As I sit at my desk at the office it strikes me that I’m not so much being an adult as I am pretending to adult. Sure, I’m meeting my quotas, building beautiful slides in many, many briefing decks, putting a roof over my head, paying the bills, and keeping a number of small creatures alive. It doesn’t feel like that’s all that high of a bar to pass over. Particularly when I’m so often doing some or all of those things on autopilot.
That leaves me wondering how to define the core mission of being a adult. What characteristics define success? If the baseline is pay taxes and stay out of prison it’s straight forward enough. Alternately if the minimum level of entry is being able to provide for and sustain another human life into adulthood, I’m not even racing on the same track. In fact I’ve spent two decades driving at great and reckless speed away from that track. What then are the defining characteristics of adulthood? Is it merely a function of age? Is it behavior? Is it something intangible?
Since my real goal is to mostly maximize the amount of time I get to be home with my nose stuck in a book, or playing with the internet, or otherwise hiding from human interaction the point is largely an academic one. Even so, there are lots of people out there raising reasonably well adjusted children or doing important medical research or keeping a nuclear reactor running smoothly. Maybe any or all of them feel adultier than I do. Just now I’m not feeling any of it.
That’s not saying that I won’t do a fine job keeping up appearances. I’ll go through the motions and get most of them right, but just now I’m having a tough time shaking the feeling that the only major difference between the 1998 model Jeff and the 2016 variant is now I get less sleep, take a few more pills, and don’t need to show ID when I go to the liquor store. Maybe I should just change the definition of successful adulting and declare unilateral victory.
There are some conversations I only hear when I make the trip home to Western Maryland. This weekend, one of those overheard conversations started innocently enough – the usual checking in on mutual friends that happens when two people who haven’t seen one another in a while show up at the same place. It very quickly became obvious that it was a conversation better not had… because it went something like this:
Person 1: Have you seen Bob lately?
Person 2: Bob’s dead.
Person 1: Oh damn. What about Frank?
Person 2: Dead.
Person 1: What was his wife’s name?
Person 2: Bonnie. She moved to Florida and died.
Person 1: Pete?
Person 2: Stroke.
Person 3: Maybe you could just list the people not dead?
OK, so I made up Person 3… mostly because that’s what I was sitting there thinking while this conversation happened. It went on for another ten minutes, with every answer being that someone was dead, almost dead, in a nursing home, in a nursing home and almost dead, or moved to Florida.
I hate to think that in 35 years that’s the kind of conversation I can look forward to. In fairness, I’ll probably be one of the ones who has dropped dead by then so I’ll at least get to miss out on the most awkward small talk ever… and that my friends is the sound of going home.
While I’ve been fiddling around on the internet this week I’ve gotten a steady stream of reminders that friends from high school are becoming parents of high school graduates themselves. I’ll just sit here for a minute and let that sink in. Their kids are finishing something I feel like we just finished ourselves a few years ago… Except of course we didn’t. As I was reminded when I saw someone mention the impending arrival of our 20th high school reunion next summer. How exactly that happened, I have no idea. It’s like I turned around to get something on the other side of the room and 19 years snuck away while I wasn’t paying attention.
I won’t get into the realization that these days 50 is way closer than 15. Aside from the occasional ache and pain (and other assorted indignities), I don’t feel like that could possibly be true. It is, though. Don’t bother to consult a calendar. Trust me. It’ll be unnerving if you do the math.
So if you’ll excuse me I’ll shuffle off to the kitchen now to enjoy a refreshing glass of prune juice and see if my dentures need scrubbed.
Yesterday afternoon I passed a Buick going the opposite direction. Nothing unusual about that. It happens every day. What was unusual is that while it was approaching, I was struck by what a good looking vehicle it was. It wasn’t until it was well in the rear view that realized what just happened. I was looking at a Buick. And I thought it looked sharp. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I knew for sure middle age had her claws in me and she has no intention of letting go.
