Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] Time, choices, and the virtues of a boring life

Writer Keith Garrett has a post up this week wherein he takes off from my comment about a boring life, made on Mur Lafferty's I Should Be Writing podcast. Coincidentally, I was discussing cancer and writing with Rob Furey in chat in this morning, when he observed that a lot of people in my position would just pick up the remote and sit on the couch.

As I said to Rob, I don't even have cable. I'd be watching a blue screen all day.

In point of fact, my life is not actually boring. It's damned interesting. Even now with cancer, and I don't just mean that in the proverbial sense of "interesting". But it's interesting in substantial part because of the choices I've made along the way. And those choices have been optimized around the_child and my writing life.

I cancelled my cable in 1994. I've never had an antenna. While I still own a TV, and about a hundred DVDs and VHS tapes, I haven't watched a show on television in 16 years. Incidentally, I have a twelve year old daughter who has grown up without a working television in the house. She's never seen a commercial in her own home.

This wasn't strength of character, or some principled stance on the supposed evils of television. This was me realizing that I would turn on a Simpsons rerun at 6:30, turn off the TV at 10:30, and have no idea what I'd watched, or what I'd done with my evening. The biggest reason I drink very minimally, and gave up street drugs during the first Reagan administration, is that I hate feeling stupid. Drink and drugs make me stupid. And TV made me stupid.

I recovered an amazing amount of time in my schedule, and applied much of it to my writing. (This was seven years before my first sale, just in case you're tracking.)

Likewise, I stopped both console gaming and PC gaming in 2000, for essentially the same reasons. Disclaimer: I still occasionally play games on my iPhone, especially given the toilet-based lifestyle cancer has imposed on me. Sid Meier no longer owns my brain, however. In that case, the plot elements of Civilization-class games were so seductive to me that I found I wrote much less, and needed to write much less, if the itch was being scrapped by gaming. So no more games for me.

Given the amount of D&D and AD&D (first edition, just in case you're tracking) I played between about 1978 and about 1988, if the modern immersive online gaming experience had been available back then, I doubt I'd ever have made it as a writer. World of Warcraft would have carried me away on a happy tide of leveling up and raiding, much as LSD could have carried me away on a happy tide of color and sensory overload if I'd let it. I am of the opinion that we've lost a meaningful part of a generation of writers to online gaming for much the same reasons, though my evidence is purely anecdotal, not data-driven. (And for whatever that's worth, good for them if they're happy. Everybody makes their own choices — all of this is intended as observation, not criticism.)

So I don't leave my house much (working at home will do that to you.) I don't watch tv or game or go to parties or drink in bars. I sit home where I read and write. I exercise. I hang with my kid and my friends and loved ones. And I read and write.

Did I mention reading and writing?

Because in choosing not to pursue several of the most popular forms of entertainment in middle class American culture, I have made my life both more boring and far more interesting than it otherwise would have been. Cancer challenges me in some of these areas, but it's a transient challenge. Like having the flu for a year, with bonus mortality risks.

As I've written before, I hold passionate views on the role of Consumers and Producers in our culture. Everybody is a Consumer by definition. Not very many of us get to be Producers. And I love being a Producer. I'm raising the_child to be a Producer, if she wants. Most of my friends are Producers, or working hard to be so. Being a Producer means giving up a lot of Consuming. Which is of course a paradox, as you can't be an effective Producer if you don't understand what Consumers want, need and love.

So I happily forgo my sixtieth-level wizard-god-kings and my nights telling jokes in the bar and ever seeing a minute of Buffy or Castle in exchange for my books on the shelf and my stories in your hands. That's just me. It's not even advice for you. But I'm here to tell you it works. When I'm not in the grips of cancer, the number of free hours I have to write is staggering, given what I don't do. A boring life holds immense rewards.

How badly do you want to be a Producer? What have you given up? What would you give up? What's an hour of writing (or art or music) worth to you?
Tags: books, cancer, child, health, personal, process, stories, writing

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