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On turning 52

Long post here, musing about my impending 52nd birthday (Tuesday, April 26, and yes, you can find my wish list here. I'm just saying.)

Via Ezra I happened to read a great article from John Powers wherein he suggests that the recent deaths of so many greats from the 20th century (Susan Sontag, Johnny Carson, Arthur Miller, Hunter Thompson, George Kennan, Saul Bellow, Phillip Johnson, Pope John Paul II, etc.) might lead one to subscribe to what he calls Declinism, i.e., the belief that our best days are past.

He chides David Brooks:

Where Bellow’s work was a pas de deux between Europe and America, Brooks argued, we’re now “living in a unipolar culture, and it’s lonely at the top.” (Spoken like a true neoconservative.)

This claim might be more persuasive if Brooks hadn’t identified himself as one of those “who don’t pay attention to what is being written and said in Europe because it doesn’t seem that exciting. (Quick, what book is the talk of Berlin? Who is the Francois Truffaut of our moment?)”

What Brooks seems not to realize is that world culture hasn’t stood still over the two decades since he graduated from the University of Chicago. Only his thinking about it has.

Contemporary American culture seems unipolar only if you aren’t paying attention. These days Berliners are talking about Orham Pamuk’s novel Snow — a labyrinthine look at the pressures of Islamic fundamentalism — while our moment’s Truffaut (since you ask) comes with names like Wong Kar-Wai, Alfonso Cuarón, Satoshi Kon and Jafar Panahi. You won’t hear them bemoaning decline.

All well and good. I'm old enough to fall into that trap: there is more of my life behind me than there is in front of me.

But I refuse to be one of those old farts.

I always believed that I would grow up to live in the future. I believed it the same way others believed they would grow up and own a fancy house, or a flashy car or have lots of money. I'm always looking for new ideas, new people, new landscapes. Who I am is shaped (but not limited) by where I came from. I value the past but I want to live in the future.

One side-effect of having come this far is that everything I experience does remind me of something else, but so what? That just means I have more perspective (if not more wisdom).

I still look forward to every new day. Like Frankie Valli says, "I thank God I'm alive."

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