Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mortal thoughts

This past 6 months marked two significant milestones in my life: I turned 50, and my daughter turned 18. Even typing these sentences now results in a certain cognitive dissonance, or, to speak more plainly--a quiet little freakout.

I've mentioned this before, but I always remember reading an interview with Bruce Willis, as he became an "aging" action star, and he made a comment something along the lines of "In our minds, no matter how old we get, we always think of ourselves as 27." It's such a great quote. If you're younger than that, you can't possibly understand now. But when you get to be a half-century like me, you will. Though our bodies and metabolisms change - inevitably and unfortunately for the worse - our minds really never do. I'm just the same Jeff Green I was when I was in my 20s, in my own head. I still love music, games, books, movies with an insatiable passion. I'm still easily distracted, absent-minded, and lazy. I still love dogs more than people. I still love pizza and Snicker bars and nacho cheese Doritos. I still distrust all authority, and bristle with a natural instinct to rebel whenever it rears its head.

So this is how I feel, inside myself. I feel like that same guy. (Not emotionally, though--thank god. But that is a post for another day.) The problem is that on the outside, to other people, I'm a 50-year-old man. I don't mean this is a problem for all those other people, because, um, yeah, that's what I am. They are right. I am a 50-year-old man. The problem is that my own perception of what a 50-year-old man is supposed to be does not jibe with my own self-image. Call it reality distortion. Call it self-delusion. Call it - as many people have said of me - a refusal to grow up. Not gonna deny it. Because I honestly don't even know what that means. If there was supposed to be a switch that flipped, in which I suddenly feel like attending cocktail parties, discussing my stocks, listening to adult contemporary radio, and harrumphing about how much better things were when I was a boy, well, then I short-circuited somehow. All that stuff feels like it's still 30 years away for me. At least.

I'm giving superficial examples, I know. And in terms of basic responsibility of adulthood, I do like to think of myself as at least somewhat of a grownup. I've held a full-time job steadily, and with increasing responsibility, ever since graduating college. I'm a husband and father. I try to do my best at all three of those things every day. The mistakes and failure on all those fronts are constant, as they are with anyone who isn't kidding themselves, but I do like to think of myself as hanging in there and trying and learning, as best as I can.

What I really mean, I guess, is the weird dissonance I feel when I sense the way people - especially people I'm just meeting, strangers, random encounters - are looking at me or treating me. When, for instance, did I become "sir?" When did I become "the old man of gaming?" When - and boy, this is a tough one - did I switch from being someone that at least the occasional woman - if they were desperate and perhaps a bit nearsighted - might have found somewhat marginally appealing to, instead, someone who reminds them of their father? I know I look like a middle-aged man. I know I am a middle-aged man. I just don't feel like a middle-aged man. And I guess part of me doesn't want to be one, wants to rewind the clock, wants to have a second-chance to do it all over again, but better and smarter and more successfully. I'm simply unable to parse or accept that so much time has slipped away, that over half my life is over, and that what I am in now is an undeniable, unpreventable period of decline. (And, boy, that sure makes me unique, huh!)

Of course, one doesn't simply give up. One doesn't just say "it's over" and go sit on the rocking chair until death. I have so much I want to do and accomplish and see and experience that I'd need multiple lifetimes to get through it all. (At the very least, I really need to catch up on Dr. Who.) And I think that's the hardest part of all of this, the crux of the matter of these milestones in my life. For the first time, I've been seriously confronted, in a real and palpable way, with my own mortality, with the harsh reality that I am just not going to get to it all, and that if I really want to actually reach some of these goals, well, I better hurry the hell up.

So I'm going to get right to it. Right after this nap.