When I was younger, I could not imagine myself the age I am now. Not even if I could have morph-aged myself, a technology which was not available when I was younger.
Tuesday was my birthday, Bastille Day in France. I’ve never been to France on my birthday, but I have always enjoyed thinking of a vast celebration occurring on “my behalf.” In reality, if I went to France on my birthday while others were celebrating, they would probably shrug and continue celebrating Their Day (not My Day). It would be like being born on Christmas or New Year’s. No one would celebrate you because they are celebrating the other holiday. On second thought, remind me not to go to France on my birthday.
Birthdays Are Confusing
A well-wisher welcomed me into my sixth decade, and I thought, that sounds horrible. Until I did the math, starting with the 1st decade (years 0-9) and realized that the sixth decade would be the years 50-59, meaning I’m ENDING my sixth decade and next year will go into my seventh decade. Then, I had to put down my birthday cookie. But only for a minute.
One of the things you notice as you get older is that the people behind you are less able to distinguish your generation from anything older than say 30. For example, my brother bought me a cute birthday card, but it has an error, which proves to me it was made by confused young people. When I was growing up, we did have four channels—not three including PBS—my brother confirmed yesterday that we watched the very first Sesame Street. We kids played music on scratchy ‘45s on vinyl or listened to fuzzy radio stations; most of our music seemed to be distorted. However, we didn’t have calculators until my junior year in college.
This is like jumbling the Sumerians, Assyrians, and Egyptians all together, civilizations which are thousands of years apart. You know, assuming all old people –ancient Egyptians, Renaissance painters, people who were in World War II, everyone over 40 – are nearly all the same. I grew up before calculators were common, but it was not the Great Depression! Different eras. Just because we didn’t have HBO did not mean we had to wash our clothes in the river and beat them with a stick.
Truthfully, only people over a certain age still get each other birthday cards, so in the end I appreciate having a physical artifact, rather than just social media greetings.
SSSSHHHHH She’s Getting Older
I have been told, since I was approaching 30, that I should be unhappy about getting older. This is inherently confusing. Up until age 18, all you think about is I wish was old enough to ______ (drink, drive, be on my own &c) but apparently that only lasts for 12 years, after which you are supposed to be afraid, for the remaining two-thirds of your life. This has always perplexed me, to the point that I don’t always Follow the Rules.
For example, one time waiting for everyone to join a really large conference call (>45 people), we were making casual conversation, and someone congratulated me on it being my birthday. My boss, who was/is a great guy but somehow lost his mind for a minute, asked me how old I was. In retrospect, I wondered if it was some sort of a test, but I really think he forgot where we were and how many were listening. As did I.
Now, how many of you would, without missing a beat, answer that question? I did, without thinking. 54. There was a little bit of a hush, a collective indrawn breath, and I could almost hear people thinking, did she just say that? tell people she’s over 50? OMG. Then we started the call. I realized afterwards that was probably the wrong answer. I was supposed to say 29, I think, and instead had broken yet another taboo. It’s no joke; if you are over 50, you have a significantly reduced chance of being hired or promoted. But, if you are over 50, are you not even supposed to say so?
I never really understood this obsession with age because it’s always been clear that age is something you can’t alter. Why get upset about it? You can’t really alter how you look, how tall you are, or how old you are. There might be a socially-preferred way to be all those things—an optimal standard of beauty, height, and age—but you can’t REALLY change whatever you were dealt with genetically.
Yet people in some industries lie about their age because otherwise they can’t get work (can’t put food on the table). Perhaps that was probably true of the industry I was in, too, but I could never think that way. If you know what a person looks like and how they speak, what difference does it make whether they match the age you have estimated in their mind?
Ultimately, what experience has taught me is that not giving a flying fig about things I can’t change is part of My Brand. I’m a WYSIWYG type of person. When in doubt about some sort of enduring personality quality, I’ve always decided to make it an asset. I am 59 years old now mutha—what you wanna make about it?
Where’s My July Birthdays At?
I would like to give a shout out, though, to my sisters and brothers who have July birthdays or those who have birthdays in years ending with “1,” and especially that combination. Many people I know were born in year “0,” so it’s easy for them to remember their age. My age is always one year off the year, which is harder to remember. Then, because I’m born in July, I’m one year off half the year, but not until the middle of the year. I start rounding up in February, and some years I got so confused, I started rounding up, adding an extra year on my birthday. I’m 36. No wait, I’m 37–35? What year is it? Are we on the Julian calendar or Gregorian? Is it a Leap Year? If you are born mid-year, you know whereof I speak.
When I was growing up, the only two famous people with my birthdays were John Chancellor (yeah, who?) and Gerald Ford, a president known at the time for bumping into things. But NOW that I’m old enough, I know two people born within weeks of me–13 days earlier and 3 weeks later to the day–so I am proud to claim these as MY people. I’ll just wave at them, like Edith Head in her office waving at the Oscars on the shelf, In my experience…. These two probably didn’t give a flying fig what people thought of their age either.
Prime Numbers are Magic
Besides, 59 is a prime number, which is really cool. As you get older, prime numbers become more rare, which is clearly a symbol of Exceptional Quality. It has become increasingly difficult to find the biggest prime number, but working on that kind of math has led to encryption, which forms the underpinning of keeping our information safe, which is good thing. (Remember, primes are numbers which can only be divided by themselves and one, although one is not prime, never mind why.)
Mathematicians recently found something interesting about primes which has the fascinating title of “the conspiracy among primes.” Primes can’t end in an even number or 5. Only 1, 3, 7, or 9 are available for numbers higher than 10, and those are limited when numbers are divisible by other odd numbers, i.e. 63 is not prime because it’s divisible by 3 and 7. But what Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver of Stanford University found is that prime numbers tend not to have the same digit as a previous number. “They don’t like to repeat themselves.” Statistically, you’d think 1,3,7,9 would each have an equal chance of being the final digit, but 1 was a lot more rare, and primes ending in 3 tend to be followed a prime ending in 9 more often. Primes actually have “some” patterns!
It was very weird. It’s like some painting you are very familiar with, and then suddenly you realise there is a figure in the painting you’ve never seen before.“Maths experts stunned as they crack a pattern for prime numbers“
Now that may not be earth-shattering news to you, but understanding a pattern when it comes to really giant prime numbers could make encryption safer. Maybe it will get us closer to infinity or discovering wormholes. Don’t discount the magic of primes. Besides, if you can’t get excited about whether the prime number is going to end in a 3 or a 7, then why would you care at all if your age happens to be 37, 59, or 73?
It’s just a number.