The Big 4-0


Today I turn 40, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

I am not one of those people who dreads getting older, thankfully. I will take the wisdom of age over the dumb folly of youth any day (though perhaps you ought to check in with me again at the big 6-0). I do not nostalgically pine away for some lost glory; I'm in better physical shape, more self-actualized and unapologetic than at any prior point in life. So far, it only gets better and better.

Anyway, I've always looked older than I was, which perhaps aids me in accepting the aging process. This was a great advantage back when I was 14 and buying cigarettes at the 7-11 (though I quit cold-turkey years ago and now urge everyone, 'Don't smoke!'), or when I was 19 buying beer at the drugstore off-campus (but I still drink, thanks). It was more of a hindrance in my early 20s when I was trying to play the cute young twink but never really able to pull it off. At the age of 40, I think I'm finally catching up to myself. Those cute young guys are finally looking at me… albeit not as a peer but as, er, 'Daddy'. Hmmm.

Just as I did last year, I'm spending a small chunk of time on my actual birthday engaged in writing. Over this past year, my life-priorities have continued to shake out, leaving writing at the top of the list. Thanks to these many years of experience as 'astrobarry', developing a self-disciplined writing practice that has now yielded three books plus close to six hundred weekly-horoscope columns (which, multiplied by twelve signs, equals nearly 7,200 individual horoscopes!), I have the confidence to begin working on the other non-astrology-related books I've got up my sleeve. I expect to be in full production mode on these authorial goodies in time for my Uranus opposition (or 'mid-life-crisis' transit) in 2017-18.

As I assume many of my predecessors have experienced at this milestone, my arrival at 40 also brings a heightened level of awareness of mortality… though I do not recoil at the concept as much as many do. My astrological makeup features four planets in the 8th house, which pretty much aligns with the fact that I've been fairly obsessed with death from a young age, not from a place of fear but as a constant reminder to make the most of life, no endless waiting for the 'perfect' time to act and no regrets. Just last week, as I was digesting my imminent turning-forty-ness, I caught wind of the shocking news that a beloved colleague and acquaintance dropped dead of sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 38. (RIP, Eddy.) That, of course, could've been me. Or you. Or anybody we know. This came on the heels of the passing of the single most magical man I've ever met, in a spectacular house fire (what a way to go, Randy) that his partner of many years managed to survive… and right before that, the tragic death of a childhood friend's mom after an accidental fall (thinking of you, Robin).

There's nothing special about these tales, except that they happened to people I personally knew. Each of us has our own long list of life-endings to grieve, and also to celebrate. Death will claim all of us, one week or another. I choose to embrace this reality on a daily basis, more consciously than ever as I and my loved ones get older and gradually approach our turn at the top of the list, rather than pushing it away. The reality of life and death is not a grim one; it just is. My perpetual consciousness of it rouses me to try and appreciate every moment, just as I did yesterday morning while enjoying a cuddle-fest with my partner Ricky and my fur-baby JoJo. I am grateful for that moment, and many others like it.

The other awareness that's flooded me this week, interestingly, is the impossible-to-ignore reality of global climate change. It is one thing to read scientists' future projections about temperature increases or sea-level rises, which we've been exposed to for many years now (to little avail, in terms of 'official' responses); it's entirely another to experience it in one's body. While much of my country is under another polar-vortex-spawned snowstorm and cold snap, we here in northern California are basking in day after day of record heat… while just barely starting to confront the fact that we've gotten no rain and are facing a pretty bad drought. Honestly, in the past, environmental concerns haven't been as immediately important to me as they probably should've. I am an admitted car junkie, and I love to drown myself in long showers. Yet, over the past week or two, as I've walked the balmy streets of San Francisco in January, the weather-vibe in the air feels downright creepy. Something's just not right. I wonder about this 'perfect' weather's interrelatedness with other terrestrial phenomena—the genetic modification of our crops, the increasing rate of species extinction, the Pacific garbage patch, the Fukushima radiation headed straight my way—but cannot fully wrap my head around collective existential questions of this magnitude. Have we been in denial just because we don't want to change our cushy lifestyles, or is it partly due to a psychological inability to process this information?

Considering climate change over these past couple decades, I'd always assumed I would be able to eke out the rest of my modest lifespan without having a direct faceoff with the impending consequences. But at every turn, the theoretical models predicting effects we might see at some point in the future are manifesting in even more dramatic expressions, more quickly than had been assumed. This is indeed happening, and may well be irreversible (at least on any time-scale relevant to humanity).

Though I continue making gradual adjustments to my own lifestyle, with both practical and symbolic intent, I also know these larger currents are beyond my control to redirect… especially as long as there are huge mounds of money to be made by further fueling the destruction of our planet, and governmental entities being paid off to stay out of the fight. As sure as the karmic law of cause-and-effect reigns supreme over our existence, we're contending with the ramifications of having collectively endorsed limitless economic growth at the expense of qualitative assets (such as a healthy environment) which cannot be reductively monetized. Too much Jupiter leads to diseases of excess; lord-of-karma Saturn, therefore, must compensate by imposing constraints.

I refuse to freak out, however, and live my days (whether there are only a couple left or many many more to come) under a black cloud of anticipatory terror. Just as I approach every day with the awareness of inevitable death sitting chirpily upon my shoulder, I am readying myself to face rapidly-changing social circumstances in these years ahead. But in addition to our closer direct contact with pain and suffering, through the inevitable struggle to realign our social structures in the face of growing scarcity, we will also intimately evolve together. Challenging times bring the simultaneous opportunity to emotionally connect, to develop compassion, to nurture relationships based on sharing efforts and resources. We're in this pickle, after all, due in large part to the wastes of too much individualism. As an unwavering believer in the brilliance of human ingenuity, I have great faith we'll find ways to survive and thrive on our changing planet… even if our standards of measure for 'success' are ripe for total overhaul.

In light of all this, I suspect my next 40 years will look quite different from my first 40. Though the curmudgeon in me might prefer to stand on the sidelines complaining about 'the kids these days' and yearning for that simpler time when we weren't bound to our mobile electronic devices, I resist living in the past. Whatever the future brings, at least it won't be boring.

Postscript: In another one of those uncanny synchronicities, within hours of writing this article, I stumbled across this perfect companion piece from another January birthday-boy (SF's own Mark Morford) who felt the same creepy climate-change sensation in his body. Wow. This is the current zeitgeist, people. I've started taking shorter showers.