Reader Request Week 2019 #10: Short Bits

Time to close out this year’s Reader Request Week with some short takes on questions I didn’t otherwise get to:

Dean Laws:

Hey Scalzi, can you trust photographs anymore?

Could we ever? Photographs were being manipulated and altered basically as soon as they were invented, and whether that fiddling was soft focus on a movie star or a member of the Politburo being erased, it points out the fact that photographs were never a reliable medium. Like any other medium of reportage, one must evaluate who is reporting and their level of trustworthiness. Many news organizations have procedures in place to minimize doctoring of photos (and to make any doctoring evident), because they understand the “trustworthy” aspect is real and important.


How do you stay healthy, especially regarding arthritis and the like?

You and I are roughly the same age both spend a lot of time at a keyboard. My wild keyboarding days are catching up with me. :(

At the moment I have a pretty serious and persistent case of tendonitis in my left shoulder, so I’m not sure I’m always doing that great a job of staying healthy. But aside from that I am in better shape than I was a year ago, and in a larger sense and especially as one gets older, the answer is, diet and moderate exercise, to counteract or at least slow the effects of aging. I am fortunate not to have arthritis (except for a small a bit on one of my hips that I really have to to work at to tweak, so I don’t work to tweak it) and I’ve been practicing reasonably good typing habits for a while, so that specific thing isn’t much of a concern with me. But generally, and especially if one is over 50, the way to stay healthy is to work at it. Alas.


Was it psychologically challenging the first time you spent a substantial amount of money on a vacation or something similarly non-essential? How did you work through your feelings?

Since I can’t recall the first time I spent a substantial amount of money on something “non-essential,” the answer is — apparently it was not psychologically challenging otherwise I’d remember? Also as a nitpick I would argue that vacations are not “non-essential” — people need rest and relaxation and downtime in both a psychological and social sense, and a good vacation does that. That’s not frivolous, that’s an investment in one’s self. It’s not to say one can’t overspend on a vacation, of course. Oh boy one can! Just the vacation in itself is not necessarily a “non-essential.”

That said, even now, when, uhhh, I have money, when I want something I still very often do the do I really need this? dance, in which I think and fret about whether the thing I want is something I should actually get. This is rooted in my former status as someone who doesn’t have a lot a money, but I think it’s not a bad thing, since a lot the time the answer is “no.” For example, I don’t need a new fancy digital camera, even if I want one, because the one I have is still working perfectly well. I’m frequently reminding myself of that fact, so I’ve resisted getting a new one for a few years now. When the answer is “yes,” then I spend money and don’t feel bad about it.

Paul Lankheet:

This will probably be on your quick answers but I have read you complain about your slow internet for years. You are, relative to most of us, very wealthy, you could actually afford to have a T3 installed at the house. Have you considered a hardwired connection or are you waiting on moving to a new house in a few years?

I’m glad you think I can swallow the massive outlay and continuing maintenance costs of such an endeavor without blinking, but personally I don’t see that particular route as a very efficient solution to my particular problem, especially in a world where augmenting my ridiculously slow main internet connection with a 4G hotspot works just as well for my purposes, for significantly less cost. Going back to the question immediately previous, that whole do I really need this? question would be a significant one here. Also, the way to stay wealthy is not to spend more money than one needs to.


Science keeps finding breadcrumbs leading toward longevity, most recently an article about really old people possess an excess of cytotoxic CD4 T cells. As someone just a few years younger than me, how hard will you be trying to reach the centenarian mark (or higher) … and why?

Well, I had a great-grandmother who lived to 102 and probably would have lived longer if she had been in a single-floor dwelling, and several other relations who lived well into their 90s without a problem, so, it’s not entirely out of the question that I could hit 100 without any extraordinary medical or scientific intervention, so long as I keep myself reasonably healthy. Am I going to work real hard to do that? Other than keeping myself healthy so my day-to-day existence doesn’t suck, no, not really; I’m still gonna die one day, no matter what, and I tend to think quality of life is more important than just sticking around, so that’s my focus.

Susan F:

We are now in a constantly evolving social media landscape with kids interacting in ways online that we didn’t have to navigate at that age. Do you have any suggestions for parents with young children growing up in this environment?

It’s the same advice I’d give any parent in any age: Know where your kids are and who they’re hanging out with. This does require an engagement in one’s kid’s life that will be an effort, but there are ways to do that, that are manageable and also don’t make your kid feel like you’re always hovering. One key thing, and we did this with Athena, was to make it clear that ultimately we as parents were legally and morally responsible for her, even when she reached an age where she felt sufficient to handle her own self, so we would sometimes need her to accept we would be annoying about it. Being upfront about it and explaining why one is doing it goes a long way, or did for us, anyway.

