50.

Tomorrow I turn 50. I’m fairly sure at this point that my dream of playing in the NBA will not be realized. I think the rock-star dream might be gone, too — I never advanced beyond the blistering guitar solos I played on the tennis racket in my bedroom. (Van Halen, if you can rig a Wilson T2000, I can fill in for Eddie as needed.)

It’s natural, I guess, that I’m drawn more lately to people who built careers that last. Tim Duncan is my favorite athlete because he has been so good for so long with so little drama. Bruce Springsteen gives everything he’s got for three hours a night until his black shirt (and it is always a black shirt) is soaked with sweat. The great magician Ricky Jay spends hours alone, shuffling cards, until it seems as if he can move them with his mind. This is the trick of all great artists. Work and work and work until it no longer looks like working.

The one thing I’ve learned in half a century is that it’s ALL work, even the fun things. Getting in shape is work. Marriage is work. Being a good son and brother and friend is work. Having a dog is work. Owning a house is work. I have a bad habit of getting mad when easy things don’t turn out to be easy — one of the few things that makes me really angry is when a simple tool won’t work right. But everything worthwhile involves effort and failure and frustration and mistakes. The payoff comes in those moments when you’ve done the work and the joy you get out of it feels effortless.

This past year, work-wise, was a lot of failure and frustration. I had a great job doing stories I love and then I got let go. I’ve scrambled around trying to make a living and find a stable spot to land, even if I have to build it myself. Lots of other people are in the same situation or worse. I’ve been lucky in countless ways. But now I start to feel the creep of time. Turning 50 means you’re clearly on the back nine of life’s golf course. The mystery is, you never know which hole you’re playing.

Over the years, there’s been one deep philosophical pothead question that I keep chewing on. Can God allow himself to be surprised? Most of the time I think of it in terms of sports. If the Super Bowl is tied after the third quarter, can God will himself to NOT know how the game turns out so he can enjoy the ending like everybody else?

Uncertainty can eat at you. But I think knowing the future is worse. What good is life if you’re never surprised? As a writer, it always helps if you know the ending of a story — that way, everything else you write can lead up to it. But sometimes you don’t know the ending. Sometimes you get way deep into the middle, and it feels like you’ve been working on the thing, oh, I don’t know, 50 years. You panic, you sweat, you struggle. But eventually you find a way through. Those are the most satisfying stories of all.

 

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37 thoughts on “50.

  1. Happy Birthday and great story. I just turned 50 and have never felt better and more free. Keep up the good stories. Thanks

  2. It seemed like Tomlinson does something to me. Nicey…

  3. Eureka! Common ground.

  4. Happy Birthday! If you didn’t see this already, I will make it my present for you. It’s a speech Diana Nyad held last year.

    I hope it inspires you. :)

  5. Sometimes we don’t see it but life is great even at 50. Happy Birthday Tom.

  6. That was awesome! I will turn 50 in six months minus four days… No, I’m not counting :) Looking forward to the next 50 years being as friggin’ exciting as my first! Happy Belated Birthday…

  7. I can relate Tommy, after being let go from a 30 year career it has happened two more times. My dream as a kid was to be a major league baseball player, but after seeing my first rock concert (Black Sabbath) I too wanted to be a “Rock Star”. I am very blessed, and know the best is still to come … Keep rockin!

  8. Just when you’re used to the fifties, you hit sixty, and strangely, you’re as shocked as you were when you turned 50. I turned 60 8 months ago, and I’m still not used to the idea. In whatever you do, remember – No one said this would be easy, just know that nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment.

  9. Just stumbled onto your blog. Work and uncertainty are a couple of my favorite themes lately. I guess it’s good to know that even if things never stop being uncertain, perhaps at some point I’ll gain a little of the perspective you show. Kudos on that. Happy Birthday!

