Reader Request Week 2019 #4: The Things You Outgrow

For this entry, Amysrevenge wants to know about:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

46 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2019 #4: The Things You Outgrow

  1. Also, I should note that as a creator myself, I expect there’s a good chance that people who read and enjoy my stuff may at some point decide to leave it and me behind. Hopefully there will be new people to replace them when they do (at least, while I am alive. Once I’m dead my need to make a living will be, shall we say, somewhat lessened).

  2. Dark Shadows. Used to run home from school to watch it (no reruns or recording back then). Caught it recently and was wondering what I used to see. OMG, soooo bad. On the other hand, still love the iterations of Star Trek. Although it is hard to watch TOS nowadays, it’s still special because of what resulted.

  3. I hear you about the things that haven’t aged well. SciFi was pretty rare on TV when I was growing up so I glommed onto anything on the air . I was excited to revisit those shows when I realized that Netflix and Amazon Prime had lots of old TV shows, but wow, the original BSG and other late 70s/early 80s shows (such as Buck Rogers) have not aged well at all. I didn’t expect that the special effects would hold up, but my goodness, some of the plots were just awful, and in many cases the acting was pretty terrible too. It does feel like some of the warm, fuzzy parts of my childhood (which was generally not warm and fuzzy) were ripped away by revisiting those shows.

  4. Good god, I showed the HEATHERS preview to some younger workmates, and WHOA! the context for watching that has changed. Columbine alone has made just about everything involving the Christian Slater character hard to watch – even knowing he wasn’t supposed to be a “hero”.

  5. It also depends on, let’s call it your core interests. I really liked music when I was young but as long as I can remember I was addicted to Story.
    So, for the last ten years (and I’m 58 now) I have hardly sought out any new music. The artists and records I (still) love will do me.
    I will never tire though of discovering new stories and new writers.

  6. @MoXmas for some reason I watched part of Heathers with my 20-year old son the other day. Um, wow. In addition to Slater’s homicidal sociopath, the gay athlete jokes, the casual way they showed Rider’s classmate being raped by one of the jocks, all of it was quite a gut punch.

  7. Book I loved that has not aged well: A Wrinkle in Time. I re-read it last year? this year? and….I just can’t. That impossible mansplaining 10-year-old.

    Music I loved at 15 or so that has aged well: Stravinsky.

  8. Gah! Beginning a sentence with a number expressed in digits rather than written is the worst! Okay, maybe not the worst worst, but still!

  9. I have a large stash of paperbacks. Every so often, I find I have to go back and reread the stuff I have kept, to find if they are still relevant to my current interests and psyche. Luckily, usually the only thing I do is weed duplicates (if I want to reread a book and can’t find an e-copy or I’ve discarded my dead tree version, I will buy a copy), but it seems rare that I don’t like the stuff I’ve kept. Librarians know weeding.

    One thing I feel vaguely guilty about is an old high school friend who has recently gotten back in touch with me after nearly a decade with no contact. I find that I am less interested in trying to put out the effort, as we have grown apart and are heading in different directions now.

  10. When I was nine, I saw the Charlton Heston film THE OMEGA MAN; I loved it! Vampire Zombies & chase scenes & fights, perfect Saturday matinee viewing. Several years later, I tracked down a paperback copy of the book that inspired that movie I AM LEGEND, which was probably my first exposure to Richard Matheson’s writing. The book blew me away, and I became a fan of Matheson’s work. To this day, I continue to pick up Matheson books for my collection.

    I rewatched THE OMEGA MAN when I was in my thirties, and found it to be, well, not good. And I wondered why the hell the filmmaker had decided to stray so far away from such excellent source material. I wondered much the same thing when Will Smith’s version of I AM LEGEND hit the screens, though I guess that’s a bit off-point here.

    I have outgrown THE OMEGA MAN. I haven’t outgrown the novel I AM LEGEND, which I recommend to anyone who will listen as a damn good read. I haven’t outgrown anything that I’ve read that Matheson wrote. And I’m glad that my earlier love of that film got me to pick up that novel.

  11. I’ve found it most strongly with music. I loved Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin when I was in high school, and even after, but…I’ve found now that I’ve heard them enough. I don’t dislike them, but if they come on the radio I may look for another station that has something else.

    This may be more an artifact of music being more intrusive – I don’t stumble across the books I read at the same time while driving to work.

  12. Nice one. So true. I wouldn’t want to revisit 15 year old me, though that was the year I saw the Beatles at Carnegie Hall on their first U.S. visit (yes, I’m old) and I still listen to them, though not the way I did in 1964.

    But no, I couldn’t watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. today.

