Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Middle Ages

A new character on Desperate Housewives (Edie's new husband) was trying to convince the harpy-like wife of the guy who used to play on Melrose Place to let him be in a garage band. He did so by describing a man in mid-life suddenly coping with the realization that you had accomplished all you really ever were going to accomplish. You would never climb a mountain, win a marathon, write a great novel or achieve any real level of fame.

I just want to say to the writers of that show, "Thanks for crapping in my cereal bowl.

It is difficult to believe that it isn't true that middle age is the long slide into oblivion. Oh sure, you can all cite examples of people who accomplished great things after they turned 50, but let's be a little realistic here. Most of those people had some pretty established early years helped by trust funds to launch their golden age Renaissance. The rest of us pretty much spend most of our youth clawing our way to the top of the hill only to discover another hill and then say screw it.

Call me a pessimist. Many have. Some think of me as overly negative. I prefer to think of myself as arriving at a realistic point of view. I don't always expect the worst. I just am rarely surprised when it comes knocking.

It's not that I think life is over when you hit 40 or 50. After all, I didn't get married until I was 47. Our daughter came into my life when I was 48 and my son was born a few months after I turned 50. So I don't buy into the myths about the limits of middle age from an emotional and intellectual standpoint.

What I do buy into are the realities. You can work out all you like and eat relatively well, but unless you are Jack LeLanne, your body will change. You will gain weight, you will lose muscle strength and you will lose the flexibility you had in your 20s and 30s.

Face it, we all age. Look at the "Where they are now" Web pages and marvel at what the ravages of time have done to sex symbols, movie stars and athletes. It's entertaining for most people, but not quite as entertaining when you look in the mirror and see it happening to you.

It is the perceptions of you other people have as you age that are the biggest challenge. I've written several times about the phenomenon of becoming invisible as you age. The older you are, the less relevance you seem to have to the world unless it is to "honor" you for your contributions and then shuttle you off into the corner while the young people party.

I try to be conscious of the things that used to annoy me when I was in my 20s and 30s about middle aged people. I try not to talk to much about how we used to do things. I don't give advice (let them learn the hard way one listens anyway). I don't berate people if they don't have the same foundation of popular culture I have from growing up in the 60s and 70s. I don't wear clothing that was popular when I was 25 or clothing that is trendy with people who are 25 now. I have become more and more aware that things that I thought made me unique and creatively quirky when I was young don't translate well into middle age. The best I can hope for is to be thought of as eccentric as opposed to addled and senile.

Although I was never considered sexy or handsome in the traditional sense, I still find it difficult to accept that I've traded in my pheromones for comfortable shoes and sweat pants. It's part of that being invisible thing. Though for the most part, I don't miss raging hormones. I think more clearly and I make better decisions.

I suppose being middle aged isn't that bad. It is what it is. It could be worse. It could be the Dark Ages.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tonight we're going to party like it's December 2012!

I was going to call this post, "In case of rapture, break glass," but when I googled the title, I discovered some religious nut job beat me to it. Then I was going to call it "End of Daze," but I discovered that was the title of some alternative song title.

So much for clever me and my end of the world puns.

I started down this dead end road to Apocalypse last week watching a program on the History Channel about all these various sources predicting the end of the world coming in 2012 (Dec. 21, 2012 to be precise). They cited the Mayan Calendar as one of the key predictor of this date, followed by the Book of Revelations, Nostradamus and finally a Web Bot.

As with any dire predictions of doom and gloom, you have to sift through some of the generous assumptions used to arrive at 2012 as the end of days. The Mayans didn't actually predict the world would end in 2012. Their calendar just ends then. Personally, I think the guy chiseling the calendar ran out of stone and figured he wouldn't be around in 2012 anyway so what the hey.

Revelations and Nostradamus pretty much predict every year as the end of the world. The real stretch is the Web Bot that searches the World Wide Web looking for key words that define the mood of people around the world and draws conclusions. The search engine was originally designed to help make stock picks. Instead, it ended up predicting 9-11. Well, it didn't actually pinpoint 9-11. It just said something bad was going to happen in a three-month period that happened to include 9-11.

Something bad pretty much happens in any given three month period, so I'm thinking the Web Bot is a load of crap as credible as Nostradamus.

There are other urban end of the world myths floating around out there. The Web is ripe as a dead opossum in your crawl space with end of the world theories. Some say the sun is dying and we'll all be mega tanned with a solar flare in 2012. Others predict a super atom splitter being constructed by rogue physicists will rip a hole in the space time continuum and end it all.

