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Personal essays

Aging - Essay from Newsletter 79

On the eve of another birthday


Last night Kevin, Lisa, and Ben took me out for dinner for my birthday and then we headed over to the Solstice steps to watch the sun set over Lake Erie.

We ate outside at the restaurant and drove separately to the lake - but other than that it was one of the most normal nights I’ve had in the past year and a half.

My actual birthday is tomorrow and it won’t be normal by any stretch of the imagination. I’m teaching an online class “in Dubai” at 330 am my time both tomorrow and Thursday. I’m hoping to take a nap from 7 to 9 and then taking an online baking class “in California” from 11 to 5. After a family zoom at 7 I’ll probably go to bed early so that I’m awake and alert Thursday at 330am.

I never make a big deal about my birthday but this year it feels like a non-event.

62 doesn’t feel like that big a deal.

Michele reminds me, “All birthdays are important!”


Old and Crabby

For the last few years Maggie has been complaining about how old she is as only someone in their twenties can.

I’m not bothered by 62 - I’ve probably been old and crabby since I was Maggie’s age.

Last Friday, I met my brother-in-law and his wife for dinner. Our waitress was both fairly new and was responsible for most of the outdoor patio. She was as helpful and friendly as can be, but her answer to everything was “Absolutely.”

The first time it sounded sincere and enthusiastic. As the evening wore on I found it grating on me.

Yes, I know this is my issue not hers. Repeated phrases just get under my skin in ways that I can’t explain.

For example, the first person to celebrate their birthday as “another trip around the sun” was clever. At this point it is said so commonly that it takes everything in me not to roll my eyes.

“Oh come on, Daniel,” you say.

I told you - I’ve been old and crabby for years.

When I was editor for a web site twenty years ago, every discussion with management would include the phrase, “at the end of the day.”

They usually meant it to mean, “I don’t really care what you think, we’re going to do it my way.”

In my opinion, “at the end of the day” should be reserved for things like, “at the end of the day we watched the sun set over the lake.”

You know. At the literal end of the day.


So 62.

Two years after 60 which is supposed to be a big year and two years before 64 - another big year.

“Hang on, Daniel,” you say, “don’t you mean 65?”

65 will be big. Medicare kicks in and I can’t wait for healthcare to not be my biggest monthly expense.

Also, although some insist that I’m essentially retired already (retired people don’t get up at 330 am on their birthday to teach a class “in Dubai”), 65 will be when I look retirement in the face and say, “not yet.”

Kim and I always figured I’d work til at least 70. Particularly if I continue to enjoy what I’m doing as much as I do now.

Anyway, no - not 65 - 64.

It’s a perfect square.

And it’s a perfect cube.

It’s the year that 111111 turns into 1000000.

All the bits flip.

Oh, yeah. That’s another expression I hate: “the bit flipped.”

It was cute when people first used it in the same way you’d use flipping a light switch.

Last year, 60, could be written 111100. Add one and you get 61 which can be written 111101. That last 0 turns to a 1. That bit flipped.

This year two bits flip. Tomorrow 111101 will turn into 111110. You can see that a 0 turns to a 1 and a 1 turns to a 0.

Next year the final bit flips to a 1 and the year after, when I turn 64, all of the bits flip and we start a new column.

A year when you start a new column is a big year. 

There will be a 1 in the 64s place and 0s every where else.

Of course we’re working in base two which, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, is just like base ten if you’re missing nine fingers.

Leveling up

It’s been a busy couple of months. I’ve been updating my programming books for Apple’s latest release of Swift.

I updated my Swift and Combine books. I’m not sure the Functional book needs an update. I’m a couple of chapters into updating the SwiftUI book. That should be done sometime in October.

These are tough, time consuming projects. I see other people finish things like this and they tweet, “Achievement unlocked - I …”

Where “…” is released an app, updated a book, completed my first 5K race - whatever.

As you might guess, I hate that phrase too: “Achievement unlocked”.

Like it’s a game level and all you have to do is play it aimlessly on the couch after dinner long enough.

In the world of video games, if you lose before reaching this goal, you shrug and click that you want to play again.

Real life doesn’t feel that way.

I actually go back and forth on this one. Perhaps I would accomplish more if I viewed them as achievements inside of me waiting to be unlocked.

In one of my last trips before lockdown I visited Florence and saw Michelangelo’s David in person.

It’s stunning and takes your breath away. There is a scale and a vibrance in person that can’t be captured by images.

I can’t believe the artist looked at that stone and just carved away the bits that weren’t the David.

Michelangelo didn’t even begin with a fresh block of stone. Others had attempted to produce something from it first.

He spent two years turning an abandoned project into the finished sculpture.

In 1501 the bit flipped and Michelangelo received the commission. He was around Maggie’s age.

He wanted to start with a fresh stone from a quarry, but at the end of the day he worked with what he was given.

Two years later he went out drinking with some friends to toast another trip around the sun while working on that statue.

That night he tweeted, “Achievement unlocked, I have completed The David.”

He wasn’t yet thirty.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 79. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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