Friday, November 03, 2006

Personal Essay - Forty Orbits

I hardly ever make a big deal out of my birthday. No blowouts with friends, no parties. Perhaps this antipathy shares its source with my natural aversion to the sound of applause. Nor will I make much of it today, even though I have just completed 40 journeys around the sun. Most likely I’ll go see a comedian in a pub with a friend or two, just to break up my routine. But no celebrations. I’ve made no effort to remind anybody of the day’s significance because there’s really nothing significant about it, much less the arbitrary importance given to a mulitple of ten. I suppose that some time during the evening, after a few drinks, I may mention something; but then again, I may not. We’ll see.

It hasn’t always been that way. I used to see the importance of making one day special for myself, using it like others do as a form of blackmail that my intimates should be kind to me. But over time, I came to view such kindness as hollow compared to the spontaneous, non-obligatory kind. Thus was my transformation to cynicus natalis.

Nevertheless, I do have to acknowledge that there have been moments in my life when I’ve found the universe to be somewhat magical, and many of those moments have coincided with various birthdays. Very often, these episodes involved affectionate priestesses from the Cult of Woman, their appearance as sudden and iconic as a lady appearing out of a cake, but without the cake. In the interest of good taste and decency, it will suffice to say here simply that the events I refer to had a resemblance to the supernatural and –on at least one occasion—the superhuman. It could be that the perceiver –namely I—was more apt to project mystique into the events, but their effect was no less appreciated for that. I suppose that what I’m trying to say is: Nothing beats a birthday gift from The Gods. And I sure hope I haven’t jinxed myself this evening by mentioning this here.

Perhaps it’s through some reflection of society, but –despite any distaste I may have for premeditated fanfare—a part of me feels that today should be marked by some novel act. Thus, I have started a blog, and a passing curiosity has of this moment been amplified into actual participation. The main reason why can be summarized by a quote from the character Sir Randolph Nettleby, played by James Mason in The Shooting Party. As he writes away in his journal, his grandson asks him what he’s writing. “Oh, just my thoughts,” he mutters. When the boy asks him why he writes them down, Nettleby answers, “To save myself the trouble of sharing them with others.” I paraphrase. It’s been 20 years since I saw the film.

That’s another strange thing. The idea that it could have been 20 years since I experienced some thing significant enough to remember in a mature and pertinent conversation, something other than a crisis involving a certain sibling or toy. It doesn’t seem long ago at all that 20 years ago was before I was born, part of a time when people looked and behaved like the actors on Dragnet, people so alien that they were virtually of a separate species than me. But now, that same yardstick reaches back only to a time when I was still an adult, however rudimentary. The equivalent measure touches an era when I ineptly fumbled with the fairer sex and was inherently incapable of managing any responsibility, a stage of life in which I was not much different than I am now.

Somehow, I am not what I expected to be at this age, though in all my imaginings, I never really dedicated any thought toward the future. Sure, there have been dreams, expectations, but nothing that really involved any concrete plans. Still, instinctively, I envisioned myself a little wiser and not so wracked by insecurity and doubt. In many ways, it’s good that I haven’t stepped into the pipe-puffing tweed world that I subconsciously anticipated. I like that I don’t feel that I have all the answers, that my outlook is fresh and only slightly wizened. I like that I’m shamelessly inquisitive and can talk comfortably with people of all ages, especially the youth, who find me accessible and, on occasion, even sexually attractive. Yet, I look around me at what other people do and wonder if perhaps I’m going about things the wrong way.

Inevitably and reluctantly, my thoughts drift toward the future. If the next ten years pass as rapidly –or most likely, more rapidly—than the past ten, I will soon be puttering about in an aggrieved state imposed upon me by a withering mortality and sagging genitals. All of my friends –who tread a traditional, more conservative path—will have made their final mortgage payments while I, at 50, will still be making sojourns to the shoe store with my mother. Given my current trajectory, in ten years I see myself sitting on a park bench trying to entice college girls to partake in excellent marijuana and a cheap but cheerful bottle of merlot while at the same time scolding their ignorance of Iggy Pop or the Violent Femmes. In some respects, it sounds pretty good.

However, if I should choose to avoid this demise, drastic action is called for. What form this action would take, I don’t know. Perhaps I might finally invest my energies in some sort of business enterprise, one which doesn’t require any form of fiscal or moral responsibility. I could become a lobbyist or a drug-dealer, for example. Perhaps an extortionist or some sort of charlatan, such as an executive in the advertising or entertainment industry. Before making any decision, it seems that more study and market research are in order.

Whether these concerns are invoked by the official advent of middle-age or by a recent transition to fatherhood, I cannot say. Without a doubt, the greatest thing in my life at the moment is my son. At two and a half years old he’s remarkably easy and extraordinarily reasonable. And though his original nature has little to do with me, I can’t help but feel that, at least in one respect, I’m doing something well. But, as most every parent feels, I’m sure, it’s not enough to be merely a patient friend and adviser. It’s for him, and only for him, that I presently worry about material stability.

Thus are the thoughts that drift through my head today. While true that some people feel the need to be depressed on their fortieth birthday, I can’t help but be indifferent. In East Asia, a baby is one year old at birth, zero being an impossible age. Depending on your cultural perspective, I’m actually forty-one. If I were going to be depressed, it should have been a year ago. Also in East Asia, old age is seen as a venerable state of wisdom. Far from entertaining maudlin reflections, they actually rejoice at the elevation in status, much like Americans do at 18, when they’re old enough to vote and die overseas in the interests of the military-industrial complex.

A very wise friend once convinced me that the only thing you can truly control is your attitude. But fortunately I don’t really need to draw on that advice today. Because, in all honesty, when I ask myself, What does it mean to be forty? The answer is easy. Nothing at all.

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