Longevity is a curse.
Our lifespan has increased dramatically as a key benefit of civilization. The Tomb of the Eagles on Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland, produced the remains of 342 people. The most common age of death was early adulthood, between fifteen and thirty. Only 1.5% of people were over 40, and very few lived to reach the age of 50. Our longevity has hockey sticked in the last century. We’re saving children from an untimely demise and we’re keeping the old alive longer.
Evolution cannot keep up with our scientific advances. Our digestive tracts cannot keep up with weaponized food products. Our brains cannot successfully plan out a life of 100 years of learning, living and loving. Our brains cannot successfully wire into the social interactions of 500 friends. Compound that with highly technical careers and careers in industries that evaporate in a generation. You end up with a species under assault. Cast back to the people of Orkney. They had one belief system to digest. They would practice their socioeconomic function (artisan, farmer, laborer) and they would do it for 20 years. By the time your back gave out, you were likely dead anyways. The Orkney people shared their lives with few people who came from a common culture, so they didn’t have to give up mindshare to time-zones, cross-cultural faux pas or outrage over intercontinental social causes. They could handle social and psychological problems. If they couldn’t, they would die in a few decades.
Our old lifespan was 40. In 2013, 40 is when you’ve paid off your student loan and your kids are okay to be left alone at home. 40 is the halfway point. Things are more complex in our daily lives; and just when a bout of famine or dysentery used to bring us some sweet release, we have another 40 years to lug that intellectual, emotional and social baggage. Is it any wonder that mental illness is so prevalent? We have to make things. We have to keep them working. And we have to keep those balls in the air for decades. Or do we?
It’s popular for guys to snap and have a “mid-life crisis.” They have an affair with that young girl at the office with daddy-issues. They buy the sports car. They get a perm or a hairpiece. They get a divorce. They take off for some adventure tour. They lose it. It’s like running out of road. It makes total sense: our genetics have given us a set of instructions. Those instructions and expectations have been emphasized by thousands of generations of human culture. The last six generations gave us a new playbook. That new playbook has been written in some faint ink. We’re not straining to read the ink-- we’re screaming off the rails of mid-life confusion when we hit the missing pages of the instruction manual.
I have a heightened sense of unintended longevity. My father had his first heart attack at age 38. My mother’s father died in his 50s. The clock on my genetic code is no doubt ticking louder each passing year. I’m a big fat programmer. I hit my 38th birthday with all the joy of walking over a landmine. This year, I closed in on my 45th birthday. The last six months have been kind of harsh on a number of levels. I made a commitment to lose my weight-- I last did it when I was 19. That weight loss was a sense of rejuvenation. That was more than two decades ago. I’m an older guy. This is going to harder. But this time, I have a bigger goal. I am regenerating.
Regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organs, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage. It’s akin to putting a sword through a flame to temper it and make more resistant and less likely to shatter.Physiological regeneration works in keeping with the rules of chemistry and physics, psychological regeneration with what is happening between neurons and the ineffable confines of the soul. Humans can regrow fingers, livers and ribs. I’m just trying to reforge some bad neural connections.
I have a head full of those bad wires. Early on, I got a series of life lessons that left me poorly armed for living amongst others. I won’t truck out my many faults at this point. Each of those issues needs to be worked through. I am a work in progress. I am okay with being a work in progress. Humanity is fluid, and were I to become fixed in one ideology, I would be like a rock in a river.
Were I a Stone Age villager, I would not have to spend decades coming to grips with my emotional quandaries and my social issues. I’d just be dead- impaled by a mastadon or swallowed by the last tyrannosaurus rex who, like a modern age me, would wonder “What am I doing here?”
Part of me would like to hit a reset button. Bzzt. All of the junk gets blanked, de-addressed, and purged. But that would be like saying my whole life should go. My wife on her wedding day, looking at me and saying her vows. My daughter coming out like a wonderful little gray raisin who started to decompress the moment she came into the room. Showing up at countless restaurants, bars and malls and seeing loved ones waiting for me with some eagerness. Every time I looked down at the scale and saw my weight had gone in the right direction. I want to keep the good stuff. I’ve already forgotten some really really important first moments: My daughter’s first word. My daughter’s first steps. The names of some of my girlfriends (it says something that I recall the unrequited loves, but not the girlfriends). I want the bad wiring gone, but not at the expense of the good moments and the good connections.
