Bill Taylor was memorably critical of Salut!'s decision to publish occasional guest columns. So what better way could there be of expressing his disapproval than to write his second such contribution, this time on the importance of feeling upbeat about being 60? Accepted with glee, not least because it - and Bill's apparent struggle, even at 50, to climb a few steps on the Great Wall of China - make Salut! feel young
Turning 60 last month proved to be a non-event. The day dawned and there it was - or there I was. The same as I had been the day before. It finally struck me that with everyone around me taking my age in their stride, I could hardly continue making a fuss over it myself.
The final couple of weeks of being 59 had been rather fraught. The proximity of that seventh decade was daunting. In spite of all the clichés about 60 being the new 40, as far as I was concerned, 60 was 60 and it seemed, for want of a better word, getting on for ancient. A time to start thinking of retirement and pensions. Both of which are such old words. I felt as if the passage from one decade to another couldn't help but make me feel different. But it didn't.
I'd never before had a problem with ages ending in a zero - 50 passed as painlessly as 40. Thirty, I hardly remember. I had a bit of a problem when I hit 39. That was my first mid-life crisis. Or possibly my only one - they've flowed together so seamlessly since as to be hard to distinguish one from another. I quickly learned to treat them rather like a half-tamed horse. The key was not to be thrown but to stay in the saddle and enjoy the ride. And for the most part I have.
Anyway, having finally given up trying to hold my birthday in abeyance and instead accepting the depredations of anno domini (while making an appointment to have the blond streaks in my hair touched up), I've bitten the bullet - preferable to firing it through the roof of my mouth and calling "tide's out" on my sea of troubles. I'm now taking early retirement from the Toronto Star, where I've worked for the past 23 years.
I'm not sure when my final day will be/ Some time in the late summer, I imagine. But I've already started to clean out my desk. Walking down from the fifth floor newsroom to Human Resources on the second floor to put in my application for what is a quite generous voluntary-separation package felt strange. Almost like stage-fright. Walking back (even at this age, I try only to use elevators for double-figure trips) felt much better: almost as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
It was heartening, too, that no one told me I was making a terrible mistake or asked, "What on earth will you do with yourself?"
Instead, there were congratulations, handshakes and: "What will you do first?"
The assumption seemed to be that I would reinvent myself. I'm not sure how far this holds true. I am, objectively and in all modesty, as a writer of journalism still at the top of my game. There's no diminution - not yet, anyway - of my skills. I'd hate to think I was getting out because I had to. I already have the promise of as much freelance work as I can handle.
I do hope to become more deeply involved in photography, especially the production of photo books. There's also the possibility (no more than that at the moment) of a conventional book deal. It might even stretch to two books, I'm not sure. And I'll continue to travel, though perhaps not as much as some people seem to expect. I agree less and less with Robert Louis Stevenson that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive. Unless you're on a comfortable train, there's little or nothing hopeful about the process; I just want to get there.
Besides, freelance travel writing pays very badly and you tend to find yourself on junkets, looking at what everyone else is looking at. I don't play terribly well with others.
So, reinvention? It feels more like realignment, a shifting of perspective and the chance to do things for a change on my terms rather than someone else's. And whenever possible, to take the pictures for my own stories. It'll be easier to find the time for lunches that meander through the afternoon and joyfully segue into dinner, though I imagine I'll still get out of bed no later in the morning.
But who knows what I'll end up doing or where I'll end up doing it? There'll still be regular money coming in, though my company pension doesn't start until I turn 62. By then, I might even be able to face the words "pension" and "retirement" with a certain equanimity. Either that, or I'll be into a late mid-life crisis.
Ride 'em, cowboy!