The irony of it all is that we all will die eventually anyway. What is the point in conjecturing whether or not it will be a collective ending or an individual one? Oh, I suppose the rapture freaks who believe Jesus is coming to whisk away the righteous think it is our souls that are at stake at the end of days. One can only hope that when they walk into the light they discover it is the high beams of a fully loaded semi.

Meanwhile, if the world really is ending on 2012, I'm not going to worry about investing for the long term or global warming. I'm going live as if there is no tomorrow. Shoot maybe I'll even stop mowing my lawn and making my bed.

I doubt if my wife will go along with that one, though.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Test of greatness

"It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness."
--Herman Melville

I didn't really mean to diss on Melville in my last post. The man could turn a phrase. I was just saying that Moby Dick, although great literature in a historical sense, lacks relevance in the context of popular thought.

I did not just write that.

Regardless, I do like Melville. He said some profound things. Like the quote above. It speaks to me. I fail in my attempts at originality on a regular basis. But it makes sense. Originality rarely catches on until everyone is doing it. As a culture, we love the familiar. This is why McDonald's is the choice of millions. Unlike a box of chocolates, you always know what you are going to get.

I would caveat Melville's "failure is the true test of greatness" by suggesting you need to be trying something and failing to approach greatness. If you fail because you are sitting on your ass or blaming someone else, you are just a failure.

When I was doing some research about Melville, I discovered the guy was actually pretty cool. He went to sea in his early 20s on the whaler Achushnet. He jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia and had a romance with a native girl. He joined the crew of another whaler but then jumped ship again in Hawaii. From Hawaii he joined the crew of a British Frigate and made his way back to Boston.

Melville used his adventures in his books and had a brief stint of popularity. But after awhile he fell from grace with the masses because he started to indulge in experimental writing and delved into more political and philosophical subjects. As John Grisham, Stephan King and numerous romance novelists have discovered, the key to monetarily successful writing is not to make people think.

Melville ended his career as a customs inspector in New York. After he died his experimental writing became recognized as genius.

I'm beginning to think my writing career has a chance after all. I just may not be around to appreciate it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I started reading the first novel I've read since I got my first Blackberry. I picked it up at the airport on the way to a transit conference in San Diego last week. The book title is Lost and it's by American author Gregory Maguire. It's about a female author who is the descendant of a man Charles Dickens may have used as the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge. She travels to England to stay at the house of her semi infamous relative and encounters what could be the ghost of Jack the Ripper.

The bizarre plot and the thought of a two and a half hour flight in coach convinced me to buy the book and turn off my Blackberry. It turned out to be well written, but a bit confusing at times. But once I got used to the author's quirky literary style, I was drawn in.

But this post isn't really a review of the book. It is about something one of the characters in the book, a history professor, said. He said that he tried not to teach history as about people like us who lived at a different time, but as a lesson that human psychology has changed with each passing decade.

This may seem like a minor thing, but for me it prompted an epiphany. I doubt the author intended it as the point of the novel, but it really made me think. Because it alters the way you view the past...or at least the distant past. It explains why books like Moby Dick, although classics, are basically incomprehensible to most of the poor schmucks who have to read them in literature classes. Because if you read books written a hundred or two hundred years ago with a contemporary mindset, you can't possible understand what the author was talking about it. Not only are you from different times, you are from different worlds.

I read Moby Dick on my own outside of any literature class and found it amazing.

Amazingly boring that is. I didn't have a clue what Melville was going on about despite the extensive footnotes in the edition I read. I know there was a white whale who ate a Captain Ahab's leg and he was really pissed off about it. Oh, and there was a Starbucks, but I don't think they served lattes. I have to confess I gleaned most of even these vague impressions about the book from a 1950s film based loosely on the novel.

You see, the language, the thinking processes, the morals of Melville's time make it read like a foreign language despite the fact it was English. I believe the white whale in the book is supposed to be a religious allegory of sorts. That is based on the footnotes. So I suppose in Melville's times, white whales were very religious. Or they worshipped whales. I suppose they blubbered a lot in church. Ha, ha.

See what I mean? Thinking changes along with generations.

God knows what people will think about a Steven King novel a hundred years from now.

Or my blog.

And here I thought I was timeless. Or was that clueless?