October 2017 . . . .

“Here’s what I think is one problem.”

You cannot in one breath be complaining about the appalling behavior of men toward women and in the next breath be grousing about whether or not the half-and-half in your mochachino is organic. You can’t go from reading an article about the President signing a bill banning funding to planned parenthood to studying the pending Oscar nominations. From mourning a shooting to a new fortune made playing Powerball. I think no one’s brain works like that, not well anyway.

In fact, I suspect we are teaching our brains to not work. We are teaching them to play, for lack of a better word. When the newscasters inform us about a bus going over a cliff in India and immediately leap to the weather and giggle about the chance of snow, our brains reach two conclusions — that the first tragedy, while awful, wasn’t actually so tragic and that all tragic events can be laughed away if only we can find a lighthearted bit of froth from which to sip.

Coincidentally, I was told a few (well, more than a double-handful) of years ago that people tend to stop being able to learn anything new after the age of forty-five. I don’t know why that was the magic age — perhaps the coincidence was that I was on or about my forty-fifth birthday and this tidbit of information was coming from my sister and she was just informing me that I was starting to become more of a jerk than usual and needed to head this trend off at the pass. Those of you who know me must agree that this explanation seems plausible. In any case, let’s go with forty-five. I do know folks who’ve gone off to get an MBA, or take the diaconate path to the ministry, or been handed the reins to a literary magazine with no experience (ahem), and they were able to learn new stuff. I also know that some folks will just ride in the rut of their situation as if it were a historical imperative. Why one group finds it possible to change horses in midstream and the other to barely change socks each morning is a mystery. It cannot just be some sort of random number, or an actuarially determined age like 25 is for drivers and 65 is for retiring. Can it?

That last paragraph sounded shrill, like an old man muttering in resentful arrogance. My apology. Sometimes the center cannot hold. Maybe I’m going to become that guy. I hope not.

In any case, I’m way past forty-five years of age. I’m reading Japanese novels. Not in Japanese, although that would be quite something. I’m also learning about the life of Martin Luther. And attempting to memorize the sheet music of a Schubert Valse so that I can play flute in a duet with my daughter, although there is no telling how that might turn out. And I’m studying how to set up an Access database, breed Platies, make a flan, write a screenplay treatment, track a financial report. And I’m listening to Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” over and over. Not just a good idea, but a great one.

Why? Why isn’t it enough to muddle through with the rest of the planet, bringing my own broom to the noisy rubble of the 24-hour news cycle? Why don’t I just walk the dog with a poop-bag in my pocket or take one in the slats with a whiffle-ball bat? Skid downhill on my fanny. Binge on all the TV, and sip cocktails and giggle and snort when the host kicks over his drink? Subscribe to Lawn Edging Illustrated?

Mostly, because I do not want to go gently (or otherwise) into that good night. No, of course I’ve no way of assuring that I’m not going to slip a cognitive cog. I may assume all I like that since no one in my family is crazy (ha!) that I’m pretty well covered on that account, but the truth is the truth and in my experience it reveals itself as it chooses, almost like a petulant child. But I can do a little bit of arithmetic, and it’s high time to get on my horse, take a turn on the crank, and learn something else.

Something new.