1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eighteen: Health

The difference between 1998 and 2018 as regards health is that in 1998 I never really gave thought about my health, and now I think about it a lot.

Why? Because I’m older and because (as noted earlier in this series) I weigh more than I used to, and because over 20 years I’ve had a series of thankfully minor reminders that my body is not invulnerable to damage, the most recent being a trip to the emergency room for a possible heart attack which turned out to be just indigestion. Which, to be clear, it’s great it was just indigestion, but 20 years ago I wouldn’t have even considered that it might be something else, much less called my physician’s office about it to have them say, “Yeaaaah, you should probably get to an emergency room right now,” because it sounded to them like a classic minor heart event. Things are different when you’re bumping up on 50 years of age. It’s better to be safe than possibly dead.

And generally there are other minor damages that have accrued through the years. I can no longer fully bend my right pinky due to a volleyball injury, which just goes to show that physical exercise is dangerous. When I was in Australia, I tore a leg muscle and had to hobble around Melbourne on crutches. I have a little bit of arthritis in my right hip ball joint. I can no longer do a forward handspring — the last time I did one, on my 35th birthday, my kneecaps tried to escape sideways and I said to myself, well, that’s enough of that.

For all that I have been lucky — I have had isolated incidents of injury, but what I don’t have, so far, knock on wood, are any chronic issues. I suppose the arthritis in the ball joint could be one, but I kind of have to go out of my way to aggravate it, mostly by contorting myself into a weird position, so I don’t really count it (yet). I have hay and cut grass allergies, which I didn’t have 20 years ago, but they’re not really doing anything to me but making me sneeze twenty times in a row, and Claritin knocks them into line. I’m healthy, mostly, on a day-to-day basis.

But as time goes on, that seems less likely to be the case, even if I do take care of myself generally. A large number of my friends have chronic health conditions now, not necessarily debilitating ones, but ones that require maintenance, and they’ve gotten them for a variety of reasons: some genetic, some environmental, some for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some for no reason that anyone can see other than, well, sometimes shit happens.

In my own family, as an example, we have a tendency toward cancers. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were both taken out by them, although in both their cases there was a conscious decision not to fight them; my grandmother because she didn’t want to worry anyone, and therefore let it go until it metastasized, and my grandfather because, as I understand it, basically he was done with this planet and cancer seemed as good a way as any to leave it. My brother has had breast cancer — a reminder that men, too, can get it — and he’s fine now, but it’s a thing I need to be aware of, with regard to my own health. I’m going to have to be taking screenings very seriously. Another issue on my radar is mental health; there are members of my family who have various issues in this direction. I don’t, at least not to date, but it’s something I keep tabs on.

My point is, at 29 I didn’t worry about most of these things, because I didn’t worry about them being applicable yet. This was a belief mostly out of ignorance, but also because, as a late-twenty-something, my cohort of friends and colleagues (mostly) weren’t worrying about these things, either. As we’ve all gotten older we’ve started worrying about it more.

I’ve also gotten to the point in life where people my age dying, while still unexpected, is not actuarially unusual. By your mid-to-late 40s, you’re going to have close-to-age friends, coworkers and family pass away. Krissy and I have lost friends to cancer, to ALS, and to other diseases. Just prior to our 30th reunion, my high school class marked its first death, again to cancer. I don’t imagine we’ll make it to our 40th without a few more.

I’m fine with dying one day (well, not fine, but not losing too much sleep over it in an existential sense), but I’m not in a rush, either. More to the point, as much as I can control such things, I want this backslope of my years on this planet not to be burdensome, either to myself or to the people I love. This means paying attention to my health and doing all the little things required to be healthy. Which I kind of hate, because I’m lazy and all this maintenance means work. But better to do work now then not, and suffer for it later. Long-term planning. Sigh.

(But how can you say you’re paying attention to your health when you make those burritos you do, Scalzi? I hear you say. Explain that, you bum! Look, those burritos are sometimes food, okay? I don’t eat them, like, every day.)

The point is I want to be here, and still writing, 20 years from now. And if I want that, I better be paying attention to my health. 29-year-old me could get away with letting it slide. 49-year-old me? Not so much.

That said, I think I’ll go for a walk now.

The Big Idea: Edward Willett

For his novel Worldshaper, author Edward Willett posits another type of authorship entirely… one with literally global implications.

EDWARD WILLETT:

Authors sometimes talk of their fictional worlds as though they lived in them. They’ll speak of characters taking on lives of their own, unexpected plot twists, settings that complexify beyond what was intended.

In reality, of course, all of this happens inside our heads…but what if, in reality, it happened in reality—or, at least, in a version of reality? What if we authors could immerse ourselves in our fictional worlds physically, rather than intellectually, and occasionally even rewrite them while we’re living within them?

That’s the “big idea” behind Worldshaper, my ninth novel for DAW Books, start of a brand-new series, called (you’ll never guess) Worldshapers.

The series will take place within the many worlds of the Labyrinth, an extra-dimensional realm in which people with sufficient will and imagination, called Shapers, can give the worlds of their imaginations physical form, and then take up residence within them.

Each of these worlds is populated with millions or even billions of humans, for whom those worlds are the real world, as ancient and solid and eternal as our own world seems to us—even though none of them have existed for more than a few decades.

The Shapers, having taken up physical residence in their Shaped worlds, can no more leave them of their own volition than a fictional character can exit a novel. The fortunate ones made good choice in Shaping their worlds. Others, alas, embody Psalm 7:15: “Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made.”

A single powerful Shaper, Ygrair, discovered the possibilities of the Labyrinth and opened it to the Shapers. But Ygrair has been weakened by the attack of an enemy, the Adversary (he has his reasons) who has found his way into the Labyrinth. He seeks to execute Ygrair and destroy the Labyrinth. Along the way, he’s turning every world he can get his hands on into a copy of the “perfect” authoritarian realm he Shaped for himself.

As Worldshaper begins, Ygrair’s lieutenant, Karl Yatsar, arrives in yet another in a long string of worlds, seeking a Shaper strong enough to gather and hold the knowledge of as many Shaped worlds as possible and deliver that knowledge to Ygrair, who will be able to use it to secure the Labyrinth against the depredations of her Adversary.

Shawna Keys, an aspiring potter in a small Montana city, turns out to be the Shaper of the world Yatsar has just entered, closely pursued by the Adversary, who, during a brutal attack, successfully collects Shawna’s Shaping knowledge. The adversary is about to kill her to cement his control of her world when, to Yatsar’s astonishment, she apparently resets time by three hours.

Everything goes back to the way it was. The attack never happened—but everyone killed, including Shawna’s best friend, has not only vanished, they’ve been utterly forgotten.

Shawna’s amazing display makes Yatsar think she may the one he seeks…but when he approaches her, he’s shocked to discover that Shawna Keys has forgotten she’s a Shaper: she’s the author of the book of her world, but she doesn’t remember writing it.

With the Adversary after her, though, she has no choice but to trust Karl. They flee to the one place Karl can form a Portal into the next world, with the Adversary in pursuit and working steadily to turn every aspect of Shawna’s world against her.

As the series continues, I look forward to exploring all kinds of questions raised by the big idea of authors living in the worlds they shape.

For example: authors do horrible things to characters all the time. Remorse is fleeting because, after all, the characters aren’t real.

But in the Shaped Worlds, they are. So, if you were an author living inside a world you’d written, would you continue to rewrite the living, breathing “characters” around you for your own selfish ends?

Dystopias, alien invasions, war, plague, and supernatural horrors all make exciting stories. Would we be so willing to create worlds that contain these things if we had to live in them? No? What if we could live in them but be immune to their dangers? Would we still choose to make such worlds, at the expense of those we force to live there?

Shawna’s Shaped world is very close to ours, with a few minor changes: for example, lacrosse is the big professional sport, she once saw The Da Vinci Code: The Musical on Broadway (Hugh Jackman did his best in the Robert Langdon role, but the show sucked), there are colonies on the moon, and the president lives, not in the White House, but in the Emerald Palace.

But as the series continues, Shawna will enter worlds belonging to Shapers with imaginations far different from her own. Like an adventurous reader, she will encounter ideas, characters, and situations she may find abhorrent. Yet, to fulfil Ygrair’s task, she must attempt to save all of the Shaped worlds, even those she hates. Her commitment to the quest, her commitment to what you might call “Freedom of Shaping,” and her own confidence in her ability to Shape things for the better may all erode in the process.

Lest this sound too grim, let me hasten to add that, since Shawna is written in first-person, she has my sense of humour. The result (according to one pleased reviewer) is a “sarcastic wiseass smart-mouthed main female character.”

I can’t live in my fictional world physically like the Shapers can, but in Shawna (and the other characters) you’ll still find bits of me, as you will in the ideas infusing the series, both small…and big.

—-

Worldshaper: Amazon|Barnes & Noble |Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerptVisit Willett’s site and follow him on Twitter. Check out his podcast, The Worldshapers, featuring conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process.

 

The Whatever Digest, 9/18/18

Let’s see what the world has for us today, shall we?

***

To begin on a high note, congratulations to my dear friend Mary Robinette Kowal, who has just announced a three-book, six-figure deal with Tor Books. The deal covers two more books in her “Lady Astronaut” series plus a standalone novel. The Verge has all the details, plus a short interview with MRK on the matter.

I’m thrilled about this. Aside from MRK being one of my favorite people on the planet, I’m a very big fan of the two current Lady Astronaut books, The Calculating Stars (which I think is a top contender for Hugo and Nebula Best Novel nods) and The Fated Sky. More in this universe makes me very happy. I’m also pleased Tor recognizes her value with the size of the deal. This is good news for everyone, but especially for MRK. I like it when my friends get good news.

***

Oh, let’s talk more about that Kavanaugh mess, I suppose.

Brett Kavanaugh, it should be noted, has doubled down on his categorical denial, regarding Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her back when they were teenagers. Both Kavanaugh and Ford are going to testify about it in front of the Senate on Monday, and one would hope under oath. And won’t that be interesting if it is under oath? Because then, if they both stick to their stories, one or the other of them is, flatly, lying.

