25 Years of Whatever
At the start of the year I had big plans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Whatever. On the 13th of each month leading to this day, I would write some sort of retrospective piece, or musing about my life or the world, culminating in a capstone piece that would, well, be this particular piece. I even wrote the first of these posts back in January, setting the scene for the rest that would follow.
And then… well. Then I didn’t do the installments for February through August.
What happened? Mostly, life happened, and mostly good things about life, at least for me. There was a lot of travel, a lot of writing, I composed a bunch of music, won some awards (not for music), our church refurbishment finally got finished, and some other things were thrown in there as well.
I got busy, in sum, nor is the busy stopping: As I write this, I’m in the middle of a couple of weeks of spin-up publicity for the release of Starter Villain, followed by two weeks of touring, followed by six weeks of festival/convention appearances. Oh, and I’m writing the next novel, too.
(And on top of all that — which is enough, I assure you — I’ve been this year dealing with what I think could charitably be described as “attention span issues.” I caught COVID last year and while the physical results of that were thankfully mild, it did something to my brain where decades of compensatory strategies for dealing with my probably-undiagnosed-ADHD broke down and no longer work with anything approaching their former efficiency, which was, I assure you, not all that efficient to begin with. Yes, I’m planning to take steps to deal with it, including actually getting a medical consult about it, and also, I keep forgetting to actually schedule the consult, which is, sadly, just more evidence of the issue.)
All of which is to say that for most of 2023, I had not really been thinking about the fact that Whatever’s 25th anniversary was on its way. Right up until last weekend, in fact, I had mostly put it out of my mind, because I was occupied with other things.
But you know who was thinking about Whatever’s 25th anniversary? Krissy. Unbeknownst to me, for most of the last year, she was planning a celebration of the day, wrangling literally dozens of friends to show up and surprise me with a big damn party last Saturday. You might think it would be difficult to sneak dozens of people past me, even if I do spend most of my time in my office staring into a monitor, but, here’s the thing: We own a church now, which is uniquely well-designed to stash a lot of people for an indeterminate amount of time. All Krissy had to do was wrangle me over there on a pretext.
Which, of course, she managed very well. And then suddenly there I was, standing in front a bunch of friends and family, deeply confused about why people I knew from every part of the last 40 years of my life were in the basement of my church. That is, until I saw the banner on the wall, announcing that we were celebrating Whatever’s 25th anniversary. It was a surprise birthday party! For my blog.
Which at first blush, I admit, may seem a little silly. But here’s the thing: Of the dozens of people who were in that room last Saturday, all but a few — family, neighbors, high school friends — I knew because of Whatever. Some I met because of the site, or something I wrote here, had pulled them into my circle of acquaintances and then friends. Others I knew because I became a published novelist, and the way I did that was through Whatever: I serialized Old Man’s War here, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor, read it here and made an offer on it.
So many of the people who are important to my life now, whose presence in my life I treasure, came into it through my decision just to plop an entire book up on this site. If I hadn’t done that, and hadn’t had Whatever to do it on, it’s correct to say some of the major contours of my life would be different, and as would the population of friends I have and cherish.
So, yeah, when you think about it that way, having a surprise birthday party for my blog makes perfect sense.
Also, as a practical matter, no one expects a surprise party for their blog. So if you’re going to schedule such a party, now you know how to get away with it. Provided your intended surprise party subject has a blog of long standing. Admittedly, there are fewer of us now than there once were.
Also, Krissy is amazing. The party was exquisitely well done, up to and including catering and professional bartending. At the party, friends were talking about what a great party it was, and I confirmed it was all down to her planning abilities. If I had been in charge of the thing, there would have been a bag of chips and a two-liter bottle of room-temperature store brand soda, and no chairs to speak of. Everyone knows who the brain of the Scalzi operation is, and it sure as hell isn’t me. No one wants it to be me. No one wants the room-temperature store soda.
And what about the Birthday Blog? Where does it stand at the end of an entire quarter century? Well, if nothing else, it continues to live up to its name: Whatever. That’s not the “Whatever” of Gen-X-era dismissal, although I certainly am of Generation X, and I can absolutely dismiss with the best of them. It’s the “Whatever” of “whatever I want, whatever I’m thinking about, whatever I want it to be.”
Here at year 25, the eternal “whatever” of the site doesn’t apply just to me; Athena has been writing here for a few years now, and in many ways the site reflects her own interests as much as my own, and is all the better for it. I would not be writing so well about bourbon tastings and problems with IUDs, for sure.
It’s given me immense pride to see her develop her voice and share her interests here, and to have the site become the home of two generations of writers. I checked in with her at our last staff meeting (yes, we have staff meetings) about whether she wanted to keep on with the site. She does have an actual job outside of writing here, and her own friends and interests. As with me, her participation here is strictly voluntary and on her own terms.
She’s said she wants to keep at it. This makes me happier than I think she imagines it does.
And as for me, I also want to keep at it, and I’m also aware that especially in the last year, Whatever really is about whatever. I would have to check, but I think so far this year I’ve posted more music that I’ve put together (original and covers) than I have written about politics here, which if nothing else is a switch. Beyond this, the irony of Whatever eventually leading me to a life where I’m busy enough elsewhere that a non-trivial number of my posts this year are “I’m busy, here’s a picture of a cat” has not escaped me. I think if Whatever were a person, it would be happy for me that I have this life, and also, it likes cats, so being populated with pictures of them would be seen as a plus. Look! Here’s one now!
Mostly, the last year reminds me that, like me and like just about anything, Whatever has a life of its own. It has its own ebbs and flows, and its own meander through the years. It’s not what it was five, ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years ago, but then, what is? How could it be static when I’ve changed, Athena’s changed, and the world has changed? It will be what it will be as it goes along. Like every one and every thing, it’s forever becoming what it is. It’s not burdened by needing to make money or to draw a certain number of eyeballs to advertisements. It can be, well, whatever. I am content to see what that whatever is going to be as it continues on.
Will Whatever last another 25 years? It’s not impossible. I’d be 79 years old, which is old, to be sure. But I’ve been writing since I was fourteen — four decades now — and I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be writing a quarter century from now, provided I still have the mental capability to do so. Both sides of my family live a long time if they take care of themselves (a small but important point) and tend to remain pretty sharp well into their 80s and 90s. I had one great-aunt who lived past 100 and might have lived longer has she not insisted on living in a house with stairs. If I make it to 79, I imagine I will still be writing.
50 years of Whatever is not unreachable. I make no promises; I can’t make any promises like that. But I think about these last 25 years of being here: what they have meant to me, the world that has opened up to me, and the people who I have been able to meet and hold to my heart, all because I did the simple act of writing in the same place, day after day and year after year. Who can say what could happen, who I will yet meet and what it will all mean, if I just keep doing it?
I guess we will find out.
And if I get to 50 years of writing here, we might have another party. Less of a surprise this time. But no less welcome.
Until then: Onward.