Next week I’ll be looking down the barrel of my forty-sixth birthday.
And I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. When I turned forty a wise cop told me that Life Begins at Forty.
He was right. Everything in my life changed around that time. My marriage which was in the early stages of collapse came to the intersection of Right and Wrong and my wife and I both chose to take a Right. It was an unpaved road with bumps and potholes and sinkholes and it’s gotten so much smoother since. We’ve poured a lot of concrete.
Early forties is when I decided to write my first novel. And in 2009, at 45, the novel was published and the New Life began.
The thought that comes now is…how many good years do I have? I should have written that book when I was in my twenties, dammit!
And then it occurs to me that I couldn’t have written that book in my twenties. I wasn’t fully formed. I wrote my first screenplay in my twenties and look where it is now. I mean, really, you have to look, hard, in some forgotten storage unit.
So at 45 I’m ready. And those next fifteen, twenty, thirty or forty years are going to have to do. But how much can I really do from 45 to 80?
Let’s talk about one of my favorite characters. You’ve seen his face before. If I open my wallet I’ll see him on a five-dollar bill. I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen his face on a higher denomination bill.
Benjamin Franklin. Died when he was 84. Lifted weights right up until the end. When he was 81 he was the oldest delegate working on the U.S. Constitution.
He didn’t really do anything we remember him for before the age of 42. Sure, he ran that printing press. Had his own paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. Printed Poor Richard’s Almanac. All great things, of course.
In 1748, when he was 42, he placed the printing business in the hands of his partner and turned to other interests. There was so much more he wanted to do with his life.
And then he did them. He wanted to figure out the nature of lightening. He was a curious fellow. So he put his mind to it and, well, you know the kite-and-key story. He captured lightening in a jar, then created the first electric battery. Then he came up with the lightening rod, which saved many houses and many lives.
He was interested in the currents of the ocean and he studied them, and discovered and named the Gulf Stream. He created the Franklin Stove, a device which directed heat from a fireplace into a room. He invented a better street lamp, one that would burn all night.
I’m sure many of you appreciate the fact that he invented bifocal glasses.
He invented the glass harmonica. He invented an artificial arm. He founded the Library Company of Philadelphia. He founded the Union Fire Company, which was the first volunteer fire department in the U.S. He became Philadelphia’s postmaster and then was named acting postmaster for America. He founded the Philadelphia Academy and the Pennsylvania Hospital.
In 1751 he ran for an Assembly seat and won. He was 45 years old. He raised troops and served as a general in the French and Indian War. He served in the Continental Congress to win the war against England. He was working 12-hour days in Congress at the age of 69.
He helped write the Declaration of Independence. He became governor of Pennsylvania. At the age of 70 he began counting his age backwards every year, so that by the time he was 82 he was telling people he was 58.
He tried to end slavery and served as president of an anti-slavery society. He was trying to pass a bill to end slavery when he died.
Okay, then. My second book will be published when I’m 46. Hopefully I’ll write a book a year, so by the time I’m 80 I’ll have…oh, you do the math. And I still want to have a film directing career. If I direct my first feature when I’m 49 then I can pump out a few films before I die. Ten sounds like a good number. Damn, I also want to get up to speed on the saxophone again, and I want to learn to play guitar and maybe electric bass. I want to learn at least three languages – French, Italian and Spanish. I’ve had an interest in sword-fighting for years, so that goes on the list. And, as long as I’m writing and directing films, I might as well do some acting. I kind-of like that whole Bono scene, you know, being a world diplomat, saving the planet, stopping wars, feeding the hungry. Really, that’s always been on my list. As long as we’re talking about Bono, I wouldn’t mind learning how to sing. I still think I’ve got a shot at being a rock star.
What, you don’t think I can do it all? Do I need to go over Ben Franklin’s list again? At least I’m not trying to invent anything. That’ll free up some time.
So, what do you guys want to do with the rest of your years?