I don’t want to be 60. Or maybe I do?
I am 60 years old today.
It’s just a number, sure. But it is a milestone.
I used to celebrate my birthdays partying like a viking. It wasn’t a birthDAY, it was a birthWEEK. It wasn’t as if I was excited about getting older. I just enjoyed living a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
I was a news photographer back in the day when newspapers were the prime source of real news. I was a nightclub reporter — yes, it was part of my dream job as an entertainment reporter — at a time when hair was big, morals were small and there was no thought of the future.
I was a political operative — and married for the first time — so my birthday bashes were tempered somewhat.
I was a newspaper editor when I entered the first phase of an extended post-divorce mid-life crisis, so my annual spree of jubilance marking my entry into the world was still quite strong.
Then came my 50s. And I started to calm down. My body decided it had had enough and started to throw a few challenges at me.
So here I am. Happily enjoying my self-imposed exile from the temptation of debauchery in the south.
I not only moved to Yellowknife for work, but also as a geographic cure to throw a wrench into the mental machinery that had driven me for so many years. It had worked for me for many years, but it was dangerous on many levels, so I wanted a change. And I got it.
Everything happens for a reason.
That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m writing this.
Getting older forces one to examine one’s lot in life.
What have I done? Have I done enough? What is left for me to do?
Well, I have done plenty. I have lived more life than many folks could even imagine.
I’ve been very bad. But also very good. I’ve lived in Montreal, Toronto, Brandon, Winnipeg and now, Yellowknife. That’s a pretty good swath of this country. I have no interest in living abroad.
I was a rotten only child. My 20s and 30s were exercises in excessive narcissism. I started to change in my 40s and 50s, when I realized that giving back to the community felt good. I joined Rotary. I volunteered for community groups and donated to causes when I could.
Professionally, I have supported myself through photography and reporting — something I never thought possible when I was studying filmmaking at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto in the ‘80s. I was going to be a film editor. Then God laughed and sent me from downtown Toronto to the wheat fields of Western Manitoba to be a newspaper photographer.
The most transformative period of my personal and professional life was being hired by The Winnipeg Sun to be an entertainment writer after I had started to write about the music scene in Brandon in my spare time from being a photographer. That was back in the day when reporters were reporters and photographers were photographers and being “two-way” was rare in the profession.
The music editor at the Sun, John Kendle, ended up being my mentor, my best friend and even my best man at my first wedding. We partied hardy. And worked harder. We were tabloid people working at a snarky paper up against the grey old Winnipeg Free Press. And we punched above our weight.
We drank hard and hung out with musicians, gangsters, drug-dealers and rock stars. I recall being in Guns N’ Roses hotel suite after a concert in Winnipeg. Axl was previewing a new video and telling everyone to shut up, especially one of my well-refreshed buddies (hello, Shaky!). Slash pushed me into a room with his latest groupie who he had brought from Toronto. She wanted to smoke some hash, he wasn’t in the mood.
The sun came up, I had a parking ticket and was late for work. Was suspended for that.
I was hired by local promoters to document Paul McCartney’s concert in Winnipeg and spent the day backstage with them and the whole crew. His wife Linda handed me her Nikon to take a photo of her and a group of Girl Guides visiting backstage. A priceless moment.
But throughout my life, I’ve been hounded by fear. Now that can be a good thing. That if fear drives action instead of deferral and despondency. And it generally has been a motivator for me. It drove me to partner in a studio in downtown Winnipeg when I ran my first commercial photo biz (hello, Jodee!). It drove me to complete two fine art projects and stage my own public exhibition. It drove me to mentor young photographers and help aspring reporters.
I have written literally hundreds of opinion columns in my time as a newsroom editor. Putting my views out there and then being prepared for the feedback — good, bad, or brutal — isn’t something for the faint of heart. But I did it. And do so to this day in the form of this blog.
However, fear also drove me to distraction at times.
As a creative person who has largely relied on my artistic abilities to survive, I have always wondered if I was really any good. I was/am in fear that it will be discovered that I truly suck at being a photographer, a writer and editor. That I am phony in my desires to now be a positive contributing member of society.
We all have certain levels of fear. I believe that.
But when does it become debilitating?
When does fear morph into anxiety and depression?
It’s a struggle, at times.
That’s part of the reason I chose never to have children. I don’t think I would be a good parent. I’m amazed at how some of my friends have become very good parents (hello, Melissa!).
That’s part of the reason I have been divorced twice. I tried marriage as I though it was something I should do. I have never experienced a fairy tale romance or fallen madly in love.
It’s just the way I’m wired. I know that now.
I also struggled through various strengths of addiction for several years. Clearly, if you have read so far, you’ll understand I was mostly searching for a career that would support my lifestyle.
But that was then. I sought help when I needed it — or when my back was against the wall — and consider the lessons learned in the various support group clubrooms some of the most valuable guidance I have ever received.
In recent years, I haven’t really drank very much booze. I can’t recall the last time I was drunk. It just doesn’t interest me. So I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve seen a lot of friends not be able to kick bad habits. And they’ve either died, or their lives have been wrecked on the shoals of over indulgence.
So here I am. At 60.
I’m a survivor, but I’m also still looking for challenges.
I am fortunate enough that my parents were frugal and managed to live through an era when investments could be very lucrative over time. We were a middle-class family. My father was in the army and my mother looked after me and the household.
My parents were older than those of my friends. My mom and dad couldn’t have kids of their own and adopted me when I was three months old from an alcoholic wretch in New Brunswick. I say that because I met my birth mother later in life and she was truly a mess. But she loved me and I kept in touch with her, right until her death in her early-70s a few years ago.
My adoptive parents are now also both dead. And I am able to live in semi-retirement as a result of the inheritance they left me. I am blessed for that. While I am not wealthy, I can live comfortably and take on freelance work that appeals to me.
I also have some time to help out community groups and organizations.
So here I am at 60.
Living with two cats I adopted from a rescue service in Brandon in a nice apartment overlooking Yellowknife Bay. I have a girlfriend who works in local media and we enjoy hanging out together. We just can’t discuss politics. Nope, never discuss politics.
I’m comfortable knowing I’m just where I need to be at the time I need to be here.
I do miss my friends, who mostly live in Manitoba. I haven’t been able to get there to see them as often as I’d like, as I am on a budget.
Should I take on a full-time job again? Sure, if one comes along. But not full-time media. Maybe in communications. Or selling cars. I did that for a while before moving up here and it was a good job.
Should I take on more volunteer work? Not right now.
Should I go and brush the cats? Yes.
Happy birthday to me. I’ve made it to 60.