40

My approach to cutting my hair is more-or-less the same as my approach to mowing the lawn: every two weeks I get out the clippers or mower and trim it down to the same length. Maintenance—a thing that Ought To Be Done. It never really gets that long—on the sides, mind you—but I've been getting a little lazy as this infernal year drags on.

Well, here we are.

I'm not sure where all that white came from, but I can inform you that it is now residing safely in the trash.


Age 40.

What does it all mean? Perhaps nothing, perhaps something. I had initially set out here to Tie It All Together—to Figure Out What It All Means. I dug around to find examples of things I had read to get an idea of what a narrative might be and found...

Galen Strawson, "Let's ditch the dangerous idea that life is a narrative", Aeon Magazine (2015-09-23)

...so OK, maybe there are no life narratives, but...

Dorie Clark, "Discover Your Personal Narrative", Harvard Business Review (2013-06-29).

...you need to work on your narrative because it's right there. So there wasn't much guidance there, but for the opportunity to oscillate back-and-forth between is and isn't, sense and nonsense. Coincidentally, I just started reading The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (translated by Richard Zenith)—a book I thought I just discovered last week but then re-discovered that I had discovered it in 2012 and added it to my reading list at that time—and now I'm finding fragments like...

Everything around me is evaporating. My whole life, my memories, my imagination and its contents, my personality - it's all evaporating. I continuously feel that I was someone else, that I felt something else, that I thought something else. What I'm attending here is a show with another set. And the show I'm attending is myself.

This is close enough to what it feels like to look back. Is and isn't, something and nothing. You can't be what you were anyway. That's fine. After a few false starts in that direction—of wanting to tie together that 40-year narrative—I know where to look for help:

I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.

Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan (1959)

Sense in nonsense. Sense from nonsense. More Vonnegut, sure, why not:

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle (1963)

Sense is nonsense. I feel better now for having avoided the trap of trying to make sense of it all. Age 40: We Would Have Avoided It If We Could.


Instead of advice or a summary or a narrative or the strange inchoate things I had written here before and deleted, what I do have is a series of lists: Lists of 40.

Actually, maybe I have one piece of advice that was raised from the depths while thinking here, but I know that it belongs at the end, as something to ride out on.

I like lists—for the most part. They're free of the kind of deep thought that makes a good summary. Add things and add things up until the point where you reach the Limit that you set for yourself and then you have to get out the scissors. And then what? Then you have to kill something. Or set it free. Depends on your state of mind.

The lists are mostly done, though I have so many more comments to add to them. So things will change. Things will get fleshed out. And so on. There appears to be both a recency bias and an isolation bias. The old memories are a little slow to get warmed up and are, in many cases, simply such a part of the infrastructure by now as to be hard to notice. The things experienced while alone are, in many cases, easy to remember because when you're alone there is more time and space to reflect on the experience. And, frankly, some of those shared experiences happened under Mysterious Circumstances that have been regrettably and mercifully lost to time. (Your secrets are safe with me... for the low, low price of $19.95 per month.)

Hope you enjoy it. You might be it.


Didn't we meet a lot of great people and have a lot of great times while we were here on Earth? This whole exercise of thinking of the things that happened, the people who passed through, and all of the normal-but-crazy things I saw was indulgent—but I don't care about that for a second. In 2020, everyone is a ghost now. Days and nights are haunted—reminiscent milestones even more so. How lucky did we get to cross paths—to share paths?


An old thought of the day, from a dining hall in a camp on a hill in the trees, that I will pass along:

"Do you know what birds do when it rains? They get wet."

So many years later, yet some things stick in your head and remain there forever—who can make sense of it all?


Stop. Adjust pack straps. Check the map.

The trail up ahead curves around a hill and out of sight. There's a spring listed on the map, but water is flighty in the desert, relying on gifts of rain from years past and miles away. You can plan for it, but you can't be sure. I guess we'll know what to do when we get there.

Onward.


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