50th Birthday Blog

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.

50

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.

tucson2

See?

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?

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The Bubble

I’ve come to terms with the fact that my friend lived a good life.  He helped me, and I shouldn’t  speak for others, but it’s obvious I wasn’t the only one.  With advice.  With kindness.  That he killed himself shy of his 50th birthday does not negate that.  It was one chapter of his life, and the culmination of a struggle over which he prevailed for almost 50 years.  We all struggle.  And we all die. That’s what we all have in common.

I don’t even pretend not to be angry at him.  But he didn’t ruin everything.  What there was between us was between him and me and I won’t taint it by allowing other people to judge whether it seemed important or not.  We worked together, in a small room, in the same profession, in the same role at the same company.  And at least during some limited bubble of our lives inside which it was only us, we trusted each other.  And I can think about what I learned from him and I don’t need to forget it because of how he left.  That would be suicide.

Typing

Listening to Monk Alone while typing.  Yes typing. Think about how much more productive typing is than writing.  When a writer “writes” a writer also thinks and reads and surfs, and watches people and drinks coffee and listens to music and eats bagels and pretends to be other people in the coffee shop making up entire lives in his head and thinks about the day and the next day, and yesterday …

And sometimes one just needs to say to him, TYPE.

Everyone wants to be free

I’m not a rule breaker. I recognize that many rules were created because they worked well for somebody else, but still, I feel this enormous pressure to do what they did.

I am so focused on my daughter’s college or not college decision (yes college or not) because of what it would have meant to me when I was her age. I knew what I wanted then, but I didn’t know that I knew, and therefore I was easily shaken of all confidence once I got there. I don’t want that for her.

I want her to go to college, but I want more that she knows what she wants and acts on it with conviction. I want her to say, “fuck you dad, only I know what’s right for me.”

I wish I had said that, but to who? Probably myself. “Fuck you self. You don’t know what I want.”

She and I, still (it’s never too late, is it?), need to do what we know is right for each of us. We need to say “fuck you,” to the world, “you’re not the boss of me.”

I honestly don’t know what’s right for her. If I thought I did it would make it harder to back off. It’s hard anyway. I’m scared to seem like I am encouraging either choice. But I find myself needing to tell her that it is ok to decide on the less conventional, and that feels like an encouragement. I even showed her the Robert Frost poem.

And she is not the type that has always yearned for freedom the way Robert Frost and I have, or is she? Isn’t everyone? Who doesn’t want to be free?

You CAN go home again

I started to re-read “You Can’t Go Home Again,” by Thomas Wolfe, and then I decided not to.  I read it when I was in my 20s. What I remembered was that George Webber, whose name I didn’t remember, had a love affair with a married woman.  And everyone he grew up with hated him, save one, because he characterized them, let’s say, honestly, in his first novel.  The only one who never turned against him was a baseball player who promised he would read the book and never did.

I’ve always been proud to have read it because “you can’t go home again,” is something one says, and I wanted to know where it came from, and whether it’s true.

It’s a book I thought writers should read, because George Webber is a writer.  And I thought that once couldn’t possibly be enough for a book worth reading, or a movie worth watching (or a life worth living?)  But I was wrong.  Once was enough.

There are books I like better that I can read again, like Allegient, by Veronica Roth (kidding).

The thing is, I think you can go home again.  If you’ve been there done that, then you can relive it, at least in your soul.  It becomes part of who you are and you take it everywhere, as if you are, essentially, always home.  You just have to recognize it.  I think that the entire purpose of being on earth is to remember who we already are, and to go home again.

On Being Moody

I’m always thinking that I need more time alone, but that’s just my way of blaming others for my failures.  Why do I want solitude?

It’s because I’m not willing to be moody in front of people. If I’m going to be an artist, I’m going to have to be moody.  Artists get into these funks, particularly when they’re working. If I’m not willing to show my ass to my family, then I might as well give up.

What would they think of me? Would they think I was an asshole? Eventually I think they’d learn that writers are just like that sometimes. Because it matters to them.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m writing, what does it look like I’m doing?”

“It looks like you’re looking.”

“That’s because you came in here and interrupted me and I lost my train of thought.”

“Sorry.”

It’s a start.

Tell Us How You Really Feel

Phil Robertson, of the Duck Dynasty, and this may be an understatement, is somewhat ignorant about homosexuality.  The only real sin, after all, is hurting somebody.  Nevertheless we want to know what he thinks, about homosexuality and other things, like what makes black people happy, and how all great evils, like the NAZIs and the Japanese, resulted from not being Christian. And let’s be fair, he may have known some black people who were happy despite being poor. Good for them.

Bottom line is we should want to know what he thinks, not so we can punish him, but so we can teach him something.  Whether he chooses to learn or not, others can also share in the lesson. In fact, his statement put the world to listening for a response, and it is the perfect opportunity to craft one.

And should we really blame him for saying what he thinks?  If he doesn’t say it he will never be challenged.  This is true for us as well. If we don’t express what we really believe, no one will ever argue with us and we will lack the chance to appreciate another’s perspective.  We are all ignorant of something.

So, I don’t think A&E should fire him, or suspend him or punish him in any way.  These are his opinions.  Instead they should release a statement, their opinion, which hopefully would go something like this (and just in case they want it I hereby give them permission to use what I am about to suggest word for word):

“The views that Phil Robertson recently expressed in an interview with GQ magazine, that homosexuality is a sin, that it is illogical and equated with bestiality are not shared by A&E.  We consider his statements to be born of ignorance and as a company we stand in support of diversity and of the rights people should have to live their lives as they see fit.  This is not a reproach of Christianity, but to the belief that Jesus wants us to judge homosexuality, a belief that we do not share.  Nevertheless, we do not consider it our responsibility to censure Mr Robertson from expressing his views, but rather would use this opportunity to foster a debate that might change minds.  We consider it our obligation to respond to the statements made by one of our own, to make clear where we stand, and to encourage others to do the same.  In the words of Ira Glasser, former director of the American Civil Liberties Union, “the answer to bad speech is not less speech, but more speech.”

It might piss off some of Duck Dynasty’s supporters, but if Robertson has free speech, so do we all.  That said, the Constitution only protects him from the government.  A&E has no obligation to give anyone a voice, if they don’t think it serves their purpose. They can, if they desire, respect the spirit of free speech, but if the audience doesn’t like what they produce, it doesn’t matter the reason. It’s not their business to lose money.  So I’m not saying A&E has any obligation to do anything in particular, just that I think this would be the best route.

I read the article.  His views were not any different than those we have heard over and over often from political candidates. Are we supposed to pretend they don’t exist by making people like Phil Robertson shut up?  He has little influence to do anything but foster debate, which we can use to turn public opinion.  It’s not like he’s the President, or a Senator, or Congressman, or Governor.  Them we have to be more concerned about.

Phil Robertson makes duck calls and has a reality show.  He’s a character, good and bad.   I was not particularly surprised by anything he said.  Was anyone?