On semi-retirement

It was about four and a half years ago I started writing, on a regular basis, about baseball. In April 2009, I started a blog on Blogspot (or Blogger, or whatever it was called; it blew) and started making myself do it every day. I did it partly just to give myself something of my own to do, partly because I really had something to say, and mostly because my best friend since forever was doing it and I felt like I knew I could do it better than him if he could do it. And, I don’t know, I was probably okay at it, and said friend and I got some attention and joined together, and we happened to come up with a couple pretty unusual ideas (did you know that Jack Morris’ entire career plus Mariano Rivera’s entire career through 2010 was almost exactly equal to Bert Blyleven’s career?) and got some more attention, and eventually I was getting paid — in money! — to write about baseball. We’re not talking about quit-your-job money, but we’re talking about actual currency that is exchanged in the real world for goods and services, and that alone, to me, was amazing, the sort of thing I’d dreamed about for the preceding ten years or so without, by and large, taking any steps toward making it happen.

And, okay, it still is amazing. That one might spout opinions (however backed up with research, etc.) on the internet and have them read by any number of real people living real lives is, itself, quite something, and that other people might pay such a one in real money for the privilege of hosting and publishing such opinions is a whole other crazy thing entirely.

But it’s over now, if only (probably) temporarily.

I’ve just come through a period in my life that was many things, almost all of them awful. In 2011, I jumped from a good job in Chicago (a perfectly lovely town, but not home) to a perfectly horrible job in a horrible (to me) small town because it was a bit closer to home, and then to a much-better-but-not-quite-right-for-me job in the town that is home, with great people. But this last was one that left me separated for most of the time from my family, leaving me living mostly in the same bedroom (and, stereotypically, the basement) I’d lived in when I met my first girlfriend and was awkward on the Mickey Mouse Club and was co-captain of the debate team, going to work and then going to the gym and then coming “home” to that, my loving (though Big-Bang-Theory-watching) parents who go to bed at 9:30 and then nothing, two hours’ drive from my wife and kids.

That was my life, for most of this past year. I didn’t tell you that, or not really, because you are the internet, and who wants to talk about things like that to the whole internet? But that sucked. There are a handful of things that kept me sane through that time; among them was that I had this whole second life, writing dumb little baseball things (mostly dumb ones, anyway) and, more than that, interacting in person and on Twitter and elsewhere with a crowd of baseball folks I’d come to know, many of them more prominent (and much better) writers I could never have imagined regarding as something approaching equals a few years earlier.

Here’s the thing, though: stuff has very quickly come together. Life is good again. Very suddenly, I have a house, and a cohesive family, and a job downtown (starting tomorrow) that pays me pretty well and justly demands a whole bunch of my time, and while I love baseball and will always continue to love baseball, it’s become priority number, like…twelve? Something like priority number twelve. We didn’t reactivate our television when we moved, which means I can’t watch the Twins live anymore, and I have to say that so far I haven’t missed much.

So the upshot is: I have to stop that second life. At least for now, at least until I really know what my real life is now and how much extra time I have and what it is I want to be doing with that little bit of extra time. I want to do exceedingly well at this job, and to continue to do the best I can as a dad and husband, and to write the things I want to write, and how can I commit to writing baseball things until I know about all those things and how much time they take and how much they leave me with?

Thus the reason I’m “retiring” at age 34. I’m not going away; I’ll stay active (probably not during the day much) on Twitter, keep being a part of the community, and I’ll keep writing things here as they come to me, and I imagine there’ll be times when I get moved to write something baseball-related and put it up on TPA (which I hope to keep active as an editor; I’ve scrounged up some guest posts and am on the hunt for more). Maybe (as Mike has suggested) I’ll be storing up good ideas and come back on fire in a few months, once I’ve figured things out. But for now, at least, I’m out of it (almost) altogether.

This is a hard thing for me. I make a lot of jokes about how little I actually watch or pay attention to baseball, I talk a lot about Doctor Who while there are twelve or fifteen baseball games going on, but the fact is that it’s a huge part of my life, and giving the writing part of it up — even partially, even temporarily — feels like letting a dream die, a bit. But in this world of finite time, it’s a sacrifice that (temporarily) has to be made.

