“My life is not that interesting … The work … is a fascination.” – Janis Ian
I turned fifty today.
I’m not ashamed and I’m not proud. But I sure am grateful.
And I’m an open-faced baby book. I’m vulnerable enough to be scammed by the velvet-skinned Ukrainian at the tawdry mall in Tampa. She sells me dead sea cream for my parched and soapy crows feet on the correct assumption that I look “42.” That’s her unaided answer. And it’s topped off with the credible validation that “my eyes look older.” That qualifier kicked in once she was trying to sell me the eye treatment on top of the skin lotion. I paid for one performance and she tossed in the catsup-like ointment samples with the limited time discount card.
Like I said, sure am grateful.
I can drive a mile of happiness around the same city block of my daily business. I don’t covet more stuff or more love. I don’t engender a love of stuff. I’m not hurting for novelty. And I still welcome new experience — especially ones that fight the insatiable hunger that consumes most mortals exposed to the advertising of a Western-style deity. That’s the life cut short routine based on too much salt, smoke, sucrose, sun and bodily fluids for which no tonic can chase them out or flush them down.
Leaving a lifeless body on earth means leaving a lively body of work as well. That’s where the fifty-plus birthday sizes flip the tables over on the inducements of our disease strains. Capturing the teaching of timeless lessons increases the shelf life of our outputs. More importantly, every striving towards each achievement is cheating on the indiscriminate death that looks us in the eye whether we choose to stare back or check our messages.
So hello fifty. Hello AARP discount card offers. Hello reading glasses, and lowering registers, and thinning toenails, and saturated bladders. The road home is shorter than the journey-defining ambitions that have risen to meet that road. And as I focus on the responsibility to my survival skills, I accept those birthday gifts with a vow to: (a) use them and, (b) not fixate on the sheet I’m throwing over on these changes -for-keeps.
I will maintain one version of the same story that I recount to strangers, ex-spouses, colleagues, and lasses working the kiosks of downscale malls. It is the key to a moral hygiene necessary to honor the ownership of the gift. It is not the fear of God but the light of wisdom that tells us straight:
Honesty — no matter how self-evident – is not bland.
Diplomacy — no matter how delicate — is not a foreign tongue to the trained ear.
Being accountable for one’s life experience is to gain fluency in a resurgent dialect we now call transparency. Some of us even see technology as a force for good in a network that regards control as a problem to work around.
Even in an offline state there is a lightness to the shedding of youth. This is the liberation of self-restraint. It is no more limiting to experience than buffering our impulses with forethought is a threat to self-expression. Past ages have chiseled notebooks to grapple with ashes and dust. We’ve gone digital to the cloud and immortality is still about the ideas and the work — not the vessels who burnish them into books.