I really enjoyed the Sixties, that is, the 1960s, and I’m planning on enjoying my own imminently impending sixties, as I am about to celebrate my sixtieth birthday.
Get ready for possibly the weirdest, even stupidest, analogy you’ve heard in a long time. Half a century ago, I was standing in front of an octagonal orthodontist building, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I was reading a kid-version, heavily illustrated, of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. It mentioned that Henry Jekyll was 60 years old. I remember that it struck me how being sixty was not really being “old.” You’d have to be, I guessed, 70 or 80 before that geriatric reproach would apply. I’ve always looked at it that way ever since. And that’s good, since I’m going to enter “the 60s” about three days from now!
Well, a day or two ago (when, exactly? My memory is fading—you know how that goes!), I had a Heideggerian moment of clarity: I was about to cross the border into the ripe old age of sixty, a milestone of—what? Decrepitude? Maturity? I don’t know, but that much closer to the grave at any rate. And, just as quickly, it popped into my gray head that this passage would also be a kind of new birth into a new stage of life. And that thought, in turn, brought me back to that day long ago when I was reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because it was at age sixty that Jekyll transformed into his evil alter ego. Yes, sixty was the age of rebirth all right! But into what?
In several ways, I feel I am just reaching my stride: creative abilities and literary prolificacy (or is that “prolixity”?) seemingly undiminished, with widening opportunities to communicate my message, whatever that is. I would like to be able to enter real retirement and return to the magical paradise of earlier years when I passed the time within a bubble of entertainment and the fantastic imagination. I still read a good bit of Lovecraft, science fiction, etc., as I once did, but there is less time for it even within the borders of the kingdom of what Lin Carter used to call “Happy Magic” I love writing fiction, editing horror anthologies and suchlike, but even these things are “business” after a fashion.
It is a burden, though a light one, to have contributions to make. But this sense of (happy) obligation only multiplies when it comes to my biblical-critical work: writing books, hosting podcasts, etc. I have things to contribute to the discussion. On the one hand, I feel I owe it to the future to add what I can to the body of scholarship. On the other, especially since I am getting older, I need to make whatever mark I can while I can, in lieu of any likely immortality. Maybe I’ll be able to “survive” a little bit longer as a collection of footnotes.
Not that it matters in the long run. I am living for today and much enjoying it. And one big reason for that is the nature of my life’s progress. That is, despite my talk of rebirth and life passages, I do not really perceive myself to have become a new creature as I have accumulated years. No ending to previous life-worlds as I began the next. There has not been a moment when I felt obliged to “put away childish things” as C.S. Lewis did the day he decided he had grown up and took the trouble to put his toys in a box and bury them in the ground. (If I did that, just try to imagine the size of the box, the crate, the cargo container it would take!) No, by contrast, I experience my growth (and dare I say “maturation”?) as a tree gaining new, concentric rings: not sloughing off earlier selves but augmenting them. I have not abandoned, not even lost interest in, comic books and superheroes, pulp fiction and monster movies. If anything, I love them more than ever since I can more deeply fathom their depths (when, as very often, they do have depths). I have never put aside my interest in religion, even though I regard my dropping of religious faith as a significant step of maturity. As you know, I continue to love the scriptures and theologies of all the religions.
I have, I think, left behind various quirks of emotional immaturity. I have sought to grow in character. I have savored new dimensions of family love, adding my devotion to Carol and my pride in Victoria and Veronica to my love for my wonderful parents, now gone, Mable and Noel Price. I have rejoiced at strengthening ties with my brother and my brothers-in law and my mother-in-law. You’ll never convince me, despite my rabid individualism (much of which I owe to Patrick McGoohan), that the family unit is not the bedrock of a healthy society (which I guess we don’t have anymore).
I recall how my brilliant, trying, and crotchety parishioner Bill Guenther didn’t give a damn what anybody thought of whatever he saw fit to say. I liked that about him. And I consider that attitude a valuable perk of getting older, becoming a “senior citizen” (though I’m guessing you’ll probably want to refer to me as a “sophomore” rather than a “senior”). I have a head start. For years I have been happy to say (and write) things that make people cringe. I tried my best in earlier years to conform to the “success” protocols, but I found that just wasn’t going to work for me. Instead, I learned the truth enunciated on the concluding episode of The Prisoner: “We thought you would be happier as yourself.” And I am. Much. And I plan on being that way, as ridiculous as it may seem to some, for a few decades more. How about you?
So says Zarathustra.