Alternately, if one wishes to be extraordinarily generous about it, it’s possible that Kavanaugh isn’t lying, precisely, he simply has no memory of the incident. Ford did describe him as being stumble-down drunk at the time. But the thing about that is, he didn’t say “I have no memory of such an incident ever occurring.” He said it never happened. So we’re back to it being an actual lie, in my book.

And here’s the thing for me: Removing all the political aspects of the incident and focusing on the individuals and the incident itself, who are you more likely to believe has a better memory of the incident: The person who was stumble-down drunk when the incident occurred, or the person who was not, and had the event seared into her brain so significantly that it still came up in therapy, three decades later? I’d put my money on the latter, personally.

(The other, exculpatory-for-Kavanaugh explanation is that Ford isn’t lying but has misremembered the identity of her assaulter, which is possible, but given what we know of things, seems unlikely.)

But the timing of this shows it’s all political! Meh. Again, Ford expressed her concerns about Kavanaugh to her elected reps well in advance of his actual nomination for the court, and asked for confidentiality, which she was given. By all indications Senator Feinstein didn’t send the letter to the FBI until someone else leaked it. On Ford’s part, this doesn’t seem like the actions of someone desperately hungry to throw a spanner into the political works. The fact that some people want to blame her for the current mess is more than a little gross. Once the letter was a known thing, she came forward and was willing to testify. But she wasn’t responsible for the events that led to her letter becoming a political hot potato.

***

Someone in email accused me of smearing an innocent person (Kavanaugh, to be clear) and leading a mob against him. Well, Kavanaugh may well be innocent! But it seems unlikely to me, given what we know, and since I’m not a court of law or Kavanaugh’s lawyer, I’m not obliged to pretend I think he is. It seems likely to me that as a teenager he sexually assaulted Ford; it also seems likely to me that as an adult, he’s lying about it. Merely stating that opinion is not riling up a mob, I’m not stating “Kavanaugh is lying, go set fire to his house!” (Please do not set fire to his house.) Nor is the Whatever audience much of a mob (sorry).

Nor, bluntly, is Kavanaugh in much danger of having any major repercussions for his (probable in my opinion) teenage sexual assault. The worst case scenario for Kavanaugh is that he goes back to his job on the DC Court of Appeals — just like Merrick Garland! — and keeps doing what he’s already been doing. I mean, technically, if he lied in front of Congress he could be penalized for that, but he’s already arguably lied in front of Congress, and Congress seems to be willing to give him a pass for that. Kavanaugh’s real world penalty, if the Senate chooses not to confirm because, among other things, more of its members than not believed he pinned down a fifteen-year-old girl, put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams, ground himself into her and tried to take off her clothes, is… he keeps the immensely privileged life he already has. Oh, my God. How horrible for him.

But his reputation! Again, meh. It seems unlikely to me that any of Kavanaugh’s pals on the right will penalize him for it; he will still be admired and respected in the circles he already runs in. These are the same circles who elected as president a man who indisputably sexually assaulted women as an adult. There’s not much evidence at the moment that the right thinks sexual assault should count against a person’s reputation unless that person is on the left. Let’s not pretend that if the exact same accusations were made against a Supreme Court nominee picked by a Democratic president, the right would be calling for that nominee’s withdrawal (at least). But I guess it’s different when you’re on the right and you have a nominee that you know will overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance he gets.

So, yeah. Don’t cry for Kavanaugh. He’s going to be fine, whether he’s innocent or not.

***

People in Washington seem to be worried about an emerging “Kavanaugh Standard,” i.e., what you did at seventeen will now be held against you in senatorial confirmation hearings. A few thoughts here:

1. Can we stop pretending that sexual assault is just average teenage hijinx? I went to high school in the same era as Kavanaugh, you know. Even in the benighted 80s, we fucking well knew that sexual assault was not within the scope of acceptable activities. I was there! I know this to be true!

2. If you can’t or won’t agree that sexual assault is not your average teenage hijinx, one, what the fuck were you up to in high school, pal, and two, in fact, what you were doing in high school might be relevant to your senatorial confirmation, especially if you evince no actual moral growth from that point forward.

3. Otherwise, I think most people are probably in the clear regarding their high school stupidity.

4. But might it not also be wise to tell teens that all their lives will be affected by the choices they make as teenagers, including the choices they’re not aware they’re making? Is it not worth it to inculcate in their still-forming brains the idea that far-reaching consequences exist, even if they can’t yet fully understand these consequences may arise at a point that is a multiple of the years that they have currently been alive? And that their actions will have consequences for others, all through their lives as well?

5. Also, you know what? I would be fine culling out of governmental service everyone who sexually assaulted someone else as a teenager. Or as an adult! Why not both! And if it turns out there is a noticeable dearth of available men for such service, well, I guess them’s the breaks, and the good news is that there are almost certainly a large number of women available to come on board to take care of things, whilst the men fix their cultural shit. I’m fine with that. If this is indeed the new “Kavanaugh Standard,” there would be far worse things, I have to say.

***

And to end on a high note: Look! The Captain Marvel trailer! Looks like fun.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Seventeen: Kids

When I started Whatever in 1998, I didn’t have a kid. But I knew one was coming, since Krissy was pregnant. Her due date was December 17, but as it turns out, and in the first indication that this child was truly my child as well, the baby was kind of lazy and in no rush to head out of the womb. Krissy was induced on the 23rd of December, a week after the original due date. Athena Marie Scalzi was born, 3:31 pm, 22 inches long and nine pounds. A big baby, big enough that she broke a collarbone on the way out (she got better).

When Krissy found out she was pregnant, my reaction (other than elation because, cool, we were going to have a kid) was to start having dreams about death. Which was a new one on me; I was 29 and at that point was not giving that much thought to the fact that I would one day die. But suddenly I was having dreams where, point blank, was the announcement: “You’re gonna die one day.” Which I thought was a little on the nose. My conscious brain understood why I was having those dreams — when you have a kid, you’re no longer the last generation, there’s one after you now. You’ve willingly put yourself on the mortality conveyor belt. A perfectly reasonable explanation. But still disconcerting in dream form.

When Athena was born, these dreams stopped entirely. They stopped not because I wasn’t still confronting my own mortality. They stopped because once she was born I was okay with my mortality. Not that I was in a rush to experience it; I wanted to help raise this kid first. But it didn’t bother me anymore. I don’t know if this is everyone’s experience with having a kid — hey, I’m gonna die one day and that’s totally cool! — but it worked that way for me, and I’m glad I got that particular existential crisis done and dusted.

Of the two of us, Krissy was the one that worked outside of the home, so once her maternity leave was up, I was the stay-at-home parent and also, I took the night shift duties (roughly 11pm to 5am) so Krissy could actually be rested for her work. This was fine with me; I was still a night bird then so I didn’t mind being up late, and also, you know, even if I did, I was the one with no actual set schedule, so maybe I should just shut up and take one for the team, hey? Because that’s the thing with being a two-parent household: You’re supposed to be a team about it.

It turns out that I really liked being a stay-at-home parent. One, I got to spend a lot of time with my kid as an infant and a toddler, and it turns out she was a lot of fun during these times in her life. I had been mildly concerned, prior to her birth, that I wouldn’t relate to Athena before she was verbal, but, yeah, that turned out not to be a problem at all. Two, it was actually really congenial for the sort of work I was doing. I was doing a lot of marketing and corporate work at the time, which I could do around when Athena neeed attention. When she was napping or otherwise preoccupied, I could pop over to the computer and do the work. Most of my meetings were phone meetings so that wasn’t a problem, either.

Three, it was fascinating to see how people responded to me as a stay-at-home parent. It’s still a thing, men being the stay-at-home parent, and when Athena was an infant and toddler (and even after, since I was the stay-at-home parent her whole childhood) it was even more so. I would be tooling around with Athena in the mornings and early afternoons, i.e., when men were supposed to be at work, and people would mostly respond to me in one of two ways: Wow, there goes super-committed dad, he’s great, or look at that bum, he’s probably sponging off his baby mama. I imagine that if I explained that I was a writer, the responses would definitely fall into the second category. “Writer” is, I think, generally considered code for “unemployed.”

(In fact, I remember specifically one time when some conservative writer or another, objecting to something I wrote here, emailed me to castigate me for wasting time on my blog and letting my woman support me financially rather than getting a job and letting her have the “luxury” of staying at home. It was a delightful bit of joy to point out to him I was earning six figures as a freelancer as well as writing on my blog, that my wife worked out of the home because she liked it, that I enjoyed spending time with my kid, and also, fuck you, you sexist piece of trash. I never heard back from him after that.)

Interestingly, the one place where I definitely received credit for being a stay-at-home dad was with my writing clients. Every now and again during a conference call my daughter would make a noise, and I would explain that I was the stay-at-home parent and that half my office was given over to her play area. Invariably everyone would be impressed that I was taking time out of my schedule to be such an active co-parent. I was aware then and am aware now how vastly different that reaction would have been, had I been a woman freelancer. But since it was working out for me, I didn’t complain at the time.

As soon as Athena was born, I started writing about her here, and mostly haven’t stopped. The reaction of people to this has ranged from “your kid is cute! Write more about her zany antics!” to “Oh my god, you have acknowledged online that you have a child, now the crazies will come for her.” With the former, it’s certainly the case that I cherry-picked the adorable incidents and left out the ones where she was having a tantrum, or otherwise being a less-than-optimal person at whatever age she was at. There are many reasons for this, but primary among them was the idea that not every aspect of my kid’s life needed to be known to the general public. Before Athena was old enough to make such decisions for herself, I ran posts about her by Krissy, to make sure she was comfortable with them. After Athena was old enough to understand what I was doing, I always let her decide what about her went up on the site. It was always important for me to have her understand she had agency with regard to my portrayal of her.

