Contemplating Winter and Personal Alternative Histories

Krissy, looking out the window at the snow. We’re not expecting Snowpocalypse levels here, thankfully, but we’ll get several inches between now and tomorrow. I’m laying personal 50/50 odds that school will be canceled tomorrow, a thought which fills the child with joy. As well it should.

Reading about the Snowmageddeon in Minnesota reminds me of a personal inflection point in my life, back in 1993, when I was up for the movie critic position at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and it came down to between me and one other fellow, who I believe was Chris Hewitt, the newspaper’s current critic (I could be wrong about that; it was a long time ago). Not getting the gig turned out all right for me — and for Chris Hewitt, apparently — but I do wonder how different my life would be had I gotten the job. At the time I had only just met Krissy, so at the time I wondered what would have happened to that relationship; I didn’t know at the time that she had decided after our first date that she was going to marry me. I speculate less about that part of things now, obviously.

What I do speculate about is what sort of impact it would have had on my professional life. Would I, for example, have started writing science fiction? I was pretty focused on my journalistic career in the 90s, and had I stayed in a stable newsroom situation, might have been content to keep doing that. Watching movies for a living was fun, you know.

Likewise, if I had started writing science fiction, or at least being more interested in it, would I have met the Minneapolis science fiction/fantasy contingent earlier? In the 90s, unless memory fails me, the Twin Cities SF/F community included Steve Brust, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman and several other writers and creators whom I had long admired, not to mention a number of fans who are now current friends or acquaintances. I know all these folks now, but I wonder what my relationship with them (and with others) would have been in those differing circumstances. Not to mention, of course, how my fiction might have been different. I don’t think there would have been an Old Man’s War, although there might have still been an Agent to the Stars, or something similar to it.

Mind you, I don’t spend a lot of time spinning out alternate personal histories; generally speaking I like the course my life has taken to this point, and when you like your life, you (or at least I) spend your time focusing on it and not what could have been. But every once in a while it’s interesting to look at places in your life where things definitely could have gone another way, and wonder what way it could have gone. The Pioneer Press gig is definitely one of those points. I will say that no matter what, I’m glad to know the folks I know in the twin cities area, even if I don’t live among them. Or am currently experiencing SnowMyGod with them.

28 Comments on “Contemplating Winter and Personal Alternative Histories”

  1. This is only the fifth most snow in one storm in the modern records (17.1″ at the Minneapolis airport.) Here in Eagan we may have gotten a few more, I didn’t keep notes. I could ship you some ….

  2. I was thinking over this as well – what would have happened if my last posting on active duty had been to the place that I had dearly wished to be assigned – Hill AFB, Utah. I had a job there in the video production library that I loved, a nice little house in a neighborhood that I also loved, and a straight shot at follow-on civilian employment at a local public TV station … but alas, the military personnel center sent me to San Antonio, and I was absolutely sick with disappointment. By the time I retired, I had a house, a daughter in high school – and was pretty much anchored there.
    During one of the civilian jobs, though – I had time to surf the internet, in between actually managing the office. Got hooked on blogging, began contributing to a blog … acquired friends and importantly – fans who encouraged me. I did a book, then another, and now it’s five books and another coming out in April, one more half written, half a dozen chapters on an eighth and notes and plot for a ninth sketched out. I just don’t see that I would have done all that, if I had gone to Utah and been working at the TV station like I had planned originally.

  3. We’re scheduled for a hard freeze tonight in South Texas – I could box some of that up and send it to you, if you don’t think it will be quite cold enough where you are.

  4. I read a couple of months ago that some school district in Darke County was going to experiment with turning snow days into remote learning days, basically making the kids log in from home and at least get assignments if not actual teaching. I guess you aren’t part of that.

  5. I love these introspective stories, John,. It’s interesting to consider how much different our lives would be if we’d simply taken a different path at one point. In your case, please realize that being deprived of this website and your excellent writing would be a great loss to all of us, so we’re glad that everything worked out as it did.

