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.