Being 59

59 should be an uneventful birthday. Forgettable. I had no hopes or expectations, nothing to suggest it mattered. The weekend was taken up with someone else’s 60th, which encapsulated all the horrors and pleasures of marking next year. The party lasted for twelve hours, the drinking for 16. The preparation lasted for three months and the clean-up may not end, as some stains are not removable.

I can’t help wondering whether 59 is well beyond one’s ‘natural life’. In the wild, or even in the middle ages, this would be considered a ‘ripe old age’, rather than just over the mid-point.
I’m dizzy with the thin air. I’m overflowing with emotions, which are unswitchoffable. The slightest hint of schmaltz and I’m teary. I can’t see anything ahead. It all seems to be behind me. Not least the writing. The achievement of a first, awarded on Friday, marked the closing chapter, not the opening of a new book. Fear. I feel fear that I’m not going to achieve anything as significant again. Not that the result has significance for anyone else. Just the old git doing what he does – setting himself goals and driving to attain them without real purpose. Just trying to prove himself again.
How do you move forward from this point? You’re in the process of being classified. People like/need to pin you to a colour. “He’s depressed. It’s a belated mid-life crisis. He’s not what he used to be. He really never dealt with the abuse. God, he’s so self-obsessed, narcissistic.”
Do you do what they say you should do? “Just turn up at the page.” “Go into the studio and make something you’re proud of.” ‘Keep writing and it will come”.
I felt something about the Kevin Barry method, which suggested the need for daily bowel movement. The constipated man sits patiently on the toilet seat and strains till he shits. Write 500 words before breakfast, without thinking and before doing anything else. That’s the morning pages.
Then take several hours to edit out four hundred, because most of what you say isn’t well said, or isn’t worth saying, or reading. Then spend the afternoon out taking exercise, breathing in the fresh air. Then go back to what you have saved and start to build on it. The foundations are strong enough for cognitive work. Find yourself by the end of the day with three or four hundred words worth keeping. Do that every day for a year and you will have 100,000 words. A book.
I thought this might be me, but I’m more of a stream of verbiage person than that, and somewhere closer to the Stephen King school. Sit and write two to four thousand words. Do that every day for four months without re-reading it too much. Get your 100,000 word draft finished and then start editing.
OK, so before the writing must come the idea. No? Surely you can’t start with nothing?
59 should have been an uneventful birthday, but he woke to find his world had changed. It was not just that his skin was green and scaly. That alone might have been attributable to the heavy drinking, or the fungal infection he thought he’d noticed in his groin over the last week. Nor that when he opened his mouth to thank his wife for her birthday present, he didn’t speak but rather squawked through a beak, like a parrot. That too might have been a hallucination brought on by the partying. It was the horrified look she gave when she turned on the bedroom light to greet him, took the wrapped jumper from her bedside cabinet and turned to him across the quilt.
“Fuck!” she leaped out of bed and ran naked from the room, only to re-appear briefly to check she had not been hallucinating.

59 should have been an uneventful birthday. It should have passed unobtrusively, shuffled by. Instead, it was a monumental traffic accident. A bloody tangle of vehicular wreckage and mangled limbs….

59 should have been. It was. It was in fact the quietest birthday he could remember. In the process of turning his life into a powerpoint presentation full of neat graphics and trend analyses, the liveliness of one’s birthdays is just one more smooth graph showing a Gompertz curve towards zero. This curve slides like a ski slope from the top of the hill, which, in my case was probably aged nine or ten, to the bottom, which may have come, but probably hasn’t – a year in which I die on my birthday perhaps? One in which the level of quietness is deafening.


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