1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Eight: Age

Well, I’m twenty years older now than I was in 1998, that’s for sure.

I haven’t minded getting older in these last twenty years, I have to say. For one thing, bluntly, the last twenty years have been great for me, in terms of career and life and general happiness. If the worse things that’s happened to you in twenty years is that you’ve gotten balder and thicker, then you’re generally okay anyway, but on the karmic scale, since 1998, a lot more has been positive than negative. For another thing, I’m not dead yet, which is also a thing. Inasmuch as getting older is the only possible alternative to getting dead, for the moment at least, I will take getting older.

But aside from those two things I’ve appreciated some of the gifts that age has given me. I appreciate that I am more experienced now than I was twenty years ago — I talked a little bit about that in terms of my writing career already, but I’ve benefited from experience in a general sense as well. I know more about people, both generally and regarding the specific people in my life. That makes me more able to treat them fairly and compassionately. I’m more experienced with the ways of the world; this doesn’t lead to resignation but rather makes me more likely to look at things long-term, both in their effects, and in my own planning.

It also gives me a better sense of myself. I’ve had longer to know myself, and my place in the grand scheme of things, and I’ve lived long enough to see the frame of reference in my life begin to shift. Experience is not the same thing as wisdom, I’d note. You can experience a lot and still not learn from it, and as time goes by I realize some people are determined not to learn. I try to learn. I do think I’m wiser than I was twenty years ago, but I’ll leave it to others to tell me if they think that’s accurate.

Another gift of age is that I’m more calm. For the purposes of this site and this series, I think this is most evident in the fact that how I deal with the online world is different than it was twenty or even ten years ago. I’m much less inclined now to go looking for fights of any sort online, whereas before I would happily do so. Several years ago Krissy said to me “I used to be worried about how much you argued with people online until I realized that it was your equivalent to watching TV,” i.e., it was how I entertained myself. She was accurate about this at the time, although I wasn’t sure then, and am not sure now, that this said good things about my character.

As difficult as it may be to believe, I argue with people far less online now. Partly because I don’t have time anymore — I’m busier now than I used to be — but also partly because I don’t want to nearly as much. Online scraps are not entertaining anymore, not because they’re any different (they’re really not), but because I’m different. I’d rather play a video game or watch The Good Place. Or, alternately, take that energy I used to give to pointless fights and do something useful with it. I’m not saying I don’t argue at all; I think it’s obvious I still do from time to time. But I do ask if it’s worth my time. I do have less time than I had 20 years ago, after all.

My being more calm encompasses more than just fighting online, mind you. But again, this is the example most of you see, so it’s the example I’m using. If you need another one, here’s a quick one: I used to be a genuinely awful traveler because delays and other mishaps would make me fly into a cold rage. Then I grew up and realized that turning into a massive dick because of things that were out of my control wasn’t helping anyone. I’m a better traveler now — not perfect, but better.

Another gift is that I think I am (overall) more kind. A lot of that came with the understanding that other people were not required to be one way or another just so it’s easier for me to understand or categorize them; some more of it came with the understanding that (most) people really do see themselves as the hero of their own story and doing the morally correct thing. I can empathize with people better than I used to; I think I understand them better as well. Most importantly, I don’t need them to be something I can easily put into a box in order to treat them as human. And yes, this includes people I disagree with politically. I think it’s important to view and treat (most of) them with kindness, even when I oppose them politically and point out how the politicians and policies they support are hurting people (including them). Note, as I’ve mentioned before, that “kind” is not always the semantic equivalent of “nice”; I think this is important to remember.

Especially remember that when I mention the next gift of age: Fewer fucks to give. As in, fewer concerns what anyone else other than my wife and kid thinks of me; fewer concerns about what I say impacting my career; fewer concerns about whether what I say makes me any new friends. This doesn’t mean I don’t listen when people disagree with what I say. I try to do that; that’s often how you learn things. It does mean that if I’ve well-considered my words and actions, and someone still disagrees, my response is likely to be, I’m okay that you disagree.

But you’re such a virtue signaller, Scalzi! As the kids say, lol, no. Upcoming book title aside, the point of having few fucks to give is that I don’t feel an obligation to signal any particular thing at all. I don’t worry about sharing an opinion — or not sharing an opinion! Sometimes I look at something that’s the rage du jour and where I might have previously thought the world needs to know the Scalzi take on this, these days I’ll just… not. Lack of fucks also means an adjustment to the ego, and accepting the world is okay with me opinion on every single thing that happens.

These are all useful gifts, and I got them by getting older. I earned them over the years. They’re not the only gifts I’ve gotten, just the ones I’m noting at the moment. There are others. But these are enough that you get the jist of what I’m saying. Age has done well for me overall. I hope that continues. I still want to grow as I get older. I hope I get to grow as long as I’m around.

