Or a day after my birthday, at any rate. A quick disclaimer: I have no particular theme in mind for this essay; I reserve the right to ramble. Yesterday I turned 40. Years ago among my parents’ friends, there was a tradition to pass around a cane as a gag gift on the 40th birthday. It seemed a little cruel to me at the time, but now that I am here I appreciate the humor: 40 isn’t old at all.
Ironically, though, I do possess a cane, which I actually required for a time.
I’m not sure how I am supposed to feel about my life at this point. I am given to understand that some people go through the “mid-life crisis” around 40-50. They look ahead and see fewer years remaining than they have already lived, and the fear of age makes them try to recapture something of their youth. I don’t feel any such predilection. Maybe that’s because I’ve never really taken the time to grow up. I took a good long time to settle on a career; I’m only 5 years into it, so most of my professional peers are 25-30. I don’t have children; I waffle between regretting that and being thankful for it. I am divorced, and living as a bachelor certainly contributes to a lack of responsibility that feels an awful lot like a lack of maturity. I am also lucky enough to have kept my hair (though it is turning silver) and not developed too many wrinkles. When I look in the mirror, I still see a youngish fellow, though perhaps one who could stand to lose a few (or a couple dozen) pounds.
So in no way do I feel old. I am not unduly concerned with the number of years I have left, either. Given my bloodlines and today’s rapidly advancing medical technologies, there is every chance I could break 100 years of age. Or I could kick off tomorrow. Being the careful planner that I am, I have strategies in place to account for both possibilities, but I don’t give my mortality much more thought than I do the zombie apocalypse (actually, I think my contingency for that might be a little more well-developed than the one covering my early death. Perhaps I should revisit my priorities.)
I supplement my lack of maturity with a love of comic books, video games, and Saturday morning cartoons. The networks may have cancelled their cartoon blocks, but Netflix graciously allows me to carry on the tradition. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Animaniacs, and Young Justice are my current shows, in case you were wondering. Given that I work in the visual effects industry, that behavior isn’t even really odd; we’ve all got action figures on our desks and talk about spaceships and superheroes all day. Sometimes those topics are even related to the work we’re doing.
So I’m growing older, but I’m not growing up.
Forty years makes for a lot of experiences, even when you’re not seeking them out. I am happy to say that most of my memories are good ones. I’ve had some heartaches, certainly, but I am fully aware of how lucky I have been in my life. There are those who try to make me feel bad about that. I’ve had some conversations about “white privilege,” and there are always those people who try to poison every good thing by pointing out how one-legged widows in the third world are ground up in wood chippers to provide materials for some product we’re all using.
That paragraph took an unexpected turn.
The point is that I’ve had a lot of very good experiences and relatively few bad ones. Some of that, I think, is due to viewpoint. I am a naturally optimistic person. “Everything’s going to be fine” is my default assumption, and I don’t have to try at all to maintain a positive outlook. I wonder if other people would, in my shoes, consider some of the things that have happened to me to be misfortunes. I’m divorced, I’ve been broke, I have none of the things that most people consider essential at this point in my life. No house, no kids, precious few real connections to other people. Most of my closest friends are more than 1000 miles away. Some people would view that as failure. To me, it’s just my life, and I’m as happy as I always have been.
So how about some of those experiences? I’ve been reminded in recent weeks of several moments in the lives of my friends and family. Laina’s enjoyment of The Man in the Iron Mask, which we saw together in a nearly-deserted theater. She had a grand time shouting at the screen. A trip to the Sedgwick County Zoo during which it was suggested that Sarah Englemann was in the same weight class as the capybara, and maybe she should wrestle it. She declined. James singing “A Whole New World,” in costume, at Wal-Mart. I think it was for some kind of promotion, but I can’t discount the possibility that he just did it for fun. Smacking Josh in the head with the handle of a drill that got away with me. I’m so sorry about that, Josh, and even sorrier that I laughed when it happened. If it makes you feel any better, ever since then I’ve had chronic shoulder pain as a result of all that drilling. Walking beneath the sunflowers with Jess. Helping Krystal write poetry during a tech rehearsal. Watching Jabberwocky in Russell’s basement. A late-night game of Zork: Nemesis with Jon and James; it’s hilarious how spooked those two got over that game! Practicing Red Letters with Brad and Beth. Teasing June about her crush on the guy in the Bowflex commercial. That roleplaying game with Keanon, C.J. and Chris Gill in which Chris got so intimidated by the villain that he switched sides and got everyone else killed. An early morning conversation with Joy about life and literature. Grumbling at Pastor Mark over his assertion that “Blessed are the flexible, so they shall not be broken” when asking me to set up for youth service outside with only two hours’ warning. “But they may get seriously bent out of shape,” I replied. Handing Chris Waipa a glass of water for an impromptu baptism. Spending a couple hours chatting with Brian Castleberry at Horn Creek when he fell ill during dinner and retreated to the Big Room alone. Telling Jason Soule that I’d have a problem if he followed me up into the creepy attic wearing his clown make-up. Pretending to