So. Today is my fortieth birthday, along with also being Armistice Day (and Remembrance Sunday week) here in the UK. I feel like I should write something thoughtful about age and memory, although it’s entirely possible that the half-bottle of champagne and double whisky I have consumed are partly responsible for any feelings that I have something remotely interesting to say on either subject.
Aside from being a nice round number and the inspiration for half-a-dozen faintly humorous birthday cards, turning forty has a certain significance for me. Some two-and-a-half years ago, I set myself a personal goal: I would complete a novel and a screenplay before my fortieth birthday. And last night, around 11pm, I finished the final scene (a phone call, a distraught mother, an estranged husband, a dying daughter), saved and closed the document, and brought to an end almost three years of near-daily writing.
It’s hard to judge whether it’s made me a betterer writerer, although it has definitely made me more aware of the mechanics of language and more appreciative of just how hard it is to sit down and create something from nothing. Ultimately I don’t know what I will do with the end results — they both need a lot of editing – but I’m happy that I was able to check something off my Life’s To-Do list.
Anyway, back to growing old. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that occasionally this year my thoughts have turned to sports cars. I’ve let my hair grow a little longer to cover up the area where it’s getting a little thin. And I got a tattoo. I’m hesitant to call it a mid-life crisis, because that generally implies feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness with how one’s life has turned out, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but I’ve definitely been feeling … something. In her birthday card, my 89-year-old grandmother wrote: “the best is yet to come”, which jives with something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, namely the innocence of (relative) youth. When I look back at who I was at 20, or 30 — what my priorities were, what I thought was important, where I thought I was going — it’s easy to see, in hindsight, those manifestations of inexperience. With every passing year, I realise more and more how little I know about life. I’ve started to think that perhaps this is the permanent state of being an adult human; I like to imagine 80-year-olds frequently say to themselves, “Jeez, when I think back to when I was 70, what an idiot I used to be!”
I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of getting old; I was never of the “it’s better to burn out than fade away” school of thought. It’s just a shame that nobody ever tells you that being 40 is just the same as being 24 … except that people will assume you know what you’re doing.
(As I wrote that last sentence, Spotify Random chose to give me these lines:)
“Pretty soon, you’ll be an old bastard too
You get smaller as the world gets big
The more you know you know you don’t know shit
‘The Whiz Man’ will never fit you like ‘The Whiz Kid’ did.
So why you gotta act like you know when you don’t know?
It’s OK if you don’t know everything.”