouting the rules of society with their loose morals and bad music. Flappers and jazz! Greasers and beatniks and their R&B! Hippies and their psychedelic bands! Punkers and their, uh, punk music! Then heavy metal! And rap! And grunge! And so on and so forth up to today, with Gen Z and, I’m sure, whatever they are listening to (I honestly have no idea at the moment, which is not a reflection of the quality of their pop music, I’m just a bit clueless. Is it K-pop? I think it’s K-pop. Let’s say K-pop).

The special sauce of this particular moment of generational conflict is that it involves the Baby Boomers for the first time being the antagonists of the generational story, rather than either the protagonists or the somewhat neutral mainstream. The Boomers are now the older generation and are having a moment being seen as the ossified and inflexible group whose opinion is not worth considering, and they don’t appear to like it at all. There is the (some would say delicious) irony of the generation that famously professed it would never trust anyone over 30 having become the generation that those under 30 allegedly doesn’t trust. I’m pretty sure the Boomers don’t appreciate that irony at all.

This is the point were someone will say #NotAllBoomers, or whatever, and I’m perfectly happy to concede this point. Indeed, #NotAllBoomers, and #NotAllGenX and #NotAllMillenials and so on. It’s utterly impossible for any cohort of millions of people — whatever that cohort might be — to be in lockstep on everything. Likewise generational groupings are not the distinct things we like to pretend they are; there’s a squidgy period where whether you’re a Boomer or GenXer is really a matter of personal choice, likewise between GenXer and Millennial and so on. People go positively talmudic on this sort of thing, pulling out their favorite book of generational demographics to inform you that if you’re born in [insert year here] you’re definitely [insert generational name here] and that’s all there is to it. And, meh? Personally I’m not so wedded to the idea of discrete generational cohorts that I feel a need to argue about it at that length.

What is largely accurate is that the choices older generations make in aggregate, affect the world the younger generations in aggregate have to live in, and very often those choices are the focus of conflict. Both positively but also negatively, and the negative ones tend to get more press. For the Boomers, the choices of earlier generations meant they had to deal with (and some fight in) the Vietnam War, and both the Boomers and GenX lived in the shadow of the Cold War. For Millenials and now Gen Z, their world is shaped by earlier generations’ choices after 9/11 and regarding climate change. For Gen Z in particular, they had no say in the election of the current president, whose policies and practices should (and apparently do) fill them with horror.

Again, not everyone in an older generation is to blame (or praise) for these choices — our current president lost the popular vote by millions, after all — but these choices were still made, these events still happened, and each younger generation has to live with the consequences of older generations’ actions (or lack thereof).

I don’t think there’s much to be done about this sort of generational conflict. People are always being born and having to deal with the world made in aggregate by people older than they are. They will not always just accept the world they have been given and will seek to change it. The older generations will die off, the younger generations will have children of their own. Lather, rinse and repeat.

It’s also worth noting that the conflict between generations is often a sideshow to other demographic conflicts. The “generational conflict” in the United States, at least, is often a stalking horse for conflicts between conservatives and liberals, white people and everyone who isn’t white, and the rich and everyone who isn’t rich. “OK Boomer,” as I’ve seen it used (when it is not being used ironically) is less specifically relating to everyone born in that generational cohort as it is relating to the sort of white, conservative, wealth-justifies-everything mindset that typifies the most egregious sort of political actors among older generations, the ones who aren’t listening to anyone else anyway, so sure are they that they both should and deserve to get their way.

An assertion that all Millennials and Gen Z folks despise all Boomers with their one-day-dying breath is belied by the persistence of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the top ranks of the presidential contenders due to their support among the young(er) folks. The issues here are generational but not merely or precisely generational — they are about whose voice matters in the political and social process, and in shaping the world now and in the immediate future.

As a dyed-in-the-wool GenXer, I’m not particularly threatened by the idea that at some point a younger generation might come for an accounting of what my generation did or did not do, because ultimately the older generations should have to answer for their choices, and individuals for their own actions. I think as a political and social actor my generation gets a mixed report card; it pains me that the most prominent politicians of my generation to date have been Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan, for example. But we’ve done some good as well; I think it’s our generation that moved the ball most considerably for the rights of gays and lesbians here in the US. We haven’t been perfect, but a cohort of millions isn’t likely to be.

I accept that there will be a judgment from history, “history” being a very distancing term for “the people who come after you.” Which is to say: the younger generations. Bring it on, kids.

(There’s still time to ask questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! Go here to see how to get your own request in.)

