Roughly half of my blog posts these past few months have been top ten lists. Alas, here is one more.
I woke up this morning* at the not-so-ripe age of 41, and to a plethora of Facebook greetings from friends near and far. Social media has its ups and downs, but I must confess: it always makes me smile to receive birthday greetings via Instant Message, Tweet, or Wall Tag.
*Written one week ago but not published until 5/21 because of computer problems. Meh.
FB birthday greetings notwithstanding, this hasn’t been much of a birthday. Efforts by coworkers to invite me over for a night of card playing and beer drinking failed, through no fault of their own. And I have been feeling under the weather ever since I awoke this morning to the fetid aroma of dog farts. “What is wrong with me?” I thought, and then the answer dawned on me: I’m 41. Holy crap.
Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, driving cross-country with my friend Chuck and stopping off in Denver, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon en route. But that life-changing relocation happened in 2000! Likewise, I can hardly believe it’s been six years since I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. For that matter, I can barely fathom that it’s already been two years since I moved to Tennessee from Mexico City with my tail between my legs.
I never really “got it” whenever I’d meet someone who entered a depression upon turning 30 and still being childless or single. But my first day of my 41st trip around the sun has been something of an eye-opener. I am tired, and I have seldom felt less certain about my place in the world than I do at this moment. If this is just, as the saying goes, the first year of the rest of my life, then I should relish it. But can someone pass the back pills first? 😉
Here, with a hearty dose of humor packed between the dollops of honesty, are the top ten life lessons for my younger self:
- That investment property? Forget it. If a financial deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Don’t buy so much crap. I have a formidable collection of CDs, cassettes, and travel souvenirs. Almost all of it sits stored away in basement boxes. It sat in a storage garage for two years while I lived in Mexico. Did I miss any of it? No. I doubt if I could get $100 for all of it on eBay, and yet it represents an investment of thousands upon thousands of dollars. In hindsight, this was not money well spent.
- Be more confident in my relationships. I can count on two hands the number of romantic relationships I’ve had. I have, from time to time, gone two years, even longer, without a significant other. More often than not, this was by choice. Although I have been loved by women about whom I failed to share the same swoony feelings, I have, on other occasions, fallen head-over-heels for women who humored me for awhile but ultimately didn’t give a shit if I lived, died, ate shit, or howled at the moon. (So for those who loved me but whom I didn’t love in return: I get it. You can’t force someone to love someone else. But it hurts nonetheless.) Sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – I think I am finally ready…but then I remember that I have never been able to make one work, and my heart becomes even more hardened. This is a tough one.
- Stop farting so much. I am not into video games, and I sold most of my childhood toys. I enjoy classical museum, and prefer an afternoon at an art gallery to an afternoon watching football. Still, I haven’t entirely been able to part with childish things – or childish behaviors, in this instance. Farts are funny. They sound funny and they smell funny. Even the word “fart” is funny. Just last week, it was late at work and I was getting punchy. As I walked the rows, answering hands, I would periodically make fart noises with my tongue, and then recoil at the person sitting closest to me. “Nick!” I would exclaim. Or, “Jeez, Tiffany!” I cracked myself up…but I’m not sure my colleagues were as amused. Grow up, Gringo.
- Manage my finances better. Oh, the joys of credit card debt. Who hasn’t been there? I have spent the last 17 months slowly crawling out of debt, and while there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, I can’t help but think of how much easier my life these past few years could have been if I had just taken better hold of my finances. #2, not buying so much crap, certainly factors into the occasion. But so does the general idea of doing things in moderation. Go to the movies, but stop buying popcorn. Go out to restaurants if I must, but stop ordering appetizers. Borrow books from the library rather than buying them. And that collection of shot glasses from my travels? I have almost 100, I can stop buying them any day now! And while I’m at it, I should really sign up for that office 401k plan. Any matching – regardless of the percentage – is free money!
- Drink more red wine. ‘Nuff said.
- Read more non-fiction. Stephen King is great, but there is so much more out there, much of which is of weightier subject matter. (No offense, Mr. King.) I am not sure when I can find the time to read, say, any of Jimmy Carter’s acclaimed autobiographies, or David McCullough’s acclaimed, 698-page Panama Canal essay, The Path Between the Seas. But can you believe that I’ve never even read The Autobiography of Malcolm X?! I am way behind the eight ball on this count. With all that time spent on airplanes and on long bus rides during your travels around the world, Gringo, you certainly should have read more!
- Record an album! Did you know that I have written a few songs? They are shite, no doubt, but they have a rhythm I like and it would have been nice, when I still lived in LA (and hadn’t lost my sex appeal), to get my “El Lay” buddies together and put my nasally vocals on vinyl!
- Hike more. I woke up this morning to a wicked ache in my lower back. Is it a sciatic? Is it a pinched nerve? Are my old man balls dragging so low to the ground that they put undue pressure on my spine? <insert laughter here> If I could sum up the first year of my forties in just two words, it would be “back pain.” I always figured that if I were to relocate to this part of the country, I could wet my proverbial beak on the hiking trails of the Great Smoky Mountains, and, one spring day, set off on the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail. But it may be a pipe dream now. I should have done this years ago, when I was in better shape.
- Travel more, not less. I have set foot in 70 countries on six continents. That makes for, literally, a lifetime of blog stories and several hundred thousand photos. I know that I should consider myself beyond fortunate. Yet I’m not satisfied. There are still sooo many places I have yet to visit. Ecuador, with its highland cities and Galapagos Islands, still eludes me. As does Cambodia, with its temples and steamy Mekong Delta, the latter of which is scarred with Khmer Rouge atrocities. Madrid, Spain? One of the most populous – and most accessible – capitals in Europe, and yet I’ve never set foot there. Morocco? Ditto. I haven’t even been to the Biltmore, one of the world’s great private estates, and it is just 75 miles from where I live! Travel has made me smarter, more cultured, and cognizant of the world around me. Here is hoping I can do it again before too long…and no, I won’t sew a Canadian flag on my backpack. 🙂
I hope you found the humor in that list; indeed, at least a few of my musings were somewhat somber, to say the least. If you were able to step back in time and speak to your younger self, what advice would you give?