22. November 2019 · Comments Off on My (maybe) final third · Categories: Olio

I grew up around men who drank and smoked heavily, never exercised, whored around a bit and more or less contentedly dropped dead at around sixty five. As a kid, I figured that was my future. Plus I was a high anxiety brooder, which I thought somehow would translate into knocking my lifespan down to maybe sixty. My expected brief time on earth was one of the reasons I was always in a rush. I got out of college young, married young, got a house and a mortgage young, and had a kid fairly young. If you only have sixty five or fewer years on this planet, you need to get out of the gate early.

My parents didn’t live long. My father suffered through a long illness before he died. My brother didn’t make it to sixty. All these deaths happened in my forties and fifties and reinforced my sense that my life would be short. I made a major life decision in my forties based on that expectation: I didn’t want to spend the final twenty years, maybe fewer, of my life in the relentless backbiting pettiness of academia and the relentless summer heat of North Carolina. I left my professor job and the South in a happy hurry.

But here I am at an age when I fully expected to be six feet under and I’m not merely standing and breathing. I’m taking fifteen mile hikes. It could all end tomorrow, of course, but it isn’t likely. I went onto an actuarial web site a few months ago and filled out a detailed questionnaire. It predicted I’d live to eighty six. Two months ago, I went to visit my uncle, who is eighty two and shows no signs of slowing down. I spent a couple of obsessive weeks this month putting together an extensive family tree and one piece of data struck me: if Hitler or Stalin didn’t manage to kill them off, men in my family tended to live ridiculously long, into their nineties. My mother’s father lived to be ninety three and was rock solid healthy until he was ninety one. His brother and half brother lived into their nineties. I can well remember having a delightful conversation with one of them when he was ninety five. I’ve been emailing back and forth with a cousin of my father who is a robust ninety five. I just might get another thirty good years out of the piss and vinegar filled body that houses my brain.

The possibility that I may only be at the two thirds mark of my life is a new idea for me to consider. What am I going to do with that possible remaining third? I have no interest in more travel or leisure time. Like my uncle and grandfather, I’m a workhorse. I need to do real, productive stuff at least five days a week. I could pursue art for my final third, but that isn’t likely. For me, making meaningful art requires a significantly sized audience. Few people want to engage with the work of seventy, eighty or ninety year old writers and artists unless those writers and artists achieved fame when they were young. New audiences want fresh unwrinkled faces who look at the world in a fresh way. That isn’t me. The possibility of my relevance in the world of writing diminishes with every year. I once had a conversation with a movie director who was hot for a decade when he was in his forties and was angry that he couldn’t even get arrested in Hollywood once he turned sixty. I’m not going to be angry. I fully expect that I will be fully artistically irrelevant by the time I turn seventy and am OK with that arc.

I need to start something new, something where age isn’t a liability and ageism isn’t something to fight against every day. I know of someone who retired from a steady Fortune 500 corporation job at my age, started up a new company and made a ridiculously large fortune. That’s not for me. I don’t need or want more money. I need to do something where I work hard to give back to some aspect of society that has nurtured or benefitted me in my fortunate life. What should it be? I don’t know, but apparently I have plenty of time to figure this out.



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