I did my first stint in grad school at the University of Minnesota. Because I didn’t know Minneapolis at all, apart from a whirlwind visit after I got accepted to meet the faculty and see a little bit of the area, I started off in a dorm which was literally on the east bank of the Mississippi River. My room faced west, so every day I looked out my window to see the river, and all of its traffic. It was a daily source of amazement for this New Englander.
I wrote my thesis on a few post-WWII American writers, one of them being Jack Kerouac. In On The Road, Sal, the narrator and Kerouac avatar, is utterly delighted to finally see the Mississippi River, a large part of his personal mythology. I know how he felt. As Sal continues west, he’s finally able to stop long enough to sleep a day away, and when he wakes, he is disoriented:
I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.
That’s kind of how I feel today. On one hand I am in a familiar place, both literally (in my own home) and figuratively (I am really no different than I was yesterday). On the other hand, I am starting out on the road. Today my husband and I are literally starting the drive to see my family. It’s not a super long drive, but we break it up because it makes things more enjoyable, so at some point tonight I’ll wake up in a hotel room and not know where I am for 15 strange seconds. You see, today I turn 60.
It’s completely unbelievable to me. I laugh when I tell people because it seems like a joke, to be honest.
I imagined other “milestone” birthdays ahead of time: what I’d be doing when I was 25, or 30, or 50. For some reason I never thought ahead to what I’d be doing when I was 60. I fully expected to make it to 60 as I come from a long line of long-lived people; I just never spent any time thinking about what it would be like.
When I think about time and how it flows, I see it as a road, a horizontal line that I stand perpendicular. But now that I’ve reached the end of the road my imagination has prepared, I must look beyond the road to see where I go next. It’s uncharted. So here I am, without the prepared protection, and projection, of imagination as I leave my 50s and any semblance of being “middle-aged” into being…what, exactly? I am not “elderly”. I am not yet technically a “senior citizen”.
That’s not to say that I don’t have plans for my 60s (and 70s and beyond)—we are beginning to plan for our retirement by scouting out places we might like to live and improving our health so we can have an active retirement. I don’t really know what to expect in the long term. But I’ve been good at making things up as I go along my entire life, and I expect that will continue. After all, as Sal said:
There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.
See you next week. I’m off to celebrate all sorts of resurrection with family and friends I have not seen in 3 years. Joy be with you all.