J. Robert King

Ed Greenwood–Day 4

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Man

All the years I have known Ed, he has exhibited a kind of free-floating delight, a zest for life that I have always admired. I asked Ed whether this gusto was simply a character trait, or whether it was a conscious decision. Here is Ed’s illuminating response:

Ah, this is a big, important topic. I do delight in life, and yes, it is a conscious choice.

My mother died when I was six, and I grew up painfully shy, as well as being the stereotypical bespectacled nerd, much bullied at school. I entertained myself (mainly by reading, but also by people-watching, mainly older people) for hours and hours, alone, and did not have a “happy childhood.”

Because of the loss of my mother, in my early years I was raised by grandmothers and aunts assisting my father, and they were much older, wiser people who were beginning to feel their ages, and who had spent lives forced in various directions by two world wars with the Depression in between; they used to say such things to me as “Every day that passes is one day of your life gone, that you can never have back.” and “So many marched away, and never came back. They never got to have lives, they died before they could marry or climb their mountains. Whatever you want to do, do it now, don’t put it off; the day may never come.”

One of my uncles (actually a cousin, but so much older than me that he was a “courtesy uncle”) was Uncle George, or W.G. Hardy, a distinguished Canadian writer of historical novels and the bicentennial history of the Canadian province of Alberta (he was the first chancellor of the University of Alberta). I remember him as a great guy, full of (true) stories about driving around the Mediterranean with Hemingway and all sorts of other capers from his youth. He told me more than once, “You can write about it better if you’ve done it. So drive a speedboat, paddle a canoe, parachute jump, paint a painting, gallop on a stallion, make love on a tombstone—oh, and don’t tell your parents I told you any of this.”

I decided that this was great advice, and as my (dragged along regardless of my wishes, initially) participation in a church choir had begun to get me over acute stage fright and used to performing in public, I decided to try all sorts of things, and not to shy away from having to do anything. An approach to life that has led me to try all sorts of crazy things, nearly get myself killed any number of times, and happily ham it up in public, from hosting on-air radio shows to acting to giving speeches at big conventions (for bookselling and for sf and for librarians, not just gaming). The more I participated in life with jovial gusto, the more fun it all was, and the more fun I brought to other people. So long as I stayed sensitive to when people just wanted to be alone or quiet or to rest, I could brighten up their day by what I said and did, by being “up” and positive rather than morose.

And, by jingo, it works! You can drive people nuts by irritating them as an overly loud “Cheerful Charlie,” yes, but you can also cheer people up and make friends more easily and be good company—and it makes everyone happier. And you know, I don’t think there’s a higher calling in life, than making lots of people happy by being kind to them, by being friendly, by lending an understanding listening ear, by helping out when you can.

At more than one GenCon, I’ve taken painfully shy people, as I once was (and really still am, inside), and just casually towed them over to meet game writers and designers or just folks in striking costumes they’ve been “dying inside” to meet, but were too shy to approach. It’s wonderful to make someone’s day, it really is—and although conventions can be physically exhausting, the emotional boost I get from making others happy makes me happy for weeks afterwards. Literally.

February 4th, 2010
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One Response to “Ed Greenwood–Day 4”

  1. Steven Says:

    Great advice, Ed! And you’re definitely someone I want Oscar to look up to as an example of a good man, a remarkable friend, and a well-lived life.


    PS: Rob, you’re on that short list too for the same reasons. 🙂

    PPS: Have I mentioned how blessed I feel to have such wonderful colleagues and friends dear to me and mine?

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