In a week I turn 55.
Turning 30 was delightful; stationed in Germany, I took myself on a tour of the Benelux, and on the Big Day, wandered enchanted through the Kroller-Muller museum. I was thrilled to leave the twenties behind.
Turning 40 was sweet; we were in New Jersey, Sandy threw a party, and all had fun. I look back, and there were people at that party who no longer walk this planet, and I am so glad for every celebration behind me.
The big deal at 50 was not where we were (Florida–wow, did we really live there once upon a time?), but that I had reached an important goal: to be writing again by 50. It meant so much to me to see my essay about my friend David published in White Crane–my first literary publication. Only people who have published literary writing understand the hurdle (and the effort behind it) of that first piece, first drafted in 2005.
(An aside, writing-humor-style: the person who replied, “Oh yes, I’ve been meaning to write a short story one of these days,” as if short-form literary writing were an unskilled project of a long morning, like cleaning a gas grill. Yup, you try that. Send it in to the New Yorker–the go-to submission for people who know nothing about writing.)
But 55 is freaking me out!
I suspect the problem is the way I absent-mindedly do “birthday arithmetic,” which is probably a holdover from a very early job as a records clerk at San Francisco Juvenile Court, where we filed records by the Soundex system, which had my brain doing small calculations all day long.
My birthday algorithm is this: double the age and decide if I’ll be alive.
I could easily see turning 60, as far away as it seemed. 80 was definitely within reach, given my hale family. 100 was remotely feasible, given advances in medicine, even though no one in my family had lived that long. But 110 — that seems entirely out of reach. I know people who are nearly 100, but I don’t know anyone who is close to approaching 110.
I realize birthday arithmetic is completely illogical. The arbitrary doubling of my current age is a ridiculous exercise. But it makes as much sense, or lack of sense, as grown men weeping over an athletic team, or Canada releasing a stamp featuring the Kraken (which if anything hale from England), or anything about Justin Bieber.
My solution to birthday-arithmetic-angst is to double down on the life ahead of me: personally, professionally, spiritually.
I’m excited about New Zealand and plan to use next Friday as a work-from-home day (after 11 days of going to work, the natural rhythm of fall Orientation) to work on my presentation and my workshop. The former will be about radical optimism (I just finished Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism and highly recommend it) and the latter will be based on Reframing Academic Leadership.
At some point I’d like to collect my published essays into a book and offer it for sale. That’s a project where I wish I had a Life Intern (or one of those old-fashioned wives). I also greatly enjoyed writing an article for the library trade press (big thanks to Valerie and Karen at ALA!). At one point I didn’t want to do that any more because I wanted to reserve time for literary writing, but the latter is not happening. It isn’t demeaning to journalism to say it doesn’t lean as hard on my right brain. I found myself enjoying the rhythm of research, interview, synthesis, and writing–a pair of old slippers that fit perfectly after I dug them out of the back of the closet.
I’m occasionally attending an Episcopal church on Wednesday evenings, because I appreciate Sandy’s church leadership and yes, I attend many services, but she cannot be my pastor and her church is not my denomination. (Other pastor’s spouses will “get” what I mean.)
I’m also thinking strategically about the next 25 years of my working life: 15 in the regular full-time workforce, 10 as a consultant. Given my family’s lifespan, I will have another 5 to 10 years after that (if not more, due to aforesaid advances in medicine) where, oh, I don’t know, I can spend mornings writing, and in the afternoon emulate the woman on Packanack Lake in New Jersey who sat on her front porch in a rocking chair, eating potato chips and hollering at passers-by (Sandy and I agreed many years back we’d like to be like her someday). In the meantime, as I focus on the pre-potato-chip era, I am enjoying the sense that I’m not just rolling in every day but have a map in front of me and a bright flashlight shining on it.
Onward, the dreaded march!