There are many milestones when it comes to aging. 16 (driving), 18 (adultishness), 25 (first million, right?), 30 (wait, no millions yet?), 40 (nevermind) and onward…
Then the big ones—most of which land at the beginnings of decades. Like turning 50. This is my new decade as of yesterday. Am I pleased about it? Well, besides being cheap fodder to feed the deadline monster, suddenly turning 50, has afforded me a certain kind of age-related relief.
Whatever I do now—no matter how behind the curve or outre my plan—my efforts take on a kind of “bucket list” gravitas. Or not. No one cares but me. And the merry dranksters (typo intended) who join me on these Quixotic adventures.
Age has evacuated my ambition, leaving only my own cockeyed aesthetic aspirations with which to work. I no longer have the need, nor the opportunity—if I ever did—to “make it.” Now, what my collaborators and I achieve is what we make it. Like literally—we make, and do…and make do. And it gets done.
My rubric for success hearkens back to before I had any understanding of selling out, which my generation abhorred but I was always desperate to do because I needed to feed my ego and later my kids.
The question I ask myself is whether or not my 16-year-old self would respect who I am now. Perhaps not the most mature policy, but definitely the purest—never is anyone more clear-eyed about why adults suck than at 16.
And the answer is, yes, my 16-year-old self would approve of the general contours of my life thus far (but, no, I will not buy him alcohol, so don’t ask, kid).
I wasn’t a child prodigy, but I was clever and canny, though I eventually had to reckon with the fact that I was just another kid from Petaluma trying to be someone not from Petaluma. As a friend of mine later put it, I was “a fast kid in a slow town, but in a fast town I would’ve been a slow kid.”
Now I’m 50. And I can say that I’m precisely who I expected to be. As e.e. cummings wrote in a poem I first read in my teens, a “coward, clown, traitor, idiot, dreamer, beast—such was a poet and shall be and is.”
I’ve gotten close a few times (and have the singed feathers to prove it), but the thing about stories like mine it seems, is that, no matter how they end, they get better with age.