Reader Request Week 2019 #1: Strange Experiences

It’s Monday and it’s time for this year’s Reader Request Week! Let’s start this one off on a slightly spooky note, with this question from Mar:

I’d be curious to know, if you’re comfortable talking about it, whether you’ve ever had a “strange”, or for lack of a better term, what we might call “paranormal” experience. Anonymous data collecting seems to show that most people have, but are afraid to talk about it. I have had one experience that was very strange, and so have most of the people that I know. JF Martel on the podcast “Weird Studies” said that if everyone spoke freely about these events, we would be forced as a culture to include such phenomena in any attempt to form a coherent worldview. And probably also learn something about the nature of reality that we don’t understand now.

I’ve had a number of strange experiences in my life — “strange” meaning in this case events so entirely outside the normal range of my daily existence that some part of my brain felt compelled to remark “okay, this is some weird shit going on here” — but none of those things would be things I’d consider to be “paranormal” in the way the word normally gets used, i.e., in reference to things like ghosts and magic and aliens and extradimensional whatever. Every strange experience I can think of that’s happened to me is well-bounded in the physics and natural phenomena that we understand and can describe. At most, these events required extreme coincidence to have happened — but extreme coincidence does happen, so I don’t know that it’s all that surprising that it happens occasionally to me.

Now, I do think that this answer of mine speaks directly to my own view of the world, which is highly rationally based. As a practical matter, I don’t believe in things like ghosts or alien visitations or psychic powers, and I have a distinct bias toward rational answers to events. I’m not someone who believes in “fate” or the “hand of god” or even “we’re all here for a purpose.” So when strange things happen to me, my brain doesn’t see them as evidence of some paranormal activity of one sort or another; it goes “huh, that’s some weird shit,” and assumes it has some rational, physical basis. If you’re like that going in, then the number of paranormal experiences you’re going to have is already low. I am aware that many paranormal films feature someone who is all “everything has a rational basis!” who then gets eaten by, like, angry ghosts or demons or whatever in a gory and highly satisfying way. But that’s the movies for you. Real life is more boring, and more rational.

With that said, I do know a number of people who have reported strange experiences that would be considered to be “paranormal” in one way or another, and these people are folks who I like and love and consider solid people not given to flights of either fancy or delusion. How do I explain their experiences?

I don’t! I wasn’t there when they experienced what they experienced, and I’m not them. If someone tells me they experienced something outside of the range of what is generally considered natural phenomenon, then a) I’m perfectly willing to believe that something happened to them that was well outside their own usual range of experience, b) unless they are specifically asking me to postulate a rational explanation for their experience, I’m not the sort of person who has to be all “well, actually,” about this sort of thing. Something happened to them; this is how they decided to process it, and unless that is actively harming them or others, eh, fine.

This doesn’t mean I think they’ve likely had a paranormal experience, however. I’m aware of a number of things:

1. The remit of physical laws and phenomena is actually quite large, so more things can be explained rationally than many if not most people realize (and generally our culture has done a really crappy job explaining this fact);

2. Our culture enjoys paranormal storytelling to such an extent that when something strange happens, our brains use those familiar storytelling elements to explain what’s happening to us, i.e., if you’ve heard all your life about ghosts and something happens to you that fits the criteria for a visitation by a ghost, you’ll shove it into that slot, even if it has nothing to do with ghosts whatsoever;

3. Human brains are dodgy lumps of sentient fat that are both pattern-seeking and prone to misinterpreting and misapprehending new and strange things that are happening to them, which makes them especially vulnerable to magical thinking.

I also know this:

4. I don’t know everything about everything, and there are many things I cannot prove, so while I am 99.999999999+% percent sure that everything that happens to people has a perfectly rational basis in our universe, I do have to admit that my not knowing everything means I could be wrong about paranormal explanations for strange events. There could be ghosts and vampires and gray big-headed aliens and Nessie and angels so on. I think their existence is so massively unlikely that I don’t bother considering it in any serious way. But intellectual honesty compels me to admit I don’t definitively know one way or another.

So: I suspect most people’s paranormal experiences are probably not paranormal in any sense. It’s just their attempt to explain something that happened to them in a way that’s consistent to their understanding and knowledge of their world, the cultural clues that have been given to them and the manner in which their brain processed the event (and in which they subsequently remember it, memory being another dodgy and unreliable brain process). There’s maybe a >.000000001% chance it was actually paranormal! But probably not, and also, if thinking that it was paranormal allows them to process it and get on with their life without hurting themselves or anyone else, sure, okay, why not. I’m not going to go out of my way to be a jerk to them about it.

(I do think people who use the paranormal, and humans’ tendencies toward believing in that sort of thing, in malicious or detrimental ways are terrible people who I don’t have any problem stomping on. But I don’t think the original question is about con artists or malicious actors, it’s about normal people having experiences they’re having a hard time explaining otherwise.)

