It’s not a particularly significant birthday in the decimal system. Not a big round number or anything. But I do notice that as each decade passes it’s around four years after the big round number that causes me to reflect more on age. As I see the big round number disappearing in the rear-view mirror I am more aware that I am here for a finite span of years and I’d better make the most of them.
It’s been a year of change.
At my last birthday I was still less than two months in to my current job and struggling pretty hard. I was managing a team of mostly new people who were learning to maintain and operate a software system that was extremely complex. Today we have it all well under control, and are working in a new way to simplify and streamline the development process under my guidance, and the company overall is doing good work in retiring technical debt while setting out in new directions.
So that’s a change: I think I can check off the “successful senior executive in an SMB technology company” box on my life list. There is still more to learn, so I’ll be sticking with it for a while.
My personal life had some challenges. I was in a long-term relationship that came to an end, although we have been able to transition into a viable friendship.
I bought a boat. I’ve taken some good trips. Likely one more this year, then some major upgrades over the winter: a composting head, and a rebuilt ice-box are the two big ones. Being on the water changes me, or at least rejuvenates me.
And there was much improv. Joe Bill’s improv intensive just before my birthday last year was life-changing, but not nearly so life-changing as Jennifer Peilak’s musical improv courses. I did really good courses with Instant, Second Storey and VTSL/ICI over the year, and all were valuable. The genre workshops with ICI were particularly good in terms of learning stuff about the way structures work in story. But nothing has come close to the joy, confidence, and pure fun that has come with musical improv, in part because of the amazing people I get to play with.
I don’t hear well, and grew up being told I can’t sing. I’ve been told I can’t do a lot of things, both growing up and as an adult, and while I rebelled against as much of that as possible, some of it slipped through.
When you think you can’t sing and you hate to look clueless, singing in front of people is terrifying. At this time last year it was easily my number one fear. Carrie and I had done a karaoke duet earlier in 2015, and with her support I could get through it, but it was a difficult experience. I was afraid. And I hate that.
So when Jennifer ran her first “Happy Jam” I signed up, and found the doors opening to a supportive, transformative environment that has continued to expand and offer new opportunities. There was a six week course on “Musical Improv Elements” offered after that, which I took. A group of us continued to practice together, and I’m currently taking a more advanced course with many of the same people.
It turns out I can sing somewhat, and while I’m still challenged in certain respects–new hearing aides helped a lot–I took singing lessons over the summer that have made a difference, and am practicing the operation of this odd instrument we all have within us. There’s more to learn, always more to learn, but it’s better to learn awkwardly than to gracefully remain unchanged.
I’m not afraid of singing in front of people any more. I do it at every opportunity. I don’t know where this musical improv journey is going to take me, but every single step has been more than worth the effort.
So that is another change that has occurred over the course of the past year, and continues to percolate through all aspects of my life.
Since I started dating again, I’ve learned that when I describe my life, people sometimes simply assume I am lying. This cracks me up, because it makes perfect sense, and yet it never occurred to me.
One of the fun things about breakups is they force you to look yourself sternly in the eye and say, “What’s wrong with you, dude?” This isn’t the first time I’ve been through this process, having done a lot of work with a cognitive therapist when my marriage broke up, but coming back for another look turned out to be a good idea. I learned a lot about emotional development in infant humans, and can say with some confidence where my almost complete lack of empathy comes from. Some of it is my basic neurochemistry, which falls well short of anything on the Autism spectrum, although you can definitely see it from where I am. But some of it is due to a poorly developed interpersonal self, which is a result of some of the circumstances of my infancy. Knowing that, which has given me a much clearer picture of what I’m not doing well, I have figured out how to exercise the capacities I do have to see if I can improve them. I think it’s helping some. Time will tell.
That’s another change that’s still in progress.
I’ve written some good poetry and some I’m not so sure of, and maybe one of the best poems I’ll ever write, inspired by Hilary’s novel take on the mandala form. I’m working on getting a poetry business up and running–there really are such things, which produce poems for weddings and graduations, speeches and retirement parties and whatnot–and have a long narrative poem that’s a kind of Robert Service/HP Lovecraft mashup coming out in the next edition of the “Mythic Delirium” e-zine. I’m also working on a long poem that’s a take-off on “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”–working title, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Ham”–in Seussian anapestic tetrameter. Beyond that, I have something more Homeric in the wings that might prove interesting.
There isn’t enough time in the day, and I’ve had some pretty intense periods of activity over the year, with just enough downtime to stay healthy. I’ve lost some weight and plan to lose more. It’s going slowly. I’ve been running again recently after a six month hiatus. My legs hate me.
After a year that has had more than it’s share of bumps, my life is more filled with joy than it has ever been. And there is more to come.
So here is my reflection on age: live well, be true to yourself, surround yourself with people who appreciate who you are and who want you to feel good about being who you are, and keep creating whatever it is you are moved to create. Keep learning. Embrace change. Do that, and getting older can be ridiculously joyful. There are sad and difficult bits, and you die in the end, but that doesn’t preclude joy. It’s right there. It’s all around us. It’s in us and of us. Embrace it, and grow old in it. That’s my plan.