More on putting aside childish things

Thanks, everybody for the comments here and on the NPR site on my, uh, commentary yesterday. A number of people rose in defense of what we shall call the Imaginative Life, and while it’s a sign of failure if you have to explain what you meant the first time, but still…

As is clear to anyone who knew me, I, like an awful lot of you, grew up reading and watching and (limited by the pre- and proto-digital technology of the time) playing in fantastical imaginary words. I had, literally, thousands of sci-fi (not SyFy!) and fantasy paperbacks. I was a member of the Science Fiction Book of the Month Club. I attended the 1980 World Con. I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture on opening day. Etc, etc. I have geek cred.

And like a lot of you who were of a similar type, I was a lot more comfortable in Middle Earth or The Land or the Ringworld than I was in the real world. I don’t want to exaggerate — I had friends, and even girlfriends, some of whom even read this blog. (Hey Jim! Hey, Jennifer!). But now that I’m grown, and finding the real world to be a much, much more interesting and even more challenging place than I had thought as an adolescent, I do wish I hadn’t focused so much on escaping it back then. Maybe I could have learned something slightly more useful than who did the voice of the ship’s computer on Star Trek: TOS.

To put it succinctly, looking back, I wish I had spent less time learning Elvish in order to teach it to my dog and more time learning to talk to girls. Or at the very least, learning, say, French.

12 Responses to More on putting aside childish things

  1. DaveKan March 24, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    You are at this place in your life based on the choices that you made, including learning Elvish…Any changes in those choices would have led you to a different place. Maybe a better place, but maybe not…and speaking french is overrated…

  2. Maria March 24, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    Majel Barrett, of course. Right?

  3. Daft Phully March 24, 2009 at 4:41 pm #

    Non Fannish reality is highly overrated. Really. So is marriage and raising a family. I know…I’m doing it. I’ve watched the suffering of my in-laws and stupidity of our neighbours. Life turns out to be a lot more like Cops and Judge Judy than I had ever imagined.

    I like to think that I am much better at geekdom than I used to be. More mature, let’s say, to put a positive spin on it. Would I role play at my advanced age of 54? Yes, I have, and would continue to do so if the wife was still working, and I could find a group consisting of thirtyish plus players. Those twenty year olds are so damn immature.

    Are you using the George W. Bush excuse for the excesses of your early years?

  4. Josh March 24, 2009 at 5:23 pm #

    Looking back I wish the opposite: that perhaps I had spent more time in the land of fantasy and innocence than trying to grow up. The more I grow and realize that the world isn’t the sunny place I thought it was as a kid, the more I wished I had lived in that ignorant place a little longer…

  5. Jean Sanders March 25, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

    I was having an NPR Driveway moment listening to this commentary – except I was sitting in the parking lot at the grocery store and suddenly couldn’t listen any more – because I didn’t know that Patrick MacGoohan had died! I read the newspapers (really)and listen faithfully to NPR and watch BBC America and Jon Stewart. I don’t know how I missed this important event. Sure, I loved Secret Agent and Prisoner when I was growing up. I had a childhood where books meant the world, and the infrequent trip to the movies was always memorable. Mr. MacGoohan was the father in Thomasina, a pivotal Disney movie for me. You may have been practicing elvish, but I was trying to cross continents and time to grow up in Britain. I got to the UK eventually, but it wasn’t Scotland, I was not the witch in the glen, and it was 1979! (I took French in high school and college, and it only helps when I am watching films with subtitles.)
    It was a slower time, armchair travel was a grand way to gain experience.

  6. Jack March 25, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    While I agree with you in general — as yet another person who knows it was indeed Majel Barrett — I have to point out that if you had spent more time learning how to talk to girls back then, you might not have ended up with the perfect girl you found…

  7. Laura March 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    I see it all as kind of a multi-level balancing act. There’s geekdom and familydom and academia-dom and lots of other dumb and not-so-dumb doms, and we spend a lot of our lives looking for the balance in all of that. The hard thing I’m learning now is that in order to be famously great at something you (generally) have to focus on that to the near exclusion of everything else. …. And because I love all the parts of my life, I choose to life in the middle striving to find a good balance!

  8. matt March 27, 2009 at 11:33 am #


    Your time learning Elvish (or Melnibonian) were well worth it. If you hadn’t used your imagination then, you probably wouldn’t be using it now. And there were worse things you could have been reading:


    John Rogers:

    There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

    There are a lot of Orcs in the real world–reading about them early allows us to identify them later.



  9. Mary F. Richards March 28, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    La langue des elfes Est la fran├žais. Chhhuuuutttt! C’est un secret…

  10. Nicholas Chase March 31, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    Peter, every once in a while you’re geekiness comes out (like when you have Carrie Fisher or Leonard Nimoy on Wait, Wait) and I smile. A lot. Because it’s really nice to know that people like me can succeed in the real world. I don’t know if you understand it any better than I do — I didn’t spend much time learning how to talk to girls either — but Jack’s right. Our “wasted” childhoods made us what we are, and I wouldn’t trade the magnificent woman I’ve been with for 22 years for a thousand dates with random girls in high school. She “gets” me. And I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

    When you live your own life, no matter what anybody else thinks (or thought way back when), life is good.

    —- Nick

  11. Rob Wynne April 8, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

    There’s a lot I could say, but someone far wiser than me said it best already:

    “I remember the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, in high school
    sometime. I read the last few pages, in which the hobbit Frodo sails in
    his old age for the lands of the West, where heroes go, the awful price
    of carrying the ring and breaking the back of darkness paid at last. I
    went out onto the patio of my parent’s house, and I stood for a long time,
    looking at the sunset. No story, no history, no instructive biography or
    sermon had ever made me feel the way I felt then: that humanity had an
    infinite capacity for nobility, for goodness, for strength used with wisdom
    and informed by mercy, and that I was part of that.”
    –Emma Bull, “Why I Write Fantasy” (1990)

  12. AmyR May 20, 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    Peter, you know what the great thing is about being a geeky kid, then growing up to be an NPR celebrity? Now you have cute, closet-geek, NPR-listening, 20something fangirls who have crushes on you. We’re the younger version of all those middle aged ladies who go on about Carl being so dreamy.

    p.s. – You know who would be fun to hear on Wait Wait’s Not My Job? The blogger who writes Stuff White People Like. I can’t decide whether to feel comforted or frightened that he seems to know everything about me, and makes fun of it.