Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Today's my 47th birthday. Isaac Newton was born on Jan. 4, and so was Louis Braille. It's a good birthday for music -- R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, and Deana "Strawberry Wine" Carter, and the great soul singer Arthur Conley, who was born in McIntosh County, Ga., one county north of where I grew up.

A couple of years ago I wrote about turning 45 -- to me, that was the year I figured I was at least halfway done with this long and winding road. I've promised myself again to lose weight and get in shape -- I have a lot more I want to say about that later on, once I've had a little streak of success. Like everyone else, I see lots of flaws in myself that I'd like to correct on this trip around the sun.

But really, what I'd like to do this year is fail more.

The other day I was listening to an NPR show on video games. They were talking about the lessons that games teach us, and one of those lessons is how to fail. In any new game you might die 100 times before you reach the next level, but every time you learn a little more about the game, and you adapt, and finally you break through. Failure is a natural byproduct of trying something hard.

This year I plan to try harder things, and fail at them, until I don't.

So, right in the middle of writing all this, my friend Joe called with birthday wishes, and we started talking about what years are the BEST birthdays.

Ages 1-3: Meh. You don't really know what's going on.

4-5: It's mostly about cake.

6-10: The prime birthday years. As Joe said, when you're a little kid your birthday is better than Christmas because it's ALL ABOUT YOU -- all the presents are for you, and maybe your friends come over, and you get the biggest slice of cake. We decided that 9 is the prime birthday age -- old enough to enjoy everything, young enough to not be cynical about it.

11-15: Not that big a deal. You probably just want to stay in your room.

16: BIG deal. Drivin' time.

18: You can't drink at 18 anymore (at least in most states). But you can vote, and you're probably getting out of high school and starting the next part of your life. Big year.

21: You can drink legally now. At which point, for most of us, drinking becomes not as much fun.

25: Joe thought 25 was a big year -- he felt grown up then. I was 25 when I came to the Observer, and still felt like a kid in a lot of ways.

29: This was the year I became an adult -- came to the Observer's main office, moved to Charlotte, survived throat cancer.

30, 40, 50, 60: Taking-stock years.

65: Retirement (maybe).

75: For some people, this is when birthdays start to get exciting again. At some point, maybe you start to feel like you're stealing years: Ha! Made it to 82! Bite me, Grim Reaper!

The terrifying, and wonderful, thing is that none of us know until we get there.

Today I'm 47. Some days I feel a lot older, and some days I feel like a little kid. Time bends and stretches, sometimes by our own hands, sometimes by hands we never see.


Michael Solender said...

Ironically, from 50 on it is mostly about cake as well...

Anonymous said...

You have reminded me of comedian Larry Miller's bit on birthdays:

Little kids think in fractions - "I'm 4 and a half."
Teens jump ahead - "I'm gonna be 16" (even if you're only 12).
The greatest day of your life is when you become 21. "Become" makes it sound like a ceremony.
But you turn 30. Makes you sound like bad milk.
Then you're pushing 40. "Stay over there!"
Then you reach 50, and you make it to 60. "I didn't think I'd make it.
So you become 21, turn 30, push 40, reach 50, make it to 60, and by then you've built up so much speed, you HIT 70.
In your 80s and 90s, you hit lunch. Time to stop buying green bananas.

And if you make it past 100, you become a little kid again. "I'm a hundred four and a half."

lkmi said...

I've taken to hosting a "middle age crisis party" every 5 years, starting when I turned 40. Kind of an early version of "Bite Me, Grim Reaper"

Lynne Stevenson said...

Welcome to the 46.5+ club! Hope your birthday was your best one yet...May there be MANY MANY MORE cakes and parties to come...Hope Alix treated you to a special dinner at a restaurant of your choice. You and my Cousin Eddie Adams of Hartsville, SC share the exact same birthday...