I’ve been ignoring the small aches and pains – like the sore back that’s been nagging me for two weeks now. Looking at a Buick as a viable automotive alternative, though, that hit home. So next weekend I think I’ll take a drive past the Chevy dealer to take a look at Corvettes. We all have to go, but no one ever said we had to go quietly.
This afternoon I’m heading to the 71st birthday party for one of the best bosses I’ve ever worked for. More than a boss, I’ve always considered this guy a friend. As much as this post should be about him, I think we all know that I’m going to find a way to twist it around and make it about me, instead. That’s just what happens when you have a healthy ego and your own domain name, I guess.
I initially didn’t give it any thought much past “Absolutely, I’ll be there.” Now that it’s had some time to simmer, of course, the idea of 71 is starting to sink in. Not that it’s an unusual age so much as it is that in a few months I’ll be blowing through the halfway point to that milestone. Yeah, that might have caused a “Whoa!” moment.
I don’t feel halfway there. I don’t really feel a quarter of the way there. Aside from the occasional aches and pains, the ongoing chemistry experiment that keeps me alive, and the fact that so many people around my age seem to have kids in high school, I don’t think I’d be aware that anything had changed at all.
If the birthday boy is any indication, apparently I can coast out the second half feeling exactly the same way. God knows that’s the game plan I’m looking to follow.
At just shy of the 35 year mark I’m starting to wonder if there’s ever a time when you can sit down in the house where you grew up and not be crammed into the 16-year-old-who-just-got-his-license role. Being pretty well along in life and having done ok in the job and education lottery, it makes for some tense moments and awkward silences. Or maybe it’s just me.
This weekend the Westmar High School Class of 1996 will celebrate its 15-year reunion. A decade and a half. Three lustra. Fifteen years. Nothing in terms of geologic time, of course, but long enough in the hear-and-now world. These five year anniversaries are as good a time for reflection as any and you know from reading that I’m not one to let a good anniversary pass without saying something sappy about it. So here it is …
I have a confession to make. I don’t feel all that different from the much younger version of myself. The thinking part of my brain keeps insisting that I should. That I should maybe feel like more of an adult somehow. I’ve added some paunch around the middle and lost more hair around the top, but I really feel pretty much like the same guy I was then. I mostly like the same food. I mostly like the same music (don’t judge me). A lot of the things that were important to me then are still the ones that are important to me now. Maybe I’m a little more moderate in my politics than I was when I was 18 and knew everything, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference because ultimately, I’m still me at the core.
I know there are plenty of Wildcats from that long-ago class who have their own high school age kids. There’s a thought that sticks with you. Surely they feel different, right? Metaphysically changed somehow by the passage of years and accretion of responsibility? I’ve been out there and seen whole big swaths of the world. I feel like I’ve seen it all… and I’ve mostly done it all. Sometimes to my own detriment, but always good for a “life experience” credit. I’ve done great things and I’ve had my self confidence shattered. Hell, sometimes it’s happened on the same day. But through it all, I don’t feel any different. Same guy, just with a few added layers of experience.
I get up in the morning, put on a sharp shirt and a tie and spend eight hours pretending that I’m a knowledgeable professional… but at heart I’m still the same guy who mostly wants to hang out with his friends and stay up too late shooting pool or sneak up to Frostburg to see a girl. Under the thin veneer of adulthood, I still like driving too fast and going to Denny’s at odd hours. If having a house, holding a steady job, and paying your bills is the defining characteristic of being “grown,” I’ve got it covered. If it’s some deeper change in your psyche, well, that’s a little more problematic.
It’s one of those deep thoughts I have lying in bed before sleep comes: Am I the only one who feels this way? Is everyone else really an adult inside their own head and I’m the only one who feels like he’s playing a part just well enough not to get caught? Maybe I am… in which case this entire post as served as nothing other than a 500-word admission of guilt. Surely I’m not the only one out there faking it, right? Even if we’re all not kids any more, I’m looking forward to seeing the old gang again.