For his sixtieth birthday my wife Roberta gave our good friend Boyd a book (I put Rob’s name there in full for the rhythm of the sentence). Appropriately enough the volume, a memoir on his sixtieth year (‘is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end,’ Toronto author Ian Brown evidently asks, in the vein of Churchill) was called ‘Sixty’ – you can read a review of it here. I haven’t read it, but I plan to. I mean, a book by a guy who names his haemorrhoid “George” has to be worth reading, right?
There is more than one thing going on here, as you can see. The impulse to be funny, obviously, about something that is distinctly unfunny; the inevitable existential questioning (oh god, is the end really in sight? when will it happen? what was that all about? was life really so short – and now it’s all over!) which is part I suppose of the bargaining phase that succeeds denial – and that’s the thing, isn’t it, about turning sixty: denial is no longer possible. Or no – denial is possible, all right, but it no longer seems plausible. And at our age – one of the benefits, supposedly, of getting so much older, though sometimes I’m not sure about this – one of the things we seem to grasp, intuitively, is when things are plausible or not. We have acquired, somehow, over the years, through that process called ‘experience,’ a built in crap-detector. Except, that is, for the delusions we continue to nurture. But we know they’re delusions, right? That’s the whole point of having them.
Anyway, the third thing that strikes me about Ian Brown’s having written a memoir about turning sixty is that it is confirmation, if confirmation were needed, that sixty is not just another number. Perhaps only thirty had quite so much of an impact. At thirty you leave youth and irresponsibility behind – you have, perhaps, a wife and family, a job, a mortgage – and all the fun and innocence of the world seems to have slipped from your grasp for ever. Adult responsibilities will no longer be avoided.
But sixty – sixty – is a much harder number to swallow. Sixty is a line crossed, a border transgressed, a leap over the cliff, the beginning of the long fall toward oblivion. Sixty is serious.
So in that spirit – one of sober reflection – I invite you to read on, as I parse the future – what’s left of it, and weigh my chances. There will be no levity here, I promise you.
Except that I was going to tell you a funny story about my haemorrhoid, Frankie…