More to the point, I don’t think there’s any point in belittling or discounting people who believe in paranormal experiences, simply on that basis. I think there’s a lot to learn about how and why people think these events happen to them, and what more we can learn about the brain and the nature of consciousness from that. Human experience is bounded by how our brains process what’s going on around us.

If you’ve had a paranormal experience, you’ve had an actual experience, and your brain is working on how to explain that experience to you. It’s telling you a story about it — just like it does with every other event you’ve ever experienced. That’s some interesting shit right there.

(There’s still time to ask questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! Go here to see how to get your own request in.)

Krissy, As of Yesterday

She’s pretty great.

We like to joke that she doesn’t age; well, she does, in fact, age (the gray hair is a giveaway). She just does it gracefully. More gracefully than I do, in any event, which to be fair is a low bar. I don’t mind. She digs me anyway.

How to Have Time For a Life

On Twitter this morning, the following tweet:

I looked at the tweet and realized that, in fact, I am an adult who mostly manages to do all of those thing (that is, when the cats don’t wake me up at 3am to show me their butts and then I can’t get back to sleep). It made me curious as to what factors allow me to do all of them.

And I have answers! One of them is very general, and the others are specific to me. I answered the very general one in a tweet as well:

The reason that money can increase your bandwidth is that it can let you buy solutions to time-sucking activities. This often in the form of people you pay to do things, but also in the form of goods and services that let you spend less time doing things you don’t want to do (which then leaves time for the things you do want to do). Money also lets you do things like live in nice neighborhoods with fancy stores that have organic meats and produce, go to the gyms with trainers, have decent healthcare, enjoy the wherewithal for hobbies, etc. Money solves problems, and problems take time, so: money makes time.

Sometimes. As noted in the tweet, to make money one often has to be the sort of personality that overcommits to work and/or have the sort of job one never actually gets to leave even when one is not “at work,” so the mere presence of money in one’s life does not mean that one will automatically have any of those six goals enumerated above. Money can solve problems, but the pursuit of money itself creates its own problems, and the latter can swamp money’s ability to deal with the former. Welcome to the capitalist system.

So that’s the general answer. Specific to me, here are some of the things that allow me to hit all six of those goals:

1. I am well off. See above for what that allows. Also, I am fortunate that I neither have the sort of personality that makes a pleasure of the pursuit of money (I like making money, and recognize the necessity of it in our system, but the act of making is not in itself a dopamine rush for me), nor do I have a job that requires time penalties to make money. Speaking of which:

2. I have a creative job with no set hours that lets me work from home (or anywhere else). I have to produce roughly a novel a year. Once I do that I have other responsibilities relating to the production and promotion of the novel, which take up time but also leave stretches of time unoccupied. The novels can be (and largely are) written at home, which means time usually given over to commutes and presence at a workplace (not to mention things like meetings, client maintenance, etc) are not a factor for me. Which means I can sleep in! And, also, schedule time for exercise. Additionally, the work is portable, so if I do travel, I can theoretically at least take the work with me.

3. I’m an introvert who socializes online and/or whose social life often dovetails with work. Being an introvert means that my need for socializing is less than it might be for other people, and means having social interactions via social media, texting, etc actually works for me a lot of the time. Also, a lot of my “real world” socializing happens at things like science fiction conventions, book fairs/festivals or when I’m on a book tour, which is nice because a) in the case of conventions and festivals, there are other publishing pros (writers, editors, etc, and also members of SF/F fandom) who I like who are also there and happy to hang out, b) on tour I see friends in their hometowns. This makes social activities both schedulable and pleasant. Also, you know. On a daily basis I see my wife, whose company I like, and my daughter is nearby too, and I also like her a lot.

4. My hobbies dovetail into my life rather than require space to be made for them. My current hobbies are photography, music and writing. All of them work pretty well with my work/life flow — photography I can do opportunistically as I travel or do other things, music I get to incorporate with my social activities (for example, I now frequently DJ dances at science fiction conventions), and as for writing… well, hello. Thank you for reading my hobby. (I don’t count reading as a hobby; for me that’s like saying breathing is a hobby.) There is nothing wrong, and much right, about time-intensive hobbies like, say, bird-watching or mountain climbing or community theater. But I don’t do those. The hobbies I do have are, for me, low-impact/high-reward, timewise.

5. I have a spouse who handles a bunch of stuff. To be clear, I can, and do, do things about the house (I am at home, after all). Also to be clear, the amount she does is not strictly tied into the amount I don’t do — she has her own plans for things that are independent of anything I want/need/desire. But the side effect of that is I don’t have to do a lot of things relating to household upkeep and maintenance. I’m also not going to pretend that, with regard to the work I do, the division is equitable; Krissy does more. I asked her just now if she thought that was an artifact of our personalities, or just garden variety sexism; she said probably both. More specifically, she said “I don’t think you are a sexist, but I think we both sort of fall into some of society’s expectations.” Which was kind of her, to blame the system and not me personally.

