A Birthday Milestone

GenX woman shrugs through turning 50, contemplates longevity, dreads death by New Orleans pothole

At the end of December, I turned half a century years old. I hit this milestone without much fanfare like many of my generation X peers — that’s those of us born between 1965 and 1980. Yes, I’m aware not all GenXers are alike and many probably did it up for their 50th jetting off on international vacations, throwing over-the-top bashes and raking in the presents. That’s cool; you do you. However — if you believe in the existence of a generational essence or ethos to begin with — I’m the latch-key kid, whatever, “irony and gloom” (as Jason Wilson once so aptly described us in a 2019 Guardian op ed), nonconformist, non-consumerist, often skeptical, sometimes cynical, authority-resistant, subversive, just wants to be left alone brand of GenXer. This translates to a more laid-back vibe for most major life moments.

It’s probably not shocking then to learn I started my 50th year with yoga, meditation and breathwork, then feasted on cupcakes for breakfast, because balance. Later, highlights included a nature walk at Couturie Forest and a quiet dinner at Boucherie with my husband and bestie. Because I assume people forget birthdays wedged between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (a very GenX attitude), the surprising, yet delightful deluge of calls, texts and social media well-wishes from friends and family made me feel quite loved and celebrated, sans the more public display of a party. All-in-all, my 50th birthday was a modest, minimally consumerist, non-event and exactly how I wanted to enter my next half century — assuming I have the longevity of the majority of my family.

The longevity thing has set the tone for this second part of my existence. Barring terminal illness and freak accidents — especially as a resident of New Orleans with its above average number of sinkholes, potholes, building collapses, crime and brain-eating amoeba-related water boil advisories — I might not go out until age 92 to 100 like two of my grandparents and two of my great-grandparents. If that’s the case, I want to do everything within my control to stay creative, live according to my ideals and retain reasonable health and vitality. I know what you are thinking. It isn’t possible to live a health-centered life in South Louisiana, because of the too-numerous-to-list forces and hurdles working against us. I’m looking at you Cancer Alley, climate change disasters, dangerous wildlife and Carnival season. As we all know Carnival season is perhaps the most challenging obstacle of all, due to infinite king cakes, boozin’ and greasy, fried parade route cuisine. Challenging, yes, but not impossible.  

But I digress. I have gradually conjured not only the creative, values-based life I dared to hope for myself as a discontented pre-teen, but also one that is wellness-focused. It’s based in cultivating a mind-body-spirit balance via Buddhist principles, yoga and ayurveda (the sister life science of yoga) and living in tune with (and respecting) nature. As many who’ve been reading Bon Vivant for a while know, I also gave up the drinking arts a couple of years ago to level up my health (and creative) efforts. That booze-free life likely sounds dull to some, but I still have fun, adventure and shenanigans — essential ingredients for a well-lived life. Bonus: I now remember the fun, adventure and shenanigans much better and don’t feel like a garbage goblin the next day. Not only that, but in our booze-forward culture, not drinking is one of the most nonconformist things a person could do (or not do, as it were). As mentioned, nonconformity is in alignment with my personal GenX-ified philosophy, which I hate to admit I lost sight of for a decade or so while clawing my way up the career ladder. Materialism shared the spotlight with conformity during that time and — spoiler alert — neither lead me to peace and contentment. Quite the opposite. In case you are wondering, leaving the world of major daily newspapers in medium and large cities to work as a journalist for a small publishing company in a small media market with astronomical housing prices is an antidote to avarice. Meanwhile, if my current boss reads this, he can vouch that my resistance to authority is alive and well, albeit well-managed, the latter of which may come as a surprise to some of my former bosses.  

How stunning that at 50, my life looks the way I always wanted it to look, with the detours amounting to very little in the overall trajectory of getting here. My health is better than ever, especially given my sometimes-misspent youth (and considerable part of my adulthood); I’m surrounded by good, kind humans who love and support me; and I have a fun, creative job that doesn’t slowly crush my independent (far from teen) spirit. That last part about my job is particularly good stuff, because, in the immortal words of Lloyd Dobler, “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.”

For the most part, other than the world burning down around us, I’m living the GenX dream, including the bit about just being (metaphorically) left alone. If I don’t meet my demise in a New Orleans pothole (I probably will), Earth doesn’t implode (it probably will) and I’m blessed with the longevity of my ancestors, my *latch-key elder years are shaping up to be low-key golden. Or not, whatever, I guess what I’m really trying to say is it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.    

Are you a middle aged GenXer muddling through existential (and death by pothole) dread? Or do you think GenXers are just a bunch of Karens? Email me to discuss at melanie@myneworleans.com.      

(*Shoutout to my friend and fellow GenXer, artist Carlton Scott Sturgill for coining the term latch-key elder. Pure genius.)

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