Friday, October 29, 2010

The Big Four-Oh

I think I remember someone telling me that someone once said something like, "I only write when the pain of not writing outweighs the pain of writing."* I've been a collector of writing — particularly writing about writing — longer than I've been something like a writer, and this is one of my favorite bits of pith. I used to think it was true, but now I'm pretty sure it's false.

I took the summer and part of the fall largely off writing wise, not because of one kind of pain and another. If anything, we were too occupied, too much happened, and I simply enjoyed our making memories without my hanging them up.

But back to the pleasure of writing outweighing the not writing. Here's a somewhat big thing that happened during my summer vacation: I turned 40 (back in July). At first I wasn't going to say much of anything about it, then I was but couldn't think of anything useful or interesting to say.

Largely because I find the size of the thing a little puzzling. Nearly everyone who ended up hearing about this new number of mine asked what I was going to do to mark it. Nothing much, I answered — an unusual plan, apparently. Nearly everyone had stories of big celebrations they'd heard or been part of, from a triathlon on the edge of Long Island to weeks spent lolling in Tuscany.**

A bit much.  Still, I am somewhat sympathetic to what's driving the big-ticket parties — namely, the feeling that 40 marks a new phase, officially around the time of Starting To Get Old. It's not really old, of course. I've got a mix of longevity and early demise in my family (both from nature and from active engagement with it), so it's hard to sit down and do the math.  Nevertheless, I'd like to think that I'm not even half done.

In any event, it's not the worry of oblivion and schemes of overcoming it that move me; it's more like what the leading edge of oblivion means.  I tell my kids, as I was told, that they could do and be anything if they set themselves to it.  I still believe it of them, as I believed it of myself a while ago.  But coming to be things takes time, and each year a little less of that remains for remaking myself. Or so it seems sometimes.

It turns out I did do something remarkable for The Big Four-Oh — or rather my lovely wife did something remarkable for me.  Just a day or two before my birthday, my wife told me that just she and I would be enjoying dinner and jazz at Dizzy's Club that night.  The club is affiliated with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the music was, as expected, fantastic — almost as fantastic as the seats she got for us: 

We were close enough to map the constellations of sweat on the drummer's head.  And before the musicians came out, someone taped down a thick square of wood on our side of the stage. That square eventually became the tap floor for two young dancers who did things with their feet that had us all accompanying them with our rhythms of amazement.  (To get on stage, they had to bend around our table.)  Such a wonderful night.

As we sat there, the club's window framing the lush canopy of Central Park, my beautiful wife's bare shoulder its own kind of song in the soft dark, I thought:  If this is what getting old is like, I'll take it and more besides.

*To this day I've been unable to locate the source of this expression. It does sound like something that someone might say, so if you happen to know who, certainly let me know.
**Of course, I'm completely prepared to admit that this could say more about the people I happen to hang out with than about turning 40 in general.

1 comment:

teahouse said...

Happy birthday! What a lovely present your wife gave you. Welcome to the second half of life!