A Year Older. None the Wiser.

Every year I sense how little I know. And not in the cool Zen sense of becoming an empty glass ready to be filled, but in the sense of senility, where I am certain that I was smarter the year before and ever smarter the further back I look.

My vocabulary is dwindling. Photos remind me of days I had long forgotten. I can’t remember anyone’s name. And I mean: I’m still shaking their hand, I tried my damnedest, and I can’t remember their name.

Part of my worry with everything I write is that I’m getting dumber and dumber. It’s a real fear. And I know there are people twice my age shaking their heads and wishing they could reach through my blog and slap some sense into me, but believe me: I’ve banged my head a number of times over the years. Perhaps you’re holding up better than I am. Hitting me certainly won’t help.

I console myself with this: When I read stuff I wrote back when I was smarter, I find myself pleasantly surprised. Startled, even. Doing that to your future self is pretty cool. One day, I’ll read this blog with a few more numbing years behind me, and I’ll think: Shit. It’s still happening.

22 responses to “A Year Older. None the Wiser.”

  1. Happy Birthday, Hugh. Mine’s looming in the near future (a month and a week). I’m hitting the 40 mark. Not only do I notice the slow deterioration of the mind, but the body is doing its damnedest to fall apart on me. I begin looking in my cabinets, trying to find the hidden stash of cement somebody keeps sneaking into our son’s food. I keep wondering if Walmart is moving their parking spots further away from the door when I’m not looking… and eyeballing those electric scooters, wondering when the day will come.

    I know it’s not all that bad, but some days… hope everything’s going okay for you in the ‘new’ place. It’s wonderful hearing about your exploits. This is definitely a year to remember for you and yours. Just remember… enjoy the ride, it’s the only one we get. Can’t wait to put more money in your pockets!

  2. Hi Hugh,
    I’m getting dumber and dumber too. It’s just that I forgot to worry about it.

    Seriously though we all feel that way sometimes; especially when shaking someone’s hand we’ve forgotten or looking back at something we felt was especially creative and wondering how we did that. But don’t worry you still got it. And, it’s not going anywhere. Last year at 49 I published my first (and probably last) magazine article. (I’m not talented like you. It was just one really cool burst of creativity.) It was good though. So you see when your 50 you’ll be looking back at the stuff you wrote at 49 and still wondering if you still got it.

  3. Para 1: ditto
    Para 2: ditto
    Para 3: ditto

    I started experiencing this around age 40. Actually, maybe before then, but I don’t think I am the most self-aware person out there, so I probably just didnt notice. I’m a lawyer and periodically will read material I wrote 2 years out of law school. Good stuff. Insightful. I look at my writing now and – well, it’s “fine.” When I shake people’s hands, I expect not to remember their names. Every once in a while I remember and I’m so proud. Pathetic. Oh well, guess that’s life (or the effects of a steady diet of wine and tequila).

    The real purpose of my post is to say how much I enjoyed your Wool series. I discovered Wool about 3 days ago and reading in order, just finished First Shift. And, yes, I do have a life and did work this week.

    Hope you can finish the series before it’s all gone. :-)

  4. You are amazing. What you just wrote is amazing!

    I know what you can do when you really do grow old. You can write greeting cards. I am serious. You would be great at it. Man you can write anything. Even a blog.

    I do have one question for you though? How is it that your books (writing) get better and better with age or as time goes by?

    I also have a final note. As we all age we do certainly get wiser. Much wiser. And it is generally due to all our f*#* ups! Believe me……I know.

  5. It’s true, you are an old man! Take solace from the fact that you’re two years younger than me!! :D

    1. Man, Mr.Ection you are really old. Take solace from the fact that you are 25 years younger than me. Enjoy your youth for it will be gone way too fast.

      The funny part is that you still think young when you’re old and you forget sometimes and then you remember and it hits you like a lead balloon that pops!

      Nobody much likes you anymore or thinks you’re fun. But…….there is one great thing though about being old and that is you can get away with all kind of sh*t!

  6. It’s inevitable that when you reach your birth date, you reflect on everything that’s happened to you up until that point. You start to question past goals, hobbies of long past, actions, consequences–the whole shebang. Did you make the right choices?

    I recently celebrated my 26th birthday on the 18th of this month and I was incredibly sick. I had a plethora of things that happened to me just one after another within the span of two weeks that made me question everything. I’ve never been that ill before to the point where I had to take prescribed medication for it. And because I lived alone, I had no one to take care of me. With my birthday around the corner, I felt isolated and resentful–what did I deserve to spend this day wallowing in misery and self-hatred?

    But then I started to realize how much it meant to me when I got the birthday wishes. People that I hardly speak to on a regular basis texted me, tweeted me and it was enough to make me stop being so hard on myself for getting sick. I had to be thankful that I had people checking up on me. Thankful that someone brought me medicine or that someone took me to see the doctor when I really needed it. I had to be thankful that I wasn’t drowning from a pneumonia or suffering through a bronchitis. And I had to be thankful that my parents showed up on my birthday to take care of me, even if it was for a day or two.

    So, don’t think of getting older as getting “dumber” or anything like that. It’s another year of opportunity. Another year to learn because none of us can claim to know everything that the world has offer. Another year to take in the sights and sounds of the things around you. And another year to laugh and smile with your friends and family.

    Happy birthday, Hugh!

