life, Uncategorized

The Traditional Birthday Post: What 43 Means

man sitting on red wooden chair while reading newspaper
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

43 is not a big deal. 43 is ho-hum, I’m not 40 anymore but not old enough to get a senior coffee at McDonald’s. 43 is having risen to middle management only to find that it’s not paradise, but you need the paycheck, so, well, here you are, and at least you’re experienced enough to know what to do.

When you add the digits of 43 together, you get 7, which is supposed to be a lucky number. Also, 43 happens to be my old rural route school bus number. Being 43 means having been bald long enough not to care and actually preferring your head that way. 43 apparently means developing grays in your remaining “horseshoe,” though, and in sporadic clumps that exactly reflect the degree of stress from two sons: right side of the head = oldest, left side of the head = youngest. I’ll let you guess which gray patch is bigger.

43 means most of the people in the generations before yours are now gone from your life or are headed that way, and you better know how to handle it. Grief doesn’t get any easier, but by now you’ve had to be involved with the nuts-and-bolts of people’s passing and so you know what’s coming from a practical standpoint. It still sucks, though.

43 is wondering about the retirement fund, holding on to a final few lifelong dreams that haven’t yet been achieved, and praying that the kids get hefty scholarships for college. 43 is thinking about who you might eventually become as a grandparent, then quickly throwing that thought aside while assuring yourself you’re too young to think that way. “Isn’t there some work I need to do?” you ask.

43 is regular dentist visits, cardio, and worrying about whether diet soda causes dementia. But it’s also the place that the older generation calls “the prime of your life,” that space where you can make your biggest difference since you’ve been around long enough to gain a little wisdom, but you’re not so old that you’ve burned out.

43 means deciding whether to be “the company man” like others before you, or continuing to change employers every few years just to keep things interesting. Do they still give out gold watches for years of service? Do you even want one? Decisions, decisions…

Maybe above all else 43 means having the maturity to think about what 43 means. You’ve learned to reflect, to think about your thinking, and to be thankful for the path so far. And barring unforeseen circumstances, you’ve got a good bit of road ahead, so you might as well get busy.

 

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life, poetry, teaching, writers, writing

On Exploring Other People’s Homes

window on the world
The view from my current home, which has inspired so many poems.

My wife and I are trying to find our next house. I’ve been driving a 140-mile round trip to work since September of last year, when I accepted a position teaching college English and Literature in Clearwater. I love the job, and she just accepted a position in a doctor’s office over there, as well. This, of course, has necessitated a lot of house-hunting.

I’m not a firm believer in new-age spirituality or that kind of thing, but I do think it’s interesting when you walk into a potential new home and pick up the energies that the last people left behind. In divorce homes, you can feel the tension and anxiety. In foreclosures, you can feel the dread, the sleeplessness, and occasionally the hatred. In homes that have been well-loved, you can sense that, too.

All this house-hunting and its associated investigations have brought me back to my reporter days, when I had to enter crime scenes and disaster scenarios: Every time, there was some kind of toxicity in the environment. It came not from the smells of violence or destruction — it was intangible. I am grateful that the homes my wife and I have entered so far have been free from that same toxicity, even if the air feels tense or unhappy.

And in addition, going into so many houses makes fertile ground for poetry. The way others live is a fascinating and often striking subject, and no doubt these forays into real estate will result in some creative work as time elapses.  For now, though, we continue to go about the nuts-and-bolts processes of home buying and selling. The whole transition is the stuff of literature, and here’s hoping that the eventual words will do justice to the experience.

P.S.: Realtors, financiers, and other business-types, please don’t contact me via this site peddling your wares. We’re already well taken care of. Thanks for respecting our wishes.

poetry, Uncategorized

The Necessity of Interruption

So, this post probably won’t win me many writer friends. Be warned.

I have found over the years I have written poetry and prose that I am different from my colleagues in one regard: I actually prefer to be interrupted from writing.

Now, before all you secluded-in-solitude writers go nuts, let me clarify: My writing room has no “doors” to speak of. My children can come in at any time and speak to me, get hugs, whatever. And in retrospect, those interruptions have actually made my writing stronger.

Here’s what I mean: My brain actually has to work harder to power through the static and the outside influences, and thereby comes up with things that my brain at total ease would never think. In fact, when I’ve tried to write in areas that are too quiet (the library, my local college study room, etc.), I find myself encountering greater difficulty. There has to be some background noise, and it can’t be something like music with lyrics or that artificial white noise garbage. The sounds in the environment have to be things I know are real: the drip of the rain beyond my window (like right now), the TV in the adjoining room mumbling about…I can’t tell what, the coffeemaker gently whirring forth a stream of fuel, my boys playing pirates in their bedroom down the hall. These noises actually help me to focus better. And while many of my poet friends would cringe at the thought of such “racket,” I’ve found that writing locales without these sensations rob me of something. Maybe it’s the familiarity, maybe it’s a degree of undiagnosed OCD — I’m not sure.

Whatever the cause of this scientific fact, the thing that matters most is its effect. I know how and where I write best, and life’s little interruptions are as necessary as pen and paper. Do I still fantasize about being that “lone wolf” author who has blackout blinds and acoustic paneling just to ensure that his thoughts aren’t “tainted?” I suppose. But given my druthers, I’ll take my boys’ imagination-chatter and the soft hum of life in the suburbs over celebrity sanctuary any day.