This year marks my fortieth turn around the sun. What does that mean to me? What deep and timeless wisdom can I pass on to the rest of the world? To be honest, I’m not sure, but that might be the best lesson I’ve learned…
Since my last birthday, things have changed a bit. I have played bass in a community production of the Rocky Horror Show and through that, renewed my interest in local theatre productions. Which means that when my local band was put on further hiatus by a member's’ sudden and unfortunate back injury, I auditioned for a role in one of Huntsville Theatre Company’s upcoming productions, and got the chance to do the part.
Last year, myself and a fellow by the name of Dorian took it upon ourselves to organise three local X-Wing tournaments to bring the space boat playing community of Muskoka together. Again, I made lots of new friends, and through that, we organised a trip to attend the recent Regional Tournament in the city of Toronto. It was quite a day.
My wife and I took a trip to Mexico for the first time with a group of close friends, which was also a first. While I didn’t make any fast friends per se, I did talk to a lot of people, and the experience itself was amazing.
As a standard of measure for the year leading up to my fortieth birthday, it was pretty darn good, and the milestone itself gives me pause for reflection.
I’ve received a lot of jabs from a variety of sources about this number and what it means. Being a male, I’m used to the playful, derogatory comments of my peers, and working in residential construction makes that double. We have an unfortunate culture of affectionate insults and jibes, and I am just as guilty of participating in it as those around me.
As it turns out, it doesn’t bother me. This forty business. It is essentially, a number that represents the average middle of my life, provided I first make it to eighty, and then don’t bother to go too far beyond that. Apparently, while I am not yet over a certain hill, I command a charming view of the descent.
Yet more than anything, I am excited by the prospect of what is to come.
First, I’m glad that after so many years of floundering around as an adult and trying to get it all together that even at middle age, nobody really knows what they’re doing. They can stamp and sulk all they want, but there is no definitive guide to being an adult, just constructs and obtuse directions, ever-changing societal norms and shifting taboos of accepted rites and procedures. Just like high school, real life is like an old note binder, full of crumpled and torn notes mismatched and unorganised, with only small sections laid out in any kind of system of reference, with scattered sticky notes in a variety of colours, coded to a form lost long ago.
It’s comforting to know that I didn’t miss the meeting. That we’re all in this together...Ish.
Turning forty, I am even more comfortable in my geekery. I have zero time to hide my habits from the world. Like a vegetarian, I proudly rampage through the streets, declaring my love of hobby board gaming and tabletop role-playing games to the world. I defy anyone to chide me for my love of Star Wars or Tolkien. I happily bring small filler games with me wherever I go, knowing that somehow, somewhere, someone will ask to play…
All right that’s a bit extreme, but you get the picture. I’ve written a few times before about lunch break talk and water cooler chat. Everyone else discusses plans which follow the popular or common pastimes of the world we live in. In idle chat, the worlds of organised and outdoor sports get thrown around. Whole days are devoted to world championships and the get togethers to enjoy them. I have no interest in these things, so I always keep a tight lip and try not to make real eye contact. And in the past, I have always demurred from discussing Star Wars movie marathons or guys’ weekends playing epic D&D.
Now I offer a brief overview of the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community and what we do, or acknowledge my sons’ growing interest in the Edge of the Empire Star Wars RPG system. And at forty, I no longer do it with the defiance of the last few years. I’m no longer silently challenging people to question my hobbies. It is simply one of the things that I do for fun, to get away from the slog of adulthood and the mundane, which at times permeates the real world.
At forty, I have reached the point of no longer apologising for who I am. Now I’m still a Canadian, so that really means I just apologise less, but it still applies.
As I rehearse for this play, I am being reminded of the concept of balance in all things. We are currently rehearsing three nights a week. I go to game night one night a week. Each of my two children travel to various lessons and such two nights a week each. I have a full time job. This does not leave a lot of fully attended family time. So I have discovered now that I am forty that life is not supposed to be that hectic.
We work to live, we don’t live to work. We can’t be constantly racing from one appointment to the next, scribbling everything down in calendars synced across devices while we fling emails and texts out into the stratosphere. There needs to be time where you sit silently and wait. Just stop, and take it all in. Take something in that is not important or necessary.
Maybe play a game?
Having a hobby is so important to us as people. It’s a goal to strive towards as we careen through the day. It can be a social thing like gaming, a family thing like camping or the chaos of group meal preparation, or a very private thing like my sister, who plays the drums alone in her basement.
Hobbies and interests of any kind are a form of escapism. They are a way to de-stress from the rigors of the world. In a role-playing game, players take on the roles of fictional characters who are exploring fantastical worlds and fighting in great conflicts for the betterment of all. Tabletop gamers play a multitude of different categories of games both alone and with others as a way of forgetting about the things that keep them up at night. So much the better if they can talk and laugh with others while they play, no matter whether it’s cooperative or competitive.
As I am now fully forty years old, I am more comfortable in the skin I am in than I have ever been before. I am an old shoe, worn around the edges, but a perfect fit.
This does not mean that I will grow complacent in my coming years. There is more time that needs to be staked out to spend with family and friends. There are so many more games to play, and new faces to meet playing them. There is always struggle, but I firmly believe humans are meant to struggle. We can’t just rest on our laurels and fade away, it’s not how we’re built. To strive onward is when we begin to shine. We need to push against our hardships in order to fail and learn from our mistakes. It’s how we grow.
There is an idea in some circles of teaching known as the three stages of learning. It states that in the first stage, you don’t know what you don’t know. The second stage is described as knowing what you don’t know. And the final stage is knowing what you know. I feel like I’m smack in the middle of the second stage. As much as I have learned many things in my last forty years of existence, the most important thing I have learned is that there is a whole universe of things out there yet to learn, and while it can be a scary place, it’s OK. With the right people around you, and staying true to the things that you love which give you respite from the challenges of your life, you will be just fine.