Wow, so here it is: 50 years old. Not quite sure how it snuck up on me like this, I’ve now clocked half a century on the old chronometer (“It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage”). I guess I’ll take this occasion to share what’s on my mind: Where am I in life? What have I learned? Where else might I go? Read on if you dare.
Where Am I?
I am now living in Orlando, Florida, for the second time. Today I’m actually out of state to hang out with friends as I cross this dusty threshold of years. I suppose I really meant “Where am I in life?” which is a different, more interesting question. Yes, I live in Orlando, but this is after a journey that took me from the Western Suburbs of Chicago to this city to northern Virginia to Huntsville, Alabama, and back to Florida. The changes in locale were all due to career changes: from student to Disney cast member to Department of Defense contractor to NASA contractor and small-business communicator to freelance technical writer. Each change has brought its own joys and challenges, which have been the point. I’ve needed professional challenges to keep my brain busy and engaged. That’s how I operate.
Physically, I haul around a 5’11” frame, ruddy-complexioned, squarish Midwestern face with Irish blue eyes, and a slowly retreating mass of grey hair and Van Dyke beard. I spend my days at home working or waiting for work to hit my inbox. By late afternoon or evening, I’m speed-walking around some part of Disney property in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts or jeans. I’d describe myself as “stocky,” with not (as) much of a pot belly. I’m not happy working out, but I’m just vain enough not to want to go up another size in my waistband. Despite all my time in the sun, my arms and legs get a healthy slathering of sunblock before I head out, so my arms and legs still look like I live in Illinois.
Personally, I remain single. Sometimes this bothers me, but most of the time, not so much. Back when I was young and trying, I came across as desperate and trying too hard. Finding myself romantically inept, I learned to enjoy my own company and enjoy the challenge of building a fulfilling life for myself sans partner.
Being a fan of honesty, I admit that I’m too lazy and selfish to woo and keep a partner (where lazy = slack on doing the little things that constitute wooing and selfish = preferring to be on my own and do what I want). I’ve had 30+ years to develop the unquestioned habits of a grumpy bachelor. Adjusting to the habits or opinions of someone else, however charming or otherwise good for me, is something I can manage only for short periods of time, then I revert to my preferred habit of living alone and doing things my own way. I’m the best friend and worst boyfriend a woman could have. No, really. I’m thinking of printing this on a t-shirt.
I am living on my own, paying my bills, affording vacations, books, beer, and whatever random forms of entertainment suit me. The dietary sins of my youth are now paying me back with acid reflux, too much flesh, and sleep apnea. Having exhausted every other option, I’ve fallen back on eating healthily and exercising. There are stranger things I could try.
What Have I Learned?
As a proud member of the often-ignored Generation X, I’m a sarcastic smart@$$. I used to be shamelessly arrogant and rude on top of that. I’ve lost the arrogance by working as an English major among eminent scientists and engineers smarter and more accomplished than me. I don’t assume I’m the smartest person in the room anymore; most of the time I am not.
Accompanying this dose of humility has come a reduced willingness to make blanket harsh judgments about the world or the people in it. I’ll judge myself all day long–that’s my right, I have a fuller picture of my situation–but I’m not as quick to condemn others. Nor am I as likely to say, “We must do X in space/politics/society!” The more I learn about a problem, the more complicated things become, and the less likely I am to make some bold pronouncement about what should be done. I’d make a terrible pundit; all I can do is point out where there are flaws in other people’s solutions. I have few of my own to offer.
When I identify something wrong in my life, I take the time to figure out what role my own thinking or behavior had in creating that circumstance. Then I take whatever actions seem necessary to change my thinking and improve the situation.
Slowly, after years of uncontrolled emotional reactions created serious problems for me, I’m learning to restrain myself from reacting with whatever my hair-trigger Irish temper considers appropriate. I simply can’t afford to fly off the handle every time something doesn’t go my way anymore. The results of my temper have often been far worse than the original perceived slight.
The way I survive in a world full of fractious and stiff-necked humans is by calmly listening and trying to understand the intent of what people are saying rather than my preconceived filters. I’ll ask questions, I’ll try to get at why someone believes X, and I’ll try to understand the validity of it. That doesn’t mean I’ll agree, just that I’m willing to set aside my immediate urge to judge so I can have a civilized conversation.
Where Might I Go?
There are things I’d still like to do with myself: stories I might write, places I might visit, or insights I might learn. Twenty-five years ago, I had one of the more important conversations I’d ever had with myself. I switched from asking, “Why me?” to asking, “What do I want out of life?” And once I’d asked that question, I asked a more practical question: “What do I need to do to get that?” The years from 1994 to 2019 have been an extended exercise in answering the question, “What do I need to do to get what I want?” and then finding the answer(s) and acting. Bart @ 50 is the result of decisions that began with Bart @ 25.
I don’t want as much now as I did at 25. I have the career I want, the lifestyle I want. And while the friends and family I love are farther away than I’d like, they are part of my life, and I’m blessed by them. Who do I want Bart @ 75 to be? Happy, peaceful, wise, able to travel on my own or in the company of people I trust. Maybe I’ll still be working. Maybe I’ll be living overseas. Maybe I’ll be pursuing creative projects or external projects that benefit myself or others. There’s always more to do, more to learn, and when I leave this world, I’ll no doubt leave some things unfinished. Such is life.
Onward, then. There’s more to do.