35 and counting

The time has finally come for yet another landmark birthday that a lot of people didn't foresee me making. As of 11:22 PM EST this evening, I will officially be 35 years of age.

As per the custom, this landmark birthday has inspired some self-reflection, some bits of angst, and some liver bashing. What has added a bit more of pondering about this year is that it is also the 10th anniversary of my moving to Washington, D.C. from Philadelphia, which means I've now lived here exactly as long as I had in Pennsylvania (counting my stint at State College, that is).

This does not mean I'm going to root for the Redskins. I'm afraid that I cannot in good conscience switch teams within divisions. Although I am sympathetic to the Redskins because of the many friends and relatives I have down here, my two premier teams will remain the Bills and Eagles. (I've contemplated who I would root for in a Superbowl matchup between the two teams (as if I would have to worry about that), and I have to give the edge to the Bills. But not by much.)

I've always had a fascination with the area as a kid, so it's probably no surprise that I feel at home down here. I remember the first time visiting D.C. when I was about seven and marveling at the beltway. Eight lanes just seemed so immense, at least compared to growing up in Allegany, NY. I could do a bit without the swamp-like heat in the summer, but the change of seasons, proximity to the beach, and plentiful bike trails are right up my alley.

So, since I've been down here, what have I accomplished? What have I learned since I was a mere pup of 25? What has changed? The appearance is probably the most striking. Back in the day I had fairly long, thick hair and was a skinny kid of about 165. Now, with the virtually shaved head that I've had since 2001 and another 20 pounds on the physique, it's a kinder, gentler, future me.

I've picked up the habit of working out on a daily basis, with weights and cardio, and kept that habit for about the last 7 years or so. That change in my lifestyle has allowed me to keep a strong social life while keeping off the rigors of a slowing metabolism. (Much of that 20 pounds is muscle.) Like my old math teacher used to say, moderation in everything.

I like to think the secret of my own personal health and sanity is moderation and balance. Never too much of any one activity, whether it be working out or drinking or work or play or writing. A combination keeps (my) mind at its least stressful. I know that I could never be truly happy just writing or just writing code, just reading books on the beach or just socializing. I've learned a lot about who I am, and I know what it takes to make me happy. The real challenge is actually DOING it, or combating laziness to do it.

A few weeks back I had issued an email to a bunch of friends asking for one word that they thought encapsulated me. Although this may sound like an invitation to uncomfortable responses, all of them were quite thoughtful and perceptive. However, probably the best (I thought) was "work-in-progress". The search, the journey itself is what drives me; complacency at a job, in relationships, in self invariably lead to stagnation. As such, I doubt the day I die (if I have a chance to reflect) that I will consider my life complete. And it doesn't bother me. What matters to me is to always have something to strive for, to be passionate about.

So, what has been 'accomplished' over the last 10 years? I completed my first 'real' movie script since I've been down here and written over 50,000 words of a book (which I'm currently backstorying at a snails pace, but it IS being done). I've purchased my first car, bed, TV, computer, and couch, but I really need to get some damn golf clubs to replace my 30-year-old ones. I've swam in the ocean at midnight (a great fear of mine). I've drawn and framed works in charcoal, pencil, and pastel. I've seen Penn State kick the crap out of Nebraska with 110,000 other rabid fans at Beaver Stadium. I've traveled to at least 15 states and Canada (okay, 16 then). I've taught classes in a computer language that I only just learned the week before. (For someone who is afraid of public speaking, once you've been thrust into that situation, everything else is a bit easier.) I have opened a savings account and have become entirely debt-free. I've managed wireless for a publishing company. I've programmed a custom solution to software that didn't have any reporting. I've gotten a degree as a PMP (Project Management Professional). I've changed a frickin' tire on my car. I've failed to break any teeth or bones. I have three permanent wrinkles in my forehead from raising my eyebrows at incompetence. I have broken a 5-iron while hitting a perfectly good tee shot. I have done all this and more, and most importantly, I have survived. For some, that is a big enough accomplishment.

Financially, I am certainly in better shape than when I was 25. Being single, living in a low-rent house, biking to work, and engaging in a high-paying activity will do that for you. And speaking of being single, although I recently (well, several months ago) ended a long-term relationship, I don't have any regrets about those I have dated. For one reason or another, I know the right decision was made.

Which brings me to something that I certainly didn't know when I was 25: what I want in a companion/girlfriend/wife. Although this actually leads to less dating, as the pool will naturally shrink once you know what you want and more specifically what you do not want. I could probably easily list off the traits that I need to have (not a long list), those that I can deal with either way, and those that I cannot put up with (again, not a long list). All this comes with the territory of hitting 35, and although in past times one would consider 35 to be of incorrigible bachelor age, for Generation X and Y and beyond, it's nearly par for the course.

So, do I feel older? Slightly. I consider myself to be in better shape than I was 10 years ago, but I am aware of certain things in my body creaking a bit more. I don't feel older per se. I am more mature? Against my will, certainly. You pick up things along the way, you get 'over' acting like you are in your 20's, and I have successfully stopped sucking my thumb. But, what's strange to me is that my attitude, my personality, my goofiness and sarcasm, hasn't tempered at all with age. I am as relieved as I am a bit surprised, at least compared to my vision of what I'd be like from 25. As much as I could bear it, that is; I couldn't much imagine 35 back then any more than I can really see 45. Ick.

In any event, this rambling, self-indulgent prose has come to completion, and we are all happy for it. If you've made it this far, then chances are you are a friend or you are incredibly bored at work. My friends, of course, the ones I've made and the ones I've kept over these years, are my biggest accomplishment. Thanks and fade out.


maggiemay said...

Happy Birthday kiddo ... Here's to 10 more years! (clink)

Cecily said...

Happy Birthday!

linguo said...

Many more to thee, Sir Puns-a-lot.

VeryMerry said...

Oh Matthew, you make me cry. Mostly because I DID know you when you were this silly barely post-adolescent man-child. "Moderation" was certainly not your moderation at that time. "More wine, more women" perhaps but not moderation.

So, good on your for coming over to the ways of the Force. You're a better man for it.