Anne Brack:

Will you consider running for office in Ohio?

Probably not, since it would take a lot of time that I would be more happy to spend writing, and also, so much of our current political system isn’t about governance, it’s about running for that next election, which I find both a problem, and also very likely personally enervating. Also there’s the practical matter that where I live the large majority of people have politics different from mine, so I’d be unlikely to be elected in any event.


Do the Scamperbeasts receive fan mail?

Not really, aside from comments on their Twitter feed. They do occasionally receive unsolicited product samples from hopeful pet companies, however.


You’re a piece of furniture. What are you?

You’ve seen the pictures of Sugar draping herself across my chest as I try to type, yes? I’m a cat couch, clearly.

Morgan Hazelwood:

How do you recharge/refocus when life gets heavy?

I mean, you’re kind of looking at it.


Do you have any advice on how to apologize to people whom you have wronged on social media and have blocked you? Or, should you manage such a feat, if they doubt your sincerity?

Yes: You have to accept that your apology may not be accepted or heard, and that there’s not a lot you can or should do about that, except to live your life in a way that shows that the apology is manifesting in how you move forward from that moment. Now, it may that your question is “why apologize if the person you’re apologizing to won’t see it?” The answer is: I’ve written that an apology is directed toward other people but is something you do for yourself, and this is something that continues to be true. Put the apology somewhere out in the open, leave them to find it (or not) and then do the work of making that apology be more than words.

Justin Witt:

Are there people you’d like to know that you’ve not gotten a chance to meet yet?

There are different ways to answer this. One, there are notable people I would like to meet but I don’t know if they are people I would like to know — i.e., there’s a difference between meeting someone for five minutes, saying “I love your work” and getting the selfie, and getting to know people in more than a superficial way. There are people who I’ve been interested in meeting where I discovered that once the meeting had happened I had no interesting in knowing them further — not always in a negative way, just “oh, you’re nice and all but there’s nothing here that suggests we need to go further than this.” And that’s fine! True enough, you have to meet (in some manner of “meet”) to decide if you’d like to know. But honestly I don’t know if I’d want to know them until we meet.

Two, there are probably a lot of people I’d like to know, but they aren’t famous or notable or people who are otherwise on my radar — I just literally have no idea they exist because our paths haven’t crossed yet. When I do meet them, I will know that I will want to know them, because they will be fab people whose company I enjoy. I know this because this is how I’ve met so many people who are important to me now — No idea they were alive, and then suddenly we were in the same space at the same time, and from that encounter sprung the seeds of a lifelong friendship, or indeed something more (see: Krissy). I like the idea that there are people who will be important to my life that I still haven’t met, and have no idea they exist. It makes life interesting. There is always possibility.


Why bother?

Because for me, at least, it beats the alternative.

Thank you everyone who submitted questions for this year’s Reader Request Week! We’ll do this again, probably in somewhat less than a year (I’m thinking May/June) to get closer to the usual schedule of things. But this year’s edition had some excellent questions, and I’m looking forward to another round in 2020. Thank you again!

7 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2019 #10: Short Bits”

  1. “I like the idea that there are people who will be important to my life that I still haven’t met, and have no idea they exist. It makes life interesting. There is always possibility.”

    Of all the wise things that you’ve written in this blog (and there are an astonishing number – you seem to be one, very self-aware cat) this may be one of the most profound/beautiful.

    I hope that you and your family enjoy a happy and restful holiday.


  2. “… so much of our current political system isn’t about governance, it’s about running for that next election”.

    I know there’s zero chance of this ever happening, but I would LOVE to see a constitutional amendment limiting the President to a single six-year term, with the addendum that a promoted VP can serve up to half of their predecessor’s term and still be allowed to run. It wouldn’t change things that much (maximum 9 years in the White House, instead of 10), but with no concerns about getting that second term we might see Presidents going to work on the stuff they said to get elected in the first place.

  3. Dear Scamperbeasts,

    I’m a big fan. I really love how you enhance any photo, as well as how you manage all your humans. I realize I mean nothing to you, but I squee over all four of you whenever you appear.

    Love, Roberta

  4. For apologizing, I like how in Bujold’s novel about Miles in love, the greatest statesman of his age (Mile’s father and mother) tells Miles he has to write a long apology letter without defensiveness, and then Miles struggles to keep his ego out of it. Miles succeeds in doing it right.

    By the way, learning from fiction is called bibliotherapy. I’ve lost count of the times a lesson from Heinlein has popped into my head.

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