I think I’m officially middle-aged today.
Which is a weird thing to type, because I sure as hell don’t feel middle-aged. And of course in our youth-obsessed culture, we find all kinds of ways to reassure people that it’s fine, they’re not old yet, because being old is assumed to be a terrible thing we all want to put off as long as possible. We also have lost anything resembling coherent transitions between stages of life. Our childhoods are absurdly extended — and when do they even end? Are you an adult at puberty? Eighteen? Twenty-one? Graduation from high school? Graduation from college? People in their mid-twenties often don’t really feel like “adults” yet. So when the heck do you count as “middle-aged”?
I think I probably am; I just need to wrap my brain around it. I’m forty. To somebody who’s eighty, sure, I’m a “young person,” but not in general. I’m about halfway through my statistical life expectancy, which is pretty much the definition of “middle.”
Right now I don’t particularly anticipate having a mid-life crisis, because I’m lucky enough to have a job, a husband, and a home I love. But there may be a little bit of an identity crisis as I try to redefine my sense of where I fit into the general shape of society. Obviously 40 is an arbitrary threshold for that, but any number would be arbitrary, and the whole point of a threshold is to clearly signal that you have left where you were before and entered somewhere else. Thresholds have a purpose.
As does the rest of this post. Years ago — seventeen of them, I believe — I was, for reasons I no longer recall, having kind of a downer day on my birthday. The sort that led me to think (in full awareness of how people might smack me for it) “I’m twenty-three today. What do I have to show for it?” In order to stave off that gloom, I sat down and wrote up an egotism post, listing off everything cool I’d ever done, all my accomplishments, with a strict rule that I wasn’t allowed to downplay or “yes, but” any of them. I continued that tradition sporadically over subsequent years, though I just checked and apparently I haven’t done this since 2016.
Level 40 seems like a good time to revisit that, especially given how much of 2020 seems determined to get me down. In its original form, even: not just what I’ve done since the previous post, but the whole shebang. So buckle in, y’all — and remember, the point of this is egotism. If you don’t want to see me patting myself on the back for my life, don’t read onward, because this is a modesty-free zone.
Let’s start with what I’ve learned.
Thanks particularly to my eclectic habits of course selection in college, I’ve studied human evolution, the Bronze Age in both China and the Aegean, ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, the early Christian church and its later medieval cathedrals, ancient Irish literature and mythology, Japanese history from the Jomon Period to the modern day, historical European witchcraft and modern neo-paganism, Hinduism, the mythologies of the Maya and the Zuñi, Viking Age society, and more. Language-wise, I’ve taken courses in Spanish, Latin, Japanese, Irish Gaelic, and Old Norse, plus much briefer dips into Finnish and Navajo. Since leaving school I’ve read piles of books on Polynesia, the Himalayas, the Middle East, West Africa, Mesoamerica, later periods of China, and enough books on England to very nearly qualify as a home Ph.D. I have an undergraduate degree from Harvard, and I went to Indiana University for graduate school, in one of the best folklore departments in the country — and not only that, but they gave me a five-year fellowship to write papers about role-playing games.
I’ve taught a bunch, too. I was a TA for a number of classes during graduate school; then I designed and taught two courses of my own, one on fairy tale retellings, one on writing science fiction and fantasy. As a kid I took TIP courses on science fiction, marine biology, tropical ecology, and geology; as an adult I went back and taught creative writing to kids like me, and it went so amazingly well I’m not sure I’ll ever top it. I’ve led numerous workshops on writing fight scenes, I’m starting to dip my toes into workshops on worldbuilding, and since this spring I’ve been doing online tutoring for a student in Hong Kong, teaching him creative writing.
I’ve also learned things that aren’t academic subjects. I know how to play both the piano and the French horn, and dammit, I hit the high E at the end of “Born to Run” when I went back for the 100th reunion of the Harvard Band last fall, even after not playing for seventeen years. (Practicing some on my mouthpiece ahead of time was a good idea.) I was a ballet dancer for thirteen years growing up, plus jazz and lyrical later on; parts of that still show in my flexibility and my turnout — how many forty-year-olds do you know who can do a full side-split? I’ve done historical fencing. I have a black belt in karate, and I will be testing for my second degree in the near-ish future. I know how to use sai and bo, and to a lesser extent also nunchaku and tonfa. I’m familiar enough with the basics of stage combat to have been the go-to combat choreographer for the theatre club during all four years of college. I know how to inkle-weave, and a bit of sewing and embroidery, and in the last few years I’ve learned how to cook decently well, including the confidence to sometimes just make stuff up on the basis of what I know about the general principles of the thing.