With the latter, I have to say I was never all that worried about it as Athena was growing up. We live in a small town, I have a two-hundred yard driveway, and growing up Athena was with a parent when she wasn’t at school or otherwise accounted for. Beyond that, I’ve never been that hard to find. Even at the height of people being dicks to me a couple years back, no one ever bothered to come up to the house. I remember some angry dude threatening to dox me; I pointed out to him I’m in the phone book. I’m not sure he knew what a “phone book” was.

Athena was important for me in my writing life, not for Whatever fodder but as a general inspiration to do the work. Athena needed food and clothes and a place to live and eventually a college education, and I could not be too precious about the work I took in order to assure these needs would be addressed. I’ve always been lucky in the freelance work I got, but part of that “luck” was the willingness to be flexible about the work that came in. Short of work I found morally objectionable, I didn’t pass on anything. I had a person depending on me to give them a life that didn’t suck. Between me and Krissy, we managed that pretty well.

(She was the inspiration for one bit of fiction: Zoe, from the Old Man’s War series and particularly Zoe’s Tale. In those books Zoe is mostly a teen, and the books were written when Athena was between six and eight, so she wasn’t a direct influence. But I tried to imagine what Athena might be like at sixteen, and wrote someone like that. I was not far off.)

You may have noticed that for this piece I’m not directly talking a lot about who Athena is as a person. Mostly that’s because I’ve done that before, and what I wrote then still stands. But you can be assured that she is one of my favorite people in the world, and not just because she’s my kid. She’s a pretty great human. But this piece is really more about my experience of having a kid, and having her in my life for these last 20 years. It’s worked out pretty well, I have to say.

But Scalzi, you say, this topic was “kids” not “kid.” Well. We did try for more, and it didn’t work out, as sometimes these things don’t. In the fullness of time — which is kind of what this series of pieces is about —  that’s been part of our experience as parents as well. I don’t think either of us regret trying for more, just as we don’t regret the life that we ended up getting to have with Athena as our child. I don’t think we’ve lacked for anything in these last twenty years. It’s been a very good life, as a parent.

“Kids make your life complete” — Sure, they can. You can have a full life without them, and many people do, so I don’t think you can say, “Only kids will make your life complete,” which is often the subtext. I can say that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of the past 20 years with my kid, and my wife as a co-parent, and all three of us as a family. My life, at least, is complete because of them.

The Whatever Digest, 9/17/18

Let’s start the day off with something pretty, shall we. Like these sunset clouds from last night:

I’m often asked how much I Photoshop my sunset pictures, and the answer is, it depends on the day. With that said, this photo pretty much accurately recreates what the sky actually looked like when I took this picture. One thing I did actively Photoshop was my neighbor’s TV antenna, which I edited out of the photo. This is a thing I frequently do. I feel no guilt about it.

Anyway, this was our sky last night. It’s not bad.

***

Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser now has a name (she always had a name, mind you, only now it’s public) and more details of the sexual assault that happened to her, which Kavanaugh has denied. Senate Republicans have stated their intent to move forward with a confirmation vote this week, although at least three GOP senators are now saying they’d be happy to delay that vote until they know more. Jeff Flake is key to this since he’s on the Judiciary Committee and the Republicans on the committee need his vote to move forward to a general confirmation vote. My feeling is that the longer the vote is delayed, the less likely it will be that Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court at all. This suits me fine, since I don’t like his judicial rulings or general philosophy and think this entire confirmation process has been a ridiculous sham of the Republicans trying to jam Kavanaugh through without letting anyone see relevant documents, but it’s still very weird.

For the record, I believe Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, and more than that, the corroborating evidence (including notes from therapy sessions back from 2012) suggests strongly that Ford named Kavanaugh as her assaulter, and sent letters to her representatives about him, long before the man was actually up for confirmation. So the idea that this is some late, last-minute hit on the process don’t really hold up to scrutiny. I would agree this all should have been aired sooner, mind you; I would liked to have known that (another) man accused of sexual improprieties was headed to the Supreme Court.

Also for the record: If the allegations are true, which I don’t really have a problem believing they are, Kavanaugh should not be on the Supreme Court, and tangentially, the Republicans shouldn’t want them there. As people have noted on Twitter, the optics of a self-admitted sexually-harassing President nominating a man credibly accused of sexual assault (and indeed, attempted rape) in order to throw out women’s right to control their own bodies are pretty bad. Now, it’s entirely possible the GOP doesn’t care about that — it’s made it pretty clear it doesn’t give a crap about anything other than its own will to power recently — but it should care about it. We’ll see.

The wild card in this is the “oh, but it happened in high school and that was so long ago and if we’re all judged for what we did back then we’d all be in trouble” argument, and you know what? This argument in general is not a horrible one — we are all stupid as teenagers and certainly as a nearly 50-year-old man I wouldn’t think it’s accurate to base my current personhood on the actions of 17-year-old me. On the other hand, 17-year-old me did not get smashed, force myself on top of a 15-year-old girl, sexually assault her and try to pull off her clothing, either. The adult version of me also did not “categorically and unequivocally deny” the event having ever occurred, as Kavanaugh has.

And that’s the thing for me. I did stupid shit as a 17-year-old, but as a 49-year-old I should be able to own it, and if possible and necessary make amends for it. Kavanaugh, who is 53, is not owning his shit and certainly has no intent to make amends for it. I can believe that Kavanaugh now wouldn’t do such a thing as the drunken 17-year-old version of him would do. But the fact that Kavanaugh now thinks the best thing for him to do is simply to deny such a thing ever happened doesn’t speak well for him or for the GOP bound and determined to get him on the court.

At this point, either Ford is lying or Kavanaugh is. I know who my money is on for that.

***

Athena came home this weekend to see friends, and I took advantage of her presence to take a photo:

I posted this on Facebook, prompting concerned followers there to ask what has become of the rest of her body. Relax, it’s there (you can sort of make out her neck in this picture). Honestly, no one understands my artistic vision.

***

Time magazine is being sold to a tech billionaire, specifically Mark Benioff, who along with his wife Lynee is purchasing it for their investment portfolio. Apparently the Benioff’s plan for Time is similar to the one Jeff Bezos is following with the Washington Post, which is, pour money in but otherwise be hands off.

I’m not a huge fan of billionaires buying media outlets (I kind of preferred it when people become billionaires by building media outlets, mostly, he said, wincing at the thought of Rupert Murdoch), but this is the new gilded age, and we actually need journalism now, and in a big way. So if selling Time to a billionaire is what it takes to keep it going, then, fine. If in fact the Benioff’s are serious about being hands off. If in fact they devote actual resources to it. If they don’t just strip it down for parts, like indeed Meredith, the current owner of the once-proud Time-Life stable of magazines is currently doing. If.

***

Let’s finish on a self-serving note: Hey! The Collapsing Empire is currently $2.99 as an ebook, on all your favorite electronic retailers. Get it cheap just in time to be all caught up for The Consuming Fire, which comes out a month from now. Wheee!

(Update: Sale’s over now.)

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Sixteen: Hair

I’ve not been a fan of my hair these last twenty years.

Honestly, my hair and I have never been on the best of terms. I come from a family that doesn’t have great hair; it tends to be thin and wispy in the best of circumstances, and I, who started balding at around age 24, rarely had the best of circumstances. I have exactly one picture of my hair being decently full looking, from when I’m seventeen. At the time I was rocking the perfect 80s hair; I looked more like John Stamos than John Stamos did at the time. It’s been downhill, hair-wise, ever since.

This is not to say that I desire to return to the halcyon days of feathered mullet hair. One, uhhhh, that style is dated. Two, at this point I’ve gotten used to not having to do anything with what hair I do have; the thought of having to do a whole hair regimen tires me out. If I had hair, it would still be bad hair, there would just be more of it.

What I dislike about my hair, and have for the last double decade, is not the hair per se but its balding pattern. I’ve gone bad from the center of my scalp, and the circle is ever widening. In 1998, it was a patch of bald the size of a small donut. Here in 2018, it’s pancake-sized and honestly I look like I have a tonsure, or, as I noted the other day, like I have a chinstrap at the top of my head. It’s easy for me not to notice most of the time, since I have a baffle of hair persisting at the front of my head. I don’t directly see my bald spot most of the time. But then it shows up in pictures or on video and I’m all, oh, that’s not a great look.

I should note I’m not insecure about my hair. My hair is what it is, and it doesn’t create any social or existential crisis for me. I don’t suffer any loss of social standing for my terrible hair, and I’m happily married to a woman who met me as I started losing my hair, knew what she was getting into and apparently is just fine with it. There’s no penalty for a middle-aged dude having a tonsure, basically, as long as you’re a decent human and a reasonable conversationalist. I do fine regardless of the status of my hair. I just don’t like my hair very much.

Well then, take it all off, you say. Thing is, in the mid 2000s, I did that, just to see what it would be like. As it turns out, I thought it looked fine. Krissy, on the other hand, didn’t like it at all. Considering that she was the one who would have to look at me on a daily basis, and in a general sense it’s a good thing to keep one’s spouse happy, I grew it back out. I honestly have to say I don’t understand why she prefers the Friar Tuck look to a chrome dome. But she does, and also, she keeps her hair longer than she would otherwise because she knows I prefer it that way. So. “Not entirely bald” it is.

What I learned in the last 20 years about my hair is that the secret to having it look good is basically to keep it as short as possible. Not completely shaved off but close to the scalp. Otherwise it gets tufty, quick. My rule of thumb is that when I can fashion the hair in the front of my head into a point, it’s time to get a haircut (also, I need a haircut right now).

Mind you, I don’t always get a haircut when I need a haircut, which means that occasionally I get to take pictures of myself with really terrible hair. This is, oddly enough, pretty much the only time I like my hair. I kind of dig taking terrifying pictures of myself. Call it the Opposite Instagram Effect, if you like. Or as I prefer to call these sorts of pictures: “My Next Tinder Photo.”

Oh, yeah. I would totally date me.