6. I’m 50. Which means a lot of set-up for those goals is already in my rear-view mirror, and I’m currently getting the benefit of those set-up exercises. There were times, mostly in my 20s, where I was not close to hitting all of those goals — my social life was a dead zone from when I left college to when I met Krissy, and when I was working at AOL in the 90s, the job sucked all the hours, because the tech ethos of “we put food and a laundry in the building so you never have to leave” is not a new invention. It all paid off, which is nice for me.

7. I’m healthy. Mentally and, aside from a temporary case of tendonitis, physically. This is not a value judgment; I’m not a better or more virtuous person for being healthy. It’s recognition that health issues burn lots of hours (and in the US at least, lots of money), and can make it more difficult to achieve those goals.

Add all of this up, and there are two conclusions: One, it is possible for someone to achieve all six of those goals; Two, that to be that someone, it helps to have specific conditions to one’s life.

(Additionally, inasmuch as the sleep goal is one I only intermittently hit, it helps not to have cats waking your ass up at 3am. I did bring the cats into my home, so that’s on me, however.)

I don’t think you have to have my life to achieve all of these goals, mind you, especially if you combine factors. If you’re someone who loves to cook, for example, you can hit three of these with one stone: Throw a dinner party and you get to work on your hobby, socialize and (depending on the menu) eat healthy. If you live somewhere you can bike to work, there’s your daily exercise. And so on. But there are conditions to one’s life which are beneficial to realize those goals.

I do think it’s harder for younger people to get all of these goals lined up. Partly because being younger means having to work crappier jobs that require more from you, and that’s been true in most eras, but in this era in particular, in which jobs are more temporary and are stagnant in wages, and younger people’s debt loads are significantly higher, it’s more of a challenge. Obviously, they’re aware of this inequity, and equally obviously, it’s not fair.

It would be nice to live in a world where all of these goals were more achievable for more people, and more achievable without the time solvent of money. Such a world is possible! We’re not there yet, however. Hopefully activism toward that goal will be more people’s hobby, and they will find a way to make time for it.

New Books and ARCs, 11/15/19

Hey, you look like you could use a nice big stack of new books and ARCs to peruse. So here one is! What here is drawing your eye? Tell us all in the comments.

How to Get Signed and Personalized Books From Me For the Holidays, 2019

It’s that time of the year again, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a fabulous local business that does a fantastic job in its community.

So: How do you get signed and personalized books from me this year? It’s simple:

1. Call Jay & Mary’s at their 800 number (800 842 1604) and let them know you’d like to order signed copies of my books. Please call rather than send e-mail; they find it easier to keep track of things that way.

2. Tell them which books you would like (For example, The Consuming Fire), and what, if any, names you would like the book signed to. If there’s something specific you’d like written in the books let them know but for their sake and mine, please keep it short. Also, if you’re ordering the book as a gift, make sure you’re clear about whose name the book is being signed to. If this is unclear, I will avoid using a specific name.

3. Order any other books you might think you’d like, written by other people, because hey, you’ve already called a bookstore for books, and helping local independent bookstores is a good thing. I won’t sign these, unless for some perverse reason you want me to, in which case, sure, why not.

4. Give them your mailing address and billing information, etc.

5. And that’s it! Shortly thereafter I will go to the store and sign your books for you.

If you want the books shipped for Christmas, the deadline for that is December 10. (That’s a Tuesday this year.) That way we can make sure everything ships to you on time. After December 10, all Scalzi stock will still be signed and available, but I will likely not be able to personalize, and we can’t 100% guarantee Christmastime delivery.

Ordering early is encouraged — it makes sure we will absolutely be able to order your book and have it to you on time.

Also, this is open to US residents only. Sorry, rest of the world. It’s a cost of shipping thing.

What books are available?

CURRENT HARDCOVER: A Very Scalzi Christmas is coming out at the end of the month via Subterranean Press, and it’s available. Note that this is a signed, limited edition (only 1,500 physical copies are being made), so it will be more expensive than most of my hardcover books, but it’s gorgeously made and the contents are pretty good too, so it’s worth it. 2018’s hardcovers Head On and The Consuming Fire should also be available if you ask for them specifically. The mini-hardcover of Old Man’s War is also available and is a great format for that book.

