David Robbins: I am turning the ominous age of 50 -- how the hell did that happen?
By the time you read this, I will have turned 50. I will be the other side of an invisible line, standing beside a sign which reads: "It's all downhill from here."
Turning 30, or even 40, did not bother me. Indeed, as I write, I