Saturday, August 10, 2013

leaving 50
this month i will turn 51.  i have previously written about the concept of "aging backwards", and so have no desire to further espouse that topic.  however, i do suspect that it would be fun to explore the idea of "leaving the age of 50", especially since the incident of "becoming 50" initially caused me a certain amount of upset.  now i am aware that just because i think it would be fun for me to write about this, that does not guarantee that it will be fun for you to read.  therefore, i find myself with two tasks at hand:  discussing my taking leave of the age 50; and writing in such a way that you, the reader, are entertained.

i am up to both tasks, let me assure you.  i will start right out of the gate by attending to the latter.

i am having fun these days.  like, really having fun.  this is due, in large part, to the fact that i left my job at whole foods nearly four months ago.  it is also due, to a lesser degree but no less substantially, to the fact that it is summer.  summer in los angeles.  it is difficult for me to imagine my "alternate life" as it would look right now--you know the life i am talking about--the life where i moved to san francisco in may.  while it is summer in san francisco as well, to my best knowledge,  i am sure that many will agree with me that the experience of summer in the two cities are markedly different.  namely, it generally feels like summer in los angeles, as opposed to up north, where summer is so often merely an implication.

this difference lends itself to a whole jumble of fun that is somewhat unique to southern california.  may i list a few...?
...days without putting on a shirt or shoes, bike riding at midnight, cocktails to welcome an 8pm sunset, getting a deep dark tan, sleeping naked on top of the bed, shorts everyday, evening concerts at the pier, outdoor movies, pool parties, writing at dusk or at 3am, hollywood bowl shows, working in the planters, working out in the park, music playing through a screen door, candles on the patio, grilled steaks, grilled pork ribs, grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, grilled fish, grilling, friends for dinner, friends for lunch, friends for coffee, riding down the boardwalk from santa monica to venice, jazz at the farmers market, kids playing soccer til 10pm in the parking lots, skin, sun, heat, peaches!, sun, flowers, sand, stillness, bbq, sun, sangria, sun, lazy, sun, naps, sun, sun, sun.
having lived in southern california my whole life, i can confidently call myself an expert in summertime, and since my birthday always falls during summer's golden waning days, the summertime holds a particular significance for me, transition-wise.   this year thought there is added weight to the meaning of my upcoming age-marker.  i had trouble with turning 50.  i don't seem to be having the same trouble with turning 51.  i have read blogs that have described how it gets easier as one continues through the 6th decade of life--that there is a "relaxing" that usually happens as one discovers that life goes on, perhaps with more aches in the joints, but life goes on.  as i have written before, the anxiety about turning 50 was fueled by the thought that life would not go on, at least as far as how i wanted it to go on.  i thought that a 50 year old would have to act a certain way, dress a certain way, live a certain way, that was markedly different from how a 49 year old, or anyone younger than 50, would live, act, or dress.  i thought that i would have to give up so much of who i was in order to not seem foolish or sad by those bearing witness to my exploits.  and while this way of thinking warrants perusal, it is doomed to failure by a flaw that, in hindsight, i had to be 50 for a while before noticing.

that flaw is simply this:  i was imagining being 50 from a place of not being 50.  

it may sound like a silly flaw, but it is a doozy!  you see, i fell victim to the mistake of predicting the future incorrectly.  in imagining 50 from the place of not being 50, i was imagining that i would be exactly the same, but older, in an older body.  if i were to take that idea and compound it to a ridiculous level, i would arrive at a scenario not unlike what happens in those awful "body trading" movies, where the adult and the kid somehow switch bodies with each other, with ensuing hilarity!

or there is the case where a kid finds himself in an adult body, ala tom hanks in "big", and hilarity ensues!

the problem with this way of thinking, despite the entertainment industry possibilities, is that it is a horribly misguided way of thinking about the future. because once i hit the big 5-0, i was no longer not 50, and i realized that my thinking was not the thinking of a not 50 year old.  confused?  yeah, so was i.  let me see if i can bring in an expert to make it easier to understand.  

in his fantastic book, the antidote:  happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking, author oliver burkeman latches onto the idea of stoicism as a way to see things as they are instead of how we wish them to be--resulting in a confrontation of our fears and a more reasonable and potentially successful response.  in his own words: 
"For the Stoics, then, our judgments about the world are all that we can control, but also all that we need to control in order to be happy; tranquility results from replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones.  And dwelling on the worst-case scenario, the 'premeditation of evils', is often the best way to achieve this--even to the point, Seneca suggests, of deliberately experiencing those 'evils', so as to grasp that they might not be as bad as you'd irrationally feared." (bolding mine)
once this task is undertaken, burkeman then suggests that "using your powers of reason to stop being disturbed by a situation doesn't mean you shouldn't try to change it."  you see, the stoics were willing to look directly at what we all have limited control over, while recognizing that our control is in fact limited.  we run into trouble when we mistakenly think that we have more control than we do.  in the case of my aging, i feel that my difficulty with turning 50 can be attributed to my reluctance to accept that i had no control over aging, and that this necessitated my making unwanted changes to my behavior, changes that i was trying to imagine from not being in the experience of 50.  the process i immersed myself in for the past year, and the reason i am calmer about the whole damn thing is that i have accepted that i am aging, but i also recognize that there are choices that i have around aging that can change my experience of it.  this happened after i turned 50 because i found myself sitting smack in the middle of 50, and it was not all that bad.  i had to accept it because, well, there i was!  and when i looked around and saw that it was not as bad as i feared, i could then focus on how i would choose to be 50, how i would choose to be an older man.

though i am not quite at the stage that this guy is at, this month i will be one year closer to it.  i will be 51.  i am an older man.  i am an older man.  i am an older man.  and that ain't so damn bad.


  1. Wow, you've said it all very aptly. I can fully identify and understand (and sympathize). I remember when I thought 30 was old. When I hit 30, I thought 40 was old. And so on. I'll reluctantly admit that I'm over 50. I still feel like a kid - - as long as I avoid mirrors.

    Age nowadays isn't nearly as big a deal as it was long ago when people were nearly dead at 40. Sure, I'd still like to be 20 - - but I've learned a helluva lot since then.

    I've never heard of Oliver Burkeman's book but it sounds like an excellent read. I like the idea of replacing our irrational judgements with rational ones. Sometimes easier said than done.

    As for summer in Southern California. I know it well and you summed it up absolutely perfectly. You've managed to stir up a lot of my ancient memories.

    1. summer in california is one thing that pretty much stays the same over the years, unlike us! thanks, jon.

  2. "i thought that a 50 year old would have to act a certain way, dress a certain way, live a certain way, that was markedly different from how a 49 year old, or anyone younger than 50, would live, act, or dress. i thought that i would have to give up so much of who i was in order to not seem foolish or sad by those bearing witness to my exploits." FUCK NO! in fact it's more of an incentive to do whatcha feel and feel whatcha do. YOU are in control!

    happy birthday, dear! my 59th is coming up soon! FUCK YEAH! :)

    1. thank you, anne marie! you have a way of putting things that just makes me laugh! i do hear that one of the benefits of getting older is that you stop worrying about what people think. i have seen that happen already, in that i readily open my big mouth if someone is annoying me. ha!

  3. I was delighted to see you posting!
    And this entry was splendid - bravo!!

    1. thank you ever so, doc!! your approval is the stamp of greatness--or so says anne-marie!