Reflections on Turning 75
I want a big, red reset button. The world I met ain’t like what I was told about.. (Yes, you are different. You charmingly met an alternate world and will disagree with everything to follow).
1. Mistakes of a 20 year old
- assuming that I’d figured out, or was smart enough to figure out, how everything worked;
- assuming that someone out there actually cared about what I said or did;
- assuming that we’d gotten past the bad guys and mistakes of history;
- assuming that the shambling crowds in the shopping centre were smarter than their ancestors;
- assuming that women as a species were any less (or more) predatory than men;
- assuming that most people were susceptible to reasoned argument;
- assuming that most people could or would ever read more than a two sentence meme;
- assuming that most people understood how to evaluate evidence impartially;
- assuming that most people were reasonable judges of character and situations;
- assuming that most people gave a rat’s arse about any of this stuff.
2. Working notes for stumbling down a path less travelled at 75
- Fizzing with the right chemistry is the source of anything like happiness .
- The chemistry is not on auto-serve. It needs prepping with daily self-discipline, experiment, and persistently good exercise, good food and good management.
- To stay on track, you have to take a small holiday from yourself occasionally. That means occasionally, not habitual self-indulgence.
- Having a laugh, especially at yourself, is hands down the best way to detoxify when the air gets heavy.
- Welcome kindness, but don’t expect it.
- Nobody has ever had my back, at any age. There were no soft hiding places. That was hard, but eventually liberating. (About Thor @ http://thormay.net/docsite/aboutthor.html )
- So now I can only go forward, alert and curious, hoping for the best. That, at least, hasn’t changed.
- Such is life.
3. The Body Part of Having a Mind
- At 20 you are immortal. Even if you don't know that you assume it by casually treating your body as a perfectly self-managing, self-healing machine which can be abused with impunity. If you are particularly thick, you volunteer to be a hero collecting bullets on the front line of somebody else's war. At home you might smash your brain with drugs from alcohol to meth in the name of being free. You might have loud opinions about how to fix the world which idiot ancestors have mismanaged for the last twenty thousand years.
- By 30 you get hints of mortality, and by 40 you are no longer quite sure that the sun will rise every morning cloud free. Still, you amble on, making jokes about nature taking its course and going the way of all flesh. In your heart of hearts you don't really believe that the end will ever come for you because you are special. At 50 you lose your job, and find that you no longer have a career. Your bad eating, bad drinking, bad sleeping, bad exercise habits are taking a toll. You become a liability on the public health system, if there is one. By 60 an amazing number of you will admit that you are actually sick of living.
- I never really fitted any of those normative curves. I never wanted a career - it looked too much like a confidence trick. But I didn't know what I wanted in its place. It took about another 40 years to figure that out. How dumb. I saw my contemporaries destroying their bodies and minds, and being rewarded with admiration. That looked dumb, but I hadn't really figured out an alternative, and certainly didn't win social admiration, or wealth for that matter. From 1961 I did run constantly. That seemed to be a safe holding pattern. There were no Youtube videos to explain everything in five easy steps.
- By 60 I realized that neither Nature nor any other human gave a damn if I turned into a shrivelled, pain wracked wreck. Doctors, at least the ones I met in those 10 minute turnover face-to-faces, turned out to be at least 70% useless to dangerous band-aid dispensers, often with their own deep personality problems behind the mask. Doctors deal in stereotypes and normative curves. With 34 trillion cells in a human body + 100 trillion bugs hanging out in the corridors, the variables are overwhelming and medical science is in its infancy. It became clear that I was the only possible agent of (no doubt temporary) salvation for my own collection of body parts. Thank heavens for the rise of the Internet. With research, experiment and persistence it became much more possible to chart a course for effective body management. If only, if only this had been at my fingertips at twenty. As it is, even my fumbling attempts at staying healthy have been worthwhile -
- These stats? Lies, all lies, but thankfully not yet like the 75 y.o. birth certificate. These techie things are fickle. They will give you nearly any statistic you fancy if you pick the right moment. Running constantly since 1961 has paid off, but the easy 10 km endurance is no longer there. Now it's about running in intervals. A surge pace helps a lot - fast for maybe 100 metres, slow for a little, walk for a few metres, fast again. Injuries come more easily but I have mostly overcome a few sprains & pains this year with a change in weight lifting, learning body tricks all the time from experiment and research.
- Over 59 years I've tried pretty well every running style, though there's been a lot more experiment and variation in the last decade as age inevitably creates more challenges. Day after day, decade after decade, I ran 10 km in about 42 minutes. Not now! I'm a natural mid-foot runner which probably helped, and I learned long ago that the friendliest footwear is sandals - the nearest thing to bare feet. Nowadays I run 3 times a day, about 6.5 km altogether, with a 700 metre walk first to loosen up. Two runs are short - 1 km, and the third about 4.5 km. Consistency is important. It's working pretty well. But everyone is different. What works for me at this time might not work for you.
- Ah, the way of all flesh - If new skins come onto the market, I’ll be right there in the queue, any colour accepted and no impolite questions about how the skin was made. So skin is a mystery not yet solved.
4. The Mind Part of Having a Mind
- At 20 you have probably been knocked around by a formal education system. It might have stamped some number between your eyes with an indelible message. For example, as Citizen X you are minus mediocre and can therefore look forward to an average life with all the usual thrills and trinkets. As Citizen Y the IQ jargon plus school exam results might say you are moderately gifted and can therefore become a manager, feel a little superior, and plan to have a nice house in the suburbs. Or as Citizen W you are a weird minority outsider and will have to make your own weather because nobody else knows what to do with you.
- At 30 Citizens X and Y have probably bought into the prophecy stamped between their eyes. They are following the allotted path their culture provides, are up to their eyeballs in commitments, and may even have the regulation 2.5 children.
- Now consider a small detour into history. In 1945 I was born into an 89% Anglo-Celtic Australian population of about 7.5 million (most of the rest were European). This population’s cultural origins lay separated by about two generations from ‘home’ on the other side of the world. These people felt very, very alone in a vast land, and had just been scared witless by the near-death experience of impending Imperial Japanese invasion. With these prompts, they decided, more or less, to swallow their xenophobia and white supremacy myths. They decided, as it were, to sleep with the enemy. The rallying cry became ‘populate or perish’. So now in 2020 I am part of 25 million Australian people of whom Anglo-Celts make up less than 58% of the population (2016 census). It has been an amazing cultural journey, inconceivable in most other countries.
- But hey, wait a minute. From day zero in 1945 Thor has been a Citizen W by circumstance and inclination, one of those weird minority outsiders compelled to make their own weather. It’s a tale too long for this piece, but the emergent Citizen W of 75 springs is bound to be one of a kind. His gaudy reflections on turning 75 may have nothing at all to say to Citizens X and Y.
Oh, Life? Yeah, life is worth living at 20 or 75.
Professional bio: Thor May has a core professional interest in cognitive linguistics, at which he has rarely succeeded in making a living. He has also cultivated an interest in how things work – people, brains, systems, countries, machines, whatever… In the world of daily employment he has mostly taught English as a foreign language, a stimulating activity though rarely regarded as a profession by the world at large. His PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. In the 1980s and 1990s he eventually walked away from two other PhD candidatures in cognitive linguistics after concluding that the models in play could not work in principal. Hmm, so there was a memory for a non-career. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of finding his way out of working class origins, through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia in 1972).
Reflections on Turning 75 (c) Thor May 2020