  13. I wouldn’t go out of my way to re-read Heinlein or Asimov today, although I read everything they wrote in my teenage years. I do reread Ray Bradbury, especially Dandelion Wine. The book changes as I do — sometimes quite astonishingly so. One scene, where an elderly lady befriends a young girl who doesn’t believe the lady was ever a girl herself, ends with the lady burning everything she had from her childhood and settling into the role of old lady. Never again will she try to convince the young she was ever young. I was horrified at the scene when I was a teenager. (All those toys and pictures into the flames!) Now I understand both the motive to try and explain “I was young, too” and the motive to burn everything up and settle into the now in my last years on earth. The book grew up as I did. Powerful reading.

  14. “Times change. People change. Hairstyles change.”
    but war?
    … War never changes.

    It’s funny to remember that quote out of the blue. I _dearly loved_ the Fallout series when I was younger. I’ve tried to get in to the more recent iterations of the franchise, and I’ve never been able to.

    I could blame the changes in interface, the differences in the graphics, or my staggering lack of free time, but if I’m being honest? I just don’t find it as compelling as I did when I was a kid.

  15. So I’m of an age being a late teenager when Wayne’s World came out. We all thought it was the best thing ever (not to mention introducing an entire cohort to Bohemian Rhapsody). Recently re-watched it and…oh man. I was never that into Nirvana which is why I’m not going to mention that the people my age who consider Kurt Cobain the Greatest Musician Of All Time[tm] might be, ah, re-thinking that.

  16. There is an old saying that when you are green you grow, when you are ripe you rot. The only way that I have made it to 63 is to continue to grow into new things. That doesn’t mean every prior judgement was off kilter, I still like some of them, especially some of the kitchen techniques I have mastered.

    Go out and stretch your creative branches toward the sun, neat things happen that way.

  17. It’s funny how time isn’t always a factor in what “ages well” and what does not. These days I think that Original Series STAR TREK (now fifty years old) holds up far better than, say, THE WEST WING (only twenty). I’m not sure why that is…in TWW’s case it may be that its genesis was more topical, or maybe that it reflects a single person’s voice a lot more than TREK, which had a showrunner at the helm but a lot of voices writing it.

  18. @Longwing

    I could never get into the Bethesda Fallout games either, but The Outer Worlds has been fun so far and in the same vein as Fallout New Vegas, but set in corporate-run space colonies rather than a post-apocalyptic setting. Also it’s on Xbox Game Pass so you can try for just a few bucks a month.

    Also Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is on there too. It’s a great metroidvania and also included for that same few bucks a month.

  19. My “Sixteen Candles” moment was with OUR MAN FLINT (especially the second film). James Coburn still brings a truckload of charisma to the Flint role, but OH MY GOD the storyline and its cultural assumptions.

  20. MacGuyver and The A Team. I was a massive fan of the latter, and an enthusiastic watcher of the former, when I was growing up.

    I found the pilot episode of MacGuyver and a few early A Team episodes a few months back, and found them basically unwatchable. (Although I did think the A Team movie wasn’t as bad as I had expected – I found it quite entertaining and was sorry my prejudice kept me from seeing it at the cinema).

    Perhaps a little more obscurely, I really loved The Tomorrow People as a kid, but as an adult I can barely make it 10 minutes into an episode. A lot of older Doctor Who episodes afflict me the same way.

  21. I saw Disney’s Song of the South when I was about eight. I was a white kid living in a pretty white community, and I took it as a pretty tepid bit of entertainment (though I loved the animated portions with Br’er Rabbit et al). I could not imagine seeing it again without utter revulsion, and indeed I can’t, because Disney withdrew it from circulation ages ago for damn good reasons (see this article in today’s Guardian).

    This goes way beyond Suck Fairy. This is in Triumph of the Will territory.

  22. I dunno, Theophylact–I know someone (not a close friend, but someone I know pretty well) whose favorite Disney move is Song of the South, and who possesses a bootleg version. This person probably didn’t see the racism as a child back in the 1950s, recognizes and acknowledges it now (to the extent that he has stated more than once that he would never show this movie to a child, or to anyone who didn’t expect racism upfront), but he can still watch the movie (if rarely). He says he likes the music, and James Baskett is terrific. When I say, “But it’s racist!” he shrugs and reminds me that many if not most of the movies he grew up watching were racist, and he still enjoys this one.

    He doesn’t think Disney should re-release it in theaters, either, and he’s not sure about licensed dvd sales (“No reason for Disney to profit off of it,” or something like that, appears to be his logic there). So . . . the suck fairy is a decidedly individual beast, is the lesson I take from that. Even for racist or otherwise seriously problematic movies.

