Treasure lies in wait in my basement

Remember this?  It’s a 45… a single… a record.  I found a pile of them in my basement shoved in a milk crate packed too full with my father-in-law’s albums.  I was thrilled to be reunited with my old friends.

The time I spend in my basement is a disproportionate pie chart with very large slices being served for laundry, sweeping up sawdust and sighing about the number of unused “items” that create a continually narrowing path past the treadmill on which we park our bikes through to the storage room where 40 gallons of the previous owner’s paint waits for the trip to the recycling bin.  There are mini morsels for being the singer in our basement band and finding cool stuff that I had forgotten about.

Like my 45 collection that used to reside in a vessel that looked like this…


And there were loads of them.  They were the fruits of my labor, purchased with allowance money or birthday funds.  Sometimes I received them as gifts.  I can’t remember all that I had.  Now, the pile includes about 10 or so, all from 1979 through 1983, including “My Sharona” from The Knack and “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club.  These songs are on my iTunes now, but I love that I still have them on 45s.

I wish I could remember my first 45, but it was likely some well-crafted pop masterpiece by The Partridge Family (I started young) or the Jackson 5.  Whatever it was, it is long gone.  I probably sold it for ten cents at a garage sale ages ago.  Perhaps it’s in some record bin in an antique store right now.  Apparently, when I was 11, I had no idea that finding these bits of treasure would make my night in my 40s.

Gen X at Midlife without a Sports Car?

Check out this piece from Forbes.com .  The writer spends some time moaning about the state of the GenX midlife crisis, and I think it is interesting.  For many years, I grumbled about the unfortunate position GenXers were put into, especially being on the older end of the generation and leaving college into a nasty job market.  Moaning about our lot, especially in comparison to the Baby Boomers, is a generational imperative… a result of our apathy, our disaffected disposition.  The tone of this piece certainly begins woefully, and like many articles and essays of its ilk, wraps with the silver lining of how many things GenX does have going for it.

This reminds me of something I saw the other day on The Today Show.  Al Roker was interviewing a financial expert on the — gasp! — increasing trend of grown children not leaving their parents’ home.  Wow!  How did this come about?!  Al even said something to that effect, feigning (I hope) mild surprise on this odd state of young adulthood.  Well, I think Al was around in the early 90s when many of us were still living with mom and dad, post-graduation and then even a few years more.  In the news cycle, perhaps enough time has passed to make this new again, but I recall the same topic covered ad nauseam by media when I was not living in my parents’ home but paying a decent portion of my paycheck for a studio apartment the size of my patio in the pre-dot-com 90s.  (This says a lot more about the size of my apartment than it does the size of my patio.)

The article certainly calls out the role of circumstance in a generation’s misfortune or good luck.  I am not entirely sure that I agree that things are so dismal for GenX.  The writer says that GenX has hit its “collective wall,” and I am assuming that is measured only in terms of earning power.  True, GenXers have suffered through two horrible economies.  And, they are approaching what has been understood to be peak earning years during one of these downturns, but this is all based on assumptions of how things are “supposed” to work.   And hasn’t each generation had to suffer through their own challenges and bask in their own advantages based on the circumstances at the time?  We can’t continue to measure ourselves by the generation that has come before, precisely because things are different.

My parents are on the initial crest of the Baby Boomers, and they never had a sports car or any of the other trappings of the midlife crisis.  When they entered their forties, they had the pleasure of paying for college for three kids.  My neighbor who just turned forty has been rolling around town in a new BMW convertible.  It’s all situational, and perhaps it doesn’t have as much to do with what generation you are in as it does choices you have made (my parents starting a family in their early 20s), and whether or not you have benefitted from the economy past, present or future.

Did the stock market downtown hit your retirement savings or the income you live off of in retirement now?  Did you start your career expecting to stay with the same company forever and have a great retirement pension, or did you know going in that it was completely up to you to save?  Do you have a huge environmental mess on your hands?  (This, I think, is the worst legacy we’ve received, and it is multi-generational.)  These things are generational.  But many other factors can influence the outcome of one’s life too.  Perhaps the GenX midlife won’t be associated with sports cars, but it might be associated with something else… like launching a second career, entrepreneurialism or re-inventing one’s life.  Regardless of what it is, it also a reflection of personal circumstances as it is of birthdate.

