All niceties are tossed out the window. Nothing about this article is safe for work.
December 1. My 56th birthday. How did I start my morning? By doing children’s laundry. Damn school uniforms. School uniforms don’t make a damn bit of sense for children who are growing so fucking fast that you can barely keep them in underwear. What parent has the money to keep buying and replacing the same clothes over and over and over and over throughout the year? We don’t. So, their pants are either a bit too long or are riding at their ankles. We just ignore the scuffs on the knees.
It’s my birthday and I’m doing laundry at 4:00 AM so that the little ones will have fresh, warm clothes to wear to school. No one ever did that for me. Probably because the washer and dryer were out in the garage. Oh, and Poppa didn’t start getting up at 4 himself until after we were out of the house. If we wanted warm clothes on cold mornings, we had to set our clothes over the heat register the night before. Don’t give me funny looks over that. I know we weren’t the only ones who did it.
Of course, over the years I’ve heard of others trying to warm up their clothes by putting them on or close to space heaters. The results were not pleasant. At the very least, it’s a good way to lose your best set of jeans.
I sometimes look back at my childhood and wonder how the hell we didn’t die. We took risks—lots of them. Many of them with our parents’ blessing, the rest without their knowledge. If I had ever seen one of my boys trying to tight-rope-walk a barbed-wire fence, I’d have thrown a fit. Yet, we did it. More than once. We didn’t stop until I ripped the seam from a pair of jeans. There were dangerous makeshift bicycle ramps, tree houses that were not safe for occupancy, and daring feats of, “do you think that’s safe to eat?” It’s a wonder any of us made it to our 18th birthday. Yet, here I am at 56. Rather frightening.
A good age to die
Actually, it turns out that 56 is a fairly common age for people to start dying. Heartwarming thought, isn’t it? On one hand, there were all the news stories about the world’s oldest woman celebrating her 117th birthday earlier this week. Things like that didn’t happen when I was a kid. We should all be encouraged about our prospects for living a long life. At the same time, however, the list of notable people who died at 56 is a bit too long and too impressive. Death waits for no one, I suppose. Look at these names:
- Alexander Pope, 1744
- Abraham Lincoln, 1865
- Ian Fleming, 1964
- Charles Mingus, 1979
- Betty Grable, 1973
- Steve Jobs, 2011
- Ludwig von Beethoven, 1827
- John Hancock, 1793
- King George VI (The Queen’s father), 1952
Looking at that list is daunting. Consider all that those people accomplished before they died. Here I am, having never been president during a civil war, never written a great spy novel, never composed thousands of musical masterpieces, never acted in any movies, never built a high-tech empire, haven’t signed a declaration of independence (yet), and am not even close to guiding Britain through a war. When I look at what I’ve done compared to all these people had achieved by the time they died at my age, I feel just a bit like a failure.
There is one name I intentionally left off that list. Adolf Hitler was 56 when he died. I guess that’s one thing I have going for me: I’ve not tried to rule the world and killed millions of innocent people. Perhaps I should put a “yet” at the end of that statement. I suppose anything is possible. After all, I once tried tight-rope walking on barbed-wire, you know.
Do we really want to live that long?
While I’m not in any mood to kick the bucket today, at the same time I have to wonder if any of us really want to live all that long. Consider the plight of Emma Moreno, the world’s oldest woman. She hasn’t exactly had a great and wonderful life, you know. Her fiancè was killed in WWI. She married an abusive brute she didn’t like. She kicked him out of the house, and shortly after doing so her only child, a son, died. She worked in a factory until she was 65, which seems young compared to where she is now. She has outlived her eight brothers and sisters. She eats the same thing every day: two eggs, one raw, one fried. Even she admits she hasn’t had a good life.
So, if living long means outliving everyone you love, being left alone in a nursing facility somewhere in Italy, having the only time people pay any attention to you is on your birthday, if you make it another year, or when you eventually give up and die, is it worth the trouble of even trying? I can see wanting to live a long time if we still have our friends and still have our families and can still go and do things that we enjoy. Take all that away, though, and what the fuck is the point? At this juncture, it seems that Ms. Moreno is more in torment than happy. She smiled for the cameras, but she had to force it.
I wonder if we make too much of living a long life. Certainly, as long as there are people around to love, then, by all means, keep going. But when one has outlived everyone of what value is life? I suppose one could claim that they are producing carbon dioxide for the plants and trees. At least that’s something productive, right?
There are still options
I don’t suppose all is lost. Not having been wildly successful by age 56 isn’t necessarily a major concern, is it? Look at all the people who were older when they finally “made it.”
- “Colonel” Harlan Sanders was 65 when he started his chicken franchise.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first novel until she was 65, and managed to get in 12 others after that.
- Grandma Moses was 76 when she first slapped paint across a canvas, and she was productive for nearly 20 years.