CURRENT TRADE PAPERBACK: Tor re-released three of my novels in trade paperback format this year: The Android’s Dream, Agent to the Stars and Fuzzy Nation. Otherwise, Redshirts (the 2013 Hugo Award winner!), Twenty-First Century Science Fiction (which features a story of mine), Metatropolis (which I edited and contribute a novella to) are available in trade paperback format. There may be hardcovers of these still around if you ask. But each are definitely in trade paperback. There are also probably still trade paperback editions of Old Man’s War that can be ordered if you prefer that format. Also available: Robots Vs. Fairies, the anthology that features the story of mine that was adapted for the “Three Robots” episode of the Netflix animated series Love, Death and Robots.

CURRENT MASS MARKET PAPERBACK: Head On and The Consuming Fire are available in mass market paperback this year, joining  The Collapsing Empire, Unlocked: An Oral History of the Haden Syndrome (this is a novella), The End of All ThingsLock InThe Human Division, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The New Space Opera 2. Fuzzy Nation, Agent to the Stars and The Android’s Dream have recently been moved into trade paperback, but mass market editions are probably still available if that’s your preference. You can also purchase the Old Man’s War boxed set (which features the first three books in the series), BUT if you want that signed you’ll have to agree to let me take the shrinkwrap off. In return I’ll sign each of the books in the box.

CURRENT NON-FICTION: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded (essay collection, Hugo winner), The Mallet of Loving Correction (also an essay collection, this will need to be special ordered as it is a signed limited), Virtue Signaling (a third essay collection, will also need special ordering) and Don’t Live For Your Obituary (a collection of essays about writing, will also need to be special ordered).

AUDIOBOOKS: The Consuming Fire, The Dispatcher, The End of All Things, Lock In, Head On, The Human Division, Redshirts, Fuzzy Nation, The God Engines, Metatropolis and Agent to the Stars are all available on CD and/or MP3 CD, and Jay & Mary’s should be able to special order them for you. Check with them about other titles, which may or may not be available on CD.

Two things regarding audiobooks: First, if you want these, you should probably call to order these ASAP. Second, and this is important, because the audiobooks come shrinkwrapped, I will have to remove the shrinkwrap in order to sign the cover. You ordering a signed audiobook means you’re okay with me doing that and with Jay & Mary’s shipping it to you out of its shrinkwrap.

If you have any other questions, drop them in the comment thread and I’ll try to answer them!

Photos From New Orleans

During my sojourn into the South, I spent a couple of days in New Orleans, visiting my pal Monica Byrne, who was there learning guitar, and taking in the sights. Naturally, I took a bunch of pictures. Some of them are now up over on Flickr. Go have a look, if you like!

Reader Request Week 2019: Get Your Questions In!

It’s rather later in the year than when I usually do this (I usually get to it in March or April, and I just got busy this year), but nevertheless: It’s time for the annual Reader Request Week, in which you pick the topics I write about for the next week here at Whatever. Always wanted to ask me a question? Want to see me opine on a topic of your choosing? See me dance like a monkey for your unalloyed pleasure? This is the time and place for it!

You can ask any question on any topic — politics, social topics, personal queries, silly nonsense, it’s all up for grabs. Post your question in the comment thread, and I will go through the thread and pick the topics I’ll respond to, starting on Monday, November 18th, and going through the entire week.

While any topic is up for request, I do have a couple of suggestions for you, when you’re making your topic selections.

1. Quality, not quantity. Rather than thinking of a bunch of general topic for me to address, which isn’t very interesting to me, and which is also like hogging the buffet, pick one very specific topic that you’re actually interested about — something you’ve thought about, and taken time to craft a question that will be interesting to me. I’m much more likely to pick that than look through a menu of very general topics.

2. Writing questions are given a lower priority. Me writing about writing is not unusual here, so for this week, writing topics are a secondary concern. But if you really want to ask a question about writing, go ahead, just remember that point one above will apply more to your question than most. It’ll have to be a pretty good question to stand out.

3. Don’t request topics I’ve recently written about. I’ve included the last five years of Reader Request topics below so you can see which ones are probably not going to be answered again. That said, if you want to ask a follow-up to any of the topics below, that’s perfectly acceptable as a topic. Also, for those of you wondering how to make a request, each of the posts features the request in it, so you can see what’s worked before.

How do you submit requests? The simplest way to do it (and the way I prefer, incidentally) is to put them in the comment thread attached to this entry. But if you have a reason not to want to have your request out in public, the other option is to send me e-mail (put “Reader Request Week” in the subject head so I don’t have to hunt for it).

Please don’t send requests via Twitter or Facebook, since I don’t always see those. I credit those whose topics I write on, but feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re asking something you’d prefer not to have attached to your real name.

