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The present, and the future

As I’ve made a gigantic fuss of mentioning on all possible outlets, February 13th was my fortieth birthday. In the past I’ve tended to play down birthdays, as people do as they get older. Not because of some shame about my advancing age – on the contrary, I think it should be seen as an achievement to rack up the years, when you look at what life throws at us all – but just because it comes to seem embarrassing to be skipping around on a particular date like you’re still 11. This, though, leads to a mentality of middle-aged resignation that I’ve been criticising a lot on stage recently, as I see it more and more among my peers. ‘No, it’s a lot of hassle going away for the summer’. ‘Oh, I didn’t bother staying up for New Year, I didn’t even stay up till 9am, in fact I went to bed on December 28.’ And so on until you’re on your deathbed and someone says ‘congratulations, you managed to avoid doing pretty much anything in your own life.’

I don’t want to be that person, not any more; I want to make the most of what’s gifted to me. So, what I’m saying is, I’ve gone to the other extreme, hyped the hell out of my birthday and have applied for it to be recognised as a full public holiday.

40 is ‘just a number’ in the same way that January 1st is just a date, but – however arbitrary – time is where we live, and I believe in using its random promptings to measure progress and spur ourselves on. I set out to chronicle my thirties on this blog and after less than a couple of years it became untenable, because those years were so chaotic and – often – emotionally difficult. But things are a lot more settled now (if I was a touch-wood sort of person I’d be absolutely hammering on a Grandfather clock or something) and so I’m reviving this tradition. Here, in my newsletters and on Instagram I’m going to record as much as I can of the chunk of life between 40 and 50.

(Instagram is something I’ve barely touched so far and the traditional way is to rail against these pointless egoistical platforms as you get older, so I’m going fully against the tide and having a late online teenage as part of my forties.)

Largely this is a massive act of ego: in the same way, you might say, as most of a performing career is. I’m mostly putting it up here so that I can get something out of reflecting on myself, track the way things change over a big stretch of life, and – one day – massively cringe reading back through it all, including this bit. But I also hope other people will get something out of it and that, over time, I can build some sort of ‘platform’ which allows us all to get in touch and pool the resources of support/inspiration that exist out there. When I started this in 2010 I passionately believed in the internet’s ability to transform lives by connecting people. I’d underestimated the aspect of it which is just people screaming at each other for spelling things wrongly or not liking the right albums or using a plastic fork. All the same, ten years on, I believe it as firmly as ever.

One of the few things I’d say I’m truly proud of in my career so far has been that on occasion I’ve helped to build surprising bridges between like-minded or complementary people, who might otherwise not have met. Something that I’m hoping for, from my forties, is to be more of a force for good than I succeeded in being in the last section of my life. If anything I can write here ever helps or inspires just one person that’s… well, yeah, a colossally long-winded and inefficient way of living my life. So, pretty much on brand. Not everything changes on your birthday.

Keep reading if you are and we’ll continue this public, but secret club together.

6 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    My son shares his birthday with you – it was his 17th birthday. Feels like a milestone with driving lessons next week and full blown adulthood fast approaching. I’ve worried a lot recently about what I will do when my children leave home (I also have a 15 year old daughter). It feels very daunting but combined with the need for my children to go out and explore the world and do their own thing. It’s a difficult balance and not sure how to get it right just yet.

  2. Patrick says:

    “Time is where we live”

    Brilliant.

    Hello Mark, hello all. Hope to be here whenever I can, excited to be part of the secret public club. I’ve also been thinking a lot about age, as I’m turning 25 (boo, groan, hiss for being too young) next month and trying to work out where I’m going next. When I’ve made friends (such as on this blog’s last incarnation) they’ve tended to be older than me, by anything from three to ten years. In part that’s led to me often feeling behind in the course of life, but even when that’s not the case I’ve become a bit fixed on the idea that anyone can be behind.

    Intellectually I know it’s unhealthy and untrue – everyone takes their own path and so on. But it’s still irresistible to start doing the mental maths – where were you when you were my age, how many years until I get myself together like you did, etc, etc.

    So I know we aren’t doing resolutions (unlike the TYSIC from 2010 – do you remember that someone built a whole social networking site to accommodate that? Amazing.), but I’ll stake a goal out here in public – to compare myself less to others, and better appreciate the advances I’ve made already.

  3. Fran Hilton says:

    This has really given me food for thought.
    Thank you, I feel quite inspired by your words – I am 13 yrs older than you, I had my first and only child when I was 40 and have dedicated the last 13 yrs to being a mother. I am now thinking “ is this all there is?” Your words have made me stop and wonder ……….

  4. Jen C says:

    Hurrah to the building of bridges (random human connections of which you speak >dePfeffle notions!). I wholeheartedly believe that finding common ground is the best way to live, love and learn in most circumstances! Looking forward to reading more. 😁

  5. Phil M says:

    At least 40 has some meaning to it. A significant threshold between one stage of life and the next. A key transition. I was 51 this past weekend. The only reason for the existence of number 51 is its value as triple 17 in darts. Useful if you find yourself on 101 with two darts in hand.

  6. Rachel says:

    Thank you for your show this weekend and for how you dealt with my son being the youngest there. He wants to be a comedian and has listened to so many comedians over the last 3 years which helped him get through some very tough times.
    The thing that struck me was although you have strong opinions you seem to have no desire to make your audience feel stupid or small. You poked fun but not at their expense and I wanted to thank you for that. You are an inspiration to him.
    Please keep on making people happy as you do it well. Take care.

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