be a dog with my cousin Miki when we were children. Cousin Mandy referring to me as her “hot cousin.” Getting kicked in the nads by Mindy Soderberg (sp?) because she wanted to know if it really worked. Dancing with Dana Meyers in junior high school, after which she mysteriously vanished. Sitting around in a house with no furniture talking and listening to Paul play his guitar in the week before he moved away to Colorado. Smacking Chris Mayfield on the head with a pencil. Handing off the orchestra bells and harness to Mr. Crow in the middle of a parade because they were just too heavy. After three or four steps struggling with their weight, he said, “You don’t have to march with these any more.” Pretending to be a Ninja Turtle with Cory and Nick. Watching sadly as my Grandfather struggled to find the words he wanted while he was dying of a brain tumor. The butterflies my Grandmother decorated her house with as she mourned his death. Watching my other Grandfather play with the elaborate model train in his garage. Canoeing with my Father. Debating newspaper stories with my Mother over the breakfast table. Playing board games with Timothy. Bringing Danica with me everywhere before she could drive. Riding my bike to James Beauchesne’s house for a game of Rifts. Praying with Don Starnes on the sidewalk outside the tabernacle at camp. Almost catching a fish with Travis. Sharing the piano bench with Lisa while we learned our duet for Let’s Go to the Rock. Playing the vibraphone for a multi-church worship band with Jeff Day. Watching Shelly keep those wooden apples spinning. Visiting every restaurant within walking distance with Lyz, Zach and Blochi. Inviting Joel to sleep on my couch, even though I’d only known him for literally fifteen minutes. Watching a sea lion with Michael and Jolene while kayaking. Giving Joe Baird feedback on his novel. Meetings with the extracurricular FX group at AiC with Jon Franks and Alexis. Keith trying to persuade me that I can make a fortune taking his cans to the recycling place. Gleefully telling Gail that we were peers when we were both sponsors at Horn Creek. Hiding in the back bedroom from too many people with Jamie Morton. Jessica Qualls reminding everyone that her Rohirric character in a MERP game had dark hair. Ryan Darrow preaching to a herd of deer. Telling Taylore “I don’t like loud noises.” Trina telling me, “That was the most full and compete stop I’ve ever seen!” Mike Connor eating a fly that had gotten caught in some ketchup and Kristina Hopp’s horrified reaction. Chris Crumm and I in a laughter feedback loop at Comedy Sports. We had to move to opposite ends of the table before we killed one another. Mike Sisson telling me absolutely everything there is to know about the Knights Templar.
And as I think of all of those people, and others, more and more memories keep coming to me. I hope that all of you have gained as much from knowing me as I have from knowing you. There are a lot of you that I will probably never see or speak to again. Others will unexpectedly come back into my life. A few occupy a permanent place in my life, and I treasure you. I may be an extreme introvert and spend most of my days in solitude, but truly it is my time I have spent with all of you that has meant the most to me and shaped me into the man that I am. Thank you.
It is, perhaps, inevitable that I should turn my thoughts toward the future today. A few weeks ago, I took the time to evaluate how well I’d done on the five-year plan I devised after I graduated from the Art Institute. I pretty well nailed most of it, although I’ve abandoned my intention to seek work in Vancouver. While I can’t say I particularly like L.A., I don’t hate it as much as I had expected to, and I do have some good friends here.
My new five-year plan is less about where I want to be at the end of that time and more about how I want to be living by that time. It involves concentrating on my personal projects, such as writing, animation, programming, and learning. It involves improving my spiritual life—starting to attend church again and spending more time in prayer and Bible reading. There are some professional development and financial goals in there, as well. I’d like to increase my salary by at least 10% per year and accumulate a net worth of at least $200k. In spite of not being terribly concerned with my mortality, I am getting a little worried about my health. Exercise and a better diet are going to be essential in coming years. I want an exercise plan that I can use in my tiny apartment and that won’t cost me much on an ongoing basis. I want to be a bit more deliberate in cultivating my personal relationships.
To go along with the five-year plan is a ten-year plan. Obviously, over such a long time scale, objectives are a bit broader and less well-defined. My net worth should be above $500,000 (in today’s dollars) and generating enough passive income to support my current lifestyle. I’ll have 15 years experience in the VFX industry by that time, and I should be in a senior position by then. I’ll have the option of continuing or shifting to true freelancing, maybe even moving back to the Midwest, where that passive income will get me a nicer lifestyle while I continue to earn remotely. Heck, by then the entire industry might have shifted to telecommuting, and I’ll be able to work from anywhere at all.
It’s been a pretty good life so far. There are definitely things I wish had gone differently, but I cannot say that I regret too many of them. I know there are some people out there whom I’ve hurt, either through negligence or thoughtlessness. That weighs heavily on me. I’m sure there are others that I’ve offended without ever even realizing it. Without knowing who you are or what I did, I cannot regret, but I hope you can extend forgiveness, anyway.
I expect my next forty years to be even better than the first forty. I’m sure trouble will come, and tears will fall. I can bear it, though, because I know Whose I am, and I know there are so many who love me. May I have the strength to love as much in return.