Here are topics from the last few years:

From 2014:

Reader Request Week 2014 #1: Travel and Me
Reader Request Week 2014 #2: Writerly Self-Doubt, Out Loud
Reader Request Week 2014 #3: How I Stay Happy
Reader Request Week 2014 #4: How I See You, Dear Reader
Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery
Reader Request Week 2014 #6: Enjoying Problematic Things
Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence
Reader Request Week 2014 #8: What Writing Lurks In the Shadows?
Reader Request Week 2014 #9: Short Writery Bits
Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

From 2015: 

Reader Request Week 2015 #1: Free Speech Or Not
Reader Request Week 2015 #2: Ego Searching Redux
Reader Request Week 2015 #3: Raising Strong Women
Reader Request Week 2015 #4: Bullies and Me
Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John
Reader Request Week 2015 #6: Me and Republicans
Reader Request Week 2015 #7: My Dream Retirement
Reader Request Week 2015 #8: On Being an Egotistical Jackass
Reader Request Week 2015 #9: Writing Related Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits

From 2016:

Reader Request Week 2016 #1: Living Where I Do
Reader Request Week 2016 #2: Will Humans Survive?
Reader Request Week 2016 #3: How, and If, I Will Be Remembered
Reader Request Week 2016 #4: Autonomous Cars
Reader Request Week 2016 #5: Pronouns
Reader Request Week 2016 #6: Why I Don’t Drink or Use Drugs
Reader Request Week 2016 #7: Writers and Ego
Reader Request Week 2016 #8: STEM and STEAM
Reader Request Week 2016 #9: Short Bits on Writing
Reader Request Week 2016 #10: Small Bits

From 2017:

Reader Request Week 2017 #1: Punching Nazis
Reader Request Week 2017 #2: Those Darn Millennials
Reader Request Week 2017 #3: Utopias
Reader Request Week 2017 #4: Haters and How I Deal With Them
Reader Request Week 2017 #5: Remembering Dreams
Reader Request Week 2017 #6: Reading as Performance
Reader Request Week 2017 #7: Parents, Their Age, and Their Kids
Reader Request Week 2017 #8: The Path to Publication
Reader Request Week 2017 #9: Writery Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2017 #10: Short Bits

From 2018:

Reader Request Week 2018 #1: Incels and Other Misogynists
Reader Request Week 2018 #2: Our Pets and How We Treat Them
Reader Request Week 2018 #3: The Reputational Reset, or Not
Reader Request Week 2018 #4: Far-Left(?) Scalzi
Reader Request Week 2018 #5: Who’s Cool and Who’s Not
Reader Request Week 2018 #6: The Fall(?!?!?!) of Heinlein
Reader Request Week 2018 #7: Mortality
Reader Request Week 2018 #8: Public Speaking
Reader Request Week 2018 #9: Writing Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2018 #10: Short Bits

Got it? Good. Then: Hit me with your questions! I crave your queries!

Back Home

Spice the cat, looking out at snow.

When I left Ohio for my week-long journey around the American South, my yard was still green and most of the trees in it still had leaves. When I returned, neither of these things were broadly true. What a change a week can make.

My trip, incidentally, was really enjoyable. It had a couple of minor hiccups — I have a temporary crown on a molar and it fell out, necessitating a side trip to a dentist in Atlanta, and in Montgomery, Alabama, I was trapped in an elevator for about 20 minutes — but by and large my plan of “Drive around the lower latitudes of the continental US, and see people in it” was a smashing success. Lots of friends, conversations and excellent dining experiences were had.

Still, and despite the cold, it’s nice to be home, with Krissy and the cats and my own bed. I missed them and they missed me (well, the bed is an inanimate object. Everything else, however, was glad to see me). I don’t ever have to go away to remember how much I love being home, but when I do go, it’s always nice to be back.

So: Hello. I’m home again.

Time For an Occasional Reminder re: How to Pay For My Books

This morning I got a nice letter from someone who enjoyed one of my books and wanted to send money to me directly for it rather than to get the book through my publisher, on the idea that I as the author should get most of the money because I wrote the book. This gives me a good excuse to remind people:

Don’t send me money directly for the books I write, actually go ahead and buy them from a bookstore.

For one thing, I get paid more than adequately that way. For another thing, my publisher is not my enemy — my publisher is my business partner, and my business partner does a lot of things for my book. It hires the editor, copy editor, page designer, art director and cover artist who improve my book and make it something people want to buy. It handles the printing and distribution and warehousing of my work. It keeps track of sales and collects payment for that work. It hires publicists and marketing people to make folks aware the book is out in the world. My foreign publishers hire translators. It does all these things so I don’t have to, and can focus on the thing I’m good at and actually want to do, which is: write.

Does it take a large chunk of sale price of the book to do all these things for me? Yes it does. But as a result of the work it does, I sell more than I could on my own, and as noted before, my cut of the proceeds is more than adequate. And all of the people who work on my book deserve to get paid fairly and adequately for their efforts.