    Not to change the subject, but it’s 80 degrees here in Arizona today, John. You need to come out and visit us again sometime. :)

  6. I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made and the course my life has taken, but without a doubt the parts I like best were the things I could never have planned. (That’s true of the worst parts too, but everybody has those so what’s the point of dwelling on them?)

  7. Gee, maybe you would have written “Cold Mans War”… or, maybe “Snow Mans War”… or, alternately “Old Mans Cold War”…. but, there’s always the catch-all title: “Snow Mans Cold War”… that’s the fun of alternate realities… they’re just sssooooo “cool”…

    I think you made the “right” (and warmest) choice… Enjoy!

  8. At the moment, I am sharing a couch with the sole reason why I didn’t move to Chicago during my divorce. I would have been amongst more crime fic writers – JA Konrath, Sean Chercover, Libby Hellman, Marcus Sakey, and a host more. But I likely would have lost my job with BigHugeCo sooner. I also would probably not be a step parent at this point in my life.

    So I’m glad the Valentine’s Day date with Nita went the way it did. I’d probably be miserable, unemployed, and snowbound today.

  9. The older I get the more I think of the past as a sort of long hallway lined with doors unopened. So many possibilities, so many different lives that could have been, might have been, maybe should have been. It’s kind of nice to look down that hall, peek in those doors perhaps, but I like the path my life has, and is taking just fine. Staying with the girl who “got away” would have meant never being with the woman I love. Keeping the job that paid well would have been nice, but the work was killing me by inches. Perhaps I should have been kinder to some friends, a better son, gotten to know my family a better, there are doors that hide regrets, I won’t lie about that. All the calamities that came on some idle afternoon and changed my life, am I better for them or just shaped in some unknowable way? That’s a mystery.

    Being at peace with the choices you made, and coming to terms with the choices made for you, is the mark of contented life, as I define it anyway.

  10. set me up with my husband (and vice versa) in Nov ’03. Our first official date, after much emailing, ICQing, phoning, and him visiting me in the hospital on 1/17/04, took place on 1/23/04, my 32nd birthday (I was out of the hospital by then). We were unofficially engaged by Valentine’s Day, three weeks later. The engagement came about when I asked him if he wanted to go look at rings, and he happily said “Okay!”. We announced our engagement sometime that Aug/Sept, and we were married 3/12/05. We’ll be celebrating six years this March. As others have noted, both here and in your original post, although it sounds corny and trite, “when you meet the right person, you just know”. It took me 32 years to find my soulmate. He’s been well worth the wait.

  11. There are a number of turning points where a different decision would have altered the course of my life, mostly for the worse.

    The time, at age seventeen, when I was offered the opportunity to lose my virginity, and turned it down. Even though it was [mumble] years later before I finally lost that virginity, it would still have been a really bad idea to have said yes.

    Deciding to drop out of college and enlist in the Army. (Some of my best experiences were there, and some of the worst. But overall, highly positive in terms of personal growth and maturity.)

    Letting myself get involved in the run-up to the 1978 Worldcon. Now, that’s one turning point where I wish I HAD decided to turn away. Some people involved defend their actions by saying it turned out “a pretty good con”. But it was such a personal and emotional clusterfuck behind the scenes, there’s no way I can say it was worth what we did to each other, that it was worth what we did to ourselves. (More than thirty years later, there are still former friends from that time I actively despise, and the feeling is mutual.)

    And the biggie, the time I seriously considered murdering someone in cold blood. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) If I hadn’t already been married to Hilde, if I hadn’t had to think about how it would affect her and our son Chris, I probably would have gone ahead. That was a bad place to be, mentally. I still think about it, almost every day. (I finally wrote about the experience a few years ago, as a short story, but have never marketed it. Despite name changes and filing off serial numbers, it’s possible the person I thought needed killing might read the story and still recognize himself. A shame, I suppose, because it’s a pretty damn good story.)

  12. The Twin Cities are certainly the losers for not getting you here.
    BTW–we pay TWC to make it look worse than it is here. It is a wonderful place to live and we don’t want to share it WITH JUST ANYONE.