And in the early going, let me tell you: it can be incredibly freeing to watch a baseball game, notice something interesting, and realize you don’t have to write 1200 words about it. So I have that going for me, which (among many other things, just now) is nice.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children: Gender- and Genre-Bending

A couple weeks ago, I was in a Barnes & Noble — a physical bookstore! they still have those, sometimes, for now! — and I saw a book on the “local authors” table that seemed really interesting. It was set in a fictional town that was eerily similar to Mankato, Minnesota, which is where I was (and I happened to be starting a… potential novel set in a fictional town that’s eerily similar to a smaller town not very far from Mankato, Minnesota). The protagonist of this book I found was a young transsexual — a female becoming a guy — and a music geek who aspired to be a radio host. I hadn’t ever read, or didn’t think I had, a novel with a trans individual as a main character. It had a title that the relentlessly nerdy nonconformist kid still residing in me really liked: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.

I didn’t buy it at the bookstore, because really, there’s a reason brick-and-mortar bookstores are barely hanging on; but I did add it to my Goodreads “To Read” list right then and there, and last weekend, I saved a couple bucks by downloading it from the Kindle store. Started reading it on Friday, and finished on Monday. It was short and easy to read, but more importantly, it was a good story, and I just never really felt like putting it down for long.

In short: high school senior Gabe Williams has been called the wrong name — Liz, or Elizabeth — his whole life, has only recently revealed his true name and identity as a male to his family, to his best friend since kindergarten, Paige (with whom he’s also in love), and to his seventy-something neighbor and musical mentor, John. John has gotten him a radio show, where he gets to explore his new identity invisibly…only it turns out Gabe is really good at this, and starts to get a loyal following (the “Ugly Children Brigade”), including among people at his own high school, who also know “Liz.” Things get complicated; he experiences basically the full range of reactions as people start to figure out “who he is,” including instances of frank and immediate acceptance, the cold-shoulder and denial from his family, and some ugly and violent and scary ones too. It’s a really well-crafted, fast-moving story; Gabe’s character is beautifully deep and broad, a person you’d really like to know, and really, every character — save perhaps the two brainless thugs who just want the freak to go away and die, and their appearances are brief — has a good deal of depth. It pulls you into Gabe’s world, and into Gabe’s desperate need to get out of that same world.

There were little things that bothered me about it, though: some difficult concepts that were glossed over a little too quickly, some dialogue that seemed just a bit too simplistic and expositional, musical references that could be kind of all over the board and didn’t seem to serve a real central purpose, and a few things (like the endearingly confused and unsure-of-himself main character almost immediately and effortlessly having really realistic romantic chances with not one but two beautiful and brilliant young women who knew all about the Gabe/Liz thing) that came together just a bit too neatly.

It wasn’t until about halfway through, and then not until I read a bit more about the book on Goodreads and Amazon, that the truth hit me: I was reading a YA novel. Meant mostly (though certainly not exclusively) for high school students and written by a college professor, it even has a little student-geared primer on sexual identity issues (and one that I’d guess is very helpful for someone who’s just learning about these issues) tacked on as a kind of epilogue.

But the thing is: I’d never intentionally read YA.

That’s not quite true. I eventually started the Harry Potter series (which…may qualify) sometime in the summer of 2001, after three years of nonstop lectures from my fiancee-turned-wife about how much I was missing, and I was immediately hooked, reading all four books in under a week and each of the three that hadn’t been released yet as quickly as I could get my hands on them.

But that was it.

Until, that is, I was on a trip and desperate, and I’d heard so many good things from so many people about the Hunger Games series that I decided to give it a try. I flew through book one, loved book one; found book two slightly forced and a bit of a letdown after the first, but still engaging; hated the third so utterly, found it so hopelessly groundless and pointless, that it actually ruined the whole rest of the series (and, I suppose, the very idea of adults reading non-Rowling YA fiction) for me.

