Friday, January 31, 2014

Speaking of nice round numbers ...

Happy New Year! Is it too late to say Happy New Year? Because I really want to acknowledge what year it is.

I know this is not a year that ends in a zero, marking either the beginning or the end of a decade (depending on how pedantic you want to get). It’s not even divisible by five. It’s also neither a presidential election year here in the States, nor a major American historical anniversary, though of course it marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I as well as 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And there are a few pop culture events which might inspire some retrospectives: 20 years since Kurt Cobain’s suicide (though we all know how I feel about that), 30 years since the Terminator movies began, 40 years since Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record, 50 years since the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and on and on. But you could pretty easily put together a list of generic milestones like that for any given year.

Still, I could drill down to some highly personal multi-decade commemorations if I were so inclined, particularly if we zoom in on a year like 1974. As an avowed Stephen King fan, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this spring marks 40 years since his first novel Carrie was published. It’s also 40 years since the invention of both Dungeons & Dragons and the Rubik’s Cube. I owned a Rubik’s Cube when I was a kid, although I was never very good at it, but not only was I fascinated by it, I can’t deny it as a signifier of both 80’s culture and nerd culture, both of which will always loom large for me. Dungeons & Dragons falls into all the same categories, with the exception that I was pretty good at D&D (and spent way more time playing that game than I ever did on the combination puzzle).

And of course not just artifacts and concepts are celebrating fortieths this year, but some famous people have big 4-0 birthdays in 2014, too. From Christian “Batman” Bale to Natasha “the girl from Species (and Species II)” Henstridge to Derek “Captain Clutch” Jeter. Three of the five core cast members of Saved By the Bell (Mark-Paul Gosselaer, Lark Voorhies, and Tiffani Thiessen) are all turning 40 this year, which depending on how prominently that particular Saturday morning kids’ show figured into your childhood, might make you feel old.

It has that effect on me, but then again, that might be because I, too, am turning 40 this year.

It’s still about eight months away, but I’m grappling with it already, though not in a terribly woeful “forty years in the desert and what does it all mean” kind of way. I’m happily married, reasonably at peace with the manner in which I put a roof over the heads and food on the table of my wife and kids, and fairly confident that I still have more years ahead of me than behind. Granted, to make them all good years I probably need to devote a little more attention and effort towards things like my physical upkeep and my financial planning and so forth, and so those kinds of things recur in my thought patterns. But again, they do so in a way that doesn’t freak me out so much as reinforce that I need to check off some do-able to-do’s like any other responsible grown-up.

I will be honest and admit that when I was around twelve years old, which is when I can first clearly recall daydreaming about myself and my life as an adult, I always saw myself as 35 and no older. To be fair, when I was twelve my parents were, in fact, 35 (they had me fairly young). And to a certain extent that image of adulthood was probably reinforced by stuff like comic books and action movies and so forth: 30-something is solidly mature, like Superman or Indiana Jones; 40-plus is just ancient. Or so it seemed to adolescent me (and, I imagine, continues to seem to adolescents everywhere).

Still, much as I hold on to a lot of my adolescence, consciously and subconsciously, I think I can get over this hang-up. There’s really only one proven method to avoid turning 40, and I’d much rather celebrate this birthday (and many more!) than pack it in. No contest. And as long as I’m celebrating a birthday ending in a zero, I might as well do so conspicuously, because those are the occasions on which self-indulgence is most likely to be forgiven. Of course this blog is one of the more self-indulgent activities I partake in these days as it is, so channeling things through this outlet makes a certain amount of sense as well. To that end, I have come up with a throughline for this year which I hope to return to regularly in a series of posts. Call it a thematic unification, call it a gimmick. Call it Life In A Year.

I’m still as obsessed as ever with filling in the gaps of my personal experience with various pieces of pop culture, and that remains one of my guiding principles as I continue to pick out books to read and movies to watch as I fill the time of my daily VRE commutes. And I’ve always been the first to acknowledge that there is a ton of stuff from before my time which easily qualifies as That Which I Should Really Catch Up On. But this year is not going to be the year I make a ton of progress in that area. Some progress, sure, here and there. But my main focus for the rest of 2014 is going to be the output of my own lifetime, the past 40 years. The plan is to select one or two works from each year of my life, in chronological order, and do some variation on my usual review and reaction write-up as I go along. I’ll probably do one per week or so.

Note that these are not going to be my personal favorites, because obviously by definition those would be things I’ve already consumed (probably repeatedly) over the course of my life. These are the things that I missed the past four decades, retroactive make-up work. Some of them are going to be bonafide classics, since I do have an unfortunate tendency to have major blindspots in the pop culture canon. Some of them will be utter obscurities which have somehow managed to pique my curiosity or seem right up my alley. Some of them will be recommendations I’ve solicited from friends. There will be movies from the 1001 Must-See Master List, as usual, as well as movies that don’t rank at all (and maybe rightly so). There will be novels and comic books and essay collections. There may very well be some television series (or at the very least however many episodes are on the first disc of a DVD box set of a tv series). There will hopefully be a few rock and roll albums, as well.

On the subject of music, I’m also hoping (though this is getting increasingly ambitious now) that I can finally get around to something I alluded to last year. (In fact if you go back and read that entire post, you can see I predicted it would happen right about now.) I made a playlist of songs I love, three from each year of my life, when I turned 33. I’ve toyed with the idea of reproducing that list in some expanded and annotated fashion here on the blog, and since I’m going to be methodically working my way through the years of my life anyway, it seems to fit right in. These songs are, as I say, all-time faves, as opposed to blindspots I’d be tracking down for the first time, so that should serve to balance out my overall retrospective approach.

Sound promising? Sound tedious? Well, not to sound like a broken record but it’s my blog and it’s my Big 4-0, so I’m going to give it a try. If I’m still blogging when I turn 50, I promise I’ll invite you all to the party.

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