Or, the Fact That I’m Not Getting Any Older, either.
I’ve had an unusual response lately to folks wishing me Happy Birthday. I turned 41 years old 5 days (and of this moment 9 hours and 53 minutes) ago. The specifics are part of the larger point, which I swear I’ll get to as succinctly as possible. But my reactions to the well wishes this year have been decidedly muted on my part (with the exception of a great impromptu Barbershop rendition of Happy Birthday from Matthew Levine and friends, which made me tear up.) And I’ve had more than a couple of conversations about why I’ve been so blasé about getting a year older.
Last year, I had a REALLY tough time turning 40. For at least 6 months leading up to it, I was a fucking mess. I was taking the first steps towards a new career, which turned out in fact to be missteps. I didn’t see them as part of a learning process at the time, but as signs of failure. I hadn’t yet reached certain milestones I’d set for myself before turning 40, and it was really eating me up. As it got closer and closer, three different people pointed out to me that my logic around all this was what was tripping me up. I’m often wont to make Nuke LaLouche’s great mistake. I was thinking too much, and more specifically, I was thinking too much about signposts.
For those who don’t know me (and I can’t imagine you’d be reading this otherwise, but thanks if you are) I was born on New Years Day, 1974. My birthday has always attracted a lot of attention from others for the obvious facts having nothing to do with my birth. It’s extremely rare that anyone’s who’s asked to see my ID doesn’t comment on this auspicious date. (It’s getting more and more rare that anyone checks my ID for anything, but I digress.) Having a Holiday birthday fascinates most, folks who likely have randomly mundane dates of birth. For those born on June 29, I am a rare and interesting unicorn. (My Mom’s birthday is June 29, and she thinks this for different reasons, not the least of which being that I finally remembered her birthday. Hi Mom!)
I’ve said many times that Jan 1 has it’s perks, and it certainly does. Never in my life have I had to go to school or work on my birthday. Ever, and I likely never will. Now that I have a family, I’m virtually guaranteed that the same will be true for my wife and children. I’ll always get to see them on this big day.
This particular date does lead annually to some fairly interesting celebrations. I have another dear friend who’s birthday falls on Dec. 31, and she hates it. I’ve had more than a few conversations with her about embracing the idea that the huge nationwide party going on all around her isn’t in spite of her birthday, but rather a celebration of it. Her response was something along the lines of how that was a great way for me to think, but didn’t work for her. On New Year’s Eve, no one is celebrating the year that passed, they’re looking forward. The whole planet counts down the seconds until it’s my birthday, and is grateful to see my friend’s pass into memory. I feel strongly for her, as I’m certain my attempts to cheer her on her birthday have hugely backfired, souring her all the more.
That said, her logic steers me closer to the point. For me, getting older is a huge signpost, and the specifics of the date are a major factor in that. I get older on the first day of the year. There is almost no way to look at my birthday as anything other than a new beginning. I’ve spent many a birthday suffering from what you might call Brown Bottle Flu, caused by excessive celebration of getting older at the moment that it happened and on into the wee hours. But there have been some huge moments on that day, indeed even in that second. I got engaged to my lovely wife at the stroke of midnight, in a huge crowd of folks whom we both dearly love. I’ve made the signpost count in lots of ways over the years, but it was the Big One that really got to me.
Time is a human construct, some say a fallacy, and it can super fuck with your head. I realized last year that it wasn’t just getting older, it was the birthday combined with the false finish line I had created. I needed to have a lot of stuff done by that day to feel validated. I needed to have achieved certain things, and was utterly incapable of appreciating the things that already happened. The accomplishments I’d made were overshadowed by that towering signpost, that uncrossed finish line, and I was choking on my own perceived failure.
My Wife, My Mother, and my Therapist all pointed out to me that I was being, essentially, a fuckin’ moron. Time may indeed be just a method of measuring the few precious moments we have before death, the tick tick tick that never goes away, but it doesn’t have to be. If this thinking motivates you to achieve, then great. But letting it constantly blind you to where you are instead of where you are going is not healthy. I spent the weeks, even months, after that signpost passed by and faded into the distance, and looked around a little at where I really was. I had, in fact, made progress. I’d written the first draft of the first issue of a comic, a lifelong dream. I’d made a few connections in that industry, I’d been writing regularly for two years about comics, and I was taking the first steps into a larger world.
It was only another month or so later that I realized more specifically what mistakes I had been making, and that I had actually learned a few things along the way. I took what I had done and started on a new approach: Think smaller, put more hooks in the water, never stop fishing. If you want to make comics? Make Comics. By mid-year, I WAS making comics. I’m still doing it, in new ways and with new collaborators, and I’ve achieved a few of those signpost goals. I’ve achieved a few new ones. I’ve missed others, and dismissed a few more altogether.
And at 41, I’m content with that progress. More than that, I have a better understanding of where I’m going and how to deal with it. My birthday will obviously never change, but it doesn’t matter that much to me anymore. I’ll still dread getting older, I’ll still worry that I’m not working hard enough. But the next big signpost is a long way off, and I’m not going to worry about it anymore. It’ll get here when it gets here. I’ll keep plugging away, I’ll keep achieving personal goals with the wife and our girls, and I’ll try to be a good husband and step-dad. I’ll do everything I can to keep making comics. There’s a big number out there, and I do have things I’d like to achieve by then. But I’m running towards it now, instead of resisting it. It’s coming, but for now, if you ask me how old I am, I have a pretty simple answer.
Meh. I’m not 50 yet.