Beyond the publisher, when you buy my book in a bookstore, someone else gets money — the bookstore. I like that. I like bookstores of all sorts, but particularly like supporting local bookstores, who do author events and reading clubs and other cool things, and where a good portion of the money stays in the community. I am happy that I get to contribute to other people making a livelihood supporting the field I work in.

All of which is to say that when you buy my book, from my publisher, in a bookstore, everyone involved in the making and selling of a book gets a little something — and that’s exactly how it should be. And while I understand people believe they might be doing me a favor by trying to pay me directly, in the long run it’s not beneficial to me at all, not the least because it hurts the people who have made my work better. If you’ve liked any of my novels, you like them because they are a group effort, not in spite of it.

So: If you want to support me as an author, support everyone who works on my books. They deserve it, and I prefer it. Buy the books legitimately, from your favorite bookseller. Thank you.

New Books and ARCs, 11/8/19

Another week, another very fine stack of new books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound. What here is grabbing your attention? Share in the comments!

View From a Hotel Window, 11/7/19: Knoxville

Honestly this may be one of the finest hotel parking lot pictures yet, as it encompasses not only the hotel parking lot, but the parking lot of a McDonalds and a Verizon Store. This trip may have peaked early. We’ll have to see.

In town here overnight, am seeing friends and then will be off again in the morning. Traveling! It’s a thing.

On the Road, Again

Wait, what? I thought you said you were done with travel for the year, Scalzi! I am, indeed, done with travel for public purposes — I have no more events scheduled for 2019. But now that The Last Emperox is finished, and I have a free moment or two, I’ve decided to take a week and visit friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m renting a car and traveling the great American southland. It should be fun. Unless the car breaks down and I am consumed by bears. But that seems… unlikely.

In any event, the travel begins today, so whilst I travel updating here may be sporadic. I’ll try to get some nice shots of hotel parking lots, however.

Election Day 2019 Thoughts

In no particular order:

* First and most importantly, the only thing I could vote for this year that was competitive — a levy for a local career center — passed, so I feel pretty good about that. Also on the ballot were a couple of uncontested races for township representative and school board, both non-partisan positions and the people who were up for those slots were perfectly good. While philosophically I am against uncontested political races, as a practical matter, meh, it was fine. Around the Dayton area, voters passed every single school levy that was put to them, which I think is a positive thing.

One new thing this election was that my polling place had different voting machines — ones where the machine you voted on was not connected to the Internet, and which printed out your voting choices on a long strip of paper so you could physically confirm the choices before it was scanned and sent into voting box. I thought this was kind of the long way around for something you could have done with a pen, but I appreciate the apparatus being more secure than the previous version.

So in all, a successful election day locally, from my point of view.

* In a larger sense I am also pleased with the results generally. I’m especially pleased with the result of the governor’s race in Kentucky, because Matt Bevin, the outgoing governor, is a real shitheel of a politician and I doubt he will be missed all that much. Despite being a real shitheel, he still managed to lose by less than 6,000 votes — partisan loyalty is a thing, y’all — and of course is now whining about how there were “irregularities” in the voting and how he’s not conceding the race and so on. At least he’s consistent. President Trump came out the day before the election and stumped for Bevin but of course made it all about him, telling Kentuckians re: Bevin not being reelected, that “you can’t let it happen to me!” Well, Bevin wasn’t reelected, and now it’s all about Trump! Well done him.

Virginia’s House and Senate (and governorship) are now all democratic as well (or will be in January), which doesn’t actually surprise me all that much — Virginia’s been turning bluer for a while now — but it should be interesting to see how that affects the state. I saw on Twitter someone noting that Virginia could become the 38th state to pass the ERA Amendment, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. As I understand it for it to be enshrined in our Constitution there would need to be a special dispensation from the House and Senate of the US (due to the lateness of the 38th vote for it), and I don’t see Mitch McConnell letting that one get by on his watch. Because he’s an awful person, you see.

* This was an off-off election cycle, so I wouldn’t read too much into it, but what I do think is important to see is that conventional wisdom out of Washington doesn’t seem to have that much connection to reality. There was some muttering/hand-wringing that the current impeachment proceedings would have an effect on voting, but… probably it didn’t? As far as I can see, most of the voting seems to be turning on local issues and concerns. Yes, Trump swooped in to Kentucky at the last minute, but when Bevin finally accepts the fact he’s lost, it’ll because of his own policies and karma, and not really about what’s going in Washington.

It’s for that reason I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions yet about what this means for this time next year. Next year, it will be about Washington. And what a time that will be.

The Big Idea: Cynthia Hand

In this Big Idea for her new novel The How & The Why, author Cynthia Hand looks into what makes us “family” — whether it’s genetics, blood, love, care or… more than that.

