Every year on my birthday I write about growing older. But 52 isn’t that old.
It’s twice as old as 26, which is about the median age of the software engineers who work for me. I feel twice their age as I notice their youthful good looks and see them struggle through things I mastered long ago. I miss my youthful good looks but would not unlearn these valuable life skills to get them back.
As the rest of my 50s unfold I look forward foremost to our children all building independent lives. I’m eager to see what they choose and whether it brings them joy and satisfaction. I am eager for Margaret and I to turn our attention toward the life we want to build for ourselves, and to enjoy our children and grandchildren.
My hair is thinning on top. I wondered if this would ever happen. It started happening to my dad when he was in his late 30s, and he tells me his dad went bald in his 20s. Now it’s my turn. I’m glad I’m tall, or everybody’d be able to see through to my scalp. My eyebrows are thinning, too; my height doesn’t mask that. At least you have to look really hard to notice my gray hairs. They don’t show up at all in this photograph!
I can no longer deny that I need reading glasses, but I forget to carry them most of the time and so look at my phone at arm’s length.
My new normal weight, the one my body defaults to when I don’t overeat, is 10 pounds more than it was 10 years ago.
And I tire more easily now. My athletic friends have complained about loss of ability and stamina since their early 30s. An advantage of being mostly sedentary is that there’s a lot less to lose, and you lose it a lot later.
I’m lucky: I’ve aged physically a lot more slowly than most of my age peers. Yet each of these changes in my body has come with some feelings of resistance and loss, and has taken effort to accept.
I decided a long time ago not to fight physical aging. I’m not going to resort to Rogaine or hair dye, and certainly not cosmetic surgery (tempting as it may be as I really hate how my right eyelid has gone droopy). A little more exercise would do me good, though.
But no regrets, because I’m happy and content now. That wasn’t always true when I was twentysomething and thirtysomething. I say it every year at this time: you couldn’t pay me enough to go back.
I’ve known many people who wring their hands over the birthdays that end in zero. They’re milestones of getting old, after all. But none of them have bothered me so far — certainly not 20, but also not 30, not 40.
Some odd birthdays have troubled me unexpectedly. 33 was tough. I felt I couldn’t avoid anymore that I was firmly in my adult years. I wasn’t sure I always liked it.
Last year’s birthday, 47, hit me hard too. To my surprise, because my middle years have been the best of my life. But where 46 was “middle aged,” 47 felt like “pushing 50,” and something about 50 feels more old than middle aged. I’m sure that if you’re significantly older than 50, you’re chuckling over that statement. But it got me down for a bit.
I’m good with it now. And if 47 is “pushing 50,” 48 is on the downhill slide, hurtling headlong, picking up speed. Look out, I’m throwing in the clutch.
I found Mike Connealy’s blog shortly after I restarted my camera collection in 2006. He was doing what I aspired to do: using old film cameras and writing about the experience. Despite his obvious and considerable photographic skill, he wrote of his journey of discovery, sharing his ups and downs with his cameras and his technique. I found it to be compelling, and it has led me to be transparent as I write about my own photography. Mike has mastered many aspects of black-and-white photography, especially the use of light and shadow. His work has heavily influenced mine. Mike’s Flickr space shows his best work; go take a look.
Paul Giambarba is an artist and graphic designer best known for his iconic branding of Polaroid during the company’s best years. I learned of him in 2008 while researching to write this post about my first Polaroid camera. It remains a great thrill that Paul himself left the first comment on that post. I’ve followed his blog about analog photography since. It has introduced me to many talented film photographers, past and present.
What Mike and Paul share in common is what one might call advanced age. Per Wikipedia, Paul is in his late 80s. Mike doesn’t reveal his age, but a couple self-portraits in Mike’s Flickr space suggest that he’s roughly of Paul’s generation.
I want to exclaim, “No! Your work is interesting! I’m still learning from you! Keep doing, keep sharing! ” But what do I know of 80? Does one wish to crown a lifetime’s work and bask in its satisfaction? Does one find futility in continued exploration? Does one scale back activity to match flagging energy and drive? Does one simply find newly fulfilling things to do?
Yet how else other than through the Internet would I have had the opportunity to peek into the mind of anyone of this generation? To come to know a fragment of them as whole people?
I’ve loved my 40s. They’ve been the happiest years of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
That’s not to say I’m a happy person. My natural happiness set point is on the low side and I have a melancholic temperament. I tend to experience deeply the things in the present that aren’t as I’d have them. I find joy to be fleeting and often difficult to embrace.
But when I look back, I see the bigger picture: I’ve had a great run in my fifth decade. I’ve achieved emotional health. I’ve done really well in my career. I have developed hobbies that make my heart sing. I have built strong personal relationships, especially with my sons.
And I am optimistic for the future. Sure, I can see how my body is aging and my health is different now. I’m seeing younger people coming up fast in my career – I’m starting to work for people who were in diapers when I entered college. My prime is ending. But I expect to adapt and keep growing in maturity. I expect to find that to be supremely satisfying.
My dad turns 72 today. Since he retired about ten years ago, he has given his time and energy to several political and social causes in my hometown, where he still lives. He says that South Bend gave him so much after he moved there from West Virginia that he wants to pay it back.
I see this so often among men as they age – they want to make a big impact that can be their legacy. I’m starting to feel that myself, now that I’m well into middle age. I want there to be lasting evidence that I was here after I’m gone!
You can never predict what will last and what will be lost to the sands of time. I’m a twice-published author – and both books ended up remaindered and forgotten. I had my brief radio career, which brought very minor celebrity at the time, but let’s face it, who remembers part-time DJs from 20 years ago? And I’ve delivered successful project after successful project in my career, once even getting a standing ovation from a room full of customers. But I work in technology, where things move fast and last year’s hot stuff is this year’s old news.
What I’m standing next to in this photo might just be my most enduring work.
In college, I lived in the basement of a residence hall. Only four of the rooms down there housed students; the rest were used for storage, a laundry facility, a TV lounge, and the campus radio station. I was General Manager of that radio station, which is why I lived down there.
For most of those years, the basement hallway walls were depressing shades of brown. Toward the end of my junior year, I asked the Dean of Students if I could paint the walls in more cheerful hues. He not only said yes, but he also said he’d provide the paint and supplies.
I convinced some of the other basement dwellers to come back to school a week early at the end of summer and paint with me. We knocked it out in a few days.
That was in 1988. When my sons and I visited campus last fall for the annual homecoming bonfire, we visited the basement and, to my astonishment, found that paint job still looking as fresh and clean as the day we laid down our rollers and brushes 24 years before!
Do you have a story of something you’ve done that has unexpectedly endured? Tell about it in the comments, or write the story on your own blog and link back here!