Turning 44 today doesn't lead me to much reflection on the past 12 months. Mostly I'm focused on the road ahead. That's a benefit of having a birthday in January, I guess: I'm inclined to see the day as a chance to plan ahead.
So what's the plan for Year 44?
Certainly I hope to use my spring sabbatical as a chance to start building the structure of a book on world's fairs I've long been threatening to write. I'll start with an essay on the 2010 Shanghai Fair, while also sketching more detail into the framework of the overall book project.
I'm not yet thinking about securing a publisher, though. Heck, I'm not sure that the traditional publishing model works anymore - either in terms of remuneration or in terms of flexibility to deliver content in a compelling way. So I'll spend some time contemplating form as well as content. Without the stresses of tenure and promotion to freeze my imagination, I feel no need to reproduce past accomplishments. I want to try something new.
I'm also fired up about the opportunity to lead student groups to Beijing and Salzburg this summer. I feel so lucky to return to parts of the world that continue to fascinate me. Yet I'm aware of the complexity of the tasks I've chosen to tackle. Some of spring will therefore be dedicated to necessary preparations - even as I work on a potential plan to augment my China travels with an odd but potentially amazing side trip (more news on that topic later).
Year 44 will also include plenty of other travels in the U.S., most notably a cross-country solo road trip that may inspire a video about animated neon signs (You know, the stuff you see at motels, bowling alleys, and diners). Jenny and I will likely return to Yosemite too, hoping to climb Half Dome. And there's always time for a Highway 163 sojourn. Monument Valley never ceases to quiet my soul.
I also look forward to friends coming to California this year as we prepare to celebrate Vienna's nuptials in fall. I have a pretty clear idea of how Jenny will manage that particular transition. For myself, I am less sure. I'm hopeful that my daughter is embarking on a wonderful adventure. Still I can't quite shake a father's anxieties.
In the interstitial moments between big changes, I hope to read some of the books that have been piling up on night stands and lamp tables around our house. While my mind has hardly stagnated in these past busy years, I feel an acute need to rethink old ideas, perhaps to jettison a few altogether. One gift I offer myself today is the assurance that I may continue to change my mind.
Most importantly, though, I spend more time with good friends this year. Indeed I've read recently that failure to nourish genuine friendships constitutes one of the great regrets many folks discover when they near death. I don't foresee a chance to prove that theory any time soon. I merely hope to refresh those relationships that are mutually meaningful.
Here I emphasize my aim to be less concerned about folks for whom friendship is divvied according to utility or convenience. I hope to be kind and helpful to acquaintances, of course. But my fondest hope is to be a better friend to those people who have added so much to my life - both when it's easy and when it's hard.
No doubt my 44th year will include plenty of both.