First off, let me say thank you to everyone who took a few minutes over the weekend to text, email, or post birthday wishes. I’m happy to report that the day arrived and passed quietly. As you might expect, fanfare, parties, and being the center of real world attention aren’t really my style.
I don’t think I’ve really “celebrated” a birthday since I turned 21. I’ve noted them, of course, and measured my progress against their passing. I use to hate birthdays, now I just kind of nod in acknowledgment as they pass. Simple. Dignified. And above all quiet.
I’ll admit that 41 lacked the gulping existential horror with which I faced 40. That one was hard to get my mind wrapped around. This latest iteration of the day, not so much. This one was (hopefully) just another waypoint en route to further destinations that are still over the horizon.
Looking not all that far down the line, fifty feels like it could be a real gut punch – though part of me thinks if you’re fortunate enough to hit that milestone maybe your outlook on birthdays starts improving. The “big one” after that is 57 – a long range goal way out in 2035 to be sure, but one that feels a lot closer than it use to. If all the Junes between now and that far off date are waypoints, I’m hoping all of them after that are gravy.
Maybe it sounds odd to spend time thinking about the 50th or 57th so soon after the 41st, but to me it feels like the perfect chance to do a little reflection on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to be headed in the future… and now that it’s out of my system for another year, we can get back to observing the passing world with boundless snark and cynicism.
Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.
Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.
It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.
I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.
Six or so years ago I found myself limping around the house, the office, the grocery store, basically everywhere. It wasn’t quite agony, but it wasn’t pleasant. A trip to my primary care doctor and a referral to a orthopedic specialist later, the diagnosis was plantar fasciitis. It’s a problem of the ligaments of the foot, which tends to cause intense pain after sleeping and long periods of sitting, both of which are activities I participate in on a daily basis. The basic fix was some over the counter anti-inflammatory, some icing, staying off the thing as much as possible, and a fancy set of orthotic inserts for my shoes. It’s all part of my look as the world’s youngest 70 year old man.
Mostly the inserts and an occasional handful of ibuprofen do the trick to stave off any further issues. About once a year though I unwittingly do something to aggravate the hell out of the little bundle of ligaments… at which point I’m right back to limping around from place to place and generally trying to keep off the damned thing as much as possible. It seems that this week is that magical time of year.
So if you see me gimping across the parking lot or I don’t stand up to greet you, a) I’m ok and b) don’t take it personally. I once heard it said that getting old ain’t for sissies. The older I get – and the more wear and tear I inflict on myself – the more I’ve come to appreciate that statement. For good or bad we’re all living in bodies that were designed by biology to last 35 or 40 years, seed the next generation, and then make way for them. We’ve pushed that frontier back through the audacity of our science… but the bits and pieces that wear out and break down along the way are a real pisser.
I’ve often wondered how it is that old people lose touch with technology – whether that’s the eternal flashing 12:00 of a generation of VCRs to or the firm instance that GPS will never take the place of a glovebox full of paper maps.
Once upon a time, I could build my own computer. Sure, I bought the components off the shelf and wasn’t making my own chips or anything, but I knew the specs I wanted, knew where to order them, and was able to slap the whole bit together into a functioning PC. I haven’t tried (or really even been tempted) to do that since the late 1990s. It stopped being a cost effective use of time. Easier to buy the whole rig off the shelf and go to work.
This afternoon I finally accepted that maybe it was time to update my iPhone playlists – that I probably haven’t substantively changed since the days when I had a Memphis address. First things first, it almost feels like with the bevy of streaming services available now, the whole idea of having a self-curated playlist may be a little old fashioned. It’s like having a bookshelf full of CDs or 45s. Its existence is a throwback to an earlier time. That’s when the first light of recognition came on – the way I like my media delivered is on the verge of being utterly overcome by the march of progress. I like having my “own” copy of my music – even if it’s just a digital representation. I made it from cassette tapes to CDs to mp3s and Winamp skins, to iTunes, but after four format changes, it seems I’m beginning to resist the onrushing future.
I wonder if this is how it starts to go off the rails for me. Am I going to wake up some morning in 2045 and wonder why I can’t make my 20 year old Mac Mini work. Are printers going to someday be as rare as 8-track players? Is this where tech abandons me to the future as I grow more and more entrenched with only the technologies that I fully understand?