My next hair crisis, as it were, is that the bit of hair on the front of my head is thinning rather a bit recently and probably in the next year I’m going to simply just shave it all the way down, and then the question will be what to do with everything else. People say that I should do a Jean Luc Picard on it, but the thing is, a) I don’t have Patrick Stewart’s head shape and b) the hair I have in the back is both fuller and rises further up my head than Stewart’s. Also, bluntly, I don’t have a full-time stylist like Stewart did on ST:TNG — that’s right! Never compare your hair to television hair, even when the dude is bald. I guess I’ll figure it out when it happens, soon.

There’s another sort of hair to consider in this piece, which is facial hair. In 1998, I didn’t wear it very often; here in 2018, I wear it almost constantly. What caused the switch? Well, when I was younger, it was that I didn’t like beards much; I thought they made you look like someone’s dad, and not the cool dad but the dad that spends too much time in the basement, oiling the guns. But as I got older I realized that was a little silly, and also I became a dad anyway, and also, in point of fact, a beard looked fine on me. These days, I also wear a beard because I like so many men my age have experienced Lower Face Collapse, and the beard both gives my chin definition it otherwise doesn’t have any more, and also hides my positively tragic jowls, which at this point and short of cosmetic surgery, I don’t ever see getting any better.

So in sum, here in 2018 I am a balding white guy with a beard. This means that I am on a day to day basis indistinguishable from at least twenty million other American men between the ages of thirty five and fifty five. Wherever I go in public there are at least a few other guys who look like I do. Even at science fiction conventions, where you think I might stand out, there’s a sizable percentage of people who have no idea who I am unless they look at my name tag. I’m not Neil Gaiman or George Martin, both of whom have a easily definable look, both to the point of being cosplayed at comic cons. If you cosplayed me, you’d be cosplaying a middle-aged white guy in an aloha shirt, i.e., 30% of dudes at a con. I have been told more than once by people at a convention that they recognized me only because I was standing next to Krissy, which, to be fair, makes perfect sense to me. No one looks like Krissy except Krissy. A lot of dudes look at least kind of like me.

This is not a complaint, and even if it was, there’s not a lot I can do about it at this point (and even more precisely, not a lot I will do about it). This is my look, and this is my hair — head and face — for a while. And I like me, even with my less than great hair. Honestly, if a tonsure is the worst problem I have with my body — and at the moment, it sort of is — I’m doing great, thanks.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Fifteen: Music

In no particular order, a playlist of 20 songs from the last 20 years that have stuck with me.

New Books and ARCs, 9/14/18

Halfway through September now, and here is a very fine stack of new books and ARCs to note the occasion. See anything you’d like? Tell us in the comments!

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Fourteen: Day Jobs

I did actually have a day job in 1998.

Well, for about a quarter of it. I worked at America Online as its in-house writer and editor, and got laid off that March. I got laid off not because I was a terrible employee, but because my group was being dissolved and while everyone else was going into someone else’s department, as an in-house writer and editor I was a company-wide resource, and no one wanted to put a company-wide resource on their departmental budget. So I got laid off.

Then a week later everyone noticed they weren’t getting any writing done, and I was hired back as a consultant. Half the work! Twice the pay!

The corporate world is weird.

By the time September rolled around and I was starting Whatever, my day job was being a fulltime freelancer. AOL used me for newsletters and other work and indeed would employ me off and on for the next decade; I finally signed off working for them at the end of 2007, by which time almost no one who I’d known while I was there was still at the company. Weirdly, I had outlasted nearly all of my former co-workers.

But AOL was not my only source of income. If being laid off had taught me anything (and it had in fact taught me many things) it was that multiple sources of income were the way not to starve or be in a financial panic all the time. Fortunately, in 1998, I lived in the Washington DC area, and it was a good place to be a freelancer. There were a lot of technology companies out there and all of them needed copy written or marketing done, and it helped to actually have a writer who a) understood the tech field and the lingo, b) had been a journalist in a past iteration of his work life and so understood the concept of “deadlines.” And also, because this was prior to the popping of the first Internet bubble, they had money to spend.

(Yes, but what about your fiction, Scalzi? Were you writing that on the side? Not at all! I wrote Agent to the Stars while I was still at AOL and in the short term that appears to have scratched the fiction itch for a few years; I wouldn’t start writing Old Man’s War until 2001, when I had moved out of the DC area and to my current house in rural Ohio. But for the first few years, I was all in for building up my freelance career. It made sense from an economic point of view, and also, honestly, I was having fun. In those first few years, among the more straitlaced copywriting gigs, I was also writing music and video game reviews, which was very much in my wheelhouse, both personally and professionally. I was feeling very professionally fulfilled, and also I was busy with both work and a new child, for whom I was the at-home parent. So fiction took a back seat, and would stay there for several years.)

My freelance “day job” years are ones that I still think of quite fondly. I got to do a lot of different writing and I got to exercise a lot of different writing skills, all of which, as it turns out, make me a better fiction and novel writer. Also having freelance clients who had specific expectations about the work, and set deadlines, and weren’t here for your ego as a writer, made a huge difference when I started interfacing with the business end of fiction publishing.

Best of all, it gave me money and an income that was independent of books — a good income — that meant I never had to take a book contract I was unhappy with. I could just walk away. And did, at one point; the astute amongst you will note a three-year gap between Zoe’s Tale and Fuzzy Nation. It’s there for a reason. And while I was not writing novels for a patch there, I was writing and doing other things. It was fine! I was fine. I liked having my day job. It gave me freedom until the books were in a place where economically speaking, they had to be my day job.

Which is where I am at the moment. My day job is writing novels — I write other things too, but they’re all on the side. While I do like to revel in the fact that the gig’s work attire is a bathrobe, if that, it is in fact a real job. Like my other day jobs, I am being paid to meet specific expectations about my work, on a deadline, with minimal ego. Remember when I said all the previous day job work had application to writing novels? Well, this is part of that too.

Contractually speaking, novel writing will be my “day job” for the next several years at least. And after that, who knows? I may have to get another day job again — go back to writing other things for the majority of my income. I would be okay with that if it happened. I like writing novels, but I liked all the other sort of writing I got to do (and get to do). And as all of my day jobs have shown me, no job is forever. The fact that writing here is the longest sustained writing “job” I’ve ever had says something about that essential fact.

The Whatever Digest, 9/14/18

Let’s start this off with a picture I took this morning. I call this one “Worlds on a String.”

See, there’s an upside to spiderwebs everywhere.

***

I was in Columbus last night to take part in a panel at the Religion News Association’s conference, on science fiction and religion (appropriately enough, given the conference I was at). On the panel I and three other panelists looked at how and why religion makes its way into science fiction and why writers and readers come back to it in the genre. Inasmuch as this was a panel at a conference of journalists, did they record this panel and then put it up on Facebook? Why yes! Yes they did.

So if you’re interested, here it is. My particular bit starts about fourteen minutes in, and the camera angle really accentuates that at the moment my hair looks like I have a chinstrap on the top of my head, so I have that going for me, which is nice. But the whole thing is worth watching, because everyone on it (Me, James McGrath, David Williams and Farah Rishi) had interesting things to say.

***

So just in case you think Twitter is a complete waste of time, my friends Chuck Wendig and Sam Sykes just had a film made based on a Twitter thread they did, just goofing around:

Chuck’s got the whole story on his site. I particularly like the fact that Chuck is played by Allyson Hannigan. And honestly this is probably the best Twitter story ever (the fact a movie was made from their Twitter thread, not the Twitter thread itself, although that’s pretty funny, too).

***

I’m sure things went on the world yesterday (aside from Trump’s dumbass comment about Puerto Rico), but honestly I was off traveling and talking about God and science fiction, so I didn’t keep up. In lieu of trenchant commentary on the state of planet, please accept this picture of a kitten in a sink.

The digest will see you next Monday!

The Whatever Digest, 9/13/18

First: This banner from the Subterranean Press web site, which I got a giggle over:

I love it because I think Nate Taylor, the illustrator, did a perfect job drawing me. I look ridiculous, but in a fun and affectionate way, which I think is perfect, both for me and for the book. I may put the image on my business card, if I ever get business cards again, which honestly seems unlikely, but even so.

Also, in a larger since it’s a delight to love one’s cover art, which this banner is derived from. As a writer I have generally had pretty good luck with cover art — the number of covers of my work that I love outstrips the ones I’ve not like by a considerable margin. One does recognize that cover art isn’t just about one’s own preferences; it’s also marketing, designed to sell the book to booksellers and to readers, so one has to make allowances for that. But even making allowances for that, I’ve been pretty lucky. Virtue Signaling continues that lucky streak.

(PS: Pre-order it! Now!)

***

Virtue Signaling is coming out on December 31st, which means it will be the third book I will have published this year, not counting paperback releases and foreign editions. But it will actually be the fourth book I am published in, since Robots Vs Fairies, in which I have a short story, came out in January. That’s not a bad year for publishing things. I may take the pedal off the gas slightly in 2019. Slightly.

***

Trump asserting that thousands did not die because of hurricanes in Puerto Rico: One, what a venal piece of crap this president is, and two, this is probably not what people in Virginia and the Carolinas want to be hearing just as the outer tendrils of Florence begin slapping up against their coasts. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either in the potential government response, or how Trump will wiggle out of culpability if something goes wrong. Someone on Twitter made the crack that there are enough white people in the Carolinas that the FEMA response should be adequate this time, and while that’s a pretty sharp barb, with this administration it’s difficult to say it’s 100% wrong. I dislike having an administration which is so obviously white nationalist.

In any event, Carolinas and Virginia: Good luck. I don’t want to say you’re on your own, but I will say that if you drown, Trump will probably say that you did it just to make him look bad.

***

Google announced yesterday that it will be sunsetting Inbox, their much-superior email application compared to GMail, in early 2019. This makes me very sad because Inbox is my default email client, precisely because it does so many things better than GMail. Google claims it will be importing many of the features Inbox currently is better at (like email organization) into GMail, but I am, shall we say, entirely skeptical. For my money, GMail would be better off if Google simply ported Inbox over in its entirety and called it GMail. But they’re not asking me, damn it.

