A Love-Letter to My Life – Or, Reflections on Entering Middle Age

Without a doubt, the best part of my life.

On his Prairie Home Companion radio program, Garrison Keillor once referred to middle age as “like January.” Gray. Dull. Bitter. Cold. Bereft of natural life. The reference was buried inside “The News From Lake Wobegon”, a short segment of Keillor’s program where he tells of life in his fictional hometown on the Minnesotan tundra. The particular newscast was entitled “The Sorrows of January” and the humorist’s persistent theme was that life advances, we march steadily and endlessly toward our natural destiny of death, burial and a slow fade from memory, and we find the perfect metaphor for this in the unyielding suck that is January.

Why do I bring this up? Because today I take my first official steps into middle age, and my birthday happens to be in January. So if anyone can find some cultural ore to mine within Keillor’s metaphor, it is me.

It is interesting that Keillor’s choice of January – of slow, intractable winter – doesn’t resonate so well with me precisely because I happen to be January-born. I experience January as a blink, a star shot, a subconscious flicker that wafts up and away before fully grasped. But another reason for the disconnect could be generational. The Gen X population truly saw the world speed up, loose the brakes, and rocket past the edges of perception and imagination. Perhaps my generation could be best summarized by the illustration of the telephone’s evolution. When we were born, the phone was large and sat on an end table. Eventually they became sleek enough to hang on the kitchen wall, though they still required the cord. My generation has seen the advent of portable phones that were just like the ones you had in your house, curly cord and everything. We saw the arrival of phones without cords, both in the house and in the car, phones the size and weight of a literal brick, phones capable of only local calling. My generation has watched those phones shrink to the size of micron and do everything except actually send or receive phone calls.

It is an odd piece of reflection that my generation – like every generation – was in such a hurry to speed up time, to get older faster, to see things move with the same pace as our thought, but my generation was the first to actually have it happen. We saw life accelerate right as we left home: just as we graduated this weird thing called the Internet became popular. It caught on while we were in college, and transformed the world before many of us even knew what the hell it was. But unlike so many Baby Boomers who saw the shift into middle age as an invitation to lament the good old days, my generation embraced the change and celebrated the fulfillment of our wish to have life at the speed of life. We’ve grown with and despite this wish, often finding ourselves better prepared to deal with the physical exigencies of an emergency, but not so much the emotional ones; in other words, when the doo-doo hits the fan, we’ve got our cell phones to help us and little else. Continue reading “A Love-Letter to My Life – Or, Reflections on Entering Middle Age”