I'm a few days late for my annual birthday essay, but I have an excellent excuse:
Not my actual birthday, of course. I have a wife and daughters that keep me well in mind of my actual birthday. They do this with a series of increasingly subtle hints as the day approaches.
"What would you like to do on your birthday, Dear?"
"Daddy, what's your favorite [insert random item here]?"
"Can we stay home while you and Momma celebrate your birthday?"
So remembering the day was not the problem.
Nor do I have a problem with my actual age. Chronologically I turned 53 this year, which is, I dunno, about 137.4 in programmer years. At least that's the way the newer crop of programmers make me feel. I just attended the annual Adobe MAX conference a few weeks ago, and the saddest sight in the world is an old programmer who tries to dress like the hip but nerdy youngsters for which these conferences are really created. I saw one complete with a full head of extremely gray hair in a long ponytail. He was wearing leather (pants and jacket) and a black tee shirt. There were probably piercings, too, but my highly-developed inner eyelid closed before the vision could cause any further damage.
I'm okay with my apparent lack of hipness, however. I've earned my gray hair, by golly, and I'm ready to accept the fact that when I move, it's not without first having checked to see if my back muscles are in complete agreement with my intended direction. This baby does not turn on a dime, y'know.
I'm also okay with my need for increased sleep. I've always been a comfortable sleeper, and have been known in past years to sleep even through the occasional six-point-something earthquake. (Sylmar, 1971. Barely registered on my subconscious.)
Lately I've found myself desperately needing a short nap in the afternoon, no matter how much sleep I get the night before. It generally hits me shortly after lunch, and I can feel my head getting heavier and heavier. Before I know it I startle myself awake with crick in my neck from having slept with my head at a weird angle.
No, I think my main concern this birthday is my shrinking brain mass. It used to be that we thought we were losing something like a million brain cells every year. It turns out, though, that what really happens is that we lose brain "mass," which is a polite way of saying our brains shrink over time. Again, I'm completely cool with this idea, but I sure wish I could control which portions of my brain engage in said shrinkage.
Victor Borge used to say, "There are three things I can never remember."
I know what he meant now. My wife and I will be having a conversation, generally having to do with my going to the store to buy something or other. Immediately subsequent to this conversation, my brain will finally remind me that I've just been asked to go to the store. "Just one thing, Honey. What do you need me to get at the store?" To which she replies with that look that women have perfected over centuries of evolution that immediately communicates to the men that they are in Big Trouble because they Haven't Been Listening. "Did you not hear me just tell you what we need?" she will ask.
Ummmm. Apparently not.
Here's the part of my brain that I'd love to shrink: Whichever part it is that impels me to believe that I know what I'm doing.
Really. My Dad was a supremely confident man, at least as I remember him. When he spoke, it was generally with a voice of authority with which other people tended to agree. This may have been because Dad had a somewhat intimidating presence, which is akin to saying that the South Pole is somewhat frozen. But I always thought it was because Dad just always knew what he was talking about.
Then, however, I think back on some of Dad's homeowner projects when I was growing up. Building walls between rooms in our house, for example. Dad was convinced that we didn't need an open path between our living room and our dining room. Since we had a perfectly serviceable pathway to the kitchen, he decided to wall up the dining room and turn it, briefly, into a "den." That poor den suffered through quite a number of Dad's homeowner projects over the years, until ultimately he tore out everything he'd ever built except for the wall, and turned it back into a dining room.
Likewise our backyard gardens. Dad was the world's greatest armchair gardener. He had a long-standing subscription to "Organic Gardening" magazine and even took classes at the local junior college on the topic. These resources were, of course, applied directly to his children, whom he employed as migrant farm workers. I don't mean to say that he didn't get out there himself and work; I'm just saying that I always felt like I was getting more than my fair share of garden-related assignments.
These two examples, however, illustrate perfectly this idea that, as an adult, I always feel that I not only know what I'm doing, but I'm not generally happy when a) not everyone else seems to think so, and b) my ideas frequently seem to turn out differently from the way I originally planned them.
That part of my brain I would never miss. But it seems to be the only part of my brain that not only isn't shrinking, but seems to be expanding. Probably sucking up mass from other parts of my brain, like my memory, or my attention to detai...
What was I talking about?
Nuts. Now I can't remember. Guess I'm done with this one, then.
A Kick In the Groin
1 hour ago