Apart from being a semiperfect number, the atomic number of zirconium, the number of winks someone might have, the amount of thieves Ali Baba hung out with, the number of days and nights it rained when Noah was on his ark, and the name of a song that appears on consecutive U2 albums, forty is the age I am today*. Let me just say a quick OH FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCKING HELL FOR FUCKING FUCK’S SAKE HOW THE FUCK DID THAT HAPPEN!? This isn’t a birthday to be celebrated. Forty deserves some sort of semi-funeral for one’s youth.
*And the amount of seconds I probably spent on Wikipedia checking this stuff out.
But when did 40 become a significant birthday? It’s a multiple of ten; humans seem to feel safe and comfortable with multiples of ten. But apart from that, why 40? When you think of other significant birthdays, birthdays that stand out above all other birthdays, they all have legal significance. Age of consent, suffrage, drinking alcohol, driving, joining the military. The ages 16, 18 and 21 all seem important milestones in one’s life. But 40? Why is that significant? Is it because at the age of 40, all men are issued with a can of WD-40 by the governments of the world?
And why does life begin at forty? Is it because you’re likely closer to death than your birth, thus you scramble to enjoy life more? Surely forty being a landmark is only a recent, possibly even post-war phenomenon. I’m sure a lot of people up until maybe the fifties or sixties were grandparents at the age of forty, great-grandparents at sixty, conceivably great-great-grandparents at eighty. That is nuts. Or maybe it’s just nuts that I am forty and childless.
I guess, though, it’s not at bad as I was expecting. Obviously, I don’t feel any different from when I was 39. Or 35. Or 30. There’s stuff I appreciate more now (the word “old” in “old people” shouldn’t be a defining characteristic of one’s view of that person, for example; and I do kinda think it’s true that the older you get the more you realise you don’t, and won’t ever, know everything), but on the whole, I still giggle at farts, I still fancy Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink,” and I still feel a welling of joy in my heart when I listen to “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
The changes I have noticed, though, are significant. I’ve completely lost the will to keep up with the daily grind of following new music. If a radio station boasts they have new music or the best unsigned bands, well, why would I care? Come back to me when someone else has road-tested them and it has been collectively decided it’s worth some attention.
“The XX are good, Craig.”
“Cool, I’ll check them out.”
“And it’s lowercase, not capital Xs.”
“Fuck that. And fuck K. D. Lang, Blink 182, and E.E. Bastard Cummings, too.”
“You grumpy old fucker…”
I’m less willing to humour younger people who do think they know everything (one time in Toronto, a pretty-ish woman in her early twenties insisted I check out the Velvet Underground because “they were awesome”). This isn’t all young people, of course. In my life I’ve met people in their early twenties when I’ve been in my thirties and it makes me wonder how much a complete arsehole I was at that age; people who are more intelligent, thoughtful, and are way closer to having it sorted out than I’ll ever be.
But, I think most of all, it’s perception that I’m afraid of. If I tell people I’m 34 or 36 there’s not likely to be a huge difference in the way that person would view me. But the difference between saying 39 yesterday and 40 today is massive. Or maybe it’s a perception that is massive in my own head. Maybe this is all in my own head.
Finally, I find it amusing how my valuation of what constitutes middle age has changed. When I was a teenager, it was anything over 30. As I approached 30, it became the over 40s. And now, well, I’m telling myself it’s 50, even though I do deep down really feel like I’ll be middle aged in two or three years time. Unless, that is, someone farts, then I’ll laugh and feel twelve years old forever.