I had a birthday about a week and a half ago. Ten years prior I morosely began my last year as a thirty-something, dreading my forties as I realized that I was indeed mortal, and that the natural order of things had not in fact skipped me for some reason. Now as I look onward (but not forward) to my fifties, I'll admit that my forties weren't that bad after all.
As a matter of fact, there are only a few notable differences between the current me and the me of ten years ago. I'm grayer, and the hair is a little thinner. I also needed reading glasses when I hit my forty-sixth year. Other than that, I look the same. I even feel the same, which is remarkable to me because ten years ago I felt the same way I did in my thirties, even my twenties. I know I'll eventually slow down, and have less energy to expend on a daily basis, but for now that hasn't happened.
Of course, just because I don't feel any different doesn't mean I'm not treated differently. Younger men have to earn respect, now it's given to me as if it were an inalienable right, like the right to vote. People "sir" the hell out of me now. I remember the first time it bothered me. Still in my thirties, I was inside a mall when I spotted a young thug menacingly shouldering his way through the crowd. I've never liked bullies, and whenever I encountered one I'd stare them down, until they averted their gaze and behaved themselves. This worked because I'm a pretty big guy. The bully would look away and I'd think to myself, That's right, buddy. Not on this day, however. This time the bully looked at me and said, "How you doin', sir?" before merrily continuing on his way. Sir?!!, I thought. I'll kick your ass!!!
The other notable difference in getting older is that the older you get, the younger the people in charge seem to be. For the first time in my life the President of the United States of America is younger than me. He's only a year younger, but still. Those in power were always older. When did people my age start running things?
Oh, right. I remember now. Back during my thirties when I was singing in nightclubs every night, sleeping until noon and enjoying my extended adolescence. Waking when my body said, "Hey Will, we got our eight hours in, time to get up." No harsh alarm clocks for me, unless I was traveling for a gig and had a plane to catch. Meanwhile, more industrious members of my generation were swilling Pepto-Bismal and swallowing Imodium AD tablets by the fistful so that they would have the intestinal fortitude to claw their way to the top of their chosen heap.
They can have the power. I've lived enough to know that what makes me happy isn't power, but the ability to lead a life well lived. Setting has a lot to do with that.
When I was recently in Vienna I could think of nothing but my own mortality. A few days later I was in Paris, and felt immortal. Attitude is another factor in living well. I'm more of a realist than most of my friends and family suspect. When posed the "Is the glass half full or half empty" question, most assume that I'm a glass half full kind of guy, when in fact I'm more apt to respond, "That depends. Are we drinking or pouring?" I seem like an optimist because I believe that most of us lucky enough to be in the U.S. or other, stable, Western Hemisphere countries (I'm looking at you, France) have the ability to change our lives to our liking. We may not be the captains of our own ships, but we do indeed have our hands on the tiller from time to time. Don't like where you live? Move. Don't like your job? Find another.
Are you afraid? The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said that "Fear is the dragon that guards our secret treasure." This eye-opening quote came to me by way of Ray Wylie Hubbard, during his performance at a dismally attended gig at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee back in 1994. It was my first day in town, Steve Earle had just been arrested a few hours before for heroin possession, and Ray was playing to a crowd of six, which included the girl behind the bar and the sound man. Ray went on to explain that he was always more comfortable as the cut-up, but after reading a book with that quote in it he decided that although he enjoyed being a funny guy, he would also like to be known as someone who could write a song a little more serious than "Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother." Ray believed in the truth of that quote, and now when he has a gig it is more often than not sold out.
This post is perhaps a long explanation as to why I'm writing a novel, knowing that the odds are against my finishing it, much less getting it published. I'm writing the novel, statistics be damned. I'll be happy enough to have written a manuscript. Who knows, it may ultimately lead to me being able to add "Published Author" to my life list of things that I'm happy to have experienced. What do you really want to do?