  10. The realisation that everything is work, makes the uncertainty worth it. Nice one and well done on being FP.

  11. Happy Birthday! I enjoyed your post. I am looking at 60 in a few months, so 50 doesn’t seem so bad…still, I understand how you feel. But you are right, “everything is work”, or at least to some degree.

  12. You nailed it. Can’t wait to read what happens next!

  13. I love this! Happy bday

  14. A life of certainty would be no life. Imagine knowing how it was all going to turn out, and not liking the ending. Why read the last page of the book before you’ve read the story?

  15. Being a mid-life, mid-career journalist who gets the door is the worst…been there, done it — canned from my job at the NY Daily News in 2006 when I was….50. Imagine. (Can you whisper the words “age discrimination”?)

    I think it’s also got to be really rough for someone with your credentials, when you have also hit the career heights many of us will never achieve — a Neiman and Pulitzer nomination were once the equivalent of a “never get fired” badge. As if. It’s brutal, it’s shocking and it’s our new normal.

    Wishing you the best!

  16. I can almost remember turning 50. My wife surprised me with a party at Medieval Times. Maybe I should have associated the location with my age, but I was having so much fun, that it didn’t occur to me that I may have lived in medieval times. That was 21 years ago, so buck up. Don’t worry so much about life, it’s not like you are going to get out alive.
    By the way, congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed.”

  17. Happy Birthday & know that you are not alone. This year the tail end of the baby boomers (people born in 1964) turns fifty. There is reportedly a trend among us of changing gears and switching careers or beginning a new adventure or endeavor as we enter what’s now being called “Act 2″ or our “Encore Years.” I recently did some research on this trend – http://wp.me/psnyb-5s Good luck to you, Tommy, as you enter your Second Act. This is not the end, it’s the beginning!
    May your performance be worthy of an Oscar.

    • APOLOGIES – Please ignore the ‘comment’ below. My page refreshed before I pressed “Submit” and I assumed it did not post. I didn’t intend to comment twice. Oops!

  18. This year the tail end of the baby booms (those born in 1964) turn fifty. And we are taking over! Seriously, though, there is a trend among us of treating 50 as an intermission – taking a ‘gap year’ – and then entering Act 2 – a new career or field or some special volunteer work. Good luck as you enter your Second Act. http://wp.me/psnyb-5s <— a link to some research I did on this trend.

  19. What a great number! There’s so much to continue to look forward to. Keep up the good work that you do.

  20. If you are not surprised change what you’re looking at! Change your view!

  21. I still want to be a rock star and an Olympic skier!

  22. I remember when I was fifty, that was eighteen years ago. Fifty is a time of reflection. At my age we tend not to look in the mirror for he do not see so well. Somehow I got loose skin. The tone is gone, the voice is still firm, but the body is not. Be happy at fifty for there is still much to do.

  23. Your ability to make a rough realization a funny post to read is brilliant! Everything is work, uncertainty sucks … but the work and uncertainty are what makes the journey worth it!
    Kudos on being FP :)

  24. Congrats for making it to 50! And cherry on top is making it to 50; with a sense of humor left..But this part hits the nail on the head for me(I made 50 last year..& had a major bday bash!) @But sometimes you don’t know the ending. Sometimes you get way deep into the middle, and it feels like you’ve been working on the thing, oh, I don’t know, 50 years. You panic, you sweat, you struggle. But eventually you find a way through. Those are the most satisfying stories of all…>>Well expressed..Write ON

  25. Although you’re a little younger than me I know exactly where you are. Continue you writing so we can all enjoy your thoughts.

  26. This was great! I could totally relate, being one of those 50 somethings on the same back nine. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! And Happy Birthday.

  27. Variety; the spice.

  28. Gosh, Tommy, from this side of the computer screen your failure and frustration read as success, variety, and achievement.

    • Tarhoosier — you’re right, of course, and thanks for helping me see that. Things haven’t turned out exactly as I planned. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t turn out right.

  29. Happy Birthday Tommy! Love your stories and your honest sharing of yourself!

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