And that was it, ferreal. No teenaged vampires or any of that, ever, thanks. To be honest, with a handful of other exceptions (A Song of Ice and Fire is the only one that comes to mind), I avoided fiction that fit well into any genre; I stuck to classics, John Updike, Philip Roth, David Foster Wallace. I’d had some bad experiences in the “mainstream” — Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, the wretched little bits I’ve seen on the internet of Twilight and Fifty Shades — and I’d decided that nothing that wasn’t likely to be taught in a literature class somewhere could teach me anything, none of it was worth my time at all. That’s changed a bit, recently — I’ve read some mysteries, some thrillers, and each of them (more or less) has had something in it somewhere that’s driven me batty, but I’ve enjoyed the hell out of quite a lot of them. I’ve found that while I love really, really good, inventive, one-of-a-kind writing, so-called “literary fiction” doesn’t have a monopoly on that, and that I also really love a really well-crafted story, even when it follows certain conventions and doesn’t necessarily break new ground or make you feel smarter just for reading and kind of getting it.

Still, though: no YA. Never YA. Twilight is YA. Nope.

Until this one, by accident, because I saw it on the “local authors” table and nothing about it immediately screamed YA (sure, it had a high-school protagonist, but Updike and DFW have both used youths as protagonists of very adult novels). And you know what? I loved it. In fact, once I’d uncovered its dirty little YA secret, I enjoyed the book a good deal more than I had been, because those little things that were bothering me no longer bothered me. They were just a part of this genre I’d had almost no experience with. I learned to take those things for what they were, get into the rhythm of the story for what it was, and appreciate what was a really beautiful, important sort of message and story in the context in which it was meant to be appreciated.

You should probably check out Beautiful Music, especially if you’re looking for a character you can really pull for with a perspective you probably haven’t seen a ton of before. And me…well, what’s occurred to me is that there are a lot of great stories out there, and they don’t always all take the form of 600-page masterworks that make your head hurt. I’m going to stop reading books that make me feel smart and start looking for stories that make me feel good, for one reason or another. Which, for me, still generally means crisp, witty, lasting writing and vibrant imagery — I’m probably going right back to marching laboriously through Moby-Dick now, in fact. But because I want to, not because it feels like a thing I should be doing. Reading should be fun, and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (while it has its dark and difficult moments) is a whole lot of that.

Celebrating the Homocalypse: My Post-Traditional-Marriage To-Do List

487576_10200982950486922_2109154223_nYesterday, the state senate of Minnesota — the state in which I was born and currently live — voted to approve a bill that, when Governor Dayton signs it today and it takes effect on August 1, will make Minnesota the twelfth state to legally recognize same-sex marriage.

It’s a really minor, minimalistic bill, when you look at it.  In the sentence “Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract between a man and a woman,” those last five words are replaced with “two persons.” That’s pretty much it, with a few more deletions made for consistency, a few gender-neutralities, and a whole bunch of language added in to make sure everybody knows we’re not making any religious leaders do anything that violates their beliefs. That’s it, really; couple snips here, a few extra words there. And yet, its importance can’t really be overstated. Minnesota is doing a great thing today, extending a significant right to a group of people that’s been kept from it for way too long.

I’m happy, and I’m proud. Mostly, though, I’m excited, because from listening to the warnings from opponents of marriage equality, I know that I suddenly get to do a lot of completely awesome shit that I didn’t get to do a day ago. Here are six highlights (some of them kind of irreconcilably contradict each other, but that’s the way these things go):

