Oh, and I grew a beard this past month for the first time in my life. I should have led all this with THAT news.
* * * *
Last month I posted my annual birthday essay in which I searched for a possible correspondence between my age and the equivalent element on the periodic table; this year I am 54, and xenon is the 54th element.
As I explained, it is an idea that I credit to the late Dr. Oliver Sacks from one of the last essays, “My Periodic Table,” (here’s the link; subscription required) that he published before his death.
Some friends took me out to dinner the night before my birthday, which was very kind, and one of them asked me whether I had written anything recently. Whenever I live a year like 2022, the one we are about to see off, a year in which I wrote little and published less, I will admit to you that my replies to this friendly question can sometimes make me sound like a job applicant who knows there is nothing he can say to win the job: for several months in 2022 my answer has been, “No, I haven’t written much, but I’ve been learning how to edit video …” and my voice would trail off in the direction that I perceived my questioner’s attention had drifted off toward.
But on my birthday, I had indeed written something, and I explained the age=element concept to my friends, several of whom are between the ages of 24-30, and told them that this is a series that I have undertaken for several years. It elicited the unmistakable sounds of their approval for my clever brain: an “ooooohhhh” seemed to come from each one of them.
And then one of them asked, “How many more elements are there? Are there enough?”
I thanked her for her wish that I live a long life. (There are 118.)
Perhaps the moment says more about our current science education system than anything else, or more likely the question reflected the thought that my writing ideas may be quite a bit out of step with those of anyone in his or her or their early twenties. My social media accounts reflect my chronological age in an exquisite commentary: thousands of followers on Twitter, hundreds of friends on Facebook, low triple digits on Instagram, and twenty-three on TikTok.
I resided in four different addresses through 2022. I’m like the human version of 10 Downing Street with its parade of PMs this year. I’ve had almost as many homes as TikTok followers, which is not a positive development for either.
My landlord from 2019 through the two COVID years decided last New Year’s Day to sell the house we both lived in and move out of state. He sold the house the same week that he placed the ad for it in January 2022. Here in New Paltz, a friend reached out to me with a proposition: He was about to purchase his first house, so would I be interested in renting part of the downstairs for a studio apartment of sorts? I said yes. It took several months for his mortgage to be approved, however. I moved from my home since 2019 to the house that my friend who was trying to buy a home was renting, and then when his lease expired in May, I moved to a kind friend’s home (house number three), where I was adopted by her cat. Here’s a video:
And then when my friend’s mortgage was approved and the purchase went through in July, I moved into the studio apartment here. For most of this autumn, I think I replayed the slowly unfolding move from January to July pretty much hourly, including in my dreams. In my new home! This was not a choice on my part, of course, and I think it was understandable … at least most of my friends said they understood. I had met the several-month challenge with cheer (I hope) and with appreciation toward my many kind friends who helped with moves one through three, and now it was time to fall into a “can’t wake before 11 a.m.”-type depression.
And of course my comedy-partner friend vanished the very week I moved into the final address, which no doubt contributed to my depression. I hope she is well.
Of course, I am aware that my foibles this year are comically small compared to the many larger problems and even horrors around us. I have Ukrainian friends. A lifetime ago, I travelled to Europe, to the U.S.S.R. specifically, as a college student. It was 1989. I saw Moscow and Kyiv (it was then spelled as Kiev) and other cities, all a part of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Each Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Byelorussian that I met treated me with an almost familial instant warmth in every circumstance.
I witnessed several moments in my few days in Kyiv that showed me the powerful and unassuming fortitude that we now see every day in Ukraine through whichever news source one uses.
I live in upstate New York near the Catskill Mountains, where there is a large population of native Ukrainians and people of Ukrainian descent. It is a large enough population that it is served here by several major resorts; I attended a Ukrainian wedding at one of the resorts. I hope the war ends sooner rather than later, but I especially hope it ends with Ukraine whole and able to rebuild.
And so we meet the new year. The tentativeness that I felt characterized my 2021, gave way to a 2022 in which I was required to decide large-ish things like where I would and could live and to whom I would pay rent. Of course it had to unfold like that. I am grateful to many friends and a former friend for this memorable year.
Oh, and I grew a beard this past month for the first time in my life. I should have led all this with THAT news:
Happy New Year 2023 to you all!
Mark Aldrich is a journalist, award-winning humor columnist, and writer/performer with the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio comedy improv group, now in its thirty-second season:
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