Record Store Day — Something I Can Get Behind

How many of you feel sorry for the younger generations — and even the youngest of GenX — because they did not partake in the pleasure of purchasing their music on vinyl?  …I thought so.  I know there are still some very cool record stores around, but it’s not the pastime that it once was for pre-digital generations.  Record stores evoke a different experience now, I think, though I continue to enjoy a good browse through them.

In my current town, Laurie’s Planet of Sound exists today.  In my hometown, the Wooden Nickel comes to mind.  These places existed all over the country.  These places were the destination point where fans connected with their favorite artists, discovered new music, and flipped through the albums, posters, rock magazines and other assorted record store goods for sometimes hours.  The dudes behind the counter (almost always dudes) were either totally into almost any artist you came in to find, or they completely minded their own business and kept their nose out of yours.  Either way, I didn’t mind.

Recently I found a website for Record Store Day.  I had heard about this last year, but after the fact because I am completely middle age and don’t hear about cool stuff like this before it happens anymore.  (Renewing our subscription to Rolling Stone has helped only slightly.  I retain more from the political/social/cultural features than anything else.)  I stumbled across it again this year, and although I do not anticipate recognizing any of the artists slated for the new releases, I do know their ambassador (Iggy Pop), so I feel relatively welcome to engage.

The thing is, I spent hours upon hours in my town’s local record stores.  I was a record store snob.  I rarely visited the chain stores in the mall, and when I did, I often made comments about their poor (or non-existent) selection of Gang of Four or early-career Depeche Mode.  (I often hear my teen self laughing at my midlife self when I download music from iTunes now.)

Kids these days — there, I said it — have no idea how indulgent it is to commune among the album bins with a BFF or boyfriend on a Saturday afternoon under the somewhat watchful eye of a record store employee.  Recently, a friend of mine talked about a record store her mom owned, recalling the massive cardboard ham and eggs that dangled from the ceiling during the release of Supertramp’s Breakfast In America.  I totally remembered those promos!  I can see them hanging in my favorite record store.  I could probably even give you the dimensions if I thought hard enough.  When I think about it, the hilarity brings forth a chuckle — giant ham and eggs to sell an album?  It was all so innocent.

There is a lot to be said about the experience of listening to music on vinyl (another post, another time), but my memories of record stores also bring back that bittersweet feeling of desperation when a new album was on the verge of selling out.  Yes, albums could sell out.  The store could be out of stock with no hope of replenishment for a month.  Four weeks was way too long to wait for a beloved new release!  I remember hiding the last copy of John Lennon’s Double Fantasy at my local record store, hoping that the next potential purchasor would walk away without a thorough search in the artists nearby, but the record store dude must have watched me place it among the Ms.  Not ten feet from me as I pretended to peruse the A and B artists, he pulled it out and handed it to the man.  (Fortunately, my parents had already secured a copy for Christmas morning.)

I still have that album, along with hundreds of others comprised of my husband’s hefty collection, many of his dad’s old jazz records and a handful of albums I’ve bought at garage sales and antique stores.  Last year, a friend of ours put me to the test.  When I asked what he wanted to hear, he said, “Do you have any Adam & The Ants?”  Maybe he really wanted to hear them.  Maybe he thought I couldn’t deliver.  But I did — both in digital form and on vinyl.  I can picture that album, Prince Charming, sitting among the very few Ants albums our record store had… “Adam” with his war paint and pirate-inspired ensemble.  I can remember my thumb nail cutting into the shrink wrap that encased the cover when I got it home.

I don’t remember the specific occasion of every album I purchased, but I do recall more than I probably should.  How about you?

Madonna’s Legacy to GenX

I’ve never given the subject of Madonna’s legacy much thought.  Generally, I think of her influence going only as far as the fingerless gloves I donned for an after-prom outfit my sophomore year in high school.  But while cruising around the web the other day, I came upon this article from Salon posing one person’s point-of-view on the impact Madonna has had on American culture.  And she brings up some interesting points.

Read the article — it’s good.  But to summarize here, the author says that Madonna is responsible for our society’s change in perspective toward sexuality.  Certainly, she took a lot of risks in terms of what she said (“Like A Virgin” and “Papa Don’t Preach”) and what she did (“Like A Prayer” and her best-selling coffee table book “Sex”).  And she definitely got away with a lot more than anyone would expect of a pop artist.  I wish I was a sociologist, because I could have a lot more to say to support or counter this point, but I think it’s worth pondering if you’re into pop culture.

