}

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The annual increasing number: 57

Birthdays have always been a sort of personal New Year for me, a chance to re-boot and refresh. It’s also when I reflect on the increasing number of years behind me. This year, I’m especially aware of those years already past, even as I continue to look forward—always forward.

Last year, I lost three friends and former colleagues from my activist days in Chicago (Ninure, Bill, and Kit). They were spaced out over the year, but the third, Kit, was just last month. This month, three singers (Natalie Cole, David Bowie and Glenn Frey) who were part of my youth, one quite important, died, as did an actor (Alan Rickman) I admired very much. It was all—a bit much. And yet, it also made me realise how much I still have—people I love, admire, and/or respect, reminders of important parts of my life, and plenty of goals yet to achieve. Always forward.

Life ought to be about constantly moving forward, I think, and while I also think it’s important to take time to remember the significant people, places, and things that are no longer part of our lives (for whatever reason), the important thing is to keep going, keep striving, keep reaching. And I do.

I started this blog nearly ten years ago as a means of self-expression. It’s the same reason I later started podcasting and, more recently, making videos. None of them will ever make me any money, but that was never the point: It was the journey, and learning new things and skills, that’s always mattered to me, and that was its own reward. It still is.

But all of this self-expression has a useful point far more important than any monetary gain: I can remember things I’d otherwise forget. I talked about that last year:
…I’ve also become increasingly aware as the years pile up of how important it is to record all sorts of things that mark progress through life. Memory isn’t anywhere near as reliable as many people assume, but it tends to become less reliable as the years pass. I sometimes joke that I’ve forgotten more than I knew as an 18 year old. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but maybe not as big a one as I might hope.

These annual posts—along with ordinary posts about ordinary things—serve as a sort of institutional memory, a kind of “Arthur Cloud”. But they also do more: These posts help me remember things I’ve forgotten, or they might inspire me to reflect on memories that maybe I hadn’t examined before. Those are good things, too.
For me, all that is beyond any monetary value. It’s a way of keeping and holding those ethereal things—memories, the importance of a person now gone—and keeping them within their context. Moving forward is so much easier when you know where you’ve been.

Back in 2012, I first used road signs with the same number as my age to illustrate these birthday posts. Last year’s wasn’t particularly relevant, as I noted in the footnote, but this year’s is highly relevant: I drove on Interstate 57 (I-57) more than on any other highway in the USA.

I-57 is the longest Interstate in Illinois, and it’s the route I took to get to and from Southern Illinois University (SIU), my alma mater. The speed limit was 55mph in those days, and assuming I stuck to the speed limit (which I mostly did…) and didn’t stop much, the drive took between six and seven hours. I can’t imagine driving that long non-stop now, but it didn’t seem like a big deal when I was in my late teens and early 20s.

Illinois Route 13 connected I-57 to Carbondale, where SIU is located, running right through the city. It always seemed like the longest part of the trip (the road continues on to the St. Louis area).

I-57—and, I’m sure, Illinois 13—have changed since I drove them so much in the late 1970s/early 1980s. So have the towns and cities the roads connect, and so have I. But those roads are seared into my memory, not just from the frequency I travelled along them, but for what they symbolically connected: My childhood and early life, to the start of my adult path in life that led, ultimately, to who and where I am today. Is it any wonder, then, that I see life as a kind of highway, too?

For me, birthdays are the day I remember all the important people and things that have been important parts of my life, but as I also put it last year, “I get to forget all the bad stuff, and instead think of the good: What I have (especially my Nigel, family and friends), as well as what may yet come my way.”

Even now, as the years pile up, and even after a few too many recent reminders of how short life really is, I’m excited about the road ahead. Always forward. Always.

The Interstate 57 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. There’s also an Illinois Route 57, but as far as I can remember, I’ve never been on it. The photo of the sign for Illinois Route 13 is also in the public domain and from Wikimedia Commons.

My Previous Birthday posts:
2015: The annual increasing number: 56
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

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