It’s worth prefixing what follows with some context. That being the night after an extremely boozy birthday dinner leaving me with wobbly typing fingers, a head full of faux angst and an entirelysuperfluous glass of wine. Frankly it was days before I even remembered any events between staggering home and passing out. A edit in total sobriety saw the removal of many’fucks’ and words I didn’t even know I knew. Still the dictionary didn’t either. Even afterthat, it’s still marks me as a pretentious, self-absorbed twat of course. But I don’t feel I’m revealing anything new 😉
There’s an eyebrow raising ironyobserving Internet forums where some hapless poster receives advice in the vein of ‘this is probably a good time to have a sit down and considerwhere your life went wrong’*. Which – if you think about it for a minute – sounds like code for being judged by other peoples values. And value is a good word because of its close association with worth which tends to becounted in desperate steps towards anunreachable destination.
I have reached an age where lifehas impartedtwo immutabletruths; firstly everyone – absolutely everybody – is winging it on a daily basis, and your value to the planet is unlikely to be summed by all the stuff you own. Any further understandingof ‘how life works‘ is merely a continuum of ‘buggered if I know‘, butat least there isan emergingclarity about what’s important and how it might be measured. If you care about such stuff, which in my experience almost everybody does when it’s all about them. Outside of our personal orbit, not so much.
So here’s how it goes: I hit another birthday rituallysuggesting celebration but physically marking furthermental decline. 47 is close to the life expectancy a mere 100 yearsago,soan audit of what’s still working is more of a damage report: I’m not quite fiftyyet and that’s not a numbereven seen – because I’m missing my reading glasses and half-century baggage whiffs of welcoming beige, dinner parties, responsibility and all that shit into your world. Still they said that about hitting forty, and I’ve smashed that with aching limbs, slow repairing muscles, and fascial lines to the power of crevice.
At no point hasgravitas entered my life. I don’t feel wise, but blimeyI’ve failed to learn from a litanyof mistakes. I’m far less certain than thirty years ago becausewhat happens next stops being exciting and starts being scary. I’ve learned much about decay and how things end. I’ve been to funerals and pattered earth on hardwood where much loved soft bodies were encased. I’ve watched the tiny bodies of our DNA steeple beyond at least one of their parents and become something rather more than children. I’ve seen shit that’s not quite TannhauserGate, but nevertheless on the wrong side of mildlyperturbing.
Right enough of this pretension, let’s do the audit thing by considering how one values worth: is it the things you’ve done, the stuffyou’ve made or the toysyou own? Is the life equation a sum ofwhat you’ve acquired divided that by the years you’ve graced the planet? I really hope it isn’t because while my ratio may look mildly impressive, that’s a nonsense so far up its own arse I really want absolutely nothing to do with it.
So how else might one measure worth and value against a planet screwed up by greedand the short-termism?**. What I see is middle class angst against hacked out forests thousands of miles away missing a rather more pressing localprerogative of feeding a family. Protesting against wars that cannot hurt ussalves a moral conscience that maybe we should be doing something more. Not throwing a 50 pence piece into the hat of a homeless personon waterloo bridge because ‘it’ll just encourage laziness’ . We are way WAY better than that, and yet still feel the urge to measure ourselves against our peers, those whom we’re silently racing and whose artefacts loom large as we park our so-called executive car in our block paved drives perfectly sealed against rainwater collection.
Worth is a nebulous quantity. It’s used by the chattering classes to keep score. If I have learned anything in forty seven years, it’s something like this; how you are perceived is nothing close to whoyou really are. What scares you is at worse pointless and at best transitory. Keeping score only matters if you have interest in playing the game. The people who you care about, you care about because you’ve shared stuff that has a cumulative value not an asset value.
So here’s my audit; my body is mostly intact – shorn of some mobility by injuries and a little bit more by age. I’m stiff in the morning and that’s not mainlining morning glory. Quite a few bits down’t work properly and some other bits not at all. 20% of my right shoulder doesn’t articulate fronting up with an arthritic union with a left ankle and right elbow. I can’t read anything upstream of three feet without reading glasses, and despite my best efforts an increasing tyre of gluttony adorns my midriff. Risk evaluation is no longer a ‘fuck it it’ll be fine‘ and instead transcends shades of grey. The edge movesever closer which is slightly less irritating than my inability to accept my ever increasing cautiousness. And I find myself standing in front of the dishwasher or the fridge in a bit of a fug muttering ‘No, don’t tell me, there’s definitely something I came to do here, just don’t rush me‘
Well that all sounds pretty fucking compelling eh? And yet I’ve somehow managed to morph from shit-kicking northern nobody to a bloke who has somehow raised two great kids mostly because ofa fantastic partner who deals effortlessly with my inability to get interestedin grown up life. I’ve a shed full of fantastic mountain bikes which raise me to atheist gods on a weekly basis. Somehow I’ve conquered a chronic lung illness through a tough regime of stopping smoking Marlboro Lights and refusing the odd cheese plate.
So today I’m 47 years old. I don’t feel anywhere near that until that grizzled bastard, looking back at me from the shaving mirror, points out the almost lack of hair and infinite cast of lines . I don’t recognise that person. I certainly don’t know him. That’s a face of giving in and getting old and frankly fuck that. For a while at least.
Growing old is inevitable. Getting old less so. I’m done with excuses about exactly what stops me acting my age. I know these suited people with serious faces – almost debilitated by anxiety and terrified of stepping beyond rigid lines drawn by accepted societal norms – are winging it just like me. Time to walk across the line and see what’s on the other side.
*Generally when someone who has swapped dignity for attention-seeking blurts out amiddle class indiscretion around caravan ownership or stone cladding. To a crowd-sourced hive-mind fully invested with keyboard warriors, logic-freeutopianism and a stratospheric moral high ground. Good luck with that.
** And I’m very muchaware that much of the reason I’m sat behind a very nice Mac keyboard in our own house and not experiencing any type of poverty are gains from that system.