[N.B. The font on this post has been enlarged for those who are of a certain age]
I have one decent joke I like to tell about aging. For a short time I was a resident of San Francisco, and during that time I was a member of the South End Rowing Club* (SERC). I would go for swims in the Bay, without a wetsuit, two or three times a week. I'd then return to my locker, share a pull of rye whiskey stored in my locker with other swimming buddies, and have a steam in the sauna. There were few things that would make me feel better during a difficult time spent both soul and job searching.
The SERC building itself is is old, and, is filled with, well, older people. That is not to say its members are old (they could still whip my ass), just that for a city that prizes the value of the hottest/newest over the established, has an obsession with disruption at the cost of consistency, the icy bay was literally a bracing reminder of the good to be found in places that put value on timelessness.
Oh, right. The joke.
I was about 37, and as I went over to put on my shoes I let out a big <GROOOOAAAAAN>.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" buzzed Randy, my locker neighbor, banter partner, and handball coach.
"Oh, I don't know, Randy. Just getting old."
"Old? How old are you?"
"37!?!? Talk to me when you're 67."
"Yeah, but Randy, you've been old. You're used to this! I'm newly old old. All of this is still surprising to me."
My body now requires 15 mins of yoga before and after every run, no matter the distance. If I don't my body will shut down, putting me in a timeout until I think long and hard about what I've done. In other words, to workout now, I have to do a work out ... so ... I ... can ... workout. Further, I never really had a hangover until I was 35, a blessing and a curse. I hated Steely Dan until I turned 33. Now I listen to Steely Dan. Like, a lot.
And so on.
This process of aging has been one huge surprise to me. I thought I would have done more by now, and the things I have always done and would like to do still - a ten hour work day paired with a few hours at my local pub, on 50+ mile running weeks -have become so difficult that I've started doing less. And doing less isn't really on my agenda, because, again, I thought I would have done more by now. I have to start being selective, and being selective, not one of my strong suits. There is a clock staring me in the face, aware of the end date on this project. I have a bit of a - very boring, well trod by many - crisis on my hands.
It is my birthday today. I'm 39. Not a very interesting or distinguished number. I'm at the starting line of a whole new career, and the starting line of a new romance**. To cap it all this summer I will be living in my third major city in three years. That is to say: I stand here on the very precipice of mid-life, with this big open space of newness in front of me. There are still so, so, so, so many surprises around so many more corners, just when I was hoping to start to feel more comfortable, confident, and hopefully get surprised a little less.
The new career is simply a new industry, I still perform essentially the same job function, with many of the same skills and playbooks; playbooks for which I happen to be a co-author, thank you very much. This industry has as much to learn from me as I have to learn from it. My romance is new - but it comes with this feeling as if we've been together for ages. The culmination of mistakes, trials and errors - so many errors - over a lifetime have me as confident and in love as I have ever been. I know myself better, how to do better, how to be better. When to give and when to ... ahem ... of course give just a little more. The city is new, because it is New York City, and New York City will always be new. But I lived there for fifteen years; there's the familiarity of those friendships and the corner pizza joints that have not yet been replaced with a Starbucks or an ATM.
There is no getting around it. Getting older is surprising, but those surprises hurt a little less with age. While you've managed to get hurt plenty you see that somehow you're still here. "Confirmation Bias of the Living" is what my first album will be called. I still rent out plenty of brain space to losses and jerks. But nothing like when I was 30. These are the only rents in my life time that have declined. You learn that the slower pace is the reward, not the cost. You learn that "I just can't drink as much as I used to" is absolutely not a bad thing. You do the crossword in pen, bitches.
With age you lean into the punches you can take, dodge the ones you know you cannot afford. You start to gain confidence that -- with the help of some yoga -- you'll get up again, until you can't. Then, and only then, will it be time to let out a groan.
* A delightful sidebar about SERC. SERC is the oldest membership institution in the city of San Francisco, originally founded before the bridges were built by the very rowers who would ferry persons and parcels across The Bay. They would host social races among those same rowers, much the way local crit races often spring up amongst bike messengers. The club moved from the mission bay area of the City (the South End of the City) some years later after the great fire and earthquake of the first decade of the 20th century. The Dolphin Club is next door and is seen as the much hoitier and toitier of the two. Early on in my membership I brought a New York Times into the club and was admonished, "What the hell is this, the dolphin club? Next thing you know we'll be serving hot towels and paying a $1000 in dues." Some years earlier I went to SERC as a guest on a visit to San Francisco, brought my wet suit to wear in those icy Bay waters, and was admonished with the same. I did not repeat those errors.
** On the theme of surprises, one thing my partner just loves to do is hide in closets and scare the shit out of me. I cannot tell you how very much I hate this to my core. I, as a rule, do not watch scary movies, because heck, life is scary enough. I legitimately cover my eyes for scary movie trailers. And still (and I regret writing this because this partner is an incredibly supportive person who will read every word of this) I adore this about her. She keeps me on my toes, and it makes her laugh really, really hard, and that laughter is worth it.