  1. Well, I’m not married anymore, obviously. The group that sponsored the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment that I was sure would pass just six short months ago (and that probably inadvertently created this whole glorious mess) is called “Minnesota for Marriage.” Now, Minnesota for Marriage exists to limit the availability of marriage strictly to the heteronormative majority, which seems downright Orwellian of them until you realize that what they’re really doing is attempting to protect marriage as an institution by opposing this only-ostensibly-nondisruptive addition to the definition. When we “redefine” marriage such that it applies to any two willing adults and does not depend on one of the two actors owning a vagina and the other a penis, MFM helpfully informed us many times over, it will mean the destruction of the entire institution of marriage altogether (just yesterday, they said it “upends our most foundational institution”). These brave people tried — and failed — to defend my marriage and yours from this insidious attack.
    And this seemed like a bad thing, at first, the total destruction of marriage. I mean, I love my wife and kids a lot, and there no longer being any marriage at all kind of complicates things there. But then again: Doritos and cupcakes for dinner! I’m gonna call this a win, provisionally, until I get a tummy ache or something.
  2. I’m pretty sure I can own a Christian now. This has been all about religious liberty, we’ve been told. Minnesota law already firmly prohibits discrimination by businesses, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, it didn’t previously allow for same-sex marriage, so a business that was unwilling to perform services relating to a same-sex couple’s wedding couldn’t have engaged in a prohibited form of discrimination, you see, because those weddings (and in some legal senses those couples) didn’t exist! So by extending equal rights to same-sex couples, Minnesota has viciously attacked religious liberty by acknowledging that one certain plainly discriminatory practice is in fact discriminatory. (And we’re not even forcing religious institutions themselves to do it, by the way, only for-profit businesses, like florists and cake decorators. Wait, we’re worried about anti-gay florists and cake decorators being forced to cater to gays? If only the gays had other options in those fields!)
    Clearly, this all-out assault on the Christian faith and way of life can only end in the full-on oppression and ultimate enslavement of some practitioners of the religion with which about 70% of Americans still identify. In other words, we’ve got gay marriage now, so I get to own my very own Christian!
    Now, I have my qualms about this. I’m very much a Christian myself, for instance (UCC), so that makes me feel a little uneasy about owning a brother or sister of the faith, and slavery as a principle is very two centuries ago. But I don’t make the rules, just take advantage of them; some closed-minded fundamentalist Christians previously were at liberty to hold bigoted and hateful opinions of homosexual individuals without having to deal with any potential consequences of that hatred in their businesses, and that may in some limited cases no longer be true; this apparently means that those Christians don’t have any liberties anymore at all, and we own them. Bit of a mixed bag, that, but I’m pretty sure I can make it work for me. I’ll be a kind master.
  3. We’re changing the definition of marriage that’s been in place for thousands of years. This is another one that’s a bit hard to give up. As a participant in a marriage that follows the rules established over thousands of years, I’ve enjoyed being able to freely use and enjoy concubines and to essentially be the only human in my household, dominating my wife and family in every possible way, but I’ll tell you, if I were ever to get married again, I could do without having to pay that substantial dowry. My wife can’t own any property separate from me, though, so I expect I’ll recoup my losses on the way out.
  4. I can literally fuck a duck. I mean, obviously.
  5. I can marry more than one person, or a child. I’m pretty happy with the wife I’ve got (1. above notwithstanding), but who couldn’t use an extra hand around the house? We’ve had a lot of electrical and plumbing problems, and neither of us is terribly organized; rather than calling in an all-purpose handyperson or maid and paying through the nose every time, I think maybe I’ll just marry one of each. And apparently, since two consenting adults who love each other but happen to have the same genitalia are absolutely no different from a creepy old guy who wants to marry “a consenting nine-year-old girl” (who is legally incapable of “consent” but nevermind that), minors are fair game? There’s a thirteen-year-old down the street who’d be a pretty great babysitter for my kids, but that costs a lot of money over time, so I’ll just marry him too.
  6. Next time I see a dude I kind of like, I can just decide to marry him. Some conjecture with this one, but given the fear and discomfort and defensiveness with which homophobic/hetero-supremacist bigots have greeted the otherwise totally neutral-to-them extension of the right to marry, I have to assume (as Jon Stewart did) that now that we’re allowing gay marriage, on some level gay marriage is mandatory. Like, if I see a guy, and I like him, he has to marry me. Single or attached, gay or straight; we’ve allowed same-sex marriage now, so that dude is mine. I think that’s how it works, anyway.
    And, I mean, I’ve never really been tempted before — I like women kind of a lot, it turns out — but now that I’m single and an owner of Christian people in this brave new hellbound world, you’d better believe I’m gonna be open to it. I’ll be on the lookout for guys with skills I don’t have (organization, carpentry, washboard abs) and high earning potential. You’re probably not attracted (you may view it as kind of like kidnapping at first, in fact) and neither am I, but we can make this civil contract work for us, dammit. We’re a gay-marryin’ society now, so we hafta!