But as a grown woman who adored Madonna for a short while as a teenager, I can vouch for the innocence of this pursuit.  While she sexualized almost everything, she also sent a message that told us, “You can do it.”  Madonna was from the Midwest, not one of the coasts, but she was cool enough to fit in in New York City.  She launched her career with a marginally decent voice and relatively simple songs.  She was all the rage because she wore quirky fashions and looked like a teenager in the body of a twenty-something.  Her look was attainable, regardless of how pretty, tall or thin you were.  She was a model for the any-girl in an era when super models were on the rise.

Just because we liked Madonna didn’t mean that we were going emulate her sexual behavior.  And we felt that if we ever met Madonna, she’d be totally ok with that.  After all, she did tell us “don’t go for second best” and that we “deserve the best in life.”  What an incredible message for a young lady to hear.

Things This GenXer Learned To Appreciate In Midlife

There are some things our younger selves just don’t “get.”  I am not talking about the typical “responsible adult” stuff that we all (or most of us) have to accept as age creeps upon our shore, like mortgage payments and 401Ks.  Rather, I am talking about things that require a certain perspective that is gained over time to truly appreciate.

Recently, I read a post by another blogger on the topic of things she doesn’t get.  And that got me thinking about things that I appreciate now that I missed when I was younger.

Risk. Perhaps some people take more risks when they are young and become more conservative as they age.  For me, I think the opposite is true.  As a young person, I only took risks when I had no idea what I was doing was risky.  I may have had big and different ideas, but I frequently wavered when I needed to stand up for the choices I wanted to make, and I ended up doing a lot of things simply because it was the safer option.  Did I go for that philosophy or English major instead of selecting a field of study that provided more defined career options?  No, I graduated with degree that would help me get a job.  Did I take that job teaching English in Japan when the appeal of “broadening my horizons” was so strong?  No, I chickened out when they told me I would be living in a closet without a phone.  Did a follow up with a major rock music promoter after he was impressed with an event I put on for a charity and asked me to call his office to schedule a time to talk about working for his company?  No, I figured he was just being nice.

Granted, it’s easy to assume the outcome of rejected paths would be much better than it might have turned out in reality.  But I am glad that I have loosened up a bit in my midlife and have begun to act on my instincts more and conventional wisdom less.  I hope I have the guts to keep going.

Bob Seger.  Where I grew up in Northeast Indiana, Bob Seger was an artist who earned single-name status, and at group functions of all kinds, people shook it to his back-to-the-basics anthem, “Old Time Rock-n-Roll.”  I knew he had other songs, but at the time I was very into newer acts and very frustrated with my hometown radio’s resistence to the artists I was seeing on MTV, so I took a bit of offense to a certain extent when I heard someone encouraging people to reject the new.  His music irked me, and I refused to enjoy anything he recorded.

But, a couple of years back, I found my finger hovering over the preprogrammed station buttons on my car stereo when a Bob Seger song came on the radio.  I dismissed it as a guilty pleasure, but then I stopped changing the stations more often when I heard his music.  Eventually I began to admit, “Yeah, I like a few Bob Seger songs.”  This past summer, I found myself responding to a post on Facebook stating that, “I woke last night to the sound of thunder… how far off, I sat and wondered,” was one of my favorite lines from a song.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a fan, but I do appreciate his music now that I’ve actually really listened.  I’m a writer, and even if I don’t relate to everything he covers in his songs, I enjoy hearing how he tells a story.

I think this is a universal thing, opening up to an artist you’ve refused in the past.  Several years back I forced my husband to come along with me to see Depeche Mode — a band not guitar-driven enough for his tastes — and he had a great time.  He ended up really liking their music and the performance.  I can probably name a handful of other artists I now appreciate, but Bob Seger is the one that really surprises me.

LMAO.  It’s not that I didn’t laugh as a young person.  I laughed hard.  I laughed so hard that my stomach muscles hurt.  But, I was under the impression that laughing was a given… that I was entitled to that kind of entertainment all of the time.  I took it for granted, even thought it was one of my favorite things in the world.

When I grew up, I realized that laughter does not come with a guarantee.  People don’t just automatically laugh at things when they are older.  There is a lot of serious business to attend to, and some grown-ups get so caught up in these things that they no longer pursue laughter.  And they sometimes block it out entirely.

