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Shower Reflections: Youth

I have caught myself in in a vain habit. While waiting for the shower to warm up, I’m often plucking out chest hairs that have gone grey or white. It’s not entirely new. I long said my principle vanity was a fear of having the long wild eyebrows of an old man. As I result, I pluck eyebrow hair that gets long and curvy. I’ve done it enough to have a bald patch.

This morning I got wondering why this one aspect of getting old, greying of chest hair bothers me. I realize I’m fighting age, but I haven’t in more traditional ways. I not only accepted baldness, but was wearing my hair close cut twenty years ago. I’m more apt to let it grow now. I never tried a comb over.

But my mother’s father was bald in his twenties, so I knew I was doomed. Going bald wasn’t a sign of age to me. Greying is and, given the general lack of hair on my head, it isn’t most obvious there. That said, when it has gotten long and I’ve seen a white hair standing out, it gets the pluck of doom.

So, why am I afraid of this sign of aging.

There are two reasons I hear people give for not wanting to lose youth. The obvious reason is you cannot do what you once could. I think I have dodged that by accident. I was never a very athletic person. My best fitness was the day I left boot camp, not equaled before or since. The most physical things I have enjoyed have involved impact, be it the brief time I fought SCA heavy, a healthy game of ‘Smear the Queer’ (a name I doubt kids may use anymore), or the most common, climbing into a mosh pit.

I’ve climbed into several this year. I often outlast people half my age, mostly men. The toughest characters in pits these days are tiny women, often still young enough I can them girls, at least by me. They can hang with the best.

So, by accident of not being into baseball or football and enjoying most a physical experience that centers on your ability to just take a beating, age has not slowed me down in physical activity, not yet. Nor have my mental facilities declined noticeably. My memory remains too damn good. I want to forget. I am busy learning a second language. Writing is an occasional hobby most of my life I am turning into a side-hustle. The goal is to ‘retire’ to writing at pulp speed as a last career.

I am not missing youth because I could once climb mountains, but now cannot.
The other common answer is regrets. I have a lot. The key one is when I say ‘my boys’ I mean Sable and George, two cats. If only I could mean Joshua and Timothy, two sons to carry the family name forward as my father had wanted. I regret my Navy time, not having been in but having done it haphazardly at best and a derelict one at worst. There is regret over all the opportunities lost because of laziness, pride, and here the two big examples involve women, absolute cluelessness.

Yet, all lives have regret. I have at least enough wisdom to know most regret comes from choices. Had I made a different choice, I’d regret not being where I am. Some others, children being the big one, were not a failure on my part alone.

The regret over lost opportunities, though, comes the closest to what I realized is the reason I miss youth this morning staring at the latest white hair I plucked.

My father died at 73. I will be 54 in five weeks. If I live as long as him, I have twenty years left.

I have over twenty years of books to write. As I noted in yesterday’s newsletter, at my current pace of finishing stories I’ll complete those 1,000,000 words Stephen King says you write before you become readable in 2062. Even in the best case, I’ll be dead a decade before that.

Sure, I can write faster. That number was closer when this year began, 2059. I want to do more than write. The twenty things I want to do, but I’m to ignore includes running a triathlon and building a retro-computer. Each of those can fill multiple years. My list could fill the life I had if I could have the youth I had at 24 back.

The lesson is you do not have enough life to do all we desire. When we are young, we don’t see the clock running out, so instead of getting things done, we add things to do. The older us looks back and wonders why young us set us these burdens for late in life.
The desire for youth is the knowledge of things undone.

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  1. BobtheRegisterredFool BobtheRegisterredFool


    If I’m ever in secure communication, I may share some biographical details, and perhaps we can laugh over some late realizations of goals on my part. I sometimes think those might be fairly described as losing my mind.

    Anyway, that is part of why I’ve been so aggressive against the gloom and doom. I’ve lost much time before on elections, maybe even years. I’m feeling a sense of my own mortality pushing me towards the current RL plan, which is a little time sensitive, and challenges my abilities. (So, of course, the first presidential election during the project is 2020.) I’m fighting myself to keep my reaction to the election such that I have sanity enough not to scupper things entirely.

    If ignoring it gets me dead from violence, at least the opportunity cost of attention might go to my best effort to put another ‘brick’ in an important ‘wall’. Assuming I successfully do so; I don’t make progress every day. I’m overdue for a meal, and need to go fix that.

  2. TRX TRX

    > those 1,000,000 words Stephen King says you write before you become readable

    Didn’t seem to work for Stephen King. I ground through half a dozen of his novels without finding out why he’s so highly regarded. Simply repeating something over and over doesn’t necessarily mean you’re improving.

    I note that many of the writers that I like best wrote their best stories in their first five to ten years, then flamed out. Keith Laumer, Alfred Bester, Hal Clement, John de Chancie, Gordon R. Dickson… it’s like they were full of stories they needed to write, and they were wonderful stories… but after that well was dry, they never quite made the jump from inspiration to craft.