And all that just scratches the surface of this post-religion, post-morality, orgiastic Sodomite utopia in which we Minnesotans now (effective August 1!) live. We have decided that any two adult people who love each other ought to receive the equal treatment under the law that is guaranteed them by the Constitution, you see, and that that Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the same suggests that individuals’ access to those rights ought not to be dictated by other individuals’ (or even a majority’s) religious beliefs.

And making those ostensibly commonsense decisions has doomed us. We’re all going straight to hell, and fast. But it sure sounds like fun. Now, who wants to go raise a child in mother-figure-less depravity?

Twitter for Writers (a Sort-of-Outsider’s Perspective) and Promisses No. 3: What to Do with Your Body Parts

Twitter_Logo_by_MegachixSo I started this blog as a way to get thoughts out of my head that weren’t strictly about baseball. It’s been slow going, largely because I have this whole life and everything, but I’m determined to get into it eventually.

The great thing, though, is that I have a very good friend who was already pretty well entrenched in this community of writers, which has allowed me to quickly meet some great folks. I look forward to reading Emmie Mears and Amber West‘s and Jenny Hansen‘s blogs as often as they’re updated, to name a few, and they’re each great people to interact with on Facebook and Twitter besides.

But the referenced great friend (whose name has been mentioned altogether too often around here as it is–not this time, dammit!) put up a post yesterday that got me thinking. The post itself is a collection of tips for authors on managing their social media lives along with their work and the like.

The post is very good. What it got me thinking about was certain trends I’d noticed in how people within that circle — we’ll call them “indie authors” (or “IAs”), which I think is the closest thing to an identifying characteristic they have — tend to use Twitter.

The typical IA’s Twitter experience appears to me to be like so (this doesn’t apply to any of the wonderful people named or not-quite-named above, and certainly isn’t true of everyone else by any stretch): he or she has something between 600 and 6,000 followers, and follows almost exactly that many. The vast, vast majority of IA’s tweets are scheduled auto-tweets and append a link to one of three categories of things: (1) to IA’s own most recent blog post; (2) to IA’s book; or (3) to the blog posts or books of people IA knows and is hoping will return the favor. The content of those tweets is the title of the book or article, a related hashtag or two, and the link — there’s nothing to suggest why IA recommends that you click on that particular link (or even that it’s actually recommended, when you think about it) — title, link, maybe hashtags, boom.  And most of the rest of IA’s tweets are curt thank-yous sent out to the other IAs who have recently promoted IA’s blog or book.

This is really weird to me. My 3.5 years of tweeting (I’m here) has mostly been in the tiny and insular world of baseball geeks, where we’re (those of us who write, which is most of us) pretty interested in promoting ourselves too. And there are probably some people who act more or less as the IA described above, but there’s a real conversation there, too, and one feels like these are real people typing things, not scheduled advertisements.

A few disclaimers. First, self-promotion (for authors, and for at least half or so of all other people on Twitter) is a pretty important thing, and promoting others can be a pretty important part of that; I’m not out to knock any of that. And I know a lot of IAs have thought a lot about their social media strategies and whatnot, and I’m sure there are things they’re doing that are very effective.

Which leads into the second disclaimer: I’m not actually that good at Twitter, and I’d never try to tell you there’s a right or wrong way to use it. I haven’t built up a huge number of followers, really. Most people who follow me are baseball fans, and yet I don’t actually tweet about baseball that often, which can’t be advisable. I sometimes get in silly angry fights on Twitter, which are probably literally the most useless things two or more humans can possibly do with themselves.

