A few years ago, a former classmate of mine — Crush #1, in fact — had this to say about the eventual turn to forty. She called it the Forty F___-Its, because when you turn forty, “you should just say ‘Fuck it'” to the stuff that doesn’t matter. I know full well that she didn’t create this saying, but it sounded original coming from her. Of course, the more common saying is that forty is the new thirty. Tell that to former professional athletes who are in their forties! There is a qualitative difference, because even if our bodies are tuned up, our bones don’t lie.
But my one-time crush and now married mother of two is correct. By the time we reach our forties, we should realize that there are some things we should just say “F___ it” to. I have a list of what I need to say “F___ it” to now that I’m firmly on the other side of forty.
1. Hiding my intelligence. I’ve been a miserable failure at this anyway. Still, I can be incredibly conscientious of the words I use and how I speak in situations and settings in which my intellectual skills are shunned, including the workplace. No more of that! I learned long ago that people are fickle, and that those who have problems with the occasional fifty-cent word should use their mobile phones to look up Dictionary.com instead of laughing or pretending to understand what I’ve just said. I’m not talking about talking over people’s heads. I’m talking about being truer to myself.
2. Being ever more truthful about my life. For the most part I can’t complain about the directions I’ve gone in my life over the past twenty years. Between my educational journey, teaching, nonprofit management, dating, marriage and my son, things have been pretty good for a while. But the past two or three years have been tough on us financially, despite prayer and effort. My life is far from perfect, yet from the outside looking it, I guess it looks better than what I think it is. That’s fine for others. As for me, I can’t look at my life through others’ eyes. I don’t have that luxury. We have a bit less than twelve years to get things in order so that Noah can have real choices as a young man, from the college he wants to attend to a used hybrid car to drive. That means seeing where we are now and knowing where we need to go so that all of our futures are secure.
3. Career vs. calling. For most of my time in the workforce, especially in the years since finishing my doctoral thesis at the end of ’96, I’ve “been stuck in a moment,” so to speak (thanks U2!). I’ve been ambivalent about academia as a full-time profession, and over the years, have discovered myself as a writer. I’ve also worked for a decade with one crazed nonprofit entity after another, picking up plenty of management and program development skills along the way. In the past couple of years, I’ve attempted to reconcile my calling with my career and job aspirations. To little avail.
One thing I have decided is that my doctorate can hurt me as much as help me on the job front, and that it matters only somewhat if my job or next job fits with my authorship aspiration. What does all of this mean, anyway? Should I go back to school and earn a law degree, a degree much more flexible than a doctorate in history? Should I decide to teach high school history for a steadier income and the ability to reach students before they go to college unprepared for its rigors? These are questions in need of an answer, but in order to answer them, I have to say “F___ it” to all of my assumptions about my career up to this point.
4. Live my dream and not just dream. Okay, this sounds weird, because I thought that for most of the past two decades, I had been doing this, and doing it well. Not quite true. Between our finances, my career goals and Boy @ The Window, I feel sometimes as if I’ve gotten close, but not nearly close enough, to making my visions for my life real in my life. It’s clear to me now, though, what else needs to happen. I have to step up my efforts just one notch more, to recognize that I need to be bolder and more willing to network than I ever have before. At the very least, this will get me out of the house and classroom more often.
5. Move on. Sometimes I can be obsessed with a project or a person or an idea, sometimes all at once, as was the case with Crush #2 in ’87 and ’88. At times this has been the case with Boy @ The Window. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that it’s taken me two years to make significant revisions to the manuscript is because working on it has caused me to relive many of my memories and emotions from all those years ago. Not so in the past few months. I’ve been able to do substantial revisions, to imbue the manuscript with words and emotions that might not have come through in previous drafts. Now that folks are reading it and liking it, now that I’ve revised or rewritten every section of the book at least five times (and the first chapter at least eight times), it’s time to move on to other writing projects, even as I seek publication of Boy @ The Window. Let the chips fall where they may, although I think they’ll fall in the right order this time.
6. You can’t go home again. Nothing has borne this out better than in my work on Boy @ The Window and in my communications with former classmates and teachers on Facebook and through email correspondence. This isn’t a knock on them or on me. There were good reasons for why I didn’t become friends with them growing up, and going on twenty-three to thirty years on, I can see why through our expressions of thoughts and feelings now. But, Facebook and other correspondence have also reminded me about the good friends that I did and do have in my life in the years since Humanities and leaving Mount Vernon, including a couple from Mount Vernon. That good friends are hard for anyone to find, especially if you tend not to trust the people around you. And, at least in my case, why would I want to go home again anyway?
These are the ideas about where my life should go next as we enter a new decade. While the shape of things to come remains as uncertain as our world as a whole seems to be at the end of ’09, I’m certain of some things. That I’m creative enough, smart enough, successful enough and spiritual enough to get where I want to go, and that it won’t take until my son’s in college to get there. That the people I’ll meet — including the people I need to meet — will be ones who add something positive to my life, to the lives of my wife and child. And that there will be enough faith and wisdom, love and grace along the way. Happy New Year and decade, everyone!