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  • Mike Martinez

Reflections on Half a Century

On December 28, 2012, I marked half a century of life on this planet. I suppose I must buy a sports car, display the few graying chest hairs I have by unbuttoning my shirt, David Hasselhoff-style, and flaunt a new twenty-something girlfriend on my arm.

Alas, I care not one whit about automobiles as long as the one I now drive transports me from point A to point B, features a working heater or air conditioner, as necessary, and has a stereo. From the perspective of this boring old fart, a sports car would be one more thing to pay for, keep up, and worry about. No thanks.

As for a gratuitous display of skin, my rule of thumb is that the older I get, the less of my body I set out for public review and commentary. If I live to be 90, I probably will be wrapped as tightly as Tutankhamen. Did you see Roger Daltrey prancing around with his shirt open during the 12/12/12 concert? He seemed reasonably fit for a 68-year-old man, but it was still disconcerting to witness gelatinous flesh sloshing about in such a cavalier manner. I agree with one fan comment I read: I would have contributed even more money than I did had Daltrey consented to button up his shirt and acknowledge the 1960s are no more. Won’t get fooled again, indeed.

As for a new young girlfriend — please. A guy standing five-foot-five, balding, with glasses, and a perpetual slouch who is up to his neck in hock and can barely stay awake every night until 10:00 p.m. has nothing to offer a trophy girlfriend. I don’t have the energy for such shenanigans, anyhow.

There was a time when these sad facts might have bothered me. The great thing about growing old is that I don’t care anymore.

I am not being flippant. I mean that sincerely. Not caring about matters that previously seemed important and now appear as trivialities can be liberating.

In my twenties, thirties, and forties, I foolishly entertained the notion, however unlikely, that I might yet conquer the world. Call these visions, with the benefit of hindsight, delusions of grandeur. Such are the dreams of youth.

I also fancied myself a desirable specimen of American manhood. I had no illusions that I was Brad Pitt or the most masculine individual on two legs, but in my secret heart of hearts, I was confident that I was something to behold.

I was something to behold, all right.

I suppose it is the beginning of wisdom to look at oneself from a different perspective — if not quite objectively, then certainly with a more jaundiced eye than in days past.

Whatever my strengths and weaknesses as a person, I have come to terms with them. No doubt I continue to labor under a certain measure of self-deception, but at least I know self-deception is in the offing. I did not realize that fact twenty years ago.

Thankfully, I am content with my life. Even if I never accomplish great things, the things I have accomplished are great enough for me. I am at home in my skin.

I must be careful not to allow contentment to morph into smug self-satisfaction. As pleased as I am with the status quo, I don’t want to rest on my laurels until the day (hopefully, decades from now) when I shuffle off the mortal coil.

Half a century of life allows a person the freedom to pontificate on origins and destinies. Call it self-reflection or navel-gazing. Whatever it is, it strikes me as healthy, provided that taking stock does not lead to solipsism.

So on this occasion — and perhaps after another decade elapses and propels me toward yet another temporal milestone — I want to list some regrets, ponder some accomplishments, and hatch plans for the future.

Regrets: I regret not having been more adventuresome as a young man. Maybe I should have taken off a year between college and law school to tramp through Europe, work with the poor, or master a foreign language. It would have done me good to experiment a bit more. I don’t mean I should have taken a Hunter S. Thompsonesque, drug-induced romp through hedonism, fucking and snorting anything that came my way — such behavior is so far beyond the boundaries of my personality as to be nonsensical — but taking a few chances and being less guarded emotionally would have done my psyche a world of good. C’est la vie.

I regret not being a more convivial person. Throughout my life, I have watched other people, especially those with the “hail-fellow-well-met” personality, slide through life effortlessly, like a searing-hot knife slicing through a warm stick of butter. I have always been so terribly, painfully, awkwardly shy that I have felt as though I were an outsider looking in on humanity. As an adult, I have learned to fake it. I can put on my game face, shake hands, and tell funny stories with the best of them. Yet inside, where no one can see the vulnerability, I have felt as though I were a hypocrite wearing a mask that grins and lies. I know changing an individual’s personality absent radical therapy or life-altering trauma — neither of which sounds pleasant — is virtually impossible. Still, I never even thought about coming out of my shell. Shyness can be a curse.

I regret not having pursued my writing career with more vim and vigor when I was a young man. Don’t get me wrong; my career is a source of great pleasure. Although I have not become rich and famous, I continue to enjoy the fruits of my labors. Had I invested the time and attention that writing requires earlier in life, however, I might have climbed a higher mountain. Who knows?

So much for regrets. I could mention a few things about relationships and missed opportunities, but why grow maudlin on top of everything else?

Accomplishments: This statement may sound a bit melodramatic, but here goes: All of my dreams have come true. If I were to drop dead tomorrow — a thought I do not relish — I would have lived a satisfying life (but for the lack of longevity).

I never had big, splashy, wildly-improbable dreams in the first place, so having my dreams come true did not require Herculean endeavors. I used to joke about wanting to be president of the United States, but I was not serious.

I dreamed of graduating from college and law school. That dream came true, although being a lawyer did not turn out to be as rewarding as I had anticipated.

I dreamed of writing books and having them published. Riches and literary prizes have not come my way, but they are unnecessary adornments. My books get published. Even if no one ever reads them, they are deeply satisfying to me. From nothing, I made something. It is the pleasure that any artist feels when he or she engages in the creative enterprise. It may not be recognized as high art, but nonetheless it is self-expression of a sort.

I dreamed of traveling the world. I have visited many places — China, Japan, Singapore, Egypt, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mexico, and many countries in Europe. I still have yet to visit Russia, India, Australia, or Brazil, but they are on my bucket list — if my health and finances permit.

In short, I have been a self-actualized person. I mostly have been successful when I applied myself. I have enjoyed good health. I have loved and been loved. Yes, I have suffered through pain and hardships — who has not? — but overall, I drew a pretty good hand in this round.

The Future: I once thought I would be more adventurous at this age. A few years ago, I talked about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s still not impossible, but I have come to recognize the limitations of this weary body. I’m not sure any amount of training would prepare me for such a grueling ordeal. I have never been the athletic type. Still, more international travel is in the pipeline.

I have several books in the works as well. I finished writing American Environmentalism: Philosophy, History, and Public Policy a few days ago. I will send it to the publisher in January, and it should be published in August 2013, if all goes according to plan.

I have signed a contract with Praeger, a Division of ABC-CLIO to write a book about the stories behind famous (or infamous) criminal procedure cases. The manuscript is due in September 2013, and the book should be published in 2014. I plan to use the work as a supplemental reader for my undergraduate criminal procedure class. Talk about finding a captive audience to boost sales! I have learned a thing or two about marketing over the years.

I also have a fully-developed book proposal on environmental public policy and a partially-developed book proposal on the politics of race in America from the 1880s through World War II. It will be a sequel of sorts to my book Coming For to Carry Me Home: Race in America From Abolitionism to Jim Crow.

As you can see, my writing agenda for the next two or three years is full.

I also plan to continue my full-time work with Dart Container Corporation as well as part-time teaching at Kennesaw State University, The University of Georgia, and The University of South Dakota (online).

I pledge to stay connected with family and friends as much as I can. It’s tough with the hustle and bustle of modern life, but it is worth the effort. It makes the future an inviting concept.

Life is good.

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