  7. pbffftttt! you’re not forgettin’ stuff, that your new books trying to get out.

  8. My dear, please don’t fret like this. You’re only 26 years old. There are many who care deeply for you.

    You must think positive as you wrote later on in your post.
    My father taught me that early on and he lived to be 99 years old. You must always think positive! Never even consider how old you are. It doesn’t matter a lick!

  9. I’m 35. I think like a 50 year old, and I act like an 18 year old, so the average comes out about right! Happy birthday Hugh, and if you REALLY want to feel old, have a couple little ones running around.

  10. Happy birthday Hugh! Dumber and dumber?? Maybe better and better! And believe me, your vocab is NOT dwindling. I’ve had to use the dictionary feature on my Kindle too many times to admit while reading your books. I ordered a signed Omnibus for my grandma’s 85th birthday, and she is that special evidence that everything gets better with age! ;)

  11. Trust me Dude, you’re smarter now. And I’ve always loved you, but you’re a better person now too. You’re just getting to that age where you think “the older you are, the better you were”. Of course, I bet that vertical jump isn’t what it used to be.

  12. Me too. I don’t think I’d mind as much if it wasn’t accompanied by the mess in my underwear. It’s like I can’t wipe right any more, and the faucet drips. Better hurry and write it all down before we go senile, eh?

  13. Oh, man, you captured it perfectly. It started for me around the time I hit 40. At that point, I had a 2-year-old and a newborn, and, quite frankly, I blamed a lot of my encroaching stupidity on “baby brain.” Moms out there will know what I mean by this.

    Sadly, the kids got older, sleep was restored to the household, and yet….the dumbing down continues apace. Phil and I remark regularly on how much brighter/sharper/quicker we once were. Truth be told, the whole thing pisses me off.

    All I can say is it’s a damned good thing we were both smart to begin with!!

  14. Loved Wool, just finished reading first shift up all night in my hotel room in Mexico City. As soon as i get home it will be going on my son’s kindles.

  15. By your standards, at 65 I qualify as an “ancient one”–an aging hippie living in Asheville. My brain may be functioning at less than optimum capacity, but that hasn’t prevented me from becoming a new Hugh Howey fan. I read the first 5 Wool through in a few days and just downloaded 6. Love it, love it, love it. Post-apocalyptic fiction is my favorite and it had been awhile since I’d found something to get really immersed in. I see Hollywood has figured out what a terrific movie the series would make. Can’t wait for that and for more HH adventures. Thanks!

  16. Happy Belated!!! We have the same birthday :) Sadly I only turned 28 and am similarly self reflective. Though I am efforting the not becoming dumber. After a 3-5 year reading hiatus I am back in the saddle with the Wool Omnibus being my 5th book this spring/summer. Truthfully I never cared much for post apocolypse worlds (Stephen King’s The Stand and Christopher Pike’s Starlight Crystal being the two exceptions to that), but I am REALLY enjoying this. Almost finished with the Unravelling, and as I see you are continuing post the Stranded I am less dreading approaching the end. So Happy Birthday and Thank you for writing the highlight of my birthday week!

  17. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been forgetting things since about the sixth grade. I know that I had learned long division by then, but sadly, it wasn’t a skill that I took with me to middle school. In time, I made peace with that and while there are facts that I wish I remembered without relying on “the Google,” I am happy to re-fill those empty spaces in my mind with Theryls and Mathory lessons and Silos. (Until, I guess, I forget them too, and can hungrily read about them again, as if for the first time.)

  18. Hey! I just read your collection of Wool. Over 1000 pages and I usually like books in the greater than 400 range – I thought, “Well, let’s see how this goes..” It was wonderful!!! I couldn’t pull myself out of the story! Anyone who could write this and hold all the components together will not get dumber!!
    I am 56 and I hardly ever remember people’s names, I just recall things about them. I have to see their names written down a few times. People think differently.
    If you are writing as much as you seem, that’s not dumb! that’s busy.

  19. Don’t feel too bad, Hugh. I have to check my dogtags every morning to figure out who I am, let alone remember the names of anyone else.

    But at 68, I’m sharper than ever… now, where did I leave my glasses? … What was I saying? … Why did I come into this room? Who…?

    Never mind.

  20. I think about this kind of thing often as well. I have a feeling I’m going to end up with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

    I showed the middle schoolers I teach a CNN Student News episode this year that featured a segment on a guy who is a professional memorizor. His grandmother got Alzheimer’s and he decided to dedicate his life to perfecting his memory. It was interesting stuff.

  21. My father once told me that there are 4 stages to developing intellectually. 

    1) You don’t know how much you don’t know.
    2) You know how much you don’t know.
    3) You don’t know how much you really know. 
    4) You know how much you know.

    Of course it’s never really that straight forward; every aspect of our life, every new skill set, requires this progression and so you can be at every stage simultaneously in different areas in your life.  Sometimes it takes a minute, and other times, I’m told, it can take a lifetime to work your way through it.  I would imagine that if you feel yourself slipping backwards at times, that you’re still working to figure out just how much you really do know.  and from what I’ve seen you know quite a bit, whether or not you’ve realized it yet. Keep up the good work and don’t let life get you down.

    For what it’s worth, you even inspired me to try my own hand at writing, and that’s not something I ever seriously expected to try before I came across the Silo series.  Maybe because of my own ruminations over my current life and career, but sometimes we all need a little escape.

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