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50

The place of my birth, fifty years ago.

I am 50 today.

FIFTY. HALF A CENTURY.

Shit.

I’ve covered the various anniversaries and big round numbers in other birthday posts. No need to rehash that. But 50 is very decidedly profound, and I don’t really know how to fully grok the celebration of half a hundred years since I popped out on a remote air force base in North Dakota.

Here’s a stupid memory, from 40 years ago. The last episode of the third season of Mork & Mindy was titled “Reflections and Regrets.” The b-story was about their downstairs neighbor Mr. Bickley turning 50. (He was played by character actor Tom Poston, who probably doesn’t ring any bells, but you’ve seen him on TV a million times.) Anyway, Mr. Bickley was turning 50, and was bummed out and talking about his regrets. The episode then unspooled in typical 80s sitcom fashion with everyone but Mindy talking about their regrets, and then the big season cliffhanger is that she kisses Mork. (If you really give a shit, here.) I have no idea why I remember this show, especially because I’ve never watch the reruns or bought the DVD or whatever.

Anyway, Bickley talks about his regrets and his sadness about being older. His three regrets he mentioned were never reading the entire bible, and never seeing the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. I don’t have much interest in reading the bible (I’ve written books longer than the King James), I found the Grand Canyon slightly unimpressive, and I guess I’ve driven over Niagara and bought some booze at the duty-free on the Canadian side, but didn’t stop and take the boat tour. Anyway, that got me thinking about two things: one is the regret thing, and second is that Mr. Bickley was allegedly fifty when I was a kid (to be fair, the actor was actually sixty in 1981) and in my head he was old, and now I’m old.

I think one of the reasons the big 5-0 messes with me is that it signifies the apex, the top of the hill. Statistically, my top of the hill probably passed a while ago, but looking at this big even number makes me think that everything in my life has been figured out, and there won’t be any big changes, just a coast downhill to retirement and then beyond. I’m not changing careers and becoming a plumber or a doctor. I’m probably not running any marathons. Having kids is probably out. If I went back to school, I’d be the weird old guy who retired and went to community college to learn about birds or whatever. It’s very defeatist, but that’s my first impression of all of this.

* * *

I don’t feel 50, is the thing. I know some days I joke about feeling 167, and I’ve got a collection of various minor problems that always annoy me. Despite my bad back and declining eyesight and trick knees, I still mentally feel the same as I did thirty years ago. I don’t feel like I ever magically became an adult, and I have this horrible imposter syndrome about that. I mean, I know things changed mentally over time. After reading through my old blog posts years ago, it amazed me how I used to give so much of a shit about things that I honestly do not care about at all. Like for some reason, I was borderline militant about Coca-Cola products, and now I can’t even remember the last time I drank an actual full-sugar Coke. I used to care a lot more about things like publishing and getting published, and I’m pretty much over that. So many corners have been rounded over time. But I do not feel like I’m an adult, and I strongly feel I should have squared this up a while ago.

I don’t think I look 50. It always surprises people when I tell them my age. I don’t dress old; I mean, it’s always jeans and a t-shirt, tennis shoes, leather jacket, pretty much the same gear I was wearing in 1994. I weigh more. The hair’s going fast. But other than weight fluctuations and different glasses and haircuts, I don’t look radically different. And while that’s a plus, it’s also weird to me because I would expect to look older in some way. Not aged, but more mature. Wearing shirts and ties and cardigans, maybe some dress shoes and a sweater. A pipe. I don’t know, but I feel like I’m not playing the part, and maybe that’s good or bad, who knows.

The bottom line is that I often feel out of time, out of place. Conversations that feel like they just happened were really 25 years ago. I smell a certain smell that reminds me of a restaurant I just went to, and I realize it closed decades ago, and it was scraped to the ground and replaced with a 40-story Amazon office. I feel like I have all the time in the world to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up, and then I realize only ten seconds have passed since I was 40 and in ten more seconds, I’m going to be pushing 70. My oldest grandparent made it to 84. I’ve got to figure this out, fast.

* * *

I don’t really have any long-term plans. I always wanted to get out of debt, and I have. I wanted to save money and retire by the time I was 50, and that didn’t work. (Maybe 60.) I’ve always wanted to write, write more books, write better books, become known or famous or whatever for my writing. I keep writing, but I’m always chasing the One Big Book and it’s elusive. I have maybe a dozen people who read my books, so I’ve failed any mass popularity contest. Probably not a great goal to have tons of readers when people would rather watch ten-second videos of people getting punched in the nuts or whatever. One of my main regrets in life is becoming (somewhat) competent at an art form that involved writing thousand-page books right at the same time the national discourse was reduced to 140-character updates. I realize that chasing fame to achieve happiness is a futile exercise, and that people who I see as hugely famous haven’t achieved enough to fill that hole in their soul and then do bad things. So, I’ve tried to stop thinking about that. I still do, but I’m not as frantic about it as I was ten years ago when I thought I was going to become kindle famous if I somehow beat the algorithm or just found the right outlet to publish my short stories.

