On turning 50

It’s coming up for my 50th birthday. How did that happen? I want a recount!

But actually, not really. Being 50 is no great shakes. I have always thought that 30 was the biggest hurdle. At 20, you don’t tend to view it as a milestone. When you reach 30, though, you do feel that some kind of barrier has been crossed. At least that’s how it was for me. I am sure that others feel the same. You are more keenly aware that you are crossing a line which leaves youth behind. When you reach 40, you have reconciled yourself to this fact that this happened long ago, so at that point it is just a number.

I was amused by a comment I saw on “mypersonalteenlife” (http://is.gd/ahqBgx):

There is a 14-year-gap between my youngest sister and me, but we still get along and now that she is getting older we have so much more to talk about 🙂 Keep your sister close 🙂

I am still trying to fathom out whether the writer is deliberately being ironical, or achieved it accidentally. It’s like that famous Mark Twain quote:

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

Let me tell you a secret about how I thought about age. We all tend to worry about it, and have a tendency to think that we’re in the perpetually “old” category. I figured this out when I was talking to a friend who was about to turn 30. He was sensitive about his age, and I formed the impression that he, too, considered it a turning point.

At age 14, I thought 18 was old. At 19, I thought 18 was young. 25 was old. At 30, I thought 35 was old. Nowadays, it’s all much more of a blur. There’s no real distinction in my mind. Someone who’s 20 would consider a 50 year-old to be a veritable alien, possibly one of the Lizard People. It doesn’t work like that in reverse, though. I tend to think of a 20 year-old as being basically the same age as me, but with better skin. I suppose a lot depends upon who I speak with. If it’s some young punk, then yes, they’re a young punk. If it’s someone intelligent, then I feel that we may be talking at somewhat the same level.

I do notice one thing, however: it is a lot more interesting striking up a random conversation with an older man in say, his 60’s, than one in his 20’s. Seriously, older people are much more interesting. The advantage of age is that you become much more rounded as an individual. The last few years I have come to appreciate just how little I know. Youth tends to think in absolutes, whereas elders tend to see a lot more nuance in life. The Universe just doesn’t work the way you think it does!

I don’t know. Maybe I’m alone on this, but I find myself becoming softer in my attitudes, more hopeful and kinder to the younger generations. This is completely the opposite of “the way it’s supposed to be”. We’re “supposed” to become more cynical and embittered with age. I read an interesting take on this some time ago. The writer suggested that it’s not so much that people become more cynical, or whatever, it’s that their inner personality becomes amplified.

One last confession. Although I can’t put my hand on it now, I did keep my first grey hair as a souvenir. I was 29 at the time, a few months away from my 30th birthday. I was in my scungy room at the time. I hated where I lived, and still have nightmares about living there on rare occasions. I was doing my PhD at the time. I actually count that period as among the happiest in my life.

Yesterday, I listened to the song Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds (https://youtu.be/2_2lGkEU4Xs). The lyrics are the most profound that you will hear in any song. We should all force ourselves to hear it every five years, starting at age five. Here are the lyrics (http://is.gd/mEhTgo):

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

It turns out that I am a “pretty serious non conformist”, living a life hardly anyone understands, sometimes being called a freak. That’s according to http://is.gd/zDlwfB, anyway. And yes, I have been called a freak before. I have sometimes felt that at work, my colleagues have considered me a bit simple sometimes, not “getting” aspects of life that seems obvious to them. This is the curse of being non-conformist. People think you don’t “get” it; whereas the non-conformist would be thinking “yeah, I ‘get’ it only too well, it’s you that doesn’t actually ‘get’ it”. Maybe I’m starting to sound too pompous. As Scott Adams once said:

If you have any trouble sounding condescending, find a Unix user to show you how it’s done.

The one place where I do disagree with the song is about universities. My years in academia were the best years of my life. I never felt I was being pigeon-holed. I studied mathematics. I fail to see how studing pure and applied mathematics and statistics turns you into some kind of drone. Maybe that’s more for the arts, where there’s little in the way of objective facts. Conclusions can be more subjective, with pressure to conform to the received interpretations. A mathematical proof, on the other hand, is either right or wrong, there’s no opinion about it.

So, those are my reflections on turning 50. Now get off my lawn!

Only joking.

This is what 50 looks like.

This is what 50 looks like.

May you all be well and acquire all kinds of happiness.


About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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2 Responses to On turning 50

  1. soicowboy says:

    Excellent post.
    I previously imagined you were in your 30’s.
    For me, hitting 50 required the psychological adjustment. I guess I hung on to my illusions of youth for an extra decade or so:-(

  2. Now get off my lawn! hahaha too funny

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