Two Wheels and Freedom

I’ve resolved, at least intellectually, to stop wasting my time on activities that are not worthwhile, even if they are nominally gratifying in the moment. I’m going to try to move in another direction. To begin, I’m planning to raise some hell on two wheels this weekend.

I bought a motorcycle this summer. It’s a retro-styled Triumph, a “Bobber” in model name and vernacular. When I get off the bike after an hour or two I’m likely to be sore. But those couple of hours are joy. I think I’m younger, not 20 but maybe 40ish. I feel an affinity with Sons of Anarchy (absent the violence and incredibly vigorous sex.) I’m growing my beard back and my wife wouldn’t mind at all if I counterbalanced my diminishing feathering of hair on top with a ponytail in back.

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This is aging for me. I’m not athletic and perhaps less adventurous than I was once, but I want to continue doing the things I’ve always done – like motorcycling since I assembled my first mini-bike at 10 and got my first Honda at 13. I feel guilty that my skis are leaning against my closet wall instead of strapped to my feet. I need to come to terms with this: if I do this stuff there will be a price to pay in aches and pains. I might even break something, hopefully nothing critical. But to do otherwise is to give up the flavor. And while there are days without an inclination to even taste it, there are others where the need is overwhelming.

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I have been a CEO for many years, now of a lifestyle company but once of a large information company that I built out of a bedroom startup and fueled by raw ambition. It’s kind of a meaningless title now, unsupported by the scaffolding of employees and infrastructure, but it reminds me of whom I still am at some level. I don’t want the stress and burden of responsibility for employees’ livelihoods anymore, but I believe I still have the decision capacity and usually clarity of vision to realize important or at least personally meaningful things. If that’s a leather jacket and riding boots, well it’s something. I published a “business” book last year, and that was something else. It’s not the one I’ve wanted to write for 60+ years, which is a novel or collection of novellas, or something professionally informed but entertaining (along the lines of Oliver Sachs) – but the possibility is validated by the empiric evidence that I have done it.

My current conundrum is this: I’ve resolved, at least intellectually, to stop wasting my time on activities that are not worthwhile, even if they are nominally gratifying in the moment. I’ve been teaching occasionally for most of my adult life, and more regularly the last 10 years. I like smart college students, it gives me pleasure to be in a classroom and to tell them what it’s really like in business instead of spouting theory from a textbook. It’s gratifying to mentor and see those efforts pay off in new skills, a job obtained, a personal accomplishment. But I am firmly of a mind now that much of the student body politic has been allowed to morph into a “Confederacy of Dunces.” There are multiple causes of this – the idiocy of the Common Core curriculum in public schools, the overstimulation of an always-on electronic barrage of useless non-information, a generalized anti-intellectualism that has sprouted from the uncivilized discourse of politics – but that’s philosophical, causative and beside the point to my nominal decision. Too many students suck. They’re there because they don’t know where else to be, because there are no jobs if you don’t have a degree, because their parents want them to do well … whatever. But they really could give a rat’s orifice about actually learning anything, didactic spoon feeding is the pabulum they’re used to consuming, and creative thinking is a largely alien concept.

The fact that I get some satisfaction from being in a classroom is secondary to the frustration of trying to teach the willfully uneducable. So I’m going to try to move in another direction. Of which this blog is one piece. Like the first step in a twelve-step program. I’ll keep you posted as the other steps develop.

Meanwhile, I’m planning to raise some hell on two wheels this weekend.

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Scott@agespots

Intellectual Vitality

It’s the knowing. What the sounds mean. Who you can trust. When a molehill is a mountain – and more importantly, when it isn’t. When something is broken, how to fix it. How to love. When to stay in place and when to go. When to say no and who to say no to.

I love this post from AARP’s Disrupt Aging:

Aging measured by one’s ability to jump up and down misses the point. You can jump up and down and do push ups while your brain turns to oatmeal mush. For example, I haven’t been able to jump up and down for years, I hate to go down escalators, but my IQ hasn’t dropped more than 10-12 points.

Some days oatmeal mush doesn’t sound so bad, but of course that’s fatalistic thinking and the reality is the loss of snap crackle pop is probably what is most frightening. Accustomed to thinking quickly, spontaneously, it’s more than a bit disconcerting to be looking around for words or names that should be right there. It’s pretty classic “senior moment” stuff, but uncomfortably noticeable as it progresses from occasional annoyance to regular state of being.

We’re used as a culture to thinking about vitality as physical, but I think the blog comment above puts a fine point on the relatively higher importance of – I don’t know, whatever the opposite of vacuity is. The value of age, apart from the actinic keratosis and disintegrating menisci and creaking joints, all of which point out how great a day is when you wake up and everything doesn’t hurt, is that our minds are incredible intuitive machines that have rebalanced their act in favor of reflecting over reacting.

On the emotional front, frustration has context, anger is less persistent, action is so neatly tempered by consideration. It’s not a black-and-white thing, of course, but it’s every bit as much in evidence as the physical signs or aging. On the intellectual front, things that are just plain hard to know what to do about when you’re coming up are obvious and easy, philosophical positions may not be any more logical but they are confident and clear, and the trade-off of absolute cognitive speed against just knowing isn’t ultimately such a bad one. Not being able to do things, whether skiing a black diamond trail or doing mental calculations, just don’t matter the same way.

OwlIn other words, we have finally figured out what brings us joy and what is not worth worrying (so much) about. Here’s another quote from the Disrupt Aging blog:

I’m 70 and I’m constantly learning because I still teach and do tutoring.  I used to repair my own ’66 Mustang and it proves valuable that I know mechanics when discussing repairs with a mechanic, especially since I’m a woman. 

Recently one mechanic told me that I needed a new catalytic converter.  Yes, I knew that the sounds I heard from under the hood were indicative of a possible distributor failure.  Yep, another mechanic (without my prompt) said that the problem was the distributor.

 It’s the knowing. What the sounds mean. Who you can trust. When a molehill is a mountain – and more importantly, when it isn’t. When something is broken, how to fix it. How to love. When to stay in place and when to go. When to say no and who to say no to.

It’s not perfect, it won’t ever be perfect, but it’s progress. And not so bad at all in the universal accounting of things.

Scott@agespots