I’m a photographer. One who’s sold some photos, even; I’m also fairly sure the runaway success of my Reddit AMA a couple of weeks ago was due to me providing a photo with each response. As you can tell from the lineup there, I’ve been truly privileged to travel a bunch: I’ve visited the British Virgin Islands, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan (including Okinawa), Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (including Wales and Scotland), plus in the United States, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin — maybe more where the visit was brief enough that I don’t recall it. Of those places, I’ve lived in four, those being Texas, Massachusetts, Indiana, and California, covering a pretty good swath of the this country.
I’ve played a lot of games, both tabletop and LARP. Currently Pathfinder and Numenera; prior to that, Vampire, Mage, Mummy, and Changeling; Aberrant, Exalted, and Scion; very briefly, Ars Magica; Legend of the Five Rings; Fading Suns; Nobilis; In Nomine; Unhallowed Metropolis; Buffy and Angel; D&D in it 3.5 and (very briefly) 2nd ed incarnations + some OGL d20 stuff in various settings. I’ve run campaigns for Changeling, Scion, Dragon Age (using Pathfinder as the rules system), and Legend of the Five Rings, plus two one-shot LARPs, and I’m incredibly proud of the fact that all of those games reached a conclusion — none of them fizzled out before the end, as games so often do. I’ve also written for games, particularly Legend of the Five Rings (fiction, setting material, and a little bit of mechanics) and Tiny d6.
Speaking of writing!
Yeah, this is a big one now — much bigger than it was when I was twenty-three. I have published . . . the numbers get complicated, actually. Let’s call it fifteen novels (Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, A Star Shall Fall, With Fate Conspire, Lies and Prophecy, Chains and Memory, A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes, Within the Sanctuary of Wings, Turning Darkness Into Light, and Driftwood), plus a four-way collaborative novel (Born to the Blade). Three more are forthcoming: The Mask of Mirrors and its to-be-titled sequel, written in collaboration with Alyc Helms as M.A. Carrick, and The Night Parade of a Hundred Demons. Five novellas (Deeds of Men, Dancing the Warrior, Cold-Forged Flame, Lightning in the Blood, and The Eternal Knot), five novelettes (“And Blow Them at the Moon,” “False Colours,” “Welcome to Welton,” “Mad Maudlin,” and “La Molejera”), and fifty-seven short stories with another forthcoming (I’m not going to list those all individually), not counting the nine short stories I’ve written for L5R with another forthcoming. Also four novella-sized short story collections (Maps to Nowhere, Ars Historica, The Nine Lands, and Down a Street That Wasn’t There), two micro-sized collections (Monstrous Beauty and Never After), and five books of nonfiction (Writing Fight Scenes, Dice Tales, and three volumes to date of the New Worlds series — and oh yeah, that Patreon has been going for three and a half years without missing a single week).
And that doesn’t count the stuff I’ve written but not published, which I consider part of my achievements. There are six trunked novels, and (not counting things currently making the submissions rounds) about twenty short stories of various lengths, for a total of twenty-two full-length novels written not in collaboration with anybody else, five novellas, five novelettes, and about eighty-eight short stories. Add in the ones being submitted, and that last number goes up to ninety-nine . . . and then one I finished just a few days ago, bringing the number to a nice round hundred! Also a pile of fanfiction I’m not going to count up, mostly as gifts in exchanges, and stuff like scripts for Odyssey of the Mind scripts as a kid that I don’t really know how to count.
My fiction has been translated into French, German, Polish, Romanian, and Russian, along with many audio renditions of both novels and short fiction. It’s been nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, the Hugo Award for Best Series, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; it’s won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel, the Prix Imaginales for Best Translated Novel, and the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, which was my first official success. A number of my stories have gotten honorable mentions in Year’s Best anthologies, and this year I unlocked the achievement of my first actual reprint, for “Vīs Dēlendī”. I’ve been solicited to provide a story for a number of anthologies. I’ve been a Guest of Honor at two cons, and there’s a third I can’t mention yet because it hasn’t been publicly announced. I’ve been on more panels than I can count, moderating quite a few of them, and the frequency with which people approach me afterward to say it was a great panel is truly gratifying. I’ve also done multiple book tours, and probably one of the biggest compliments I’ve received on my public reading skills was Mary Robinette Kowal — you know, the PROFESSIONAL AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR AND THEATRE PERFORMER — saying I read well enough that it didn’t matter which order we went in, when the two of us toured together.
In my personal life . . . a lot of this blurs the line between achievement and gratitude, because I can’t exactly take credit for all of these things. I’ve been happily married since 2007 to a guy I’ve been with since 1999, which is more than half my life now. We own a house that I love, in conjunction with a friend of sufficient depth and longevity that I just refer to her as my sister. Basically, and 2020 notwithstanding, my life is good.
Onward to Level 41 and beyond! And happy my birthday to all of you– I hope you have a lovely day.