I turned 40 today. I don’t want to give that number more sway over me than it deserves. Yes, it’s a big, fat, round number. Yes, it’s a milestone. No, I’m not any different than I was 24 hours ago, when I still resided in my 30s.
But let’s face it: If you’re a contemplative sort — and underneath the fart jokes and the NFL mania, I am — big, fat, round numbers prompt some assessing of the road traveled and the bend ahead. With some luck and clean living, maybe there’s another 40 inside me, waiting to get out. Maybe. But those steps are uncertain and largely hidden, and frankly, I don’t want to traverse them any faster than I have to. There’s a lesson in the first 40 years: I took them too quickly and didn’t appreciate the moments of grace and beauty as much as I should have.
I’ve been thinking a lot this morning about the things we want and the things we strive for, and how sometimes we get them — just not always in the way we imagined. When I was 17, my family took a two-week trip to Yellowstone. I sat in the back seat, with my younger brother and sister, listening to cassettes (Rush’s “Moving Pictures” was on heavy rotation) and inhaling Hemingway. In Cooke City, I met an old woman who knew Hemingway, and I gazed at the mountains and imagined that someday I would be a novelist, living in Montana and pursuing my art.
I got the novel, and I got Montana. The cabin in the mountains will have to wait.
When I was 18, I dreamed of being a big-city newspaper reporter. In November of that year, my first front-page story appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
When I was 19, I fell in love for the first time. I highly recommend it.
When I was 20, I lost love for the first time. Strangely enough, I highly recommend that, too.
When I was 21, I left my home state. I moved to Kenai, Alaska, more than 4,000 miles away. The loneliness, at times, crushed me. I also met some of the best friends I’ve ever had. That, too, I recommend.
When I was 22, I returned to Texas and took a job I hated. A good lesson there: Don’t mess with happy.
When I was 23, I moved to Owensboro, Kentucky, and went to work with a wonderful group of people, all within a few years of my age. Never have I had so much fun at a job. So, to Lovett, Heen, the Toddler, Cindy, Noelle, Kristin, et. al.: Thank you for a wonderful time in my life.
When I was 24, I moved to Dayton, Ohio, for another job I hated. A good lesson, repeated: Don’t mess with happy.
On the day I turned 25, I received a job offer from the Anchorage Daily News. I took it, and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I turned 26, 27 and 28 in Anchorage, and I grew up. Some.
When I was 26, I met my birthmother for the first time. It’s been an amazing, odd, frustrating, wonderful relationship. I wouldn’t trade it.
When I was 28, I moved to California for a job that intimidated me. It’s hard to think of this now that the economy and Dean Singleton have laid waste to the San Jose Mercury News, but in 1998, it was one of the finest newspapers in the country. I joined a staff full of some of the smartest people I’ve ever known, and I wasn’t at all sure I was up to snuff. It turned out that I was.
When I was 30, I left the Mercury News and returned to Texas one last time. I took a job in San Antonio and bought a big house with a pool. But it didn’t take, which, I suppose, was mostly my fault. By August, I was in Olympia, Washington, and that didn’t take any better. By November, I was back in San Jose, where I belonged. My three-times-the-fool lesson: Don’t mess with happy.
In San Jose, my 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 34th, 35th and 36th birthdays clicked by. I held several positions: Sunday sports editor, assistant sports editor, Raiders beat writer, deputy sports editor, and finally, in October 2004, sports editor. People came and went, and the newspaper’s fortunes pretty much went, but it was still a great time in my life. So, to JR, Amy, Rachel, Brownie, Brucie, Bud, Darryl, Teeb, the Rook, Will, Richard, Smitty, Wilner, Timmy K, Purd, Killer, Darren, Sumi, Pam, Pinky, Gary and so many others, thank you.
When I was 36, I met the love of my life, and I came to Montana to be with her. I couldn’t possibly recommend anything more highly.
When I was 37, I got married and we bought a house. Also highly recommended.
When I was 38, I crashed a motorcycle and nearly ended everything way too soon. I do not recommend this at all.
When I was 39, I published my first novel. Those dreams I had at 17 started coming around.
And now, here I am at 40, wondering what’s next. You’ll notice that the most important things have happened in the past few years. That’s a trend I’d like to see stick around awhile. So come on 41 … but not too quickly.
I’m not gonna mess with happy.