***

I’m a fan of Lindsay Ellis’ deconstructions of film and TV, which are both well-researched and a lot of fun to watch. But her most recent video isn’t about either of those two media, it’s about YouTube, the very medium in which she toils, and talks about how the people who are making shows and videos there are making them seem “authentic” as opposed to the conventional polish of television (or, even more so, film). Along the way she talks, on her own and with vlogger/author Hank Green, about the emotional cost of keeping up that veneer of authenticity on a regular basis, for people who, ultimately, one doesn’t know, even if they feel like they know you — in part because that’s what you were aiming for.

I found this video even more interesting than I find most of Ellis’ videos, because the issues she’s addressing are ones I’m familiar with, right here on Whatever. The site here is personable and people enjoy getting a glimpse of who I am and what I do, but as personable as it is, the version of me here is tuned — it’s a public persona. It’s not a false version of me, but it’s a version of me tweaked for the blog, as it were, just like when I’m out on a book tour, that version of my is tweaked for interacting with real live people in that particular setting.

I well aware of how much I do what Ellis’ talking about in the video, in my own fashion and mode, so it’s also interesting for me to see other people talking about it in their lives. What Ellis and others have to do and deal with is not exactly what I do and have to deal with, but it’s close enough that I can feel where she’s coming from.

***

And now I’m off — I’m heading to Columbus today to do a panel on science fiction and religion, in no small part because both The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire feature a major religious figure in them. Should be fun. You kids enjoy yourself for the rest of the day. I’ll see you tomorrow, as we start the second 20 years (let’s hope!) of Whatever.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Thirteen: Whatever

One, today’s entry title is a little reflexive. Two, it doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years.

But I don’t think anything ever does. Time is a funny thing which spans backwards and forwards from you, but at the moment it’s only ever now. You keep living right now, and being now, and in my case, writing, now. And then you look up and you have twenty years of writing, all on the same site, all pretty much in the same mode. It’s piled up behind you, and around you, two decades of it.

In the last ten years, I’ve averaged 806 entries here a year, and an average of 435 words per post. Take out about a hundred of those annual entries for Big Idea posts, and let’s say that’s 700 posts a year, 435 words a post. That’s three million words, more or less, in ten years. Let’s be conservative and estimate than in the ten years previous to this last decade, I wrote “just” two million words here on the site. So, basically, five million words of Whatever, in 20 years, give or take a couple hundred thousand on either side. For contrast, in that same twenty years I estimate I’ve written something like 1.385 million words of fiction (fourteen novels, several novellas, a modest stack of short stories).

So you’re saying you could have written three and a half times more fiction if you weren’t writing here, Scalzi! Well, no. That’s not actually how it works. Every once in a while someone takes it on themselves to say to me, here or elsewhere on social media, to stop playing around online and get back to work on the novels. I find this annoying, not just because part of is simply just fuck you, I’m not your word monkey, but also because it reminds me that people who don’t write don’t understand how writing happens and who writers fundamentally are.

First, let me assure you that the five million words here would not have magically transmuted to five million words of fiction. Rather, the five million words here would have magically transmuted into hours playing Descent, or Half-Life, or Left 4 Dead, or Civilization or Fortnite, and hours of binge-watching shows on cable and Netflix, and hours of reading countless books, and other writing, online and off. Whatever is what I do for fun. This is actually my down time! (Well, mostly. Some days it feels kind of workish.) Believe me when I say the fiction you get now is roughly the fiction you would get if Whatever didn’t exist. If Whatever didn’t exist, that time would be spent with me doing something else for fun.

Second, let me now contradict the thing I just said: In fact, there’s a very good chance that if Whatever didn’t exist, you would see less fiction from me. One obvious reason for this is Whatever is how I sold my first novels in the first place — they were discovered here, when I posted them on the site because I was too lazy to submit them elsewhere. It’s entirely possible without this site I would have never sold any novels, or at the least, sold them in a manner and time so entirely different that the path of my fiction career would be vastly different. That’s actually likely, in fact: I would have written entirely different novels. It’s not a certainty that I would have written science fiction novels. It’s not a certainty that I would have written as many novels as I have at this point.

But another reason is that over the last twenty years, writing on Whatever has generally made me happy. It’s a fun hobby, it’s a place for me to blow off steam, and it’s a place where I can write about the world, so my fiction can be (mostly) about other worlds. Here’s a hot tip about how I (and, I suspect, most writers) work: When I’m happy, I write more. When I’m not, I write less. Knowing myself and who I am as a person, I can say that it’s a very good chance that I would not have been as happy, not writing Whatever. And that in itself would have had a negative effect on the amount of fiction you would have gotten out of me.

(Honestly, if anything, Whatever affected the amount of saleable non-fiction writing I did. It’s less of an issue now that novels are my primary source of income, but when I was still freelancing, I probably lost a fair amount of revenue writing pieces here rather than pitching them to editors at magazines, newspapers and Web sites. Never forget that Whatever was originally started because I wanted to stay sharp in the column-writing format. It worked, possibly too well. Once I started getting readers here, I was less inclined to bother trying to sell this sort of writing elsewhere.)

The shorter version of this is: Like my fiction? Then be glad I write here.

I’ve noted elsewhere that Whatever rode the “blogosphere’s” cresting wave of popularity, and now that the blogosphere is increasingly a ghost town it sees rather less random foot traffic than it used to, even if does reasonably well with followers via WordPress, email and RSS. It’s a reminder that nothing ever stays the same, online or off. Times change, fashions change, social media changes. I can be sanguine about it because I never tried to monetize Whatever via ads; I don’t have to worry about losing income because Google changes its algorithm or whatever. I miss the former vibrancy of the blog world, but I’m not going be one of those people shaking his cane talking about how things were Better Back Then. It was here, it’s mostly gone now, and something else will come along.

But even when the words “blog,” “blogger” and “blogosphere” become even more dad rock than they already are, I suspect I’ll still be writing here, because, as noted above, I like it and it makes me happy. It makes me happy because writing makes me happy. It makes me happy because writing helps me understand myself and what I’m thinking. It makes me happy because at the end of the day, these are my words and I get to own them, and people get to see them. I don’t expect that anyone but me will have read every single word of the twenty years I have here, or of the however many years I have left writing here. But other people have read a lot of it. They still do.

And they still may, in the future and possibly long after I’m done writing here and shuffled off to whatever happens next. Dear future graduate students: Thanks for picking me for your thesis! Hope it’s going well. Have fun sifting through five million words at least.

In the meantime, for whatever it is I’m writing on Whatever: there’s no future or past, just now. If you’re reading this, this is at least part of who I am (or was) in this moment. This is who I have been, in the moment, for two decades now. It’s a long time, and seems like no time at all.

Announcing Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies: Selected Writings From Whatever 2013 – 2018

Today, on the 20th anniversary of Whatever, I am absolutely thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies: Selected Writings From Whatever, 2013-2018. This new collection from Subterranean Press collects some of the best writing from Whatever from the last half decade, with my words and thoughts on politics, personalities, social issues and life in general — on whatever, appropriately enough.

Virtue Signaling will be available from Subterranean Press as a limited edition signed hardcover (featuring fabulous cover art from Nate Taylor, pictured above) and in ebook format. The current scheduled publication date is December 31, 2018. You can preorder the hardcover now through Subterranean Press, which is the best way to assure you get a copy.

And now that I’ve covered the basics, let me talk just a little more about the book, using the Q&A format:

What’s covered in this book and how is it different from Don’t Live For Your Obituary, the Whatever collection you released last year?

Don’t Live for Your Obituary specifically covered pieces about writing and the writing life, published over the last decade; Virtue Signaling covers every other topic I wrote about, between 2013 and 2018 (well, through about May of this year, anyway). So while there is some overlap in time frame between the two books, the content of each is otherwise mostly independent.

The collection’s time frame includes the 2016 election cycle and the first year and a half of the Trump administration, so that’s covered some — but there’s also discussion about other world events, personal observations on the nature of life, reviews and commentary on film, theater and other events, and of course, lots and lots of snark. Lots and lots of snark should not be surprising at this point, I think.

Why did you call this collection Virtue Signaling? 

Because it amused me. Also, as I wrote in the book’s introduction (and I’m condensing here a bit from the actual intro):

“Virtue Signaling” is a phrase the dim and bigoted use when they want to discount other people expressing the idea that it would be nice if we could all be essentially and fundamentally decent to each other. I don’t believe I am notably more virtuous than your average person; nevertheless I also think we can and should be better, to each other and as a nation. Occasionally I write about it. I am delighted to signal in the direction of virtue.

I personally get accused of “virtue signaling” a lot, because of what I write here and in other places, usually by the sort of dude I think wouldn’t know what virtue actually was if it came and bit him on the ass. I didn’t title this collection Virtue Signaling just to annoy that sort of moral CHUD, but I’m not going to deny that it’s a nice bonus, either.

Is… is that supposed to be you on the cover? 

It certainly is! In my social justice warrior garb! Once again, Nate Taylor, who also illustrated the covers of The Mallet of Loving Correction and Don’t Live For Your Obituary, has done a fine job of making a cartoon version of me. I genuinely love this illustration, and think Nate Taylor is brilliant. Please hire him for all of your illustration needs.

Tell me more about the signed, limited hardcover edition and why I need to pre-order it right now.

Well, it’s signed because my signature is in each and every copy, so you won’t need to hunt me down later at a convention or tour event to get it inscribed. It’s limited because once this run of the hardcover is sold through, that’s it; no more will be made. It’s hardcover because that’s what Subterranean Press specializes in — amazing hardcover editions of books that look and feel great and add real class to your bookshelf and, indeed, to your life in general. And you need to pre-order it right now because my signed, limited hardcover Subterranean Press editions have a tendency to sell out, so if you want to be sure you get one, pre-ordering sooner than later is the way to go.

I will not be hardcover-shamed into preordering! Ebooks all the way!

Well, fine, you do you, and there will in fact be an ebook version, which will be cheaper to boot, although not as pretty and shiny as the hardcover. That version should be available at your favorite ebook retailer for pre-order in the reasonably near future.