- Edmund Hoyle was around 70 years old when he first began recording the rules of various card games in 1741.
There are several others whose names you likely wouldn’t recognize, like the guy who invented the taser, or the guy who founded Hare Krishna. And how many presidents, including our president-elect, were well over 56 when they took office? Not that I would ever want to be president, mind you. There would probably be a civil war and then I’d get shot. I’ll let Mr. Lincoln keep that dubious honor, thank you.
Still, the point I’m trying desperately to make is that there are plenty of examples of people who didn’t even get a good start on whatever it is that made them famous until they were older and had a good bit of totally unrelated experience behind them. While I’m not sitting on any earth-shattering ideas right at this moment, in theory I’m well positioned to have a brainstorm of some kind that would propel me into the history books. Let’s just hope it’s for a good reason.
Of course, there’s still photography
I suppose, in some sense, all this sounds as though I’m giving up on photography. I’m not, despite how this year has gone. The past four years, for that matter. The number of photographs I’ve taken has been steadily declining, each year being the fewest yet that I’ve ever taken. Rather depressing when one stops and thinks about it. Although, one might say that the reduction in number makes the photographs that were taken all the more valuable. Scarcity can be a good thing, I suppose. Especially after I’m dead.
See, there’s that dead thing again. It keeps popping up.
Part of the issue with photography is a lack of models with whom I can enjoy working. The young woman who posed for the images here, all shot back in 2005, had just turned 21 when I met her. She was lively, adventurous, and willing to pretty much try anything. In fact, there was a lot she was already trying when we met. She was 5′ 10″, perfectly proportioned, and looked sufficiently wonderful dressed, but at the same time didn’t have much hesitancy about getting naked just about anywhere, including once at the ruins in Holliday Park. She understood the artistry and that getting the shots that no one else had sometimes involved taking some risks. As a result, I have a truck-load of archived images that I still enjoy pulling out and re-processing every once in a while.
I need more models like her. We’ve had several over the years, but inevitably, as they get older, they get married, have kids, or take advantage of better offers elsewhere, such as Las Vegas or LA. I don’t blame anyone for improving their lives, but they each leave a special void that is never filled. We once had relationships with our models that enabled us to do some really dramatic and interesting things. No one seems remotely interested in that anymore, though. Without willing subjects ready to step in front of the camera, it is difficult to feel inspired about taking new pictures. Sure, equipment, transportation, and space issues factor in as well, but it’s the litany of muses, the knowledge that for whatever concept I conceive I have the model(s) to pull it off, that is missing.
The Forthcoming Novel
There is no forthcoming novel. At least, not anytime soon. I tried the novel-writing thing in November. I made it two days. Writing a novel, for me, means not being interrupted by chores or children or news or presidential elections or idiots running the stop sign on the corner. Writing, for me, requires that I be able to dedicate my full attention to the process. I need to be able to research everything. Even this article had its share of research, every one of them does. I need to know that the things that I say, the ideas that I present, are at least plausible and preferably possible. I can do fiction, but fantasy is a bit beyond me.
If I ever do complete a full novel, it will be between moments of getting lost in the wonderment of watching cats playing across the living room rug. This morning, it’s the kittens who are leaping and rolling and butt-wiggling all over the place. Their energy is boundless and the entertainment factor is dramatically distractive. I have never been much of a cat person, but the past couple of years with our careful selection of rescued kitties has changed my mind in that regard. They are wonderful little creatures to have around. I can sit and watch them for several minutes at a time, becoming totally lost in their play. Of course, that means I’m not writing a damn thing.
Then, there’s the dog. I love the big guy. He loves me. And sometimes that’s an issue. He wants to play. A lot. And I enjoy playing with him. A lot. I can easily take a couple of hours from my afternoon out in the yard with him, playing tug of war and throwing balls. But again, if I’m doing that I’m not writing, am I? Perhaps I’m gaining little tidbits of information and experience that I might eventually work into part of a story, but I’m not piercing light with pixels (which is the modern substitution for putting pen to paper). Maybe I’ll get around to writing something great and wonderful one of these days, but I don’t see it happening this year, and probably not the year after. There are just too many distractions in life.
What will happen in this next year? Most immediately, I’ll re-work the website a little bit. It’s time to update the template. There’s a new version of WordPress coming out next week, so we might as well get all the kinks worked out of everything at the same time. I’ll move things around a bit, change header pictures, stuff like that. In general, though, I like the layout we’ve been using this year. The number of eyeballs has more than doubled what we had for last year. So, a little tweaking should suffice for the next 12 months.
I would love to shoot more this year, but again, that whole model issue is a concern. Perhaps we’ll meet some people. Perhaps we already have and just don’t know it yet.
Either way, we’ve completed 56 years now. Let’s see what happens next. I fear a new dystopia, but hey, maybe we’ll get cool robot overlords from it.