I don’t want to be that guy who thinks of every device as a damned infernal contraption. There’s some way to head that off, right? Some magic bullet that will let us stay attuned to what the kids these days are up to?
I’m not ready to live in a world where the best device I ever bought is one I have already.
1. Creeping middle age. I’ve always been ok with going to bed sore. That was just the sign of a good productive day. Now that I’m waking up with sore shoulders, a sore back, sore hips, and even more tired than I was when I went to bed. I vaguely remember a time when sleep was restful. I wonder if it ever will be again.
2. When it’s too good to be true. At two acres of sweeping, manicured lawn, the back third naturally wooded, and a house that looked like every piece of it was designed by a master craftsman, I wondered a bit at the price point. I assumed it was a murder house or something. Under the circumstances I don’t think that would have been a deal breaker. What was a deal breaker, however, was pulling the zoning map and discovering that the property backed up to a large open field… that was designated as a dumping ground for the material that was dredged dredged out of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. According to nice folks at the EPA, this practice has led to a bit of contamination of the local groundwater sources. Sure, the state is going to pipe in municipal water, but there’s just something disagreeable about living next door to a site that probably a few regulatory changes away from being eligible for Superfund. Remember kids, when it sounds too good to be true, it’s just a matter of figuring out why. In this case, I’ll just blame the Corps of Engineers… at least it’s a feeling I’m use to.
3. Being the middle man. I find myself caught at least once a week between the demands and desires of my local management and the corporate guidance I receive from “oh high.” Occasionally it would be nice if those two groups ever wanted the same thing. As it is, I mainly find myself in the service of two masters. From long experience I know the reality of things is that it’s generally best to follow the lead of the boss closest to you. They’re the one who can cause the most pain or dispense favor with the most largesse… but the reality is when you find yourself serving two masters you’re not serving either particularly well.
Sure, I’ve been a curmudgeon for as long as I can remember, but the flood of pictures this weekend of many, many of my friend’s kids heading off to homecoming left me feeling a bit like I’d stepped through the looking glass. I mean weren’t we the ones going to those dances just a year or two ago? It’s inconceivable that anyone I grew up with could be old enough to comment about their offspring’s high school milestones.
Despite my 9PM bed time, constant state of near exhaustion, and the nagging aches and pains that seem to accompany me everywhere now, I don’t feel like all that much time has passed. I don’t feel that far separated from our younger selves. Maybe I’m better informed, a little more cynical, and a lot more medicated, but I still feel a strong connection to that dopy, awkward version of me.
Seeing so many of the next generation on the cusp of adulthood themselves is absolutely inconceivable. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be busy rejecting reality… and possibly checking to see if we can get a group discount if we all order our Life Alert systems at the same time.
1. The inconveniences of middle age. Knee problems. Back problems. Shoulder problems. Wrist problems. Mercifully they all come and go, but I know deep down they’re all there lurking under the surface and waiting for the perfect excuse to put in appearance. I’m really beginning to hate the mornings when I wake up with a sore “something” for no apparent reason. I can see an injury if I were out toting, lifting, or hauling, but an injury from just laying there for six hours? Yeah. That happens more often than I want to admit. It’s definitely a problem I didn’t have 20 years ago… and it makes me a little nervous about what it’s going to feel like 20 years from now.
2. Tharp’s Law. For me, a full work week consists of 40 hours on the job. Now generally, I’m at my most productive – that is, actually generating usable products and service – when I’m actually at my desk doing a little bit of what we like to call analysis. Reading, writing, distilling information from multiple sources into a consistent and coherent thread of an idea. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. When I’m not so productive is when the scale tips and I’m spending more than half my time preparing for, attending, or writing summaries of meetings. This week, it’s been well over half the available time. Therefore, the fundamental truth of Tharp’s Law is as follows: For every hour spent prepping for, attending, or summarizing a meeting, you’ve lost an hour of productive time that you’re never going to get back and in which actual work will never occur. It’s a simple 1:1 ratio and it’s constant as the speed of light (in a vacuum).
3. Third things. Sometimes there are no third things because the first two are exhausting and one of the two makes your wrist hurt.