I was watching my nine month old son this morning. He has just taught himself to stand by grabbing the struts of his cot and pulling himself upright. When he achieves this, he burbles and howls with happiness, does a little staggering dance and raises his hand in the air like a footballer who has just scored the winning goal in the last seconds of a World Cup final. He is clearly very happy indeed with the achievement of standing upright. Needless to say, I don’t feel (or behave) the same way when I drag myself from my bed and plant my feet on the floor in the morning. Achieving the vertical does not fill me with glee the way it does young Will, although I most likely felt the same way about it back in the day and just cannot remember.
This got me thinking about how often this happens in life. When I sold my first story to a professional magazine way back in September 1987, I was over the moon, buzzed for days. It felt like a titanic achievement and a huge personal validation. Needless to say, I don’t feel quite that way when I sell a short story now. It’s nice but it’s just part of the business.
I felt the same gigantic burst of enthusiasm when I sold my first novel. I don’t feel anything like the buzz now that I have sold more than twenty.
Yesterday evening, quite late, I somewhat unexpectedly finished a novel I have been writing, on and off, for over six years. I was very happy but I was not ecstatic the way I once would have been.
It’s kind of sad, isn’t it? We get accustomed to what we have and we lose sight of the fact that it was once so important to us.
I know I am not unique in this. It happens to everybody. You get a raise and you’re happy but the happiness does not last. You buy a new computer, a car or a house and you are happy for a bit but then it fades as you get used to your new treasure. Scientists even have a phrase to describe this process, hedonic adaption, which is basically just a fancy way of saying our minds adapt themselves to our surroundings.
Watching the baby this morning I started to think that it is wrong to be so blasé about our triumphs small or large, that it might be good to stop for a moment and remember where we once were and how far we have come. Looking back 25 years to when I sold Visiting the Dead to Interzone and remembering how happy that made me is a cheering thought. Maybe now is a good time to celebrate the fact I am living the dream I had when I was little more than a decade older than my son and to remember that I got here a bit at a time, in small stages, like a baby pulling himself up the side of a cot and that sometimes it was difficult but I got here in the end, and I should be grateful for that.
Today is a good day to celebrate even a small achievement like writing a thousand words or selling a single e-book or getting out of bed and standing upright. It’s even better if there’s something large to celebrate like finishing a book. Now, excuse me, I am going to go and do a little dance and punch my fist in the air and maybe shout and burble a bit.