It used to be that TURNING FORTY had to be expressed in all caps, and was mentioned either in an existential moan, or as the punchline to a joke. This was the residue, obviously, of an American society that didn’t live past 60, rarely got taller than five-foot-six, and drank asbestos cordials whenever they got the grippe.
In that society, back when our grandparents ruled the earth, forty basically meant the inexorable slide towards the buttery green beans at the steakhouse buffet, and they acted like it: the zoot suits, crazy nylons with the calf seams, and snappy dialogue was instantly replaced by horn-rimmed glasses, blue hair and the failing strength to say something racist from the Barcolounger.
If anything, we’ve overcorrected. The average 40-year-old in today’s urban environment might wear a suit to work, but on weekends, he and his lesser-employed friends don the same shit as early twentysomethings – even if they’re immediately distinguishable by the paunch and that particular thick-neckedness that afflicts every single one of us. The unmarried 40-year-olds are still in skate shoes or unflattering Pumas, cracking wise with chicks half their age over small vials of Jaegermeister. Unfortunately for these ladies, these dudes are actually old enough to be moderately funny.
I can tell you this, however: there is middle ground. In terms of medicine, dietary knowledge, exercise and attitude, 40 can actually be the new 27 without you looking like a total moron. There’s no magic bullet for everyone’s success, but if I were forced to give a bullet list, it’d look something like this:
• don’t be the one who gets fat
• really. don’t get fat. you gained weight around 35, and if you can lose it – in whatever way possible – you’re way ahead of the game
• know yourself. don’t stay up late, drive that extra 150 miles, or play that last game because you think you have to. you don’t have to. you’ve earned the right not to have to.
• don’t wear white sneakers with jeans
• take Vitamin D3, Omega-3/6/9 fish oil tablets, and Co-Q10
• don’t be a luddite. don’t instantly hate new technology just because everyone’s talking about it. if you don’t like Twitter or Facebook or the iPad or something, keep it to yourself, because your complaints are BORING
• remain emotionally elastic, able to absorb new things without instant rejection, take everyone’s viewpoint seriously for at least 30 seconds
• DO NOT LOSE TOUCH WITH OLD FRIENDS. EVEN IF THEY HAVE KIDS. EVEN IF YOU HAVE KIDS. The hive still needs you, and you need it.
Do I always follow all of these? Fuck no (except for the white sneakers thing). But it’s as good a place as any to start, when (in the words of Captain Aubrey) the “blue devils” begin to weigh on your self-perception. If you’re still in the game, you’re still in the game. I remember back in my twenties, when folks in their forties would say “I’m in better shape now and feel better than I ever have,” I’d think “Bullshit, you old fart.” Yet here I am, very clearly able to beat the shit out of myself at 24.
The forties are the age of judgment, when people start to wonder if you are actually going to make your mark, like you said you were all those years ago. It’s the time when you yourself are wondering if you’re still capable of phases, or if this is accidentally who you are. If you want to affect culture, it might seem like time is running out. It has been a long time since you were a teenager – to paraphrase Morrissey, do your songs say nothing to them about their lives?
Probably not, but some truths are universal, and one is that confidence is contagious. To all the wonderful people recently embarked on their forties, add your thoughts if you still want your yawp recorded for posterity, and a very happy birthday to not just my incredible Tessa, but the other of us May babies: Chip, Salem, and especially my brother Sean, who TURNS FORTY today. Whoo-hoo!
Sean, Barnaby and me, March ’07