There is a lot about getting older than can bring you down, certainly.  That is why I appreciate having things to laugh at.  A couple of months ago, I was at a small gathering when one of my friends said something that touched just the right nerve. I responded with much heartier laughter than the comment deserved.  For whatever reason, I was receptive to that break in reality brought on by unchecked laughter.  This exists in all of us when we truly — even momentarily — let go of our troubles for the sake of just enjoying ourselves.  It feels even better now to laugh than it did all those decades ago.

Anything you now appreciate that you didn’t before?  Comments welcome!

Something To Think About

I’ve always said that one of the best things about being born into my generation is the lack of assumption that the government or a corporation/employer will take care of you.  Check out this piece from Bloomberg on how Gen X feels about prospects in the corporate world.

OMG! John Taylor is 50!!

Yes, John Taylor is 50 years old.  Now, I knew this somewhere in my mind.  When I was 14 years old I knew exactly how much older John Taylor was than me.  What girl didn’t?  (Only those who knew the age difference between themselves and Simon… or Roger… or Nick… even Andy.)  But I was reminded of it — and shocked by it — when I found a nice piece on Duran Duran while looking for information on tickets to their upcoming show in Chicago.

If John Taylor is 50, then I’m, uh…  You get the picture.  But age should be no barrier to gushing about Duran Duran, even if I am having a crisis of conscience over the ticket prices — which start at more than $100 for a balcony spot.  The sadder thing is that I just found out about this when listening to the radio the other day stuck in traffic on my way to a responsible adult meeting.  The concert is next month.  Why did I not know about it sooner?  “Duh!” says my fourteen-year-old self, “You are forty-something and have cut yourself off from access to the coolest news.”

But “fandemonium” is timeless when it comes to a group like Duran Duran.  I recall being in my early 30s driving to work hearing a bunch of 50-ish-or-so ladies melting over the phone on a call-in segment with Davey Jones of the Monkees.  “Wow!” I thought.  “These ladies are really in touch with their youthful selves!”  Only a few months later my co-worker and I nearly fell apart when news broke around our office that Duran Duran was coming to the House of Blues.  Squeals and shrieks!  Nearly breathless from the news, we giddily stomped from office-to-office, inviting other Duranies to share in the excitement.  We even hosted a TGIF Duran Duran video viewing party in the conference room to celebrate the momentous event.

So, I may or may not be there on October 21st to wish John Taylor a belated happy birthday from the crowd.  (That date is, coincidentally, quite close to Simon’s birthday, by the way.)  But, for a moment today, I felt young again… at least after I recovered from feeling very old.

Letter to My Senior Self

Until midlife, my exposure to seniors was limited to my grandparents and occasionally grandparents of friends of mine.  Seniors were people who bought candy for their grandchildren and made them waffles on an ancient waffle iron.  I never really considered their circumstances, health, lifestyle, etc. until I entered my thirties and had the context to better understand these things.

Seniors are great, of course, and I know more now than I ever did — or at least I know them better.  But, sometimes I hear about some strange logic, unshakable habits or inflexibility that has created some sort of impass in a senior’s life, and I think about how they might have made different decisions at a different life stage.

People love that old expression — “Hindsight is 20/20.”  But what about foresight?  I mean no disrespect, but I think that some seniors could benefit from advice given to them by their midlife self.

So, I’ve come up with this idea — my letter to my senior self.  Although some of what will be included are mistakes that I’ve witnessed seniors making, several things are pieces of advice that people have learned through their own experiences as seniors.  I haven’t put it to paper yet, but it will look something like this…

Dear Senior Self,

If you have the same doctor you did when you were 40, it’s time to consider a new doctor.  Chances are, any doctor you had at age 40 is approaching the senior stage of life themselves.  Experience is great, as long as your doctor keeps an open mind about new practices and developments.  Remember, you’ve witnessed too many “seasoned” professionals who miss things because they were over-confident with their past experiences.

If you are taking medications and spending time away from home, bring more medication than the exact amount for the days you planned to be gone.  Perhaps it is an excuse, but you’ve heard people say too many times, “Oh, I can’t stay.  I only brought the exact amount of medication.”

Let people take care of you.  Independence is great, but you aren’t keeping any of it by refusing help.  You might get more mileage out of it if you do accept assistance.  Keep in mind all the times you had a 102 degree fever with two children under three at home and you had to decide between bundling everyone up to get to the pharmacy for Thera-Flu or waiting eight hours until your husband came home because no one else was there to help.

If you can’t come for at least a week and help with your newborn grandchildren, hire a post-partum doula for them.  You know that they will forever worship you. (I will likely be a senior when my kids have children.)