What can I do? Mike DeWolfe’s odometer has a lot of mileage. Formatting the hard drive would toss the good with the bad. Worse still, the expectations of Mike DeWolfe would live on. I have the perception that Mike DeWolfe is a little played out. Rather than make Mike DeWolfe a less toxic person, what if I tossed the whole deal?
We live out our lives with that little voice saying, “Be true to one’s self.” If you’re a sculptor, sculpt. If you’re not made for a desk job, run outside. If you’re man in a woman’s body, get a sex change. But if you’re self-destructive, you’re supposed to fight that urge your whole life. An alcoholic is never cured- they only begin a period wherein they no longer drink. If you have a penchant for self-destruction, why is it that you should live in denial? I don’t like an inconsistent application of rules. Self-destruction should be satisfied, satisfied maybe to the point that one burns out their capacity for self-destruction. Like a glutton with a sore, punch drunk stomach, there must be a safe way to sate an appetite for destruction.
When a man hits his mid-life crisis, he up-ends his conventions and goes on a bender of self satisfaction. The fallout can amount to divorce, career derailment and financial catastrophe. Are any of those desirable? Marriage used to last into your 40s, when you were struck down by some disease we cured 200 years ago. Your career didn’t get killed off by some new app. Money? You used to just need a bag of seeds and some rags to wear. Upward mobility and inheritance are recent advents. The goal of a mid-life crisis may be to be true to one’s self. Can one really find oneself through an act of self-destruction?
People are not intended to pack around baggage-- life lessons (good and bad) and relationships-- for this long. We’re not made for that sort of stuff. I think we’re not made to successfully integrate and hold onto so much for so long. Maybe there’s a weight limit to psychic baggage. You can’t bring the big suitcase, but you can bring the three smaller bags if you want to make that flight. I am sitting at the terminal. I would like to get going with the 45-year voyage that is to come. I am going to tie up excess baggage and toss it.
I seek to satisfy my urges for self-destruction and satisfy the urge to dump the baggage, I intend to destroy Mike DeWolfe. I am going to wrap up that excess baggage around the feet of Mike DeWolfe and push him in the ocean like a mob snitch who knows too much. Those little secret problems can die with him. How he behaves will be an artifact of the past like the ring of a rotary phone.
Stop dialing 9-1-1. This is not a suicide note. If you were to describe it, it’s a personality homicide note. I am going to make a conscious exercise to leave behind some of me; enough of me to make 1.0 toxic persons. There are large parts of me that reside in that big bag; this includes my identity. I feel that the world looks upon Mike DeWolfe in one way, and it’s a way that I don’t enjoy. It’s confining. Someone I knew was amazed that I wanted to end homelessness, that it was almost a keystone wish of mine. I met some internet people and one of them said, “you seem so conservative...” and was shocked by what I am like in real life. (see video for a more realistic depiction of who I am when I can act as I choose). Another friend heard me say that I like Kanye West and could scarely believe, “you like Kanye West?” People have put a border around their idea of what Mike DeWolfe is.
People have a distinct and peculiar expectation of who Mike DeWolfe is. I don’t like that, so I’m rubbing him out. When a salesman is contending with a difficult customer, they will break and bring in a new salesman to close the deal. The preconceptions get shattered. People are forced to reassess their perceptions. Instead of being known as Michael (Shawn) DeWolfe, I will wish to become known as (Michael) Shawn DeWolfe. Shawn DeWolfe has no predefined borders. He may remember some of the details of the jettisoned baggage, but that baggage is going to fade into the past like the memory of that dress shirt purchased at an Eaton’s Surprise Day sale in the 1990s.
I feel afraid and optimistic that Shawn DeWolfe will continue on in Mike DeWolfe’s stead. I always had a fear that Mike DeWolfe would actually die and never get to see his daughter graduate, or get married or introduce me to her kids. I had a fear that Mike DeWolfe would leave the room before the party got started. I think fate made that happen all too often, so much so, that that seemed to be the pattern of Mike DeWolfe. Mike DeWolfe never had the sense to go through the doorways-- that big bag would jam in the door and keep him out. Maybe Mike DeWolfe could have reoriented the bag to fit through; or he could have tossed some the contents decades ago to make the bag fit. He could have just strained to make the bag fit. He didn’t do that. He didn’t do that and moments that would never come about twice in a lifetime are gone for good for Mike DeWolfe. Shawn DeWolfe doesn’t want that bag and its bulk. Shawn DeWolfe will be going through the doorways that Mike DeWolfe could never get through.
And now, some levity:
Addendum: Since posting this, I kicked things into high gear. In 2013, I started a process to overhaul my life: The Rebuild
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