Personal: Steps towards not becoming a grumpy old man

This is proving to be a very odd year, and it’s making me feel reflective. If you asked me how I’ve been feeling of late, I think I’d tell you that at least on a superficial level I’ve mostly been somewhat down, and the few people I see socially would probably endorse that – I feel like I’ve had a lot to complain about. I also seem to have the family anxiety kicking in (my mother and aunt tell me that such things run on my father’s side of the family), and yet it’s not really the full story.

I think that I’ve let myself fall into a dangerous rut.  I love editing and while I don’t love my day job, I certainly don’t hate it. Still, my typical weekday starts at 5.00am. I get up, have breakfast, leave the house for work at about 6.15am, have coffee and a catch up with my mum till 7.00am, work through till 3.00pm, then head home where usually I help with domestic stuff through till around 8.00pm.  Then I read or watch TV till a 9.30pm/10.00pm bedtime.

That’s become very rigid over the past seven or eight years, and opportunities for catching up with friends have become limited. There are weekends, but those are typically given over to either editing  or to family stuff.   Now, all of this has been a direct result of my own choices – I could not have had a family, I could give up or reduce my editing commitments, I could do something completely different – but it means that unless I make a real effort I don’t get to movies more than four or five times a year, to dinner with friends more than half a dozen or so times, and even simple catch-ups like coffee (which used to be a major social outlet) are strictly limited (or feel that way).

These days my major social outlets outside my immediate family are conversations at work, podcasts with Gary, and gmail chat sessions and occasional phone calls with friends.  This strikes me as really unhealthy, and it explains a lot about how some things affect me more than they should.  Yesterday a person I know casually in science fiction queried a newsgroup post that I made.  The post was fairly innocuous and the email wasn’t especially condemnatory, but it had the potential to get me really depressed.  It didn’t. But I could see how it could have done.

I also find I am particularly sensitive to some interactions online – either to changes in contact frequency or to tone etc – and while I force myself to be very careful about how I react/feel about them because I know online communication is low bandwidth, nonetheless it’s a large part of my social interactions, so I find myself needing to be very, very careful how I let myself react because I’m all to well aware that it’s a distorted mirror (that is, a simple comment or lack of comment by someone three thousand miles away was just that, and not some big deal).

This has no doubt been exacerbated by things like serial deadlines, issues dealing with various publishers which have seemed likely to scuttle or derail projects etc etc, and also by things like minor persistent non-serious health issues which have been making days less pleasant (a good example is my right ear, which is steadily improving and seemed fully completely normal for a while yesterday, but is still slightly bothersome).   There are also the usual stresses that we all suffer from, but they are for the most part, what we deal with.

I think a lot of this is just middle-age kicking in, to be honest. I need to be a lot more active, a lot more healthy, and really need push myself to re-organise my social life so I have one. I also probably need to push for a lot more diversity in my social life. A few active social relationships is not the way to go really.  It’s just that there’s a lot of pushing against inertia and such, and those deadlines do keep rolling in (happily).  However, if I’m going to maintain perspective and not become really negative, I need to.

I should also say, there are positives.  I’m a little more organised business-wise, I’m meeting these crazy deadlines, and I’m starting to listen to new music. This is really my personal barometer for my mental state. If I’m really down and depressed I either don’t listen to music or I listen to old favourites over and over. These days I’m listening to a lot of different things, and enjoying doing so. Yes, a lot of the music is older, but it’s mostly new to me, so that counts.  I’m also, despite struggling with multifocals a bit, enjoying reading. I’ve encountered a lot of good books and seem to be finding more. This year is a lot better than last year for me.  I am struggling to read published short fiction right now, which is a huge issue, but that’s something I need to confront a bit. The ‘year’s best’ is a bit of a grind, but I’m confident that’ll turn around.

So, given that in this year that I’ve been accused of making “dad” jokes, have had hearing and visual problems etc etc, how do I need to turn things around? Well, it’s a new financial year, so let’s say that’s an excuse for some New Financial Year resolutions.  They’d be:

  • get fitter and healthier. I need to eat better, exercise more, and actually go to doctors when I have issues. This is a continuing problem that all of my friends know about, and that I always mention but usually do little or nothing about,
  • get more organised when it comes to business and work stuff,
  • actually do things at home that we say we want to, rather than just mention them and let inertia take over,
  • socialise more, and more diversely.

I think those things would make me a lot happier and would make me more fun to be around.  Lord knows, I don’t want to become some grumpy old guy no-one wants to socialise with lamenting how things were better way back when – they weren’t, and I know that.

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  1. I don’t think anybody wants to become a grumpy old whatever (I don’t want to become a grumpy old spinster, that’s for sure!). Sounds like a good set of goals to me.

  2. That’s become very rigid over the past seven or eight years

    I recognise this. My workload is not as great as yours, and my schedule not as heavy (5am starts? Yikes!), but I’m quite conscious of the costs of fitting in work for the field around the work that pays the mortgage. As you say, it’s a choice, and not only a rewarding one (though it is that). I find myself being resistant to spontaneity — I tend to find myself mentally allocating unbooked time to reading/editing/writing/whatever, and can get grumpy if something else comes up, even if it’s something that, had it been planned more than a day in advance, I would have looked forward to as fun and relaxing.

  3. I think the key is finding a balance, and making sure the non-mortgage work remains fun. The trap is that sometimes the non-mortgage work just becomes *more* mortgage work, and then you can end up in a quite unhappy place.

  4. Just get yerself a rocking chair, a shotgun and a jar of sippin’ whisky . . . embrace the internal grumpy old bastard and let it out. That’s my plan.

    Or alternatively, do as you suggest. Could work better in the long run.

    Good luck either way. See you in the grumpy old bastard corner of the bar at Aussiecon 4.

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