Thursday, January 27, 2011

INVENTORY: Summarizing the life of a baby-boomer

     I turned 65 yesterday. As I say in the intro to this blog, this puts me in the vanguard of the baby boomers. We Americans have a fairly rigid, standard timeline for our lives. It goes something like this: home from age zero to 4, school from age 4 to 22, work from 22 to 65, retirement from 65 to 85, nursing home and death watch after 85. Given this, age 65 is a natural point at which one might take stock of one’s life.
    What follows is an inventory of, well, me. Because this is already an exercise in no doubt unhealthy narcissism, I am going to use the third person after the next sentence. I don’t think I could stand all the I’s otherwise.

The Body: Ed has toted up 65 years of remarkably good health, including only one night in the hospital, to have his tonsils removed in 1951. One dislocated finger, with chipped bone, in 1974 (poorly caught basketball). No broken bones, ever. Torn right rotator cuff at age 20, from throwing baseballs. Three tendons torn off the right shoulder bone in fall on the ice 11 years ago, fully repaired with outpatient surgery (along with serendipitous repair of 29-year-old rotator cuff tear!). No chronic illnesses, ever. No allergies. LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides currently high, suggesting some heart-attack risk. HDL (good) cholesterol very high, suggesting low heart-attack risk. Takes no medicines. Lifelong severe nearsightedness, corrected miraculously by lens replacement surgery in 2010. Excellent eye-hand coordination. Under-average arm strength. No foot speed. Never been hungry. Never been cold. Never been overweight. Occasional arthritis pain in right pinky, left wrist. All told, a lifetime of great physical good luck. (For further details, see recently filled-out life-insurance form, which is more intrusive than an airport pat-down and x-ray viewing combined.)

The Mind: Ed has lifelong excellent multiple-choice test skills; show him the right answer along with three wrong answers, and he’ll zero in on the right one, even today. This is a meaningless measure of intelligence, of course, since life rarely presents only four choices. Nevertheless, because tests are computer-graded, and computers are stupid, multiple-choice tests still predominate; ergo, Ed is still smart because computers are still stupid. Ed’s official IQ was once measured above 140; he knows this because he was admitted to a high-IQ program in high school, on the basis of multiple-choice tests, what else? Current IQ unknown, but, by all anecdotal measures, dropping (rapidly forgetting multiplication tables, unable to navigate software instructions). Lifelong poor memory. No memory whatsoever for names or historical facts (who the hell was Robespierre, again?). Afflicted forever with prosopagnosia—i.e., Ed is unable to decode or remember your facial features, even if he just played four hours of golf with you. Short-term memory no worse now than at age five—i.e., not very good. Didn’t know what he went to the closet for when he was five; has no more idea now. Long-term memory average; still remembers the batting stances of every Yankee in the lineup in 1956. Never able to appreciate jazz or to understand key changes in any kind of music. Always and still good at crossword puzzles, and okay at KenKen. Embarrassingly bad at cards and Mensa-style brain-teasers. Worse at chess. Summary: Intellectual skills middling to start, no worse today.

The Heart (as emotional metaphor): A bumpy ride until age 45 or so. But a very lucky last 20 years, having given his heart to someone who is too good for it but treats it well. Remarkable, undeserved coronary contentment (in the metaphorical sense) at present.

Talents: Few. Ed is able to write nonfiction quite well, having made it his profession and object of study and teaching for 45 years. He is a published but uninspired and unmotivated poet. Poetic impulse diminished in recent years. No fiction ability whatsoever, ever. Writing skill diminishing a bit at age 65—difficulty finding the right word that used to come quickly. (Could not think of the work “chronic” in the third paragraph, above. Had to use thesaurus. Thank god for Roget—the mental equivalent of a cane.) Good tennis player ranked eighth in Men’s 60s in Mid-Atlantic Region. Respectable golfer (5.5 handicap index). No other talents: can’t draw, sculpt, paint, make cabinets, repair electrical devices, renovate bathroom, ski, skate, sail, sing, dance, compose, play an instrument, knit, or garden.

Regrets: Not too many. Four or five people gave him affection that he wouldn’t or couldn’t return. Occasionally he acted superior to other people. Occasionally he showed off. Occasionally he got angry when he shouldn’t have. He has, over his lifetime, given three speeches that ran much too long. Never learned to dance.

Character flaws: Where to begin? Lifelong fear of embarrassment—his own and others'—has led Ed to avoid many kinds of risk and been the primary motivator of his life. (See “Never learned to dance,” above.) General physical cowardice and weakish nerves. More than occasional unjustified intellectual arrogance. Inability to do a good deed or achieve some success without letting everyone know about it. (Did I mention my high IQ score and tennis ranking?) Lack of ambition. Dislike of work. Overaffection for play. Occasionally overcompetitive. Poor storyteller. That’s enough for here. All of this has been true from the start. None of this has changed over the decades.

Virtues: Mostly negatives: Lack of malice. Lack of greed and gluttony. Lack of prejudice. A few positives: Reads a lot (but poor memory renders this a somewhat moot virtue). Loves to gather information (but see, again, poor memory). Can concentrate rather well, but requires greater silence to do that at age 65. Willing to show affection in public. Quick to smile. Enjoys making people laugh.

Appearance (current): Six foot, 160 pounds. 33-inch waist in jeans. 40-inch chest in sports jackets. Generally skinny. Unblemished, slightly age-mottled skin. Tans well. Thin hair, still more brown than gray (a genetic gift from paternal ancestors). View from overhead: more scalp than hair. Prognathous chin. Squinty eyes. Moderate wrinkling, especially of ears.

Lost loved ones: Mother, father, brother George, friends Tom and Lee.

Personal philosophy: Ed stopped believing in gods at age ten. Still doesn’t believe. No confidence in an afterlife; believes it’s probably the same annihilative nonexistence that preceded his conception. Believes in his own existence (see “cogito, ergo sum”). Has faith that others exist (and that these memories weren’t just installed in him). Believes in treating presumed other people nicely. Generally utilitarian: greatest good for the greatest number, being sure the big picture and long-term consequences (not just nearby short-term results) are kept in mind. Thinks this existence we swim in is a strange kind of miracle-thing hard to think about. Has not quite got his head around how there can be a point to any of this weirdness called existence.
     I’ll do another inventory in five or ten years. Should be interesting to chronicle the changes between now and then.

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