13 Comments on “1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twenty-Eight: Age”

  1. I have heard that, once past middle age, people get happier. My experience is that I get calmer and more content, but not blissful. It’s more like sailing on a beautiful sea with nice coastlines to explore, without the horrible storms to weather.

  2. Yeah, the financial thing makes a whole HUGE amount of difference. My wife was able to retire 14 years ago now (wow), and we are a lot better off now (surprising but true!) financially than we were then. Safe, guaranteed pension, two Social Security checks, Medicare, etc. We are very, very fortunate, especially compared with so many others, We have enough for us, we have no dependents, we can buy or do whatever we want to (but the most we’ve bought was a car), including three winter months out of the cold of the Northeast,

    Granted, the country and world are going to Hell in a hand basket thanks to the @sshole in the White House, but personally, it’s mostly good.

  3. I’ve definitely grown calmer and no longer care what people think of me. I also choose my battles more carefully. It’s quite liberating. I’ve reached a sort of invisible freedom. At this stage of my life, my health and my family matter the most. I do things that make me happy rather than serve my ego. It’s a nice way to be.

  4. Yes, twenty years can make a huge difference in your life – financially, emotionally, and mentally. I am now financially very stable (thanks to my 401K, Roth IRA, and other savings). Emotionally I am a lot calmer and pretty much stress free (and retired). Mentally, I like to think I am a lot wiser and a lot more careful when it comes to making decisions. My wife and I are now able to do the travelling we never had the time or money to do back then. Politically, all the crap coming out of D.C. doesn’t bother me like it would have 20 years ago (my wife still yells at the TV occasionally though). Life has gotten very good in the last 20 years and I hope I have at least another 20 years to enjoy it and my wife. John, I hope you have many, many years to enjoy your life with Krissy.

  5. It’s difficult to know just how much I have changed over the years; I suspect that feedback from others is a gauge and I have lived alone since my only child went off to medical school some 14 years ago.

    When I was younger I would have thought that was strange, but I’ve discovered that I am a closet introvert; I spend time with people because I really want to, not because I need company. I think that’s been a good thing for me, and a good thing for the people I do spend time with; in person or online they know I’m there because I want to be, that I value them .

    I value Whatever because Scalzi has worked at making it valuable since the days when getting online was quite tricky and needed vigorous pedalling of the bicycle as well as having to choose between telephone calls or web access; so often people have left out that critical part and wondered why people aren’t following their blog post these many years later. Scalzi put in the work, and there are many who didn’t realise that work was actually required.

    And having watched that debacle at the Senate panel with Kavanaugh it is all the more important to me that Scalzi has been recording and interpreting the words of those who feel women really don’t matter long before this latest dreadful manifestation.

    So, thank you for getting older and sharing with us your responses, particularly in times such as these. We need them.

  6. Thanks, John. I’m about the same age as you, and it’s always been nice to check in on your blog (please keep it up) to read you better articulate ideas muddling around my own head. Your Whatever 20/20 has been fantastic (I hope you had fun with it – seems you did). Nothing more. I’m just glad to be a reader.

  7. To quote Mark Kloos, “‘Damn liberals and their virtue signaling’ said the guy with the flag lapel pin, the Jesus fish on his business cards, and the MAGA hat on his head.'” It’s one of the most meaningless, least-useful phrases in online discourse.

    Looking forward to the new book and to many more years of Scalzi getting older.

  8. I don’t know if I am calmer now than 20 years ago than more laid-back. The later, at least, ties very strongly with having fewer fuck to give now versus then.

    On the other hand I consider myself to be just a poor candidate for a forum moderator as I was back then. I still struggle to give commentators 3 comments before considering them a lost cause for any good-faith arguments.

    On the gripping hand, my list of priors likely to trend to bad-faith argumentation has expanded. If a forum enables plonking or a ‘pie’ filter, I’m willing to strengthen my filter bubble. I consider people willing to engage with bad-faith commentators as saints, as these responses are usually one I can learn from. Life was too short to read bad-faith arguments 20 years ago, having to read ‘own the lib’ comments now is even more of a waste of time.

  9. @Scalzi: As we get older, I think we may have a greater need for a copy editor.

    (@Linnen: very nice use of “on the gripping hand”.)

  10. After reading this I just had to make a comment. Then I realized that @Alan from Michigan said it all for me….almost exactly what I was going to say. :)

    Anyway, thanks for your perspective on all things.

  11. John:
    I am, Fortunately. But I was thinking more of the emotional storms that seem so inevitable when you are younger. AND that you can’t even imagine are NOT the most important thing in the world.