Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cycles

Last time we met I suggested human life is more usefully chunked into three 'halves', not just two as previously thought.

I also mentioned that each segment lasts about thirty years and I labelled each with a general theme: the first consists of what is done to us; the second of what we do; and the third of wondering what It is all about.

This time, let's explore the quarters within each cycle. In fact, they are the quarters of all living cycles.

First Quarter:

A seed bursts from the gound with nary a clue of its mission. We depend on instinct, putting one foot in front of the other, noticing and reacting to whatever is happening all around. The attitude is pretty carefree, no judging, condemming, or infernal commentary. We gradually substitute conditioned reflex for some of our riskier traits, but the structures we grow or adapt to at this stage, including roots, labels, and learned behaviour are largely dictated by 'others' among our ancestors and environment.

Second Quarter:

Slowly, like a dawning, careless abandon gives way to recurring thoughts, and mere hunches become visions of a growing theme of what this cycle might be about. Somewhere around the middle of this quarter, we grow increasingly convinced of the mission and begin working towards it on purpose.

Third Quarter:

At the top of the clock, we lay the golden egg. The structures are complete and the mission is obvious for all to see. We spend the next seven years dispensing the fruits of those structures, completing the mission, playing the role, enjoying the satisfaction and accolades of a job well done.

Fourth Quarter:

The momentum and glow of success persists a little into the beginning of the fourth quarter. We don't notice the transition at first. Fleeting moments of feeling like we're just going through the motions. Our persistent enthusiasm isn't entirely bogus, but it needs to be tweaked sometimes to keep the ball rolling until, eventually, we realize something has indeed changed. Previously effortless tasks become routine, even a chore. The structures we set up for the mission begin coming apart at the seams. We often run into real trouble and find ourselves looking over our shoulder. What's gone wrong? Why the hell are things falling apart?

If we are exceptionally clever, we figure it out on our own, but most of us hold on desperately to those crumbling structures until the Universe comes along and says, "Uh-uh, nope, not anymore, cuffs us smartly on the back of the head with a two-by-four, rips us out of our precious routine and casts us unceremoniously into ... you might have guessed, the first quarter of the next cycle!

This last pattern, the ripping out, the cuff on the head, the puzzling abrubt change forced on us beyond our wanting, is the subject of those interviews with 29.5 and 59 year olds I suggested you conduct as an experiment during an earlier discussion in this series.

There will appear to be exceptions to the rule. A few people will hold on to the structures of the first cycle past thirty-two or thirty-three years old until life hits them very hard indeed. Even fewer people, and they stand out so clearly, manage to hang on to those early structures all the way through the second cycle. They are the ones we describe as never having really grown-up. They remain on automatic pilot, never managing to challenge the restrictive admonitions programmed into them during the first cycle. As often as not, these unfortunate folks play the same outdated recordings through the third cycle as well.

Which brings us back to the theme of this series, the deeper purpose of Club 6290.

You nearly 29.5 year olds and 59 year olds have to decide whether you will keep looking over your shoulder wondering what has gone wrong, or look forward, noticing how life is grooming you for the next cycle. Don' be shy. If this conversation seems a little dreary, you can safely jump ship right about now because there are a thousand wonderful blogs out there to spur you through your frenetic and still exciting mid-life journey.

You are welcome to return when your time comes of course, but this space is dedicated to my grumpy, curmudgeon contemporaries, who have crossed the threshold, who have passed the point of no-return and are well into the third cycle... trying to figure out who they really are after all the scripts and all the roles and all the stock narratives have fallen silent.

In the event you are one of the latter, and still reading, here's a small graphical representation of the above paragraphs to tide you over until next time.

Take care.


Monday, May 17, 2010


"Dare, dare, dare
Double, double dare
If you chicken out
You'll have no hair!"
(rope-skipping chant)

What is it about 29.5?

Whether or not you've passed that milestone in your own life, question any five or ten people of your acquaintance about what was happening in their life around that age and you will be astonished.

Almost without exception, they will have gone through a major upheaval in their life ranging from a complete career change, to a change of location, a separation or divorce, or even some combination of each of these.

What is even more remarkable, the same thing happens again at around 59 years old. Don't be too fussy about the specific dates. These are just the fulcrum around which the events and associated relizations occur. Often they will recall an uneasy or unsettled feeling settling in as early at 27 or 28 years old with the full resolution not completed until 31 or even 32.

When pressed to think about it, though, they will each describe a change that is more than superficial. It won't be just an ordinary house move or job promotion. It will be the outter correlate of one of lilfe's profound inner milestones.

When you have confirmed this to your own satisfaction, that the pattern really does exist, the next step is to notice what exactly the changes mean.

One way to calibrate this involves noticing the different focus in obituaries or epitaphs for people who die before they turn thirty, compared to those who die after that.

People who croak during their first thirty years are normally described in terms of what was done to them. "He was the son or daughter of so-and-so". "He was raised a member of such-and-such a Church." "She was a graduate of such-and-such a university." "She worked for such-and-such a company."

