A Dumbass Looks at 50

Another trip around the sun

A Dumbass Looks at 50
Happy birthday, dumbass

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields
'91, I was 17 and running up 101
I don't know where I'm running now, I'm just running on

That's right, folks — it's my birthday, and I'm throwing myself a little post party, and you're all invited. It's a big one, if you believe in those things; I tend to think most milestones of this nature are sort of arbitrary, but either way, I have managed to survive for a half-century on this planet. A minor miracle for all sorts of reasons.

I have never worried about getting older and I don't lament my misspent youth. Your choices are prompted by your perspective at the time, and I'm happy to be marginally wiser than I was; whatever aches, pains, and missing hair follicles I have were well and truly earned. I've collected plenty of things over the years, but at this point, I think I'd have to say that pure experience is my favorite thing to accrue. All of which is to say that I don't really believe in mid-life crises, at least not for myself, and yet as I survey my personal landscape on the occasion of my 50th birthday, I find myself at a clichéd crossroads.

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it, with what you do to survive
'95, I was 21 and I called the road my own
I don't know when that road turned into the road I'm on

I've been keeping this mostly (publicly) quiet until I have links and stuff to point people to, but I have a novel coming out this year, and last Wednesday, I found out that the publisher has slated it for publication in July. As in July 2024, as in right around the corner. This is, as you might imagine, exciting news for me — kind of daunting, because I need to start gearing up to promote the thing, but exciting. I wrote it in 2020, completed the second draft in 2021, and spent the next couple of years hunting for a literary agent. Last year, eternal Friend of Jefitoblog hipped me to an opportunity at Humorist Books, and I welcomed 2024 by putting ink to contract. It's been a long slog, to say the least, and that's particularly true if you're like me — the type of writer who seems to write out of compulsion, and only wants to be done and move on once a project (or post, or whatever) is done enough to feel good about. Deciding to stubbornly stick by this thing and try to sell it instead of self-publishing it was a choice that seemed for a long time like it'd only lead to disappointment. I harbor no illusions about it ending up on the New York Times bestseller list; I'm just happy to know that someone else believed in it enough to put their imprint on the cover.

Langley Powell and the Society for the Defense of the Mundane

The book is a supernatural comedy about a world-renowned debunker of paranormal phenomena who dies and is very embarrassed and annoyed to discover that he has become a ghost. He's quickly pulled into a mission to save the universe, and along the way, there are cameo appearances from Albert Einstein, J. Edgar Hoover, Tom Petty, and others — oh, and along the way, his partner is another ghost who's also a government agent that happens to have the body and voice of a foulmouthed ten-year-old boy. I'll definitely be using this space to share more news as it develops, probably to an annoying degree.

So I found out about all that last Wednesday. The following day, I found out that my nearly 19-year tenure at a certain digital media company — whose name may or may not include a fruit that's commonly mistakenly believed to be a vegetable — was ending, effective immediately. Don't cry for me, Argentina; it was a really solid run, and the last year and change was pretty sour, on account of increasing corporate shenanigans imposed by people with no real appreciation for the product but a mission to "unlock dollars" and the upper-management mojo to get their way. I've spent the last year or so trying to figure out what else I might possibly want to do for money. Now I actually need to figure it out.

I'm not going to lie and say I haven't had moments of panic about this. I have no faith in the job market for 50-year-old straight white dudes. But on the whole, I think I've managed to remain more or less in a place of zen about it, and I'm increasingly coming to regard it as an opportunity to hit the reset button on a career that happened entirely accidentally. Late last year, when the senior VP who elevated me to my final role at the company hit his own eject button, he talked to me about having gone from job to job without much thought, and feeling like he needed to be more deliberate and intentional with whatever came next. This seems like an opportunity to follow his example.

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes, I see them running too

All of which is to say that I don't have the answers yet. I came out of college intending to be a teacher; that's a thought I keep returning to. I have an eye on the ACLU and other non-profits. My strongest thought right now is that I have no interest in going back to corporate America, because even if you're at a relatively benign company, the vibe can be distressingly cult-like, full of endless buzzwords that mean nothing and regularly scheduled all-hands that are full of hollow cheerleading intended to distract everyone from the lack of raises or promotions. Also, even if your job doesn't make you feel scummy, what does it mean? What's it for? These are questions I'd like to be able to answer with something other than "money." Of course, I'll probably be singing a different tune once the severance runs out, but at the moment, my perspective is, as I said a little while ago, deeply clichéd. I annoy myself. Anyway, here's the song of the moment. I hope you aren't lactose intolerant.

But one song from the new Guster album isn't all I have for you today. I've brought multiple presents — as long as you consider "news of a book I will pester you to purchase" and "some long and seriously navel-gazing playlists" to be gifts. As I mark this arbitrary milestone that certifies I am at least half dead, I find it enjoyable to look back on my past as a music consumer, or at least a big chunk of it — the stuff that really seeped into my DNA during my formative years during the '80s and '90s. So here you go, friends: A pair of hefty playlists collecting some, but by no means all, of the music that marked countless milestones as I was growing up.

One important disclaimer: As you'll see, these playlists consist of songs I liked during the decades in question, so while they primarily consist of songs that were released during those decades, this is not exclusively the case, particularly during the '80s, when I spent a lot of time clandestinely scouring my parents' officially off-limits vinyl collection and was therefore introduced to the world of acts like Elton John and the Eagles. Anyway, without further ado, here's a bunch of music for you. Thanks for being around as I turn 50, and let's all keep going together.