  23. I’ve had that experience with a few books. For instance, I no longer own a copy of Ender’s Game, only because I don’t like the idea of (and can’t actually manage) separating an artist from their art (I’ve done art, I know how art comes from within), and Orson Card’s political expression (not views, actions, there is a difference here, which is where the Suck Fairy hit) is pretty much at direct antagonistic odds with my personal existence as a trans queer person.

    I also read The Lensmen about ten years ago… even with the word of warning from my friend, some of it was a bit hard to take, although I don’t… regret reading it, so to speak, I just don’t need to read it a second time.

  24. My biggest “Wow, this didn’t age well!” were the original Sean Connery James Bond movies. Wow, they didn’t age well! The self-congratulatory misogyny, homophobia, and racism in movies like “You Only Live Twice” make them unwatchable for me now.

  25. Cordwainer Smith! I loved his work, but I was really disappointed to reread “The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal” for the horrid portrayal of homosexuality. Turned me off Smith, and I just can’t read his stuff anymore.

  26. One thing I learned as I got older is to put down a book if it is not a good read. Years ago I’d slog through a book (often recommended by a friend) thinking it must get better. Now I have so many books and authors that I enjoy I can’t see ever reading them all. So a bad book gets the boot.

  27. Well said! Agree about the Heinlein, I still get a kick out of his books but not at all the way I did as a teen. He was The Best Ever when I was 15, and now, well, I’ve grown up. I can take it for what it is (entertaining) without needing to subscribe to all the ideas I’ve left behind. Those were some gateway books tho, gotta say. My book addiction (particularly SF) started there, and for that I am eternally grateful.

  28. The Suck Fairy has a cousin, Awesomestiltskin, who visits things that turned you off as a young’un — so long! so boring! so old! so irrelevant! who cares! — and endows them with humor and depth and human understanding so that you can enjoy them now when you give them a second chance.

  29. I don’t think I’ve had any cringeworthy moments with any specific item, although I could probably single out most 70’s t.v. shows to offer up the suck fairy. Except for MASH and Barney Miller, I really can’t watch anything from 70’s without gagging from the cheesiness factor that seemed to be oozing from those shows.

  30. “I can’t read Heinlein at 50 years old with the same simple joy that I read him at 15”

    Most 15 year olds have a sense of right and wrong but that moral compass can be easily overshadowed by other non-moral factors. For example, being in the “in” group can be more importan than doing the right thing. And this can spill into racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, putting “in” group at highest priority over right and wrong. The 15 year old sex drive can make them do all manner of questionable behaviors. The 15 year old view of justice can be little more than retribution, or an over simplified version of keeping score. Like “executing murderers is just”, because they cant fathom larger systemic problems like racism and fear resulting in wrongful convictions, etc. 15 year olds often have a certainty of their morality even when their moral compass is spinning. The average age of a school shooter is 16, certain that they have been wronged, and certain that the best response is mass murder.

    Most of Heinlein’s stories have grossly simplistic moral models clouded by emotional drives like fear (starship troopers) and sex (stranger in a strange land). And if his characters “learn” or “develop” in some way, its usually very basic development.

    Rico in starship troopers started out indifferent until aliens murdered his parents and then he “developed” retribution. He starts out not caring. And what gets him to “care” about anything bigger than himself was the tribalism of war.

    Tribalism of war shows up in “stranger in a strange land” too. The Martians are in the background, but mostly they have decided to destroy earth. Because reasons. The way humans “develop” in Stranger is to have sex, and then develop magic powers, something very appealing to teenage readers. But doing a thing isnt neccesarily developing the character. Some might climb Everest and come down the same person who went up. Development is someone holding a grudge for years, and then forgiving and letting go. “You hit me, so i will hit you back” isnt development. Its the core of Starship Troopers, but it isnt development.

    Heinleins adult characters dont develop like adults. They dont develop at all. They behave like tribal, horny teenagers, just doing what tribal horny teenagers do.

  31. I still enjoy re-reading the Heinlein juveniles from the 50s, & all the caveats that my older mind injects just add to the interest. Somehow I can’t do that same trick with any of his later writing.

  32. Mary Frances, there are places in the US where you can still buy copies of Song Of The South. (Not surprisingly, one of them is a “War Between The States” museum that celebrates the “noble sacrifices of the South”.)

    Having watched it as an adult, what I found fascinating was the facial expressions of the slaves in the movie. They appear happy until you see their faces, which are always fearful. It was a masterful bit of subversion on the part of the actors whom I suspect weren’t having what Walt was selling.

  33. I noted the racism and rapiness of 16 Candles at the time it came out. People told me to lighten up. It wasn’t serious. Now they would probably be even more demonstrably horrified than I was/am. By standing still on my moral outrage, I went from being “bolshy” to being old fashioned.

