Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I Don't Like These Numbers 

I'm still undecided about the number. 44. Forty-four. Double Trouble. 44 Magnum. Two score and 4 years? I've never been uncomfortable about telling people my age until now. Maybe that was because I didn't feel my age. Now I'm starting to. Thinning on top, thickening in the middle, and grey and fuzzy all around – and that's just my head. Persistant aches and pains and other assorted complaints certainly contribute to the feeling. What's more, I recently starting carrying the epitome of old-man accoutrements; a handkercheif. Not a pocket square. A hanky. Mind you, they are handsewn Japanese printed cotton and I do use them exclusively to wipe my glasses, but a day may come when it touches my nose or when I wipe the sweat from my brow and on that day the onset of age will have corrupted my very soul. Which is a problem because generally, my soul is the only young thing I've got left.

Many times have I asked myself, should a grown man watch this many cartoons? Walt Disney and Chuck Jones were certainly grown men and they made cartoons. Should a spoonful of Nutella really make a grown man happy? Cigarettes for some, chocolate for others, I say. I still love chocolate milk, but I also like bourbon and lager. I still ride a bike in short pants. So does Lance Armstrong. I don't even own a car. Neither does Stephen Hawking (or at least, I hope he doesn't). I still love comic books. Robert Crumb is almost 70 and he… okay, I'm not going to compare myself to R. Crumb.

Still, I just do not feel like a grown up. By most measures, I feel pretty good about who I am. Certainly, I'm comfortable career-wise. In fact, it's never been better. I'm well compensated for my time. People ask my opinion, I give it. Even if they don't ask, I give it. Decisions are made, work is carried out. Another day, another dollar. I'm healthy (or healthy-ish). Yet, it all feels familiar.
“"…don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of."”
Bruce Lee
The very grind of the familiar is taking its toll. I get up, go to work, come home, do some exercise (maybe), shower, supper, TV, wash dishes, bed too late, up too early (because I went to bed too late), shower, rinse, repeat. Before you know it, nothing has happened other than the very passing of time. I read a Bruce Lee quote that said, and I paraphrase for lack of energy to confirm verbatim, "…don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of." Then he said, "Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?" followed closely by, "Probably. It sounds fine to me."

There's the rub. Your birthday, your number, like an assigned best before date (Logan's Run anybody?) signifies not all that you are or have done, but all that you haven't done. All the time wasted. 8766 hours per year (yes, counting the extra 6 hours tallied in a leap year), times 44 equals 385,704 hours. At least I don't smoke. The odometer is running. In about 18 months I'll be at an even 400,000 hours. I won't hit 500,000 until I'm 57. Ugh.

I recently noticed my Nike+ running computer hit 500 KM, which seemed a small number. I had set a goal to run about 750 KM this year, modest by most runner's standards but would be more than double what I ran this year. A quick check shows I ran 300 KM, swam 87 KM, and biked 910 KM in 2011. I don't know why I'm even thinking about this. They are just numbers after all. I guess it's because it is like a countdown in some ways, and I do want to squeeze more life out of Life and the time and mileage are piling up.

I sometimes think about Stefan Sagmeister's sage approach to work and life. He's the very successful and influential Austrian born graphic designer and every seven years he closes his studio for a yearlong sabbatical. He realized he didn't want to work until 65, then in his dotage take time to enjoy himself, he wanted to do it while he was young. So he simply made an assumption about his approximate age of death, minus retirement age and divided by the number of years left which resulted in taking a year off every seven years. Now, this might seem trivial but it is not. He shuts down his studio which must employ at least 2-3 dozen people, and turns down work right when he might be able to make the most money. Graphic design isn't like taking a year off accounting. Designers build momentum and "get hot" and that's when they have to make their money. Closing shop might happen just when you've built a considerable client base. By turning them away, you turn them towards other firms. It's a significant step. So, he makes the most of it. He travels, reads, writes, and yes, does work, but the kind of work he would never be paid to do. Surprisingly, a lot of the work he has done on a sabbatical builds his reputation and gets even more attention so that he has clients waiting for him to take paid work again. Simple solution.

You can't stop aging. You can't stop the numbers. You can't stop from getting older, but you can keep learning, trying and doing. You can stay young. I've got 14,128 hours until I reach 400,000 hours on this Earth, I might as well make the best of it.



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