I don’t think people change much. We change a little over time, but probably not as much nor as easily as we would like. We have our personalities, which our parents see early on, and we seem to carry these personalities right to the grave. That’s not to say our accumulation of knowledge and experiences and relationships aren’t important; it’s just to point out how imperceptible or not at all our core personalities change over the years.
I feel like the same person I was at age fifteen. I’ve gathered more raw knowledge and have seen more of the world and met more people than that kid, but if you put the two of us in a room today, we’d be like clones. Hell, it’s practically like this with me and my dad, and we only share half our genes. So much of who we are is inborn and inherited. My two best friends in the world are Scott and Chris. I’ve known Chris since I was 18, Scott since I was 20. We’ve all had a good 21+ formidable years since then, and these have been the real adult years, when we come into our own. But our conversations haven’t changed, nor have our personalities. Not much.
Some of my ideas have changed over time. I used to think guns were awesome. I grew up with guns, had my own guns since I was ten or eleven, and I’m still a crack shot. But I’m now disgusted by them and those who fetishize them. I’ll be posting something about this soon-ish. I’ve also changed my views on taxation. I used to think a flat income tax made sense, but I think the distribution of wealth has gone too far. Too much money is sitting, uncirculated, clustered at the very top, and this hurts the overall economy. (There are warehouses of art sitting in crates as an investment. This does not create jobs or help fund infrastructure. It’s a silly development in a world of widening income ratios, and there are many more examples like it). I think the top tax bracket should be closer to 80%, not 41%. I also think corporations should be paying a lot more in taxes by simplifying the code. A blog post about this is also coming soon-ish.
I’ve been sharing my views on sensitive topics for a long time. It used to be in a friend’s forum, or in person, or on my blog back before anyone read it. Those views are rarely simple or even consistent, and they’re often wrong. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in my mish-mash of opinions. I’ve been a hippy since high school. I worked in a Ben & Jerry’s, where the income ratio between the lowest scooper (me) and the owners (Ben and Jerry) was capped. I wore my hair long, a goatee, and Grateful Dead t-shirts. I also read Ayn Rand and thought we needed far less government. I volunteered with my church as an atheist. I owned a gun, but felt sick when I shot my first dove, and I never went hunting again. I’m a pacifist who’s good with his fists. I think it’s okay to terminate a pregnancy, but not okay to end the life of a serial killer. I live in nature, have always had a minimal ecological footprint, but I think attempts to preserve nature are foolish, and the idea that we can harm nature is ridiculous. I write science fiction, but I think the future will come slowly and look much like the present. I write dystopias, but I think tomorrow is going to be better than today.
Here’s the thing: I’m going to blog about the things I think with the hopes that I might think about them more deeply and perhaps even change my mind. This blog is mostly for me. It’s a journal that my mom can read (hey Mom). She will often email me after a blog post with something to say. Or my dad will call me to let me know his thoughts. I started this blog not as a published author, but as someone embarking on a journey of writing for fun. I’ve used the blog to advocate for authors, for the LGBT community, to promote other people’s works, and to write about my travels and my life.
The reason for this blog post is that I’ve heard from a few people over the years that success has changed me. Or that my views are no longer valid or shouldn’t be shared now that I’m a public figure. To which I say: bullshit. And I’d like to expound on that. I want to paint as clear a before and after picture as I can. Not just to set the record straight, but hopefully to help inspire those who have similar success or who also face these sorts of accusations. And also to let those who wish to know me to really get to know me. I try to be transparent in life. This is a continuation of that process.
Before I wrote my first novel, I paid cash for the house I lived in. My living expenses at the time were about $800 per month. Total. I owned my vehicle outright. I had long paid off my student loans. My house in North Carolina was 700 square feet. Yearly taxes on this house were roughly $300. My yearly insurance premium was under $400 per year. I made the economic decision not to have children. I had slowly saved up over $25,000 in the bank, which represented over two years of living expenses, which meant I was nowhere near the edge of my means. I’ve always lived WAY below my means.
This is all to say that I haven’t worried about money for a long time. For as long as I can remember, actually. And it hasn’t been because I’ve been rich, but because I haven’t shied away from living poor. I lived on a 27 foot sailboat in college. I had a $50 automobile. I didn’t have a toilet or a shower. I had a pot to piss in (literally). I’ve worked since high school, would only take money from family if I could repay it with labor (at a fair rate, preferably). My dad was legally obligated to pay for my college, but I paid it myself anyway, because it would’ve been harder to ask. Even when I was broke, I would alternate paying for lunch when I met my mom out. I cooked a lot of rice. For lunch, I ate the same PB&J every single day. When I was in the Bahamas, I did odd jobs for older sailors in exchange for food. I’ve never been motivated by money. I’m not motivated by it today. My wealth is all in cash, which is the dumbest thing I can probably do with it, but I’m not interested in seeing how much wealth I can generate. I’ve turned down 7-figure offers for books just to keep the ebook price low and maintain artistic control. I don’t know how to say it more clearly: Money hasn’t changed me. I was an outspoken ass and hypocrite before, and I’m one now.
A few examples, so you can get what my life is like today. I still wear the same clothes I wore before I wrote a book: cargo shorts and t-shirts. I’ve switched from Crocs to flip-flops, but mostly because I was getting small pebbles inside the holes that would then not shake out. My shirts have shifted from the green spectrum to blue, but mostly because Old Navy went that direction. My cargo shorts have gotten a few inches longer, but mostly because shoppers seem to hate their knees being seen? I don’t get it. I long for shorts when they were short. But that’s about how much I’ve changed when it comes to fashion.