CYNTHIA HAND:

I’ve always had a hard time with the way adoption is portrayed in television and film. My central complaint, speaking as an adopted person, is that the portrayal is so often wildly unrealistic. These stories tend to focus on the search for the adoptee’s “real” parents and give little-to-no energy to understanding the adoptive parents. For example, look up, “Who is Superman’s father?” and you’ll find page after page on Jor-El, not Jonathan Kent. Or think about how in Once Upon A Time, the biological mother, Emma, does battle with the adopted mother, the literal evil queen. Or how the creators of The Umbrella Academy responded to questions about the incestuous relationship between Luther and Allison by saying “They’re not even related,” and “They are not biological.” The message comes through clearly: what makes a relationship “real” is blood.

For most adoptees, that is simply not the truth. Our “real” relationships are with our parents, and by parents, we mean the people who loved us and took care of us every day.

Therefore my goal as I set out to write The How & The Why was to give a realistic portrayal of adoption–one that thoroughly examines the different sides. The big idea was to show the point of views of both a teen birth mother and a teen adoptee and to examine the way each of them experiences “family.”

What ended up happening as I wrote the book, of course, was far more complex. Yes, my characters have a variety of family in their lives—biological and adopted, friendships, connections, and support systems that defy the conventional definition of what it means to be “related” to someone. What I didn’t expect was how much of the novel ended up being about how people shape their identities out of the stories they are told about themselves.

This made me think about how I had shaped my own identity, as an adopted person. I followed my character, Cass, as she tried to understand herself through her adoption, asking who am I over and over again. Then I followed S, the birth mother, who was basically asking the same question. I could see the invisible connections S had with Cass: the shape of their feet, their hatred of anything cherry-flavored, how they both felt gazing up at the moon—things they shared without even realizing it but that still inevitably connected them.

This made me wildly uncomfortable when I applied it to myself. Through the writing of these fictional people’s stories, I came to realize that who I am has been shaped by my relationship with my parents, of course, but it had also been forged from what I got from my birth parents, both in DNA and something even less tangible–those invisible connections I still had with them. Which are real, too.

Writing is funny that way. You start off having something definitive to say — adoptive families are real families — and then the narrative veers away toward something deeper. You come to figure out what you know through writing it. You discover things about yourself you never dreamed were there, lurking in the unexplored shadows. It’s what makes writing worth it, in the end.

—-

The How & The Why: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|RDBooks|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

So, Scalzi, Now That You’re Done With the Book Are You Gonna Write About Politics More?

Eeeeeeeh, probably? But maybe not? Essentially, the problem I’ve been having writing about politics in the Trump era is the same problem I’ve had since it’s begun, which that it’s so obvious that Trump’s a corrupt, incompetent, bigoted tool that I find it difficult to find much new to say about him. Likewise, not too much to say about the Republican party these days except that it’s decided to expend its capital propping up the most corrupt, incompetent, bigoted tool that we’ve had as president in living memory, and will deserve what they get when demographics catch up with them and all the old white voters they’ve invested so much money into scaring die in the next 20 years, to be replaced by everyone else for whom the GOP brand is “ignorant white racist fauxvangelical moneyworshippers.” I’m going to live long enough to see this bullshit expunged, which is a lovely thought. But again, not sure how many words that merits from me at the moment.

My first thought is it seems likely the majority of my political thought is going to stay in the Twittersphere, the format of which is congenial to my state of mind these last few years. But of course there is more to politics than just Our Dimwit President, sooooo maybe I’ll talk about that? Or maybe I will just snap and do an 8,000 word rant on Trump one day, which will likely not be coherent but may be cathartic? Who knows?

So, basically: Probably I’ll talk about politics more here now? But maybe not? That’s the best I can do for you right now in terms of predictions, sorry.

I do know today is an election day in many places in the US, so if it is where you are, and you are eligible to vote, please do get your ass out there and vote. It’s not a difficult thing to do, and it matters.

Bwwuuuuhhhh

Post-novel-writing brain truly hit today and I feel fine, just so long as you don’t expect me to think.

How are you?

What Authorial Agitation Looks Like, Scalzi Edition

A tale in three tweets:

Yeah, this.

I should be clear this was mostly for comedic effect. But on the other hand, yes, absolutely, once I send in a manuscript, after a couple of hours my brain is all “well? and?” because my brain, I think like most people’s brains, is not entirely convinced that anyone has a life outside my immediate needs and wishes. I do a lot of work not to show that part of my brain at all times.

But the good news is the book apparently works! I thought it did, mind you, and so did Krissy. But it’s nice to have verification outside the Scalzi household. You’ll see for yourself! In, uhhhh, April.