Saturday, January 09, 2010

Right Word, Right Time

I'm trying to figure out how to describe what stage I’m at in my life. While in my mind I’m still in college, my body is increasingly acting as if it is much further down the pike. The sad truth, of course, is that I’m somewhere in between, well past my twentysomethinghood, yet not quite in my "back when I was your age-dom." It all leads to one inescapable conclusion: if I’m not young and I’m not old, I have to be... horrors... middle aged.

As a friend pointed out, there is good news in that label: it that means you expect to be around for at least as long as you’ve been here already. It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, "The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty." More likely, though, I have to accept the reality as defined by comedian Jonatahan Katz: "I'm officially middle-aged. I don't need recreational drugs anymore, thank God. I can get the same effect just by standing up real fast."

As the middle child of society’s family, it’s a difficult stage. We middlers get neither the senior citizen discount nor any respect accorded those more eminent in age and bearing. Likewise, since we’re no longer the baby of the family, we’re neither thought of as cuddly nor precocious. We’re supposed to have figured it all out and know all we need to know, while at the same time not thought of as being terribly receptive to new ideas. Like a puppy past its puppyhood, we are no longer cute nor paper trainable.

Yet, there are good things about this time, or so I tell myself. By now I’ve figured out the best pizza and Chinese places, can identify the person who answers the phone by first name so I get extra sausage or duck sauce, and know exactly when to call on the way home from work so it’ll be hot and ready to go when I get there. I’m not embarrassed to go to bed early if I’m tired, and I have a pretty good handle on which decongestants work best for me. And you can fault my fashion sense, and well you should, but I know how to dress comfortably.

And comfortable may be the key. After all, as Mark Twain pointed out about age, it’s an issue of mind over matter: "If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." It’s not that I don’t care about things, it’s just that I’ve accepted who I am and the world I inhabit. I know my imitations, and do the best that I can with what I have, while not getting too crazy if my dreams don’t become reality. It’s a realization that only comes once you lose the brashness of youth, and know what you can change and what you can’t. Sure, I still want to make the world a better place, insure a more peaceful future for our children and promote better understanding among people of different nationalities. But I understand it’s almost as important to put the right fertilizer on the lawn.

I hate to say I’m ceding the future to my kids, but there’s a certain amount of that. While we have the energy, we do as much as we can. At the same time we work to get the next generation ready to pick up wherever we leave off. Much like a relay race, it’s about running as hard as you can when you have the baton, ready to pass it off to more rested legs when the time comes. You can only hope you don’t fumble the pass as you catch your breath, watch them accelerate away from you, and cheer them on.

Still, what to call this state? In chumming around for a term that better describes who and am what I’ve become, I have settled on one from the 19th century. Popularized by Benjamin Disraeli, it is what linguists call a "portmanteau." The word originally referred to a large traveling case made of leather, which consisted of two halves that are connected with a hinge. In that spirit, a portmanteau word is one which joins two words to make a new one. In my case, it my tendency to tell stories about my past as I get older, stories my wife has now heard innumerable times, coupled with my slide towards senility. Henceforth, I will no longer acknowledge my middle-aged-dom. Rather, should anyone ask, I will merely say I am entering my anecdotage.


Marc Wollin of Bedford only feels old when he’s awake. His column appears regularly in The Record-review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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