I guess my main complaint is that I’m burning a lot of cycles looking back. This whole mall nostalgia thing and whatever other mental illness I might have about looking at the past has severely limited my ability to think about the future. I have something wrong with me, something serotonin-related, where I spend forever googling for old pictures of long-gone haunts, trying to find people who were close friends in 1993 and are now either dead or busy with their grandkids in some far corner of a midwestern state. When I find a loose video of the Scottsdale Mall or an old picture of the Bloomington campus I’ve never seen before, I temporarily get a minor surge of chemicals in my head, but never enough to make me truly happy. So I have to keep digging, thinking that I’m just a google search away from finding a disposable camera’s pictures from thirty years ago that will completely flood my noggin with the neurotransmitters that will make it all better.

(Current events and politics are just like this. I find myself reading my home town newspaper not because I love my home town or because anything interesting is happening there, but because the commenters are so fucking off-base, my hatred for them causes a similar chemical surge in my brain, even though it angers me. I have absolutely no reason to read that newspaper. I honestly have no reason to ever step foot in that city again. But when I’m bored or down or whatever, I’ll click away. This has been the driving force of the grief and agony of the last four years, and I have no answers here, but I wish I did.)

There’s no end goal to this nostalgia madness. The memories in my head get more distant, and at the same time, more of this media falls out of the system, discussion boards vanishing, news sites getting paywalled and later bankrupted, google searches eroding. It’s a futile race to the bottom. Never mind that any nostalgia group or page is generally full of toxic people who fear the future and hate any kind of progress, because the distant memories of times that never existed bring them happiness, versus the panic of living in today’s world. And the more I descend into this, the more I realize I’m becoming this. And the bottom line is that I’m wasting tremendous amounts of time on this, when I could be doing almost anything else: learning a craft, studying something new, playing a game, taking a walk, doing anything.

And I think that’s really the key of this birthday. I need to make it a turning point, and stop wasting my time on this shit, and take advantage of the time I have to actually accomplish stuff. I don’t know what, and that’s the hard part. But something has to change.

* * *

This post has been such a downer, and I apologize. I need a way to land this, and as usual, I think it needs to be another big dumb list. So.

Here’s a list of 50 things I’ve accomplished so far in my first half-century:

