Me on the far left celebrating a birthday a few years ago
My birthday is on Sunday. This is yet another in a long series of birthdays I’ve enjoyed. This one will be number sixty-seven. That’s not bad, especially considering I’m in excellent health and have been all my life. Physically. Mental health is another matter, but I do what I can.
I’ve now lived longer than Jack Kerouac, John Lennon, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Sylvia Plath, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Fred Hampton, John F. Kennedy, Robert F, Kennedy, Ken Kesey, Babe Ruth, James Dean, F Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Marylin Monroe, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Michael Jackson, Carl Sagan, Robin Williams, Mario Savio, Hart Crane, Enrico Fermi, River Phoenix, David Foster Wallace, Theodore Roosevelt, Arthur Rimbaud, Andy Smith, Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, Rachel Carson, Amy Winehouse, Raymond Carver, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Grace Kelly, Anne Sexton, Diana Arbus, Jean Seberg, Bill Hicks, Steve McQueen, Alan Turning, Richard Pryor, Wilfred Owen, John Reed and Oscar Wilde, to name but a few.
It’s kind of hard to know what to make of my longevity compared to the people above. Several have written books that will be read forever. Others have had books written about them. Some have been in movies that will live on. Others were the subject of films. Many made music that will continue to be heard for a long time. Some were inspirational political leaders. Others were comics whose humor will live on via recorded performances. A few were scientists who made significant contributions to human society. Some were memorable athletes who’ve had awards or places named after them. Some remain icons. Some are remembered each year on their birthday or the anniversary of their death. Some were murdered, others took their own life. Some died accidentally, some were struck by fatal illnesses.
I guess I shouldn’t compare myself to them. I’m barely even famous in my own house. But I’ve done all right. Two novels, over thirty years of teaching, two daughters successfully raised, an on-going marriage (nearing thirty-four years) the love of friends and relatives, a largely ignored but entertaining blog. Not much on the minus side. No arrests. Taxes paid. One mysterious charge of sexual harassment proved unfounded (what a nightmare that was, I never even learned what the complaint regarded who originated it). I’ve committed no serious crimes nor given anyone an STD, nor cheated anyone out of money. I’ve not badly injured anyone either in a fight or accidentally. I’ve set an example for others by maintaining over three decades of sobriety and by carrying on with life despite struggles with acute panic syndrome, bi-polar disorder, PTSD as an abuse survivor and severe bouts of depression.
Some of my writings have helped people similarly struggling and some of my teaching advice (which can be found on this blog) has proven helpful to young teachers.
I do readily admit to being a lousy neighbor. Grumpy, unfriendly, uncommunicative. At the same time I keep the front of the house clean and manage the trash, compost and recycling.
In my commuting days I was always a grouchy commuter, but then again so were most of my fellow travelers. I at least followed the proper etiquette of commuting, never knocking over a crippled old woman to get the last seat on the subway train — tempting though it may have been.
As I write this I realize it reads like I’m writing a summation, that I’ve reached the end. Au contraire. Though any of us can go any day and I cannot even be assured that I’ll live to post this, my intentions are to keep going indefinitely.
While seeing the most recent of my psychiatrists, I often moaned about who little I had accomplished in life relative to my grandiose dreams. He suggested the possibility of a second act. That there could be more to come from me if I pursued it. I’ve taken this to heart and have since written and published two novels and am currently working on two others. (One has a completed first draft and I will return to it in the summer. The other is in its nascent stages and I’m working furiously on it these days.)
I have hopes that one of my books will become a bestseller. I have hopes that one of my books will be made into a major motion picture. I have hopes that a measure of fame and a modest fortune await me as a reward for my writing labors. But I also realize that such hopes are really dreams — the kind that rarely come true. No matter. I will continue writing and be satisfied mostly in the effort and in the completion of my works. It’s the process that counts.
I was trying to think of any birthday stories I could share that would wrap up this post. I’ve not got much. Most of my birthdays have been perfectly pleasant days enjoyed with family and friends.
But here are a few that stick out, offered in no particular order:
I spent my 30th birthday alone at home with the flu. It is my least favorite birthday to date.
Two years later I had a much better birthday as the love of my life (currently serving a life sentence as my wife) and I saw Wynton Marsalis perform in the Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. That was a good birthday.
When I turned twenty one (living then in Chico) I went to bars around town to collect free drinks as one did on their 21st birthday. This was great fun except for the place that I had been drinking at for years with a fake ID, they were not amused and asked me to leave. I spent the rest of the evening avoiding places where’d I’d used the fake ID.
The next year I was living with a girl and we had a few friends over for a casual evening of drinking beer and chatting. Much to my surprise, by ten o’clock there were twenty-two guests cramped into our apartment. “They’re all here to see you, they like you,” my girlfriend said.
For my 60th birthday my wife and daughters took me to a favorite restaurant. I was in a somewhat sour mood because I’d not gotten a phone call, text or email from any of my nieces and nephews wishing me a happy one.
Surprise! They all showed up at the restaurant for a wonderful surprise party.
A lot of my favorite birthdays were when my daughters were little. Having a small child of your own wishing you a happy birthday and giving you a hug and a kiss is the best. All of my birthdays with my wife have been grand because she makes them special. (Except for one. Somehow we got into a fight and I ended up going to dinner with my befuddled young daughters sans the missus. The exception that makes it a rule.)
Some people don’t like birthdays. I do. For one thing, they’re a break from the ordinary. A “special” day. My over-sized ego likes the idea of being the center of attention while in reality I get embarrassed when given too much attention as when happy birthday is sung to me. But, I do not object to receiving presents and being in other ways feted.
So on Sunday it’ll be happy birthday to me. Again. May there be many more.