So I’m not an expert. I don’t think there’s a right way to do it, and if there is one, I certainly don’t know or abide by it. (If that’s what you’re interested in, Chuck Wendig, who is better at it than I am, wrote what I think is a really brilliant list of things to know.)

But I sure do have a lot of fun on Twitter, most of the time. And to my eyes, the typical IA’s way of doing things just doesn’t seem any fun or particularly effective. My sense is that most writers don’t really want to be on Twitter, but look at it as a thing they have to do. And it shows.

So with that in mind, and without wanting to tell anybody the right way do anything, here are some things I think are kind of screwy about the IA tweeting paradigm:

  1. You’re shouting into the void. You follow everyone who follows you, and (for the most part) only those who will follow you back. That means you’re all of you out for the same one thing: exposure. You tend to post much more than you read. So what are the odds that any of the people you follow, who are presumably doing the same things for the same reasons, are reading what you say?
  2. Relatedly: if you follow everyone, you’re following no one. It feels like the nice thing to do, following anyone who follows you, and the surest way to collect a respectable-looking number of followers. And there might be some people who can follow 4000 and still kind of keep up with some of them. I just can’t get my head around it. I’m currently following close to 600, and that’s just about my limit. I try to follow most people who have interesting things to say and seem interested in what I have to say (but certainly haven’t succeeded in getting them all), aiming for a sizable community without overcrowding the field.
    If I get a new follower with like 6000 followers who is also following about 6000, that’s almost a bit of a letdown, because it’s so unlikely that that person will ever see anything I have to say, it’s hard to imagine what the point is. I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t appreciate those people, just that I regret not being able to interact with them. And I don’t mean to say that one’s follower/followee ratio is important; I do think having a number of “followees” that you can plausibly, y’know, follow probably is.
  3. No one reads links unless you tell them why they should. That’s not literally true, of course. But linking your blog post with the title alone, unless it’s a great title, isn’t likely to do a ton for you, and linking others’ blog posts (and them linking yours) in a similarly impersonal way does even less. All else equal, I’d much rather have five people who have really read my stuff promoting it and telling people why the person thinks they should read it than have twenty people post a “[Title] [link] by @Bill_TPA [hashtags!]” type of tweet. That reads like spam to me, especially if you’re doing loads of them a day.
  4. Relatedly: personality is a good thing. Whatever else it might be for, finding people you like and who like to talk about things you like to talk about, and then actually talking to them, is probably the greatest, coolest thing anyone can do with Twitter. Drawing followers to you that really enjoy you — the personality you show rather than your potential as a marketing or sales tool for them — can only help them be more likely or engaging readers, customers, promoters and so forth.
  5. The utility of hashtags is pretty limited. They seem like a great idea, # signs in front of the important words to allow people who are interested in those words to go searching and find you. They can be very useful; most pertinent to the IA group, it seems that Kristen Lamb has had quite a lot of success starting conversations with her #MyWANA thing (though it’s sometimes overrun by opportunistic self-serving links, which is what tends to happen, and is part of why the next sentence is true). That’s an exception to the rule, and the rule is that hashtags kind of suck.
    Relatively few people will click on or run searches for, say, “#flowers” or “#mystery” or “#romance,” and most of the people who do probably aren’t going to be looking for tweets like yours. Those terms can all mean many different things in different contexts, so your hypothetical hashtag surfer would have to sort through a lot of crap to get to the specific type of item she’s looking for (which probably isn’t whatever your tweet was about anyway). Twitter isn’t a great place to fish for strangers who are looking for certain terms — and they can always search for those terms without the #, regardless. It seems to me that it’s much more effective to develop an audience that knows you, likes you and is eager to introduce you to an even wider audience…and that #peppering each #tweet with #jarring #hashtags is probably not likely to #encourage #that #kind #of #devotion among them. #hashtags

That’s it, those are my thoughts. I don’t know anything about anything, but I think a few things.