    The 16 inches are beautiful, all the roads are clear now, and the kids will go to school on time tomorrow. It really wasn’t as bad as they made it out on the news.

  13. I subscribe to the many worlds theory, since I’m hopeful that one of the other me’s took some chances I didn’t, and it worked out well. I’ve had some wonderful times, but I also have the ‘might have been’ thoughts every once in a while about the opportunities that were not taken. Like what if I’d continued in my original career, instead of getting into weather – would I be happy with the stability I’d have kept at the loss of some great experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to have? On the flip side of that, was getting out of weather six years ago a good choice — I now have more stability in my life, but what did I lose in exchange? The doubt that springs from the question makes me long for what I had — but over six years, would it be the same? Would it be like it was before, or has time changed both myself and that work situation so that it is all wishful thinking and the ‘what if’s’ keep me from totally enjoying what is.

  14. When I met my husband, the first thing he said to me (after asking my name), was ‘Don’t give me that $hit!’ Seriously. He didn’t believe my name was Jon (pronounced just like Mr. Scalzi’s first name) and apparently I wasn’t the first woman that evening at the club to frustrate him. Growing up with a gender-confusing name, I’d heard just about everything … until that night twenty-seven years ago. I whipped out my Kansas driver’s license to prove it. Probably not the best first impression for either of us, but we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next May Day. Oh, and his name is Terry … so you can imagine what fun we had answering the phone for telemarketers and surveyors.

  15. Had to be in Cincy this week…flew into Dayton at 6pm and drove south to hotel by my office. The idiot-factor was very high. I saw multiple spin outs. People in the left lane with blinkers doing 20 while folks in the right doing 40. People driving 65 in the 55mph zones. Folks weaving across multiple lanes. People driving in the slush along the edges. And lots of people being creative with lane divisions. All I can say is “Don’t you people know how to drive in the winter” I’m from Georgia and even I know not to do these things.

  16. The big change in my life would have been if I had gone to officer candidate school right after I finished up my BA in ’81, as opposed to remaining a slacker/punk music junkie.

    The big payback is that I got a career by hanging out with other slacker/punk music junkies who just happened to work at the National Archives and who did happy hour at the old 930 Club in Washington, DC. Three cheers for networking.

  17. Wow, this sort of illustrates how hopelessly insulated I am, apparently. You see, I *live* in Minneapolis, and on Saturday my thought was “huh. It’s snowing a lot. I think I’ll walk to Target inside.” Gotta love an 8 mile long skyway system that includes both my work and home. I never even thought it was a blizzard – or that I’d come in to work on Monday morning to see a writer from Ohio discussing it.

    I remember Ohio winters. Fleeting, would be my word. Of course, that’s from the perspective of one who grew up in Cinti and now lives in the wild north, so hey.

    I’m enjoying my hot chocolate and all the snow. Be sure to tell the blog how Daisy likes all the white stuff on her lawn.

  18. Hey John, as I write this I’m looking out my window at the Pioneer Press Building so I am in a position to tell you how life would be different for you today, had you moved to the Twin Cities – your back would be aching from moving snow all weekend and you would be looking forward to temps in the 20’s later in the week.

  19. I realized a while ago that the choices you make end up changing you as well, to the point that eventually, it becomes hard to imagine being in the situation of the other you who made those different choices, because that other you would have turned out to be a substantially different person.

    For me there were a number of big choices related to my academic career. I could have gone to Chicago instead of Harvard; I could easily have studied astronomy instead of particle physics, or spent less time messing around on the Internet in the pre-Web days. Any of these might have given me the life of a successful, poor but noble academic instead of a washout academic turned relatively affluent programmer. In most of the scenarios I never meet Samantha. In a few, I do meet her but she ends up following me to distant postdoc jobs (she’d offered to do this); do we have a kid? Do we feel we can afford to? Given the myriad cellular contingencies involved in conceiving children, the child is probably a substantially different person from Jorie under almost any scenario in which one exists.