Yes, you need a cleaning service.

Love & Best Wishes,

Midlife Self

Time Has Spoken

A few weeks ago, I was cranking Asia’s “Only Time Will Tell,” reflecting on how what I vaguely remember was the theme for the video… or at least what I think was the theme for the video.  Actually, I was under the impression that this was the theme of the album in general — age and the surprise Baby Boomers felt at life’s midpoint.  Of course, the specific lyrics of this song are less broad, but this is my interpretation of Asia’s general message.

And, I was thinking about how I am currently middle-age, driving along, listening to a band that formed when I was a teenager, and the irony of how that band sang about the angst of lost youth at a time when I had youth, and now I don’t but I am still listening to them.  I thought about how their videos were in heavy rotation on MTV, and yet their lyrics had little to do with the lives of the MTV viewing audience at the time. But we all still listened and purchased. My husband even had a massive Asia poster in his bachelor apartment, though it was there to cover up a hole in the wall.  And now their music has far more relevance to me.

As I pulled up to the stoplight at Irving, Lincoln and Damen, a beggar was walking by the cars, and I rolled down my window to give him some change.  When I looked at his face, I saw that he was probably the same age as me.  This guy may have graduated from high school when I did.  Though his skin was much more tired and weathered than that of your average forty-something, this was one of my peers — not an older man, not a young person.  He was my age!

Why I was so shocked, I have no idea.  Maybe the song rendered me too reflective to handle this exchange of charity with my normal indifference.

When I was a teenager, I only thought ahead 10 or 15 years to where I would be in life. Aside from some very driven people, I imagine that the future is a mystery for many.

I wondered if this guy knew that he would be doing this when he was listening to Asia on the radio back in the 80s. When I was a senior in high school, I did my term paper on homelessness.  I had no idea that someday I’d be handing a couple of quarters and a dime from the change holder in my car to a guy who could have sat next to me in study hall.

Belated Goodbye

I was recently cleaning out my closet, sorting through a pile of t-shirts I set aside last year.  I hadn’t worn any of these tees in quite some time, but each time I cleared my closet of worn out or unwanted clothes, I could not part with them.  Last year, I put them in a pile at the back of one of my shelves and said, “If I don’t disturb this pile for a whole year, then I need to get rid of these next summer.”

Again, this collection of t-shirts sat untouched for the remainder of the year.  Having every intention of honoring my commitment, I looked through them one last time.

There was the “This Is Spinal Tap” anniversary t-shirt kindly given to me by a former client.  Despite my love for the movie, an ill-fitting black t-shirt with the cast of Spinal Tap on the front just didn’t need to stay in my closet.  Perhaps it would find love somewhere else.

Beneath that was the burgundy MGD t-shirt from 1998.  Burgundy, MGD, 1998 — enough said!  I couldn’t remember why this was even in my “hard-to-let-go” pile, but I suspect it had something to do with my vanity over getting too old to wear a beer brand.

At the bottom of the pile, I unearthed a t-shirt from my former employer, featuring what was at one time the company’s new logo.  Now, I regularly tell my husband to chuck all of his logo polos, but this one has been around far longer than any of his.  I absently mindedly began to fold it, and as I set it in the give-away pile, I had a flash of emotion that reminded me why it was still even here.

That t-shirt was like a necklace from an old boyfriend.  I had had a hard time moving on from that job in the way that sometimes people have a hard time getting over broken relationships.  Like many relationships that aren’t really about love at all, that job represented a time filled with good friendships, exciting work and accomplishment… the proverbial “right place at the right time” situation.

When I left full-time work to pursue a part-time career after having my children, I was shocked by how difficult it was for me to disassociate myself from my former life.  I had always prided myself on my mature perspective that there was more to life than professional accomplishment.  I was “above” judging people based on their employment.  Yet, living without that kind of daily success at the office proved much more difficult for me than I had ever imagined.

What hurt even more was that others seemed to be moving on themselves.  No one else seemed to have the same feelings I did.

I was finally able to let go of that t-shirt this year.  And as I dropped it in the paper bag destined for the Salvation Army, I felt relief.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve felt that twinge of sadness for the old me. Mom was right… time heals all wounds (or at least most).

As for the pile, it is much smaller now.  Pretty much the only thing that remains is my Puffalpalooza t-shirt from the mid-90s.  How could I possibly get rid of that homage to children’s television pioneers Sid & Marty Krofft?