    My recommendation: don’t let people gaslight you. Don’t let the illusion of consensus normality push you away from simple truths. If you’ve thought something through, then only change if someone gives you a good logical reason to do so: new facts, a genuinely clarifying new perspective, etc.

  34. I like what Privateiron above said. I suppose a defining characteristic of nerds and artists is being able to stand outside society’s consensus to see for yourself.

    I laughed a lot reading Connie Willis’s Bellwether, where even the lead sheep gets by with not-thinking. For me, a good lifestyle habit, regarding my community, has been to eschew bitterness and contempt for humor and affection.

    Unlike the general public, artists may separate time from space: As for valuing Heinlein’s juveniles (YA) compared to his later stuff, I compare it to the awe-inspiring classic republic of Rome as compared to the unvirtuous Roman Empire. Same “city on the seven hills,” but history can value the one yet not value the other.

  35. Has “person of his time” sort of arguments ever been made for someone who wasn’t white and supporting bigotries we now decry?

    And for reference, I have used this myself and am only now does it strike me as somewhat uncomfortable.

    I just I haven’t seen anyone use that defense in any other way. (Though others, if it is true, will have probably spotted it before me)

    It could be confirmation bias on my part, but it seems to have only a limited usage. It could be my worries over being fair and not privileging a defense for some that I wouldn’t apply to others.

    Hell, maybe the problem is just me.

  36. For what it is worth I call this perspective of age. This is a term my granddaughter particularly hates because she is not old enough to experience it yet. You get older, your perceptions change, maybe maturing, maybe not. I definitely do not hold the same views at 70 that I did as a young adult.

  37. Edward Brennan, yep. There are a lot of historians who discuss the Greeks (especially the Spartans) and the Ottoman Empire atrocities as being “of their time”.

  38. JohnD- Thanks! this helps in a weird way.

    I guess I have sometimes used it not to be in part of a greater understanding of history, but a way to deflect to allow for my own enjoyment. And that I guess would be where I draw a line.

    To take an extreme and absurd example and not one I think anyone would ever do. I can say that the racism of Hitler was “of its time” and I would be right. It would be important to understanding Hitler. But then I don’t use that as an excuse to go and enjoy “Mein Kampf”. Which is exactly what I think I have done (not with Main Kampf but definitely with say Agatha Christie or Ian Fleming to a far lesser degree).

    If I can honestly say that my appreciation of the work is understood by the time in which it was written, under those lights. I feel on solid ground. If I feel like I am using it to make an exception to enjoy a work, a reason to ignore its problems instead of engage with them… Then I feel I have gone to the icky side.

    Now can I enjoy a work for its good aspects and engage it for its more problematic ones. YES! But it does require in actively engaging in those like I would in the study of history.

    So Heinlein- Of its time, and of the man, but if I gloss over the problems that his works have while I read them, I don’t think I am really engaging fairly. Doing myself and ultimately the work an injustice. Trying to ignore it for my own comfort is my lazy problem, and exactly one I can engage in works aren’t bigoted toward me.

  39. I agree about Hitler, but putting Ford’s anti-Semitism and Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” into their proper perspective help, I have found.

    As far as Heinlein is concerned, I try to remember very hard that an author is not his characters and what the characters (even the ones in “authoritative roles”) say is not necessarily what the author himself believes to be true. Often an author will write something simply to challenge our ideas of how things should be (e.g., Heinlein’s seven suggestions for changing the franchise).

    The best way to read things like this, IMHO, is to approach them as if you were an anthropologist exploring a different society. They use the terms “emic” (makes sense in <i.my society) and “etic” (makes sense in <i.their society) to distinguish the points of view, which comes in handy.

  40. I like how the time traveler to the short-haired 1950’s in Stephen King’s novel does not try to change the whole society, but he does tell just one high school football player that his belief that ball players have to be less academic and not be an artistic lead in the school play is merely from trying to sincerely follow the mores of his society, but that his society is wrong.

    To me Heinlein too, like King’s character, had to pick his battles. I think he was not a science nerd with a craft of writing but was an artist who could criticize his time the way a traveler would, and then write without losing money, the way Shakespeare could do his anti-racism satire Merchant of Venice without bugging the racists. (as documented in Horace Gold’s column in Only in America)

    As for challenging, my favorite was when the professor in “Moon etc.” after the revolution, is desperately brainstorming that maybe people could do things differently than back on Earth, such as not having taxes, or not having their political boundaries being based on geography. He doesn’t give any recommendations of his own, he is merely trying to shake them up, pleading with people to think, even as he knows they won’t.

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