In several days I turn forty and will partake in a few events (heaven help me) with friends and family to celebrate this achievement. In some ways it feels I got to a checkpoint in a challenging video game and feel relieved to save here; in other ways it’s a bit daunting since now I’m gazing over the other side of the climb. There is definitely an odd sense of shift in motion. Not necessarily that I’m moving backward, but when you’re young, you tend to look forward to things and charge at them – in your teens getting your license, voting etc, in your twenties entering a career, meeting the love of your life, in your thirties taking on the world. At forty, you’ve seen some things and the messiness of life is impossible to ignore. At least for me, I care less about those conquistador-type parts of my life and more about meaningful relationships, work that I’m proud of and purpose of being. I imagine in the following years you learn to truly make peace with yourself, the world and its inevitable entropy as William Shakespeare did when he wrote the Tempest, his last work. The wizard Prospero famously says in the Our Revels speech “We are such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep” I can never decide if that is sinister or sweet – or both. Either way, Shakespeare was much older than I am now when he wrote that line and was no doubt contemplating his mortality. I’m not there yet but I can see the billboards.
I don’t think I look forty, whatever that means, but I’ve been told as much by quite a few people. Maybe my chubbiness hides wrinkles and I’m sure it helps that my hair hasn’t really greyed yet. I tend to stay out of the sun since I burn like a marshmallow, so that has probably helped. I think it runs in the family though because my sisters also look significantly younger than their ages. Of course, there’s always the fun moments of shock when my younger friends, students and associates realize that the engine under the hood has more mileage than they had perceived. I often get a gasped “whoa dude, you’re forty?!?” It’s kind of funny sometimes to see the horror on their faces like they suddenly make that connection to themselves getting older – it bothers them more than it bothers me. I tend to have fun with it and laugh it off. Truthfully, I don’t entirely know what to think about it other than it’s just another year and that we put too much importance on decades. I filled out a form a couple days ago and when it came to the age part, I felt weird typing thirty-nine since it felt like a bit of a lie. In some parts of Asia you’re born as one year old, so I guess I’ve been forty for nearly a year already. Spoiler alert, not that big a deal.
If there’s one thing that does get to me in contemplating a landmark age, it’s time and the calculus we do daily to ensure that we are maximizing our time. I’m terrible at this and I tend to procrastinate as I think many creatives do. I don’t necessarily regret my procrastination though because I tend to work in binges and when I do get down to it, I’m prolific and expedient, but I am trying to soak up the spaces in between as well. At forty, you start to really feel the pull of time and decisions become, in some ways harder, and in other ways easier. On the harder side: Is it too late for me to work on a doctorate? Will I get married again? (divorce is another common thread at this age) Can I get back in shape? On the easy side: Fly direct even if it costs more. I was recently in LA visiting my sister, her husband and my baby niece who turned one. Spending time with a baby automatically makes you contemplate the math because you’re in the presence of this new life, unscathed by the world and with infinite paths ahead. She’s too young to perceive it, but she is gorging on new information and selecting the first few choices in her life little by little. She looks at me like I’m this fascinating old artifact that she found and wants to poke at. Coincidentally, I’m fascinated with her newness and the joy she brings. People often say that before you die, your life flashes before your eyes, well I think the same is true of babies. I think something about their fresh skin, boundless energy and big eyes makes you self-reflect in a much more powerful way than any new year’s resolution can. I wonder about her life and, when she turns forty, what the world will be like. Will people still eat meat? Will cars still exist? Have we solved climate change? Will I make it to eighty to see that with her?
I’ve heard it said that there is, in all probability, someone on the planet alive right now who will live to be two hundred years old. If that’s true, then forty definitely is the new thirty and I welcome it with enthusiasm.