    In all of these worlds, I end up a different person. It’s harder and harder to map myself onto those guys as time goes by. I’m not the same guy I was; my daily life is different; I’m interested in a lot of different things. Down the line that just leads to greater and greater divergence between the tracks. Not meeting Sam, living in another city, means my personal tastes and interests end up substantially different by now.

    Love, in particular, binds you to one leg of the Trousers of Time. Metaphorically, it’s a lot like the way that quantum correlations can create the appearance of just one world in a many-worlds model. The state of the observer gets bound to the state of what was observed; you don’t feel you’re smeared across worlds because there are a lot of different yous.

  20. I was apparently fated to meet my late husband. Soon after we met, we learned that we’d grown up in different states (NY and NJ, not all that far apart). It was not until later that we shared enough childhood stories to know how close we’d come to meeting as kids.

    See, I lived near Yankee Stadium, and my dad often took me to games. We usually got to use his employer’s box seats on the mezzanine, behind third base. My husband-to-be grew up in Newark, not far from the home of his great-uncle, who had been the official photographer for the minor league team the Yankees used to have in Newark. As a retired employee, he often got tickets to games, and took his great-nephew. They sat in box seats, on the mezzanine, behind first base.

    So near, and yet so far!

    Having failed at the first attempt, fate threw us together again in our early 30’s. That time it took!

  21. looking at much of my past it appears like I was in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. there are one or two which were significant forks. but it feels like there were countless points that could have resulted in wildly different results than where i am now. there are several point where i could easily have been eaten by a grue. and some paths which may have gotten me different treasure than i have now.

    i usually don’t ponder it too much in a wouldof, couldof sort of way. but i do tend to appreciate the sense that i am where i am partly due to the direct result of my actions, and partly due to luck (good and bad).

  22. The one weird, what-the-heck-might-have-been moment that I still reflect on with a shudder is when I was home by myself one day when I was still in maybe 5th grade and sucking down on a nice, windpipe-sized piece of hard candy that momentarily went south and started choking me; no one was home to do the yet-to-be-invented Heimlich Maneuver on me (except for my ancient dachshund, who probably would have been muching on my corpse soon thereafter). Fortunately, the candy finally popped out on its own accord, leaving me alive and well, shaking and pretty well freaked out.

    Somewhere in the multitude of other dimensions, one of my “others” had a lot shorter time to epxerience things on his Earth. I still don’t particularly care for hard candy for JUST that reason. I’ve missed a few other opportunities for self-destruction over the years, but death-by-candy is the one I remember the most.

  23. I have a different take on things… my sense growing up was of having much less free will than “normal” people (I’m on the autistic spectrum), with much more of my actions constrained by prior events and conditions around me. So my “what ifs” are more about the external events — if I hadn’t read the misleading book Son-Rise, I might have been properly diagnosed in high school, if Mom hadn’t been so aggressive about making me finish the college apps, I probably wouldn’t have been chewed up by Harvard, if I hadn’t met the Wrong Girl at a particular time I might have wound up in some normal relationships (and probably wouldn’t have ended up in NYC and gotten burned out as a programmer), and so on.

  24. While I often think of where I could have made better career decisions, I rarely dwell on it. If one reshuffles the universe, I don’t meet (well, meet again) my wife and I don’t get the same two kids. I like my wife. I like my kids. And with that, all debts are paid on the “maybe I could have been an astronaut/science fiction writer/Congressman/billionaire” by now ledger.

    That said, it was a “near run thing.” My wife almost didn’t come to that party. The girl my friend wanted me to meet didn’t come to that party. Etc. etc. Life’s not easy right now, but life is good.

  25. I could play the “If only …” game for a long time. Have, some days when I was down. It’s a waste of both energy and time. Life, and relationships, go forward. There’s no backing up, no redoes, no starting overs. Like a dance, you can stop and regroup, but the dance went on while you did, and now you’re late and out of step for a while. What kicks me out of this funk is remembering Kipling’s “The Explorer”.

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