  1. I made it to 50. Still have a pulse.
  2. I still have all of my limbs and digits.
  3. All of my teeth are still here (albeit with a lot of restoration, and minus the wisdom teeth).
  4. No surgeries, no long sicknesses, no major failures yet.
  5. I’ve avoided the C word, knock wood.
  6. No major legal trouble. No rap sheet.
  7. Happily married. Going on 14 years.
  8. Married only once.
  9. I’ve published 17 books. 1073852 words, 3649 pages.
  10. There’s at least that much written in this blog, and probably another two million in first drafts and uncollected nonsense. Maybe another million in almost thirty years of paper journals.
  11. Published elsewhere, all sorts of little zines and journals and whatnot. Nothing major but nothing too bad, either.
  12. I’ve kept this blog going for almost 25 years, from before the term blog was even invented.
  13. I’ve read a ridiculous amount over the years. I wish I had a way to track this. (No, not Goodreads.) I’ve probably read more during the pandemic than most people read in their lifetimes.
  14. Finished high school. Finished college.
  15. Won a scholarship that paid for a chunk of college, even though college was like 74 dollars when I went.
  16. I’ve more or less had a career for over 25 years. Moved from the most junior position possible making twelve bucks an hour to a position managing people and big things.
  17. I bought a house. (I’ve actually done that twice.) Also bought 40 acres of land I have no idea what I’ll ever do with.
  18. I’ve bought a new car twice. Nothing exciting – both Toyota compacts, and not the Corvettes and Camaros I imagined as a teen. If I bought a Corvette now, I’d probably spend all of my time worried about it getting stolen or doored.
  19. I’m out of debt except my mortgage. I think we owe about 20% of our house value, so that’s getting done.
  20. I’ve saved money. I wish I saved more, but I’m on the glide slope toward retirement, I think.
  21. Adopted two cats in 2007 which have been my stay-at-home coworkers and buddies and have changed my life for the better, even if they wake me up at three AM for breakfast.
  22. I’ve lived in seven states, ten cities. Never had to move back home, which is good. I know I bitch about the Seattle darkness and Denver altitude sickness and the New York garbage Augusts, but I’ve enjoyed different aspects of every place I’ve lived, and I’m glad for all of them.
  23. Visited 46 states. I love Hawaii. I (mostly) love Alaska. I’ve found something interesting about every state in between.
  24. I was on a rampage about going to Vegas two or three times a year, and did that forever. I don’t know how many times I’ve been, but I’ve seen a different Vegas each time over the last twenty years, enough to write a book about it and probably enough to write another (if that first book ever sold, which it didn’t. It’s in the UNLV library, though.)
  25. Drove across the country twice. Once I did the entire trip in 48 hours. The second time, I took two weeks.
  26. Including the US, I’ve been to seven countries. That’s a bit low, but I also didn’t get a passport until I was thirty-four.
  27. I stood on the ground exactly where the first atomic bomb was detonated.
  28. I’ve seen a lot of other cool stuff. Been in the USS Missouri. Top of the Empire State Building. Saw the Berlin Wall. Graceland. The Lincoln Monument. The original World Trade Center. 768 different malls. Etc.
  29. Threw my book into the Grand Canyon. (Take that, Mr. Bickley.)
  30. Jumped out of a plane.
  31. Flew a plane.
  32. Met various famous people and realized there’s nothing special to famous people. They’re just people. Even the Backstreet Boys.
  33. I’ve gone from my white-bread, fast-food past to eating a lot of great, weird, and amazing food. I still like a Taco Bell taco every now and again, but as a kid, I never imagined I’d be eating a boar’s tongue in an eighteen-course meal in Berlin.
  34. I’ve gotten to see a lot of the bands that I worshipped as a kid.
  35. Same with comedians.
  36. I wasn’t a sports fan for a long time, but I’m enough of a sports fan now that I’ll count things like going to Lambeau, going to a World Series, getting the seat right behind home plate, walking on the field at Dodger Stadium, and watching Brett Favre throw an 82-yard touchdown in overtime to defeat the Broncos in Denver. Taken a lot of sports pictures, and even had some of them published, so that was cool.
  37. I’ve formed giant collections of books and music and toys and electronics, but also realized that giant collections are more of a problem than a solution. (Or maybe a symptom.)
  38. I own a lot of signed books. But then around the time people started asking me to sign books, I realized how dumb it was.
  39. I think I’m at the point where if I wanted anything, as far as material things, I could get it, but I can’t think of anything I want. This is pretty good from a goal perspective, although it’s frustrating for people who need to shop for me for gifts. I think there’s an exception for boats and sports cars and such, but like I said, not sure what I’d do with either, and the Prius gets me to the store and back.
  40. I’ve completed a lot of short-term personal goals. In 2008, I lost a crazy amount of weight, going from like 250 to 168 or something. As of yesterday, I’ve meditated for a thousand days in a row. I’ve exercised every day for 1811 days. I’ve had long periods of writing every day, although I’ve been giving myself more time off on that every now and again.
  41. I survived a lot of bad things, like economic downturns, car crashes (just one, really), major blackouts, tornados, earthquakes, and 9/11. Maybe not mentally, but I physically made it okay.
  42. I logged into this big mainframe computer in 1989 which could send emails and messages and get files from this thing called the “internet” and have watched it grow and expand and get powerful and dumb and all-encompassing over the next thirty-some years.
  43. I also created a hyplan page on this thing called the WWW back in 1992, and got to ride the wave ever since.
  44. I’ve learned a lot about computers since first sitting down at an Apple II and doing the 10 PRINT “HELLO” thing. I always feel like I need to learn more, but I’ve been fortunate enough to see and experience a lot of key trends in computer history.
  45. I’ve met some great people along the way. I know I don’t see them as much as I’d like, but I have some great freands.
  46. I’ve also kept some very long friendships. I met my buddy Ray 36 years ago, and he still answers the phone half the time I call.
  47. I’ve had four nephews and a niece, and I’ve got to experience the oddity of holding a human being the size of a canned ham in your arms, and then two seconds later, they’re driving a car and are as old as you sometimes think you are.
  48. I don’t think losing relatives is a good thing, but I think knowing them up until the time you’ve lost them and having those experiences and feelings forever is keeping them alive in some way, and I’ve enjoyed doing that with every person who is now gone.
  49. A big of vaguebooking, but I’ve had a lot of various challenges physically or mentally, all of which seem stupid and distant now. At the time, none of them seemed stupid and were all incredibly all-encompassing and horrific. But I got past them and survived them.
  50. I’ve managed to think of fifty things for this list. This was harder than I thought, but I made it.

OK, all that writing really takes it out of an old guy. Apologies if this seemed too morose. Enjoy your January 20th, and hope there’s a lot more ahead from me.