This is already too long (maybe some established IA can write a post on blogging for outsiders with a “Don’t write such dense rambling nonsense!” item), but I’ll leave you with my weekly Promisses image, which has no particular deep thought behind it this week but is really only a slightly creepy-old-uncle-ier version of the real thing:

Promisses No. 3

Thoughts on Celebrating an Age that Isn’t Anything

290_559677120416_9770_n (2)For a while, every birthday really feels like it means something. It’s not just the ones that mark a new decade or phase, or the ones on the fives, or the ones that make some adult activity legal (though there are so many of those for a while there): I’d say 14 feels markedly different than 13, for instance, and 17 a weirdly big step up from 16 (plus, R-rated movies!). When you turn 23, you’re out of college, or no longer college-aged. At 26, you’re entering your “late twenties,” so that’s something.

I’d respect an argument that 27 is the first age that just isn’t really anything, though it’s debatable (baseball nerds know that that’s the accepted “peak age” for your average ballplayer, so it’s a bit of an interesting reflection point for us definitively-not-athletes). Thirty-one certainly isn’t much. At 32, you’re no longer thirty-ish, so that feels like something. Thirty-three…I don’t know, there’s something cool about 33. I guess it’s the symmetry. It’s also the age at which Jesus is believed to have been martyred, so there’s that.

My point is this: 34, which is the age I am for the first time today, just isn’t a thing. It’s definitively, inarguably not anything, as a human age. Now: it’s the uniform number of my childhood hero. It’s the atomic number of selenium, which is used primarily to produce glass. As an age, though, what’s 34? Nothing happens at 34. It’s one of the first ages one becomes without really feeling anything’s changed. You can say you’ve made it longer than Jesus, I suppose, but he redeemed mankind and healed lepers and everything and what have you done, really, up against all that?

So without any milestones to lean on, you’ve kind of just got to look at your actual life, without the crutches of those artificial filters and measuring sticks and what-have-you. And that can be pretty scary. Or just pretty boring. Or both, or (a) because (b), or…it can be lots of things.

But, I mean: there’s a lot of good coming. Thirty-four is the year during which my first-born starts kindergarten and my second gets out of diapers. It’s the year of a new, probably more or less permanent home and the first full year of a much healthier lifestyle than the one I’d become accustomed to, and early indications suggest it might be the year in which I start to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

The nice thing is that all those false milestones and artificial measuring sticks and whatever else are, you know, false — our bodies and lives don’t operate in sets of 365 days, or in groups of five or ten or 21 or 30 or 50 of them. Every year is worth reflecting on and celebrating, just because 365 days is a fucking lot of days, and every now and then, after a fucking lot of days have passed, it’s nice to kind of stop and take a look back and forward; given that, absent any more logical or less arbitrary option, you might as well do it on the day you were born.

With that bit of rousing inspiration in mind, here are, let’s say, the five most important things I’ve learned during the year that’s passed since my 33rd birthday:

  1. Complacency is for the dead and dying. There should always be a Next Thing, or a Plan B. Always. If nothing else, even if you think life is perfect and secure forever, a little daydreaming can’t hurt.
  2. My wife can do anything. Seriously. She’s amazing, and can adapt to any awful situation. I think it’s a thing women have, but she’s clearly the best in the world at it. Sorry, quite literally everyone else on the planet.
  3. The universe can survive my “coming out” as a lefty to my wonderful but quite conservative dad. It happened by accident right at the height of election season. There were some arguments. Now we mostly talk about basketball instead.
  4. Rest makes a difference, now and then. I’ve learned that three baseball deadlines a week that keep me up until 1 a.m. and a day job that gets me up at 5ish make for a not entirely productive and often a very cranky lefty. It’s tempting to chalk it up to age and not being in college anymore and all that, but no, I’m pretty sure that that sort of thing never worked, and that the difference is never having the option anymore to just sleep ’til like noon or so.
  5. Not much beats having a friend who listens to all your shit and more or less “gets it.” I knew that once before, but I’d kind of forgotten it until recently, and that was dumb of me.

And with that, as I write this, it’s almost actually my birthday, and I’ll be finishing my glass of wine and heeding Thing Number Four. Cheers, Internet.