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The Long Haul
We never really know what we’re planning for.
Parameters on the thing called life are nebulous at best. If someone said that you have x amount of money for x amount of time, you would spend it accordingly. But you don’t get to know how much time you have over which to allot your resources, so there are competing impulses: One, assume the worst and blow it all in a blaze of glory, or two, assume a long stretch and be watchful of your every penny.
Money is just one form of expenditure, though. Energy, commitment, love…these are far more precious resources, and figuring out how much of them to apply towards any given part of your life must at least partially rely on your calculations of available time. How to plan for the long haul when we don’t know how long that haul is?
Heroes of mine have often assumed that they had very little time left, and so concentrated their resources into big bursts in youth. This approach works if you’re a fast burner, but for someone like me who takes until they’re thirtyish-fortyish to achieve competency in their chosen fields, the expenditure of capital on simple survival can lay claim to the coffers before the campaign has begun in earnest. In such ways are midlife crises born.
How long a haul are we talking? I think of my grandmother, recently passed at 100, and wonder: Do I want to be around that long? She had a good enough time, reading books and just observing the world, but I wonder if I’d be so content. Restlessness is in me, and a life glued to a chair doesn’t feel like something to shoot for.
It sounds odd, to think of it that way. Living with the intention of not being around very long. It sounds like a good way to find yourself old and doomed, is what it sounds like. I know people who thought they’d be dead decades ago, but their bodies keep trucking on, and they have to find ways of sustaining themselves beyond the expenditures they made in their younger years, which continue to exact a toll upon them in all sorts of ways.
I also know, or knew, those who thought they’d be around a lot longer than they ended up being. So many regrets, chances not taken, adventures deferred, in the belief that time was on their side. I’m not sure which is more tragic.
We don’t all get a long haul. But ask the statistics, and they will tell you that most of us get at least seven decades over which to scatter our spoonful. You could run over or under, but banking on the average is not an unsound stratagem, all things considered. Using that approach, I’m a little over halfway done. Unless I’m not. And here we go again.
At some point resistance to long-term planning becomes mere stubbornness. That or deliberate sabotage. I once believed I would grow old gracefully. Yet already the bargaining and hedging has begun. Why, I’m just getting started. Career, my foot, where’s the butterfly net? I’ve laughed at people like me before. Look at that guy, he thinks he’s not past it. He’ll find out soon enough.
Yes. Probably he will.
I’m reminded of Burgess Meredith’s character in Grumpy Old Men. When scolded for smoking unfiltered cigarettes, he exclaims, “I’m 94 years old, what the hell do I care?” I sort of already feel like that, when a happy hour goes a little longer than intended, or a responsibility is shirked right up to the line of unacceptability. I’m supposed to care. I’m supposed to be aware that there is something called a long haul, and that I’m deliberately ignoring it to continue existing in this ephemeral present.
It’s odd, because in my twenties, I was like Luke Skywalker, never my mind on where I was or what I was doing, eyes constantly on the horizon. Now the horizon kinda scares the pee out of me, so I hunker down in the moment, this one that I control for as long as I can, and hope that maybe my pensionless, planless future will sort itself out based on…I dunno, accrued goodwill? Is that exchangeable for rent? Co-pays? I’ve got some old concert tees, maybe they’ll buy me a thyroid pill one day.
I know that logically, I should have grown up by now. Accepted the long haul as my guide star, filled in the calendar of my life with milestones on the way to the bass boat and the mortgage payoff. But although I consider myself a reason-based thinker, I do not have the same relationship with pure logic. Because I know that humans do not operate purely on logic. We have hearts, emotions, and needs that defy spreadsheets, and particularly for artists, those immeasurable quantities are more vital to our survival than food and shelter. It makes no sense, but frankly, neither do people.
What is the long haul? It’s different for each of us, as it should be. I’m not sure yet what mine is. But I do know that as long as I’m drawing breath, I will strive to make sure that whatever haul I end up getting is one that has been cram-packed with as much creativity and weirdness as possible. If that lands me in a cardboard box at 81, so be it. Maybe I can decorate it with those concert tees.
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