    I can’t think of any writers who improved steadily throughout their career. Heinlein, Norton, Anthony… they changed their styles and foci completely in their later years, definitely not for the better IMNSHO. The writers who were *good* hit the ground running.

    Back on King, the average length of an English word is 4.7 characters. I used to use a jackleg DOS-to-uucp email lashup; I archived outgoing email for convenience. Back when I subscribed to a lot of mailing lists, I ran right about a megabyte a month, not counting mail headers. So, call it 5 months for a million words. That was just email; not documentation or things I got paid for. So not a tremendously high bar if you accept his premise. King’s books seem to run 500-750Kb-ish, which is actually a fairly average length for modern novels; their doorstop size is a printing artefact. So, two novels, by his standards. Bah!

    • The 1,000,000 word thing by King is one of those truisms among writers. While I am tracking finished stories to see when I reach that, I take it more as “practice and learn your craft” than some hard limit. This is the same issue with the 10,000 hours thing.

      Then again as Michael Anderle said, you can sell a whole lot of books while writing that 1,000,000 .

      In terms of reading King, I enjoy his short stories. I’ve been dipping into Nightmares and Dreamscapes for my daily short. I like his ability to evoke mood, but his endings fall flat some times. I’ve read exactly one King novel, The Gunslinger, and enjoyed it but have yet to read book 2.

      On the gripping hand, as someone whose goal is at 59.5 years of age to “retire” to a final career as an indie writer, learning from someone who is so popular isn’t the worst idea in the world.

      On writers whose best works were early, I suspect what you’re seeing is the writing version of the sophomore slump. You’re not reading their first stories, but the best of the five to ten years they spent writing, much as a band’s first album is the distillation of the songs they wrote and refined working the bar circuit.

      You’ll never have that time to hone things again nor have that depth to select from. Of the three you mentioned who changed over time, only Norton consistently is more enjoyable later than earlier for me, although the middle is probably my favorite (middle defined as 70s). While two of my favorite Heinlein’s were published after I was born, most of the rest at best are “meh” and a couple I actively dislike.

      In the indie era with people publishing much earlier, I expect to see craft improvement to be more common over published works. I published the first short I wrote after my return to writing from my last attempt about fifteen years earlier, although I haven’t had the nerve to publish anything since. I hope the next one I publish will be better in an obvious manner.

      • TRX TRX

        > craft

        As long as you think of “has a beginning, middle, and end, and makes at least some sense.” Which a lot of Big House printed fiction fails at despite the editors and proofreaders.

        Craft can be… I haven’t expounded on that at Sarah’s blog or MGC because there are a number of writers there who seem to be quite nice people, and I suspect it would distress them for no reason, but… I’ve read books from some of them, and clips or shorts from most of them, and… they all sound the same. Some of it is reading or editing each others’ work, but I suspect the root came from writing classes of some sort. They have no invidivual voice; they all sound the same. And it’s not just that group; they sound identical to a lot of tradpub. You will have *this* much exposition and *that* much dialog and *that* many characters and… in the end, it all reads like it got homogenized by some single editor, conforming to the same set of rules.

        Don’t get trapped by that. Think of Roger Zelazny, who seldom obeyed *any* rules. About half the time, he missed hard. And the other half, he knocked it out of the park. Practically everything he wrote was “wrong” by modern standards, but the people setting and obeying those standards don’t have the following he built.

        Modern “standard” is waaaayyy too much dialog and “character development” for my tastes, which were formed by reading a (usually) sparser style.

        • Every play needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Jean Luc Goddard said not necessarily in that order, and that’s why French movies are so f’ing boring

          – David Mamet.

          To my mind there are two elements to craft:

          1. Making the words on the page match the picture in my head.
          2. Making the words on the page produce the picture I had in your head.

          That said, your complaint about not liking the style of much modern writing is not a problem for a selling writer. Stephen King sells. For a working writer, someone paying the rent, selling makes him a much better writer than many writers in other styles who are happy their spouse is employed.

          Your point about some of the MGC crowd sounding the same probably arises from this. I know a popular book on the craft with Sarah, and I suspect others at MGC, especially ones she mentored, is Secrets of the Selling Writer. I’ll admit one of its core ideas probably creates your dislike. Its method is “emotion”->”action”->”speech”. That last bit, followed slavishly, means lots of dialog.

          But, look at the title and the goal. If you’re paying the rent, what sells is your first standard.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool BobtheRegisterredFool

            Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.

            If Butcher reads similarly, that is probably the cause. Butcher was trained by Deborah Chester at the University of Oklahoma, who was a grand student of Swain.

            And if people here don’t like the style, it can only be because of the Oklahoma-Texas and Oklahoma-Arkansas differences. 😉

  3. TRX TRX

    > wild eyebrows

    It’s the ear hair that bugs me. I rip those bastards out with a hemostat.

    I’m still eighteen years old inside. The flesh insists it is 60, except when it seems more like 80.

    On the other hand, as I child all the adults I saw were angry, depressed, or sad. I didn’t want to grow up and be like that. And I’ve largely avoided it, proving that “you have to grow older, but you don’t have to grow up” is true…

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