By contrast, those who pass away during their second round, between thirty and sixty years old, are remembered more as the "mother or father of so-and-so", "the professor emeritus at such and such a university, " or "the founder and owner of such-and-such a company."

Put simply, the first cycle of life consists largely of what was done to us, through genetics, education, peer expectations, and social dictates, while the second cycle consists more of what was done by us.

Which raises a question. The focus and intent of this entire blog in fact.

"What the hell is the third cycle all about?" Sixty to Ninety. 6290.

Well, a little digging suggests it consists largely of trying to figure out who we really are! What's left after the programmed roles and structures are stripped away. As we are less and less frequently acknowledged for the elaborate structures and scripts we built and wrote to get ourselves through the first two cycles, what is left?

The answer, of course, should be as profound as it is undocumented, at least in this specific context.

Next time we meet, I'll describe a handy model for mapping each of the three cycles in life, a model or map of the territory. It will ring so true and seem so intuitive, you will have no trouble noticing where you sit on the wheel at this specific time in your life, no matter how old you are right now.

For those who happen to be going through the sometimes excruciating upheaval of being 29.5 or 59.0 years old, it might even give a perspective, a compass heading that can transform the experience into something not only bearable, but downright fascinating.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why Club6290?

Few Euro-American families living in major cities have a third generation living within earshot.

Time was when a subdued fifteen year old lad, aching from his first romantic rejection, would find himself out in the back forty helping Gramps and Great-Uncle Frank replace a fence post. Unbidden and without explicitly commenting on the boy’s sullen cant, Uncle Frank would spin a yarn about his first lovesick heartbreak. Seems a slightly older neighbour boy had just completed repairs on a 1946 Indian Chief (motorcycle) that hadn’t worked in years and he offered Frank a spin.

"Fifteen minutes later, I couldn’t even remember her name!" says Frank.

Gramps laughs so hard, tears come to his eyes.

The young lad picks up the shovel and spiritedly starts back filing the post hole.

There are some things a son can discuss more easily with Grampa or Uncle Jim than with Dad. There are certainly things a daughter can discuss with Grandma, or even a female peer, that might ruffle Mum too much.

Thus, my motive in starting this blog is to offers aging boomers some sweaty, fly-swatting third generation lore from the virtual back-forty.

Awash with existential angst over our disappearing roles as parent or professional prodigy, people entering the third round in this life will find Club6290 a useful reframing of what it means to live the proverbial three score and ten... and then some!

That task will begin in earnest with my next post and will depend, even more than most blogs, on input from us all.


Zero to sixty? What's next?

Remember when all young men thought about was 'zero-to-sixty'?

We measured life in miles-per-hour (mph) in those days, lazy afternoons when a Chevy Belair was coloured olive-green and mustard yellow and had tailfins that only lasted a year. GM bent them all out of shape in 1958, then filled in the gaps in 1959. Nothing has been the same since.

Girls were still on the horizon, approaching slowly we thought, but faster than we knew.

What happened?

Suddenly it's zero-to-sixty in ... well, in sixty years damnit. How the hell else do you measure it?

We faintly remember noticing hair growing in our armpits and figured, "Well, that's it. We are Men." We were then left to saunter off, oscilating between ecstacy and despair, with nary a clue about other milestones along the way.

I wonder if that is peculiar to our generation, the one that has grown up with only two generations at home.

When our parents were kids, most of them had grandparents and granduncles and greataunts all within earshot. Our kids have virtual connections to similar resources. But we, products of the post-war-but-pre-boomer generation, have crawled, clawed and flown our way through life more alone and more on auto-pilot than possibly any generation before or since.

Women aren't quite so lost or clueless, until they reach sixty anyway. They've gathered that primeval green slime in their belly every moon, a regular tweet from the original universe that provides a substantial and persistent reminder that life happens, even when it stops.

Men stumble upon sixty. Without lunar, or solar, or saturnian reminders, we bumble along, oblivious to change or real other, until, suffering from the indescribable illusion and pain of thinking we cause everything, our carefully constructed parts (roles) begin to fall apart.

The real Boomers haven't a clue yet. They still think they're twenty-two, or forty-three, and won't begin looking to us for ideas until they're sixty-five or seventy.

That gives us about five years to get our third act together and, perhaps, offer them a more dignified example than we otherwise might.

That is the intent of this blog. To banish forever the mistaken idea that life spans only two parts. A debilitating model visited on us by the clueless term 'middle aged'. If life has a 'middle', it must come in two halves, right? Wrong! That model leaves us stranded. Too young during the first half and too old during the second.

Remember, one you're stuck, two is a dilemma, choice begins at three.

Thanks largely to science and prosperity, our generation is the first that will routinely expect a third act. Unless we are to be the only such generation among humans on this planet, it's time to map the way.

Club 6290 (sixty-two-ninety) is here. Call for a tow if you hit a bump on the road. Better yet, become a volunteer cartographer and help us map the terrain. The boomer-brats aren't far behind.

Sixty to Ninety is here.