I wash my own boat down. I gather my laundry up in a bedsheet, tie the four corners together, and walk it a mile and a half to a laundromat in Jersey City. I eat the same yogurt and fruit breakfast and smoothie lunch every day. The occasional fancy dinner? My ex girlfriend and I used to have the same attitude before I wrote my first book. Rather than go to Chilis once a week, we cooked dinner every day and saved up to go to a really nice meal now and then, like at Boone’s excellent Gamekeeper. We valued experiences more than things. We hiked every day rather than go to the theater, so that we could afford to charter a sailboat for a week in the summer. There were more sacrifices than extravagances. The same is still true. I take the subway, the bus, or I walk. Occasionally, I’ll UberX or Carpool, and it feels like I’ve rented a limo when I do.
Sailing around the world on a sailboat sounds glamorous, but is a lot of hard fucking work. Yesterday, I was pulling apart a toilet and putting it back together. And hotwiring an engine. It’s not an easy life. But it’s an amazing life. I think constant strife is a key to true happiness. I loathe comfort. Or routine. Most of the people who romanticize my life wouldn’t enjoy this life at all. And this is the same kind of life I was living when I was a broke college student. I paid $10,000 for that 27′ sailboat and lived on it for five years. Think about that. Do the math. The truth is, I’d be doing this no matter what, just on a different kind of boat, one that wasn’t as accommodating for friends and family. I was sailing and island hopping nearly two decades before I wrote my first novel. This is who I am. Very little has changed.
I recently wrote in response to an accusation that success has changed me, that my views have not changed, but how I’m viewed has. That’s not entirely true. Of course my views have changed. I’d never want to celebrate the calcification of my opinions. But they’ve moved along a trajectory that they were already on. I’ve grown more tolerant across the course of my life, and I started from a pretty tolerant place. I lost my religion when I was twelve, and I’ve been looking for answers since. Some of the things I’ve changed my mind on are gun control, invasive species, GMOs, and the environmental impact of cities. Just to name a few. But most of these changed before I started writing. I was a lot more opinionated on my blog prior to having any success. The only reason I’ve modulated my outspokenness at all is out of respect for publishing partners. I care about them recouping their advances. But I haven’t clammed up much.
I used to blog a lot about publishing, and those were political and controversial viewpoints as well. My view of self-publishing has become more generally accepted and embraced by others, so the advocacy is no longer as necessary. But anyone who has been reading this blog for the last seven years (god help them) will have read about homosexuality, religion, politics, and discrimination from the beginning. Back when I was unknown. What’s really changed is that when I post something people vehemently disagree with, they often think it has something to do with my writing career. It doesn’t. That’s something going on in their heads, not mine.
Here’s something that not many people reading this will get and most probably won’t fully grasp, but I am still a complete unknown. I know this and truly believe this. Even when I get recognized on the street, or meet fans with tattoos related to my works, I marvel at the unreal and surreal and do not incorporate it into my view of myself. Practically no one has ever heard of me. I’ve made no real contributions to society. I was more useful, as a human being, when I was a roofer. I look at my yachting career as a complete waste of oxygen. I look at my writing career as a weirdly high-paying hobby/passion. When I sit in a restaurant, ordering a burger and a beer, and I watch how hard the staff is working, bustling about, I feel guilty. I tip way too much. I’ve worked in food and beverage, and the knowledge that I’m earning more sitting there than I’m spending troubles me. It doesn’t feel fair. I pay all my taxes, and I give where I can, and it’s still not enough.
In the ways that are truly important, I’m a failure. I failed to make my last relationship last until old age claimed one of us. I’ve failed my parents by not returning that gift to a new generation. I’ve failed my readers by not providing all the sequels they would enjoy. I failed one of my dogs as she died in my lap in a canoe. I failed my other dog by not being with her today, raising her until her last breath. I fail the writing community by not advocating more, reading enough manuscripts, blurbing enough books, and in so many more ways. These are burdens that I feel every single day. There’s very little smugness here. There’s more shame than anything.
So that’s who I am. I’m irresponsibly traveling the world like a vagabond, just as I did straight out of high school (and to some degree did while still in high school). I’m not motivated by money or chasing more of it; rather, I’m walking away from the pace of output that brought me riches and could bring a whole lot more. I’ve given away most of what I’ve owned, setting it on the side of the road, or donating it, or sending it off to readers for a nominal fee, or leaving it with my ex. My sailboat has operated like a floating hostel, with friends, family, and strangers coming and going and taking bedrooms as their own for extended periods of time. I feel like I’m getting dumber every day (degeneratively dumber, not “I’m getting so wise because I know how little I know.” I mean, truly dumber). I feel like I have almost nothing to contribute either intellectually or creatively. I reluctantly blog, worried that someone might actually read what I write. I barely social media, other than occasional bursts on Facebook. I plan on doing even less and less as time goes on.
So for those who think success has changed me, this pacifist with a sailor’s salty mouth says: Fuck You. Which is exactly what I would’ve told you had you been rude to me before I wrote my first book. I’m generally a nice guy, and kind to strangers, and more prone to hug someone than argue with them. But seriously, if you think I can’t share my views because I wrote some stupid books, or you think I have an attitude borne of acquiring wealth, fuck you. I’ve always hated assholes like you. I’m pretty sure I always will.
P.S. Hey Mom, love you. Hate I missed the dinner party last night.