I turned 35 years old this week. Wow, 35. Technically, that’s the youth of Middle Age.
So I looked in the mirror. Missing hair? Yup. Creeping double chin? Yup. Absolute inability to get into the Youth Music of today? Oh heck yeah.
Damn. What happened? I’m getting old! They don’t let guys like me get old! I’m still fifteen!
1989 was a very good year for me. Very good. Between 1989 and 1992 I’d say I experienced a true Golden Age of youth. I was old enough to start thinking like and partaking in life as an adult, but I was still young enough to not have to deal with any of the responsibilities. The summer of 1989 especially was a literal Fun Zone during which I revelled in my liberation from junior high, had a blast with friends, played Super Mario Brothers on my Nintendo, and just generally goofed my ass of, prior to embarking upon highschool and some of the new challenges it would represent, like getting a job.
In 1989 I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do with my life. I certainly hadn’t yet determined that I wanted to eventually become a science fiction and fantasy writer, though I was absolutely a science fiction and fantasy reader, enjoying Stephen R. Donaldson’s Covenant Trilogies, Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels, various Star Trek properties, and the military SF of Alan Cole and his late writing partner and good friend, Chris Bunch.
The future didn’t matter to me then because, like all fifteen year olds, I thought to myself, “Man, I have all the time in the world! I’ll figure out what I want to do with myself later.”
They say youth is wasted on the young. A greater truism has seldom been conceived. When we’re young we are blissfully ignorant of the absolute rapidity with which the years will soon be passing. Every day, every week, every month — especially during those lazy, blissful days of teenaged summer — seems like it will literally go on forever. Why have ambitions? There will be time for that down the road. Now is about now. Why spoil the fun?
Flash forward to the present.
On the one hand, I can’t really feel bad about any of it. Fifteen is when you’re supposed to be young and ignorant about the harder aspects of life. I am grateful to my parents for having provided me with a materially comfortable teenagehood, so that I can look back on that time and remember it fondly.
However, it’s inescapably sobering to realize just how quickly 20 years came and went. Zip. Zam. Whoosh. Here, there, gone like tap water down the drain. Never to be seen again. All that time I thought I had to put off making decisions and getting down to work? Poof. Up in smoke! The future arrived quickly, and now there are no more days left in which to idly sit and play.
Consider the internet. I was doing the dial-up BBS scene from 1990 to 1995. But in 1996 I officially became a web surfer, and from 1996 to 1998 my on-line time shot up dramatically. What fun! A world-wide playground of pictures, text, sound, all accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Chat rooms. Message boards. Sports. Games. WOO! More fun than a human being should be allowed to have! So many ways to get distracted and focus on anything besides stuff that’s actually important.
Let’s do some math.
Assume that I’ve spent a minimum of two hours on the internet, per day, over the last ten years. I realize that on some days it was far, far more than that, and on some days far less, but in the aggregate, I believe two hours per day is about right. So that’s 2 hours per day x 365 days per year x 10 years = 7,300 hours. Wow. Look at that. 7,300 hours divided by 24 = 304.16 days, or the better part of one whole year kicking around the InterToob.
Now, let’s convert that over to page count. If the average 250-word page takes more or less 15 minutes to write, then 7,300 hours / 0.25 = 29,200 pages. Holy crap! That’s many, many novels worth of writing! Only, I didn’t write anything, because I was instead sailing the endless Sargasso Sea that is the World Wide Web. How much more progress could I have made, as a writer, if I’d taken even half of that web surfing time — 3,650 hours — and dedicated it to producing new material? Maybe I’d be a working author already, tapping out new novels for my daily bread and setting my own schedule. Instead of still being a Corporate guy who has to show up at someone else’s building to fix someone else’s problems, and get paid out of someone else’s pocket.
I am just ill at the thought of how much time I let slip through my unproductive fingers.
But I can’t control the past. What’s done, is done. I could sit down and hang my head in my hands and mope about it. Or I could do the productive thing and use the past as an instructive guidepost for the future.
Clearly, I’ve got to moderate my InterToob surfing. Yeah, it’s been fun. Mostly. Well, sometimes, anyway. But really, if I think about it, a great deal of my internet activity in the last 8 years has been devoted to arguing politics on web sites and blogs. And while this kind of intellectual melee was amusing and engaging a few years ago, in the last year especially I’ve noticed that I am now just generally tired of it. I am tired of the bickering that goes nowhere, and changes no minds, and leads to no solutions. Just rancor. Pointless rancor between people who don’t know each other, and who, by the end of the argument, don’t want to know each other.
Why should I spend even a single minute more on this sort of toxic activity? It helps no one. It certainly doesn’t help me. It sucks up my time while I type furiously on long texts that do not, in any way, advance my career. Perhaps one might argue they’re good practice, because political arguing forces you to examine your logic and examine the way you present ideas, and that this kind of activity does move a writer forwards towards publication. But I think it’s reached the stage that I can’t justify — to myself — the vast amount of time and energy that has been spent on political squabbling. Especially since this sort of thing has begun to seem overtly corrosive — emotionally — and I just don’t need that kind of crap. I’ve got a wife and a child and two careers — Army and civilian — and all of them demand that I be on my top game. If I am feeling emotionally worn out and have a short temper because of a stupid on-line argument, how does this help me at home? At work? What good does it do me when I sit down to write a story, but can’t because I am too internally exhausted to be creative?
So, no more. No more surfing blogs and web sites for the purpose of engaging in political discussion. It’s a nowhere activity. It goes nowhere, arrives at no place. If once there was benefit in this kind of thing, I have reached the point where I am blind to such benefit. It’s time for me to move on. It’s time for me to get off the crazy train and devote my intellectual energy to project(s) that are truly worthwhile.
It won’t be easy. I am a creature of habit, and for years now, my habit has been to flip open the laptop at every opportunity, surf the blogs, post in the combative comment threads, and so forth. Making a deliberate choice to not fall back into the pattern is going to take willpower and discipline. I know from experience that there will be times I literally feel helpless because my instincts will be telling me to get on-line and surf, and my mind will be saying, “No, no, no, go do something productive!”
Which is not to say that I plan to unplug entirely. This is not an, “The Internets are EVIL!” post. I love the internet. But like all good things, there must be moderation. A big part of that will be controlling not only how much time I spend on-line, but the kind of content I consume while doing it. There is valuable content that can help me towards my goals. And there is useless crap. The time has come to cut the ‘crap’ surfing and set some limits.