If living to 100 is the same as getting all As in school, a perfect GPA, that explains why most people don’t. Of course, there are a few who manage to live beyond a hundred. They must have done some extra credit for the ultimate teacher (or maybe they did something wrong, and had to stay after class – it all depends on how you look at it). But 100 should still be the gold standard.
Maybe it just satisfies that side of me that likes things to be easily divisible, I don’t know. But I think turning 50 is like halftime; take a break, a party and a show, and start fresh.
Or course we all know those, among our friends and family, that weren’t fortunate enough to make it through the first half. Let’s remember them as we also recognize that most of us won’t make it all the way through the second, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a hundred years for which we should plan. Even if it is unlikely that I make it that far, or that I’ll understand what’s happening when I do, that doesn’t negate the notion that fifty can be a hell of a midpoint, because the first ten years or so (maybe fifteen or twenty) are certainly formative. We can shave off years at the beginning and the end, when we calculate how long we have to work on ourselves and fifty can still be the midpoint of the meaty years in between.
What can I do now?
Can I suddenly become the person I failed to be in the first half? I say yes. Because I see the seeds. I am already growing in ways I had begun to think I couldn’t, without even realizing it was happening. I have achieved things I thought I had missed out on. So often I have looked back at my college years, for instance, as my daughter begins her own college stint, and wished I had been less shy, had opened up to friends, had more fun, allowed myself to be more emotionally intimate, if you will, more honest. But those four (ok, six) years were not the only opportunity I had for that, even though we are sometimes led to believe they are supposed to be the best years of our lives. I am living, now, much of what I wished I had lived then, in a close knit community in which I have friends in nearby dorms (houses), who I hang out with regularly, drinking beer and whiskey if we want to, playing poker and pool, or just hanging out listening to music (even sometimes playing it). And over time they have learned things about me that embarrass me, quite frankly, as I have of them, and we’re the closer for it.
So it isn’t too late.
Yes, I am who I wanted to be then, to a certain degree. Why not take it another step and finish some writing projects? Just because I have never done it before doesn’t mean that dreams aren’t attainable, even in, or especially in, the second half of life.
I’ve tried to celebrate turning fifty in many ways this year, and at every opportunity. It started in January with a trip to reconnect with old friends at the party of an old college chum, who I hadn’t seen in almost thirty years. Tim Vogl’s 50th birthday party in Tucson was awesome.
Then later in the year I flew to New York for my best man, Aaron’s, surprise party. And as, one by one, old friends on facebook dropped the bomb, I counted down. All year I enjoyed saying I am almost fifty, because I can celebrate but still not actually be there. And it pleases me somehow that, as one of the youngest in my class, I am also one of the last to fall. But now that the day is here, what exactly does it mean?
Nothing. Everything. Whatever you want it to mean. My grandmother was fifty the year I was born. She would have been a hundred this year. She didn’t quite make it all the way.
And it wasn’t that long ago that I put together a video for my mother-in-law’s 50th birthday, edited on a computer, which was not so easy then. My daughter, the one starting college this year, had already been born, she was two and a half, which means that it was only sixteen years ago. I’m only sixteen years younger than my mother in law? That can’t be right.
So what is in store for me? Well, I have a plan (don’t I always?) I plan to save because I don’t want to work past sixty-three, and I have some catching up to do. My mortgage will be paid off that year, all of my kids should be out of school and supporting themselves (cross your fingers), and if I can stay out of debt, I should be able to live on a budget.
But I’m not holding my breath for 13 years.
Between now and then I think I’ll write a few books. I don’t care if they’re good, at least not at first. Taking the advice of my new favorite online adviser on issues of writing, Ksenia Anske (she says she’s Russian, but she writes like a native), I’ll give them away for free, at least the electronic versions. Because until you have a large following you’re not going to make much money anyway, and you’re not going to gain a large following by charging people who never heard of you and who know you might not be any good. I’ve been thinking for years this is what musicians should do, so why not writers?
And as I contemplate all of this in my favorite coffee shop, trying to gain some kind of special perspective on age, I see little kids, laughing and giggling, banging sippy cups against the table, because they love the sounds that make us old people cranky. They act like they’re drunk but they’re not (at least I hope not). They have the capacity for joy that we sometimes lose, not just because life is no longer new to us, but, I think, because our bodies are older and we don’t physically feel as good as we used to.
So let me not forget how important it is, if I’m going to start anew, to feel good. It always was and it still is. So if that means I have to exercise, eat right, take vitamins, write more, and drink a little alcohol, like when I was a college student and the law still allowed drinking (yes, I’m that old), or even if I have to quit it when it comes time to do so, then it’s worth it. If it means I need to stay out of debt, in order to keep the stress at bay, then it’s worth it. If it means I need to care less what people think, be who I be and say what I think, then it’s worth it.
It’s about time, that’s what I say. It’s about time I turned 50. What was I waiting for?