And before you ask, both the hardcover and ebook editions will be available worldwide (for the hardcover, you will need to pay shipping). The ebook is also DRM-free, because, yeah.

Anything else you want us to know about Virtue Signaling?

Mostly that I’m really happy with this collection, and I think everyone at Subterranean Press has done a truly fabulous job putting it together. I think you’re going to be happy to have it on your shelf. And also, I’m totally going to dress up like the cover at some convention in the future. Just you wait.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twelve: Travel

I never thought I would travel as much as I do today.

This year, as an example, for work: Two book tours, comprising a total of 21 stops and just over three weeks. Conventions in Detroit and Phoenix and San Jose and Albuquerque. Festivals in Los Angeles and Nantes, France (with a side trip during the latter for an event in Paris). A working cruise to Mexico. A trade show in Minneapolis. Individual speaking events here and there, like a recent event in Cleveland. Next year: London and Budapest and Aviles, Spain and Dublin, another working cruise, this time to the Caribbean, plus undoubtedly more events not currently scheduled but to be added later. Heck, tomorrow I go to Columbus, Ohio — which is just down the road, but it’s an actual work-related event, so it counts.

And that’s just for work. I travel sometimes just for myself! Weddings, reunions, visiting friends and even — gasp! — taking a vacation with my wife and/or family.

I travel so much that when I have a month I’m not scheduled to travel, it’s a minor miracle (not this month, incidentally — aside from Columbus I have a NYC trip scheduled to do a bit of business and catch up with a pal).

It was, as they say, not always thus. In 1998, I rarely traveled at all — I would travel to New York once or twice for client work that couldn’t be handled over the computer or phone, and Krissy and I would travel to Ohio for one of the major holidays, and that would pretty much be that. When we moved to Ohio in 2001, I think I had one trip to NYC for business, and one trip to Nevada that was cancelled because it was scheduled the week 9/11 happened. I don’t think I traveled anywhere in 2002 at all.

(And before 1998? Well. I almost never traveled as a kid — traveling costs money and we were poor — and I didn’t even get east of the Mississippi before I went to college at the University of Chicago. It was, literally, the furthest away from my home I’d ever been. My first trip out of North America was three years later when I took a college press junket to Israel, and aside from a connection at Heathrow, the first time I was in Europe proper was 2005, for the Worldcon in Glasgow. Australia would wait until 2010. I still haven’t been to Asia (unless you want to point out that technically, Israel is in Asia, which, sure, okay, but come on, dude) or Africa or South America. Or Antarctica. I don’t think I’ll be going to Antarctica. Ugh. Cold.)

I actually didn’t start traveling extensively — more than a couple of times a year — until 2007, when I went on my first book tour*, for The Last Colony. That tour had me out on the road from April 23 through May 10, which happens to be my birthday; on the last stop of the tour, in Richmond, VA, the bookstore presented me with a birthday cake, which I thought was a delightful touch. Around this same time I also started getting Guest of Honor invitations at science fiction conventions; my first actual GoH stint was at Armadillocon in 2008, but others rapidly followed.

The travel started to pile on. And here’s how I knew that my travel life had changed: In 2007, just before that first book tour, I actually had to get a cell phone. Prior to then I made do with using a special dial-in number at pay phones — hey, remember pay phones? — but I figured (correctly) that when I was on tour really the last thing I would want to do after an event was track down a pay phone to call Krissy and Athena. It’s hard these days to imagine life without a cell phone, and I note it’s hard to imagine me, a bona fide tech nerd, not having a cell phone at the earliest possible date. But again, until 2007, I never really needed one. Why? Because, mostly, I was home.

My full travel madness really started happening in 2011, when (after a three year hiatus) I started publishing novels on a usually-once-a-year basis, and each of those novels included a book tour lasting anywhere from two-and-a-half to five weeks. This years’ tour for Head On was actually the shortest one I’ve done since 2007 — just nine stops! — but that’s mostly because Tor has me putting out two books this year, and the Consuming Fire tour will have me out long enough to make up the margin. The tours have come on top of a generally full schedule of conventions and book fairs and festivals and trade shows and so on, with other travel, including personal travel, shoveled in there as well. Since 2011, I figure I’m away on the average of a week every month; a full three months of the year, not at home.

Which is not all bad! I like to travel and see new places and meet new people, and catch up with friends at conventions and events that they also happen to be at; I would not see probably ninety percent of my friends as much as I do if I stopped traveling. I like that when I travel on book tours or for events, people are happy to see me; that’s great for my ego. These days much of my travel goes through a speaker’s bureau, so I also get paid when I travel, which honestly is pretty great. Often I get to take Krissy with me to things, so she gets a vacation while I work, and then we usually have a couple of days where we both get to be on vacation, which is also great. And in a larger sense I like that my job means I get to see the world, which was a wholly unexpected aspect of the gig. I thought my gig was about sitting in a room, writing on a computer. It is, but it’s more than that too.

On the flip side: Going places is cool, but the actual travel is a pain in the ass a lot of time. Airports are a drag, even with TSA Pre. Flights get delayed or cancelled, fucking up everything. I get to travel to cool places, but a lot of the time I don’t get to see more than a hotel, often near the airport. After three days I start missing Krissy and it makes me cranky, which I have to keep to myself. When I’m traveling for work, when I meet people I’m in “on” mode, because that’s the job, and that’s exhausting because I am actually an introvert. It’s difficult for me to write when I travel, so that’s less time I have to do the real work that I’m meant to do. When I travel I’m generally swathed in hand sanitizer, because I don’t know where the people I’m with have been and they don’t know where I’ve been either. Traveling can be lonely. Room service makes you chunky.

So basically, surprise: There are pros and cons to travel.

I travel a lot but I know people who travel more. I have musician friends who have to constantly tour; I have actor friends who if they’re not on a set somewhere have their weekends claimed until the heat death of the universe by media conventions where they have to sign and/or take photos — likewise comic book and indie book creators who rely on those conventions for sales and commissions. I honestly don’t know how they’re not exhausted and sick all the time; maybe they’re extroverts with immune systems made of steel. I do know I’m happy to let them keep their own travel schedules, and I’ll keep mine.

Ironically, I would like to travel more. It’s just that I’d like for that to be personal travel. Krissy and I have decided that we like doing the tourist thing in moderate amounts, and there are lots of places in the world to visit. I think my goal for the next twenty years will be more travel of that sort. It’s a nice planet; it would be nice to see more of it.

But don’t worry; I’ll still be traveling for work too, for the foreseeable future. You’ll find me out there.

 

( *My first book tour was actually in 2000, but it was cut short two stops in and I was sent home — not because of anything I did wrong, mind you — so I tend not to think of that as my first actual tour.)

The Whatever Digest, 9/12/18

It’s noisy here today. Shall we begin?

***

First, I want to say I admire the spider who spun a web directly across the doorway to my patio. I admire the creature’s optimism in catching the really large prey. However, I saw the web before I walked into it, so I will not be cocooned and consumed at the spider leisure today. The mosquito in the picture will have to do. However, if I get any solicitors today, I will direct them ’round back.

***

Second, the reason it’s noisy here today is that we’re having the house professionally power-washed. It’s been a rainier-than-average year here so far, and as a result, the north side of the house looks like this:

And that’s no good. Our neighbor has a small power washer, which would be fine for just around the patio, but not so great for addressing the the second floor. So we hired a pro, who even now is peeling the moss off the siding directly outside my office. It sounds like a combination of thunder and being inside a car wash. The cats are not liking it. But we’ll appreciate it when it’s done.

The one thing the power washer dude warned me is that if the moss has been there for a while, then the siding underneath may be lighter than the surrounding siding, because it hasn’t been weathering at the same rate. Which makes sense to me, but I guess probably goes need pointing out. Hey, as long as the moss is gone.

***

Third, Hurricane Florence. Yikes. I’ve already let some North Carolina friends know if they need to decamp they are welcome at the Scalzi Compound, which is deep inland. They appear to have made alternate plans, but it’s nice to have a Plan C if you need one. At this point I’ll just say what everyone else is saying to people in this hurricane’s path, which is: Follow evacuation directives, be safe and don’t wait until the last minute, and keep updated on where the storm is going. This is scary stuff.

***

Got a very nice picture of the new crescent moon in the sunset yesterday, with my Nikon with the telephoto lens zoomed all the way in. I freehanded it rather than having the camera on a tripod, which impressed at least one person on Twitter, but in my experience you can get away with freehanding a picture of the moon if the sun is still out. It’s only after sunset (and the moon has comparatively higher contrast) that I’ve generally needed the tripod.

Taking pictures of the moon (and of the sunset) with my DSLR reminded me I need to clean off the sensor, because dust has accumulated on it and that leaves spots on the photo. I tend to take out the spots using Photoshop, but it’s a long and annoying process using the “heal” tool. I went online to find if there was an easier way to do it, but basically all the tutorials I found were for more complicated process where the guy doing it was “this is really simple…” Wrong! My way is much simpler! Just annoying.

Of course I could just clean my sensor. But that takes effort. Urgh.

***

Head’s up: Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of Whatever. And I have something special planned for you all. Tune in tomorrow to find out what it is.

No, it’s not cake. Several thousand people visit here a day and another 50k of you get updates via RSS, email and WordPress. I don’t have time to make cake for everyone. Sorry.

Sunset, 9/11/18

And if you look closely, you can see the new crescent moon.

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eleven: Personal Politics

In the past twenty years, I’m not sure my personal set of politics have changed all that much. I’m pretty sure what has changed is how people view them.

And what would I say my politics are? Well, at the base of everything I believe that the goal of society should be to develop independently acting and thinking individuals who see as their “highest life crisis” — their overall philosophical and ethical guiding star, basically — service to their community. Or to put it simply and even more inexactly: Society creates individuals; individuals return the favor.

In simple US (and I suspect generally Western) political terms, this emphasis on the development of the individual skews generally “right” — individualism, independence, the need and desire to chart one’s own course regardless of how others may think, and whether they approve. Conversely, the emphasis on the individual realizing that their service, participation and actions should improve the community in which they live (and that “community” being more than the immediate 150 people they know personally) skews generally “left.” In a way, and to the extent that we insist on everything being plotted on a “right -left” spectrum, I suppose it’s accurate to say I’m to the right when you’re up close and go to the left the further you go out.

But of course that’s not actually very accurate either. There is not just a “right – left” axis; political tendencies and leanings exist in a multidimensional space and include a range of factors. We are politically shaped by the communities we are born and raised in. Our political positions are influenced by current events (a fact obvious on 9/11 more than most days). They are dictated by one’s personal belief in exceptionalism (best negatively exemplified by the observation that “rules are for little people”). The impact of the law on the people we love makes a difference. There are people whose politics are expressly based on the momentary joy of arguing with someone and making them upset. And so on.

The current political era makes a difference as well. I’m fond of noting that 40 years ago I might be seen as a “Rockefeller Republican,” someone who is socially liberal and who also might ask “well, okay, but how are we going to pay for that all?” These days we live in an era where Lou Dobbs just rather ridiculously attempted to brand George W. Bush as a “radical liberal,” so a “Rockefeller Republican” is even further to the left of that, a fact I find rather weird and troublesome.

Aside from the overall philosophy above, my personal politics generally follow a few overarching maxims. I won’t go into them in detail at the moment, but here are a couple of big ones:

1. Everyone should have the rights, benefits and privileges I would arrogate to myself.

2. Politics that don’t understand the world exists downstream of one’s own actions are bad politics.

Seems simple enough! And the more I live, the more I realize how much is encompassed by these maxims.

Also, here’s a thing which has general application to life, but especially to politics, and it’s a thing that did in fact take me time to understand more than just intellectually:

There’s more to life than your own life. 

Which is a statement that works on many different levels, doesn’t it. And on each of those levels it has something useful to say.

I have been writing for public consumption for 30 years, and I’ve been writing about politics since the beginning, so it’s not accurate to say that my politics were ever really private. It is accurate to say that in 1998, I was not as publicly notable as I am now, and there was not as much discussion about who I am as a political being. Most of that has happened in the last few years, both with the rise of my profile as a writer, and because of the machinations of a group of right-wing folks, largely in the science fiction and fantasy genre, who decided for their own purposes that I was a convenient whipping boy for politics they couldn’t stand, and that was (they argued) taking over science fiction. So for a while there and to some extent even now I’m lofted about as a marxist “Social Justice Warrior” type.

This confused and continues to confuse a number of people on the left, who look at me and see me as, at best, a mildly capitalistic centrist who doesn’t go out of his way to be a dick. Why you? I have been asked, quite a lot. In SF/F, at least, the short answer is twofold: one, I annoyed a couple of the ringmasters of the Sad/Rabid Puppy movement at various points in their lives, and their personal antipathy made them decide to roll up on me. So with me it wasn’t ever really about politics, it was junior high school-grade revenge tactics, with politics as a cover. Two, others decided to opportunistically jump on the bandwagon because they were under the impression that performatively being a dickhead to me and others and using “politics” as an excuse for that was somehow a useful career move. Turns out it wasn’t, oddly.

(Mind you, the Puppy movement in SF/F was about politics exactly to the extent that GamerGate was about ethics in video game journalism, which is to say it wasn’t at all, but the people doing it used it as an excuse. It was started because a dude was mad he didn’t get an award, and then was taken over by a toxic racist who that same dude foolishly invited to the party, who just wanted to shit on everything because he’s an awful person, and convinced other trolls to go along. They will tell you differently, of course; like GamerGaters, the former Puppy partisans are frustrated that no one aside from them ever bought their cover story. But here in the real world we don’t have to pretend. I’m glad it’s dead!)

Outside of the antics that happened in science fiction and fantasy fandom, my political notability comes from Twitter and this blog, and in both cases a) when I do write about politics it’s very often critical of the right, b) I don’t tolerate the infantile posturing that passes for argumentation for so many right-leaning Internet users, and will mute/block/Mallet them at will, and that makes them pissy. I’m critical of the right because in the last 20 years in particular the “right” is increasingly bigoted, intolerant, anti-democratic and authoritarian, and I don’t tolerate infantile posturing because my time here on the planet is short. I choose not to spend any more of it than absolutely necessary dealing with mentally adolescent edgelords who think that their shitty, pre-fab opinions merit anything more than a punting.

(“But your unwillingness to engage is how you got Trump!” Oh, hell, no, my sweet summer child. On the list of Things Responsible For Trump’s Election, “Not tolerating shitty trolls wasting your time” is maybe number 513, just below “The Cut of Hillary Clinton’s Pantsuits” and just above “Squirrels eating automobile ignition wires keeping people from the polls.”)

(And also, while we’re continuing the parentheticals, yes, there are terrible people and policies on the left, too, but if you think that the ratio for either approaches anything close to 50/50 at the moment, lol no, and you’re also willfully ignoring that in the US at least one party is in power at the moment, and it’s the one that’s spent the last 40 years cultivating a political philosophy that boils down to “Let’s trade sensible gun laws and womens’ right to control their own body in exchange for giving rich people all the money ever.” I’m pretty content aiming my fire in the direction it’s going. I am sorry for the conservatives/Republicans who are not awful in this awful moment; it’s not a great time to be them.)

So you’re not a Social Justice Warrior, Scalzi? I mean, it’s not a label I would give myself, no. But I’m not uncomfortable with it. I’m reasonably social! I like justice! I’m not generally considered a “warrior” but I’m pretty stubborn about the things I think are important. And also, as far as I can see, “Social Justice Warrior” also essentially means that you are comfortable standing up for other people having the same rights you get to have, and you know what? I am! So, sure, call me an SJW all you want, if that’s a thing you want to do. The fact there are people who somehow think being being called that is an insult gives one a little bit of insight into their soul. Here’s a hot tip: If you think calling someone a social justice warrior is an insult, you might be a horrible person. And before you get there, yes, I’m aware of the argument that the insult started on the left, to identify people who are performatively “woke.” Even if that’s accurate however, that’s not how it is currently used.

I’m comfortable being public about my politics, but I’m also aware that some people will use my public statements to shove me into the boxes that make sense to them, and I’m also aware that my personal politics — and how I chose to show and act upon them — will inevitably disappoint people, whoever they are. Right now I draw a whole bunch of fire from the right, in part because the “right” these days is awfully extreme. But I have before and will again draw fire from the left, and from other directions as well. My politics are my own, and sometimes they will diverge from yours, and sometimes even if they don’t, how I chose to act on them will. From a political point of view, I will inevitably disappoint you one day. This is not a promise, mind you; just an observation.

Be that as it may, my general philosophy of politics has worked well for me for most of my adult life: Be an individual. Serve your community. Get for others the rights you want for yourself. Remember the world is affected by the things you do. There’s more to your life than your own life. These are relatively simple things, but building a political life around them is not always the easiest way to do things. At the end of the day, though, you have to live with yourself and your choices. Most of these last 20 years, I have been content with my political choices. There are places I could have done better, of course, and places I still have to work to do. But I’m getting there.

The Big Idea: Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law

Today’s Big Idea is a two-fer: editors Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law bring your their own — and their highly divergent — paths to co-editing Shades Within Us, a collection of short stories about migration.

SUSAN FOREST:

I am a fraud.

I’ve never had the guts to move away from my hometown; yet as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I scribble constantly about journeys: space exploration, interplanetary colonization, fantasy kinship groups displaced by war, climate refugees. So what do I know?

But migration is a huge idea in speculative fiction. Whether borders be physical or internal; whether the voyage is forced or embraced; whether people move for political, economic, climate-related, or other reasons, speculative fiction is a fiction about crossing boundaries and becoming immigrants to a new way of living or thinking. So the exploration of this body of fiction through reading, writing—and yes, editing—requires an acquisition of knowledge. Research.

My research has probed limited experience (through travel), primary sources, secondary texts, and personal imagination. When Mars One was announced in 2012, I asked a group of science fiction writer friends, “Seriously: would you go on a one-way voyage to Mars?” OMG, YES! some of them responded. This was a tough concept for me to get my head around. Let alone the fear I would have of all the risks and loneliness and cultural disorientation, contemplating leaving my family and everything I know behind is a non-starter.

But then, I suppose it would be for many people who find themselves crossing these borders. My mother’s mother, at the age of 23, came to Canada with her husband and two small daughters just after World War I to a distant cousin’s prairie homestead, knowing full well she would never see her birth home or family again. And unlike Mars, Western Canada at least has air.

But I may well have to get my head around my own migration. In my dedication to this book, I wrote: “To Heather, who helped me to see how the concerns of migration are close to home,” because we can no longer depend on the assumption that our safe, known worlds will always be with us. Tipping points come suddenly. Though we can all see the collapse of worldwide systems coming—humans have been living far beyond the means of this planet to support our species for a long time—like death, it will come abruptly, and as a surprise. No one will be prepared. Not me.

I think seriously about this. It informs my writing. So when the chance came for me to edit Shades Within Us, the proposal offered me a perfect opportunity for research. These stories of crossing borders, both literal and metaphorical, were not only a joy for me to read and to work with to bring closer to fruition, they offer an incredible range of experiences of moving across, through and within our fractured world. Because these stories brought me into the thinking, experiences, and lives of the characters choosing—or forced—to make those transitions.

 

LUCAS K LAW:

The Big Idea for Shades Within Us was conceived five years ago—along with the themes for the other anthologies we did for Laksa Media. We did not have the current migrant crisis or anti-immigration events in mind at the time. It never occurred to us because the seed for this anthology came from my own history and interest. “Migration” comes from the Latin word migrāre, which means “to move from one place to another.” Unfortunately, these days, there is a quick tendency to associate migrations with refugees and illegal immigrants. There lies the danger.

My maternal grandfather and his brother left China with his father in 1916. They left their sister and family behind to gain opportunities in Malaysia. Later, during the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s, he lost all family ties in China. My grandfather spent most of his life in rural plantations and fishing villages, as a shopkeeper, a farmer, and a small business owner, before he retired. When he could no longer care for himself, he moved again, to the city to live with his son and family.

So often, physical movement is the focus of a migration story when it first unfolds. But each move is more than a simple relocation. It is a transformation of time, place, and being. Each decision affects a multiplicity of others.

It is difficult for those who have never faced such decisions to truly comprehend the complexity and conflict that takes place in body, mind, and spirit—what my grandfather and so many others have gone through in such transitions, responding to economic challenges, employment and new opportunities, and finally, to failing health. And these are only a few of the myriad factors affecting the reasons people migrate or relocate.

With such complexity, what are the commonalities? Transition and change. Boundaries, visible or invisible, voluntary or involuntary, internal or external. And the attainment of a new life, a new world, a new reality, for good or ill, for better or worse.

Migrants are much more than just refugees and illegal immigrants.

In Shades Within Us, twenty-one authors explore the struggles and sacrifices, survival and redemption, losses and gains in their Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders. These are not stories of despair, anger, and revenge; these are stories of facing those adversities and challenges with equal determination, resiliency, and humility.

Their stories ask us to open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to understand that each of us may be impacted somewhere along the journeys. Only by sharing our own stories of relocation and by listening to others about their stories, then we might reach a deeper understanding of the word “migration” and its history—its role, impact, and potential opportunity for us and the future generations.

—-

Shades Within Us: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Forest’s site and follow her on Twitter. Vist Law’s site and follow him on Twitter.

The Whatever Digest 9/11/18

Good morning! I slept in a bit and I feel pretty good about it. Let’s get to it.

***

I debuted my new author photo on Twitter yesterday and it got the expected responses, including “tell the hairy guy in front to move so we can see the cat.” I remember taking the picture and sending it in to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, by editor at Tor; he replied, “That’s on-brand for you” and sent it along to production. And of course he is correct, it is on brand. And also, I’m grateful that both Tor and Subterranean Press, my other frequent print publisher, have no problem with me offering up somewhat goofy author photos. The one before this was me only half in the frame; the one before that was me jumping around with a guitar. This may make it seem like I plan these things. I don’t. But I take a lot of picture, and a lot of pictures of myself. Some goofy ones happen as a matter of course. And then they end up on my books. I think it’s close to me than a straight up would be, in any event.

***

In a refreshing change from the usual, I understand yesterday’s biggest political scandal, aside from all the ongoing ones, was that New York gubernatorial candidate ordered a bagel with lox, except the bagel was cinnamon raisin. People freaked out about the flavor profile. How quaint! That’s right up there with Obama wearing a tan suit in terms of “politicians doing things we really shouldn’t actually care about.” But since it was a big news story, let me just say that while lox is not what I would put on a cinnamon bagel, a) I’m not the one eating it, she is, b) I’m hardly someone to criticize people on their food choices. Also, it’s a minor food crime at best. It’s not, like, eating New York style pizza with a fork.

***

Follow up to yesterday: My fantasy football team did indeed win its game. The Churro Unicorns are undefeated! And, uh, 1-0. And now I’ll have pick up a QB from waivers just in case Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play next week against the Vikings. This is more thinking about my fantasy football team than I thought I would be required to do.

***

And honestly, this is all I have for today. I barely paid attention to the world yesterday! I regret nothing!

1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Ten: Spouse

This one is easy: I’ve had the same spouse the last 20 years, and if I’m lucky I’ll have the same one twenty years from now, and if I’m really lucky I’ll the same one 20 years after that, too. If I have the same one 20 years after that, there’s probably been some amazing breakthrough in the aging process, since then I would be 109. But if I am, and there is, I hope that I would have the same one, too.

That said, 1998 was a very significant year in our spousedom, because this was the year that Krissy was pregnant with Athena, and the year we stopped being only spouses and became parents as well. No matter what your relationship is as a married couple, adding a kid to the mix changes things, and it was a reasonable question about how a child would change how we related to each other.

It turns out we did pretty well with it (I mean, so far; Athena turns 20 this December). Part of that was because we did what we already always did with each other, which was to talk about it — what our fears and concerns and expectations and hopes were for this whole “we’ll be parents” thing. After all, we had several months to prepare and be ready to support each other.

As a result, I think parenthood made us better spouses. We better understood each other because of our expectations about child rearing, we trusted each other to take the lead when one of us needed a break, and we relied on each other to otherwise share the load of helping another person make their way into the world. Whether we were great parents is something you’ll need to ask Athena about, but in the matter of being husband and wife, it worked out pretty great, and gave us a deeper appreciation for the other. I’m not saying it works that way for every set of spouses (or that every set of spouses should have kids). But in 1998, a new child was a thing was going to change our relationship to each other. In 2018 I can say it absolutely did, and for the better.

Parenthood is of course not the only event that made its mark on us as spouses over the last twenty years. Moving to Ohio in 2001 was another — when we moved, Krissy didn’t have a job lined up and I was not entirely sure that I would be able to sustain my freelance relationships when I didn’t live in DC or have relatively easy access to NYC, which were the two hubs of my freelance work. Krissy had her family in the area but I didn’t have any of my own set of friends. It could have been a stressful switch in our life. But again we did what we always do: talk and plan and rely on each other and find ways to have each other’s backs. We got some breaks in there, to be sure (like my freelance clients not caring where I lived, and Krissy getting a job that promoted her seven hours into her first day because they immediately realized her worth to them). But knowing we are there for each other matters, then and now.

I can give you more specific examples, but at this point I think you probably get it. The John and Kristine show runs on communication and trust and love, always has and hopefully always will. I realize that there are very few couples who wouldn’t say that they trust their spouse and tell them everything and hold nothing back, quite obviously; it’s what you’re supposed to do. And hopefully people do! Because it has worked for us. And also, yes: in fact, I trust Krissy and tell her everything and hold nothing back from her.

Because why would I? It turns out (and anyone who has met Krissy will confirm this for you) that Krissy is smarter, wiser and better grounded than I ever was and have ever been, and having someone like that in your life is huge if you’re someone like me. Aside from being someone I can rely on for advice and grounding, she’s also been someone I have learned from, and to model some of my own behavior on. Many of the things people have said they admire about me, I got from watching her do them first, and then taking the time to incorporate them into my own personality and outlook. I give Krissy a lot of credit for helping me to become a functional grown-up, basically.

Krissy, is, bluntly, the person I admire the most in the world. She is the person who I think of when I wonder what action to take, not only in the sense of “what would Krissy do” but in the sense of “is this something I would be proud to tell her that I did.” I may or may not ever do something based on the first of these (she is not me and I am not her), but I can always rely on the second as a guide. Moreover, she the basis and foundation of any success I have had since I met her. There is not a day I do not acknowledge and appreciate all the ways, small and large, that her presence in my life and her partnership with me has made my life materially and existentially better.

And what does she get out of me? Well, she’s the best person to answer that question, of course. But with that said, and with full acknowledgement that usually this is the place where someone like me writing something like this says “I don’t know what she sees in me,” I think there are a few things I do bring to the table. Krissy is good with what’s directly in front of her; I am good at thinking several steps out. I think fast and I am good in a crisis. I am deeply loyal. Weirdly for someone both creative and lacking in a real job, I have always made good money and have never been stupid about having it or keeping it. Finally, I have a moral center. This is not to suggest that she doesn’t (oh, she does), but to suggest that she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about whether I do.

Also, I see her: she has never had cause to doubt that I value her, and that I know her value, not just for me, or for our relationship, but in and for herself. Krissy is easy to look at — she is, without exaggeration, one of the most physically beautiful people I’ve seen in my life — but there is a difference between being looked at and being seen. I’ve seen her since our first date in 1993, when we had our first real talk and I realized there was a whole lot more to this person sitting across from me than the fact that she was visually stunning. I still see her, and continue to find more to see in her, every day.

Plus! I make her laugh and am also her lifetime designated driver, which are not small things, either.

Ultimately I think a major aspect of our success as spouses is simply that we are complementary on many process things and in agreement on many moral and philosophical things. There are things I can’t do she can do (or that I can do, it’s just she does them better), and vice versa, and on a day to day basis, that makes things work. Deep down she and I have similar a similar outlook on what defines A Good Life, and on existential basis, that also makes things work. I think this a useful combination for spouses to have in a general sense. I think most people are better off with someone who sees the world similarly and have skills that make them a good team.

I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone, either who reads me online or who knows me in real life, that I’m besotted with my wife; if upon meeting you for the first time in real life I haven’t shown you a picture of her within five minutes, I’m off my game. I get moony and giddy when I’m out with her in public, too, as again anyone who’s seen me with her in public will tell you. What you don’t know is that I kind of do that when we’re by ourselves too. I tell her on a better than daily basis that I love her and that my life is better with her in it.

Part of the reason I do that is, because, well, it’s true: I do love her and my life is better with her in it. I’m not exactly a taciturn man; I’m not one of those people who thinks that just saying that sort of thing once, or every once in a while, is sufficient. I think people like to be reminded of something like that on a regular basis. I’m happy to say it. And of course, not just say it: I try to do both the little and big things that make it clear that the words are not just words.

And then there’s the other part. One day it’s very likely that one of us is going to have to leave the other, and that actuarially speaking, that person is likely to be me. What I believe about the nature of life and the universe leads me to conclude that the time I have with Krissy now is all the time I will ever have with her. If I’m wrong, I plan to tell her and show her how much I love her for the rest of eternity. But if I’m right, this time together is what we have. There is no point, then, in not loving her flat out, full volume, as much as I possibly can, right now. There is never a time while we live together that I want her to feel or believe that I love her any less than entirely, fully and completely. I don’t want her ever to doubt it, or to lack it, or to miss it while we’re both alive. I want to love her so much that if I do have to leave her, the echoes of that love will sustain through the rest of her life. That she knows she was loved, and seen, and that she made my life, and the life we had together, worth the living.

That’s what I do, and have done these last twenty years, and before then too, and intend to keep on doing, for the next twenty years, and the twenty after that, and for as long as it lasts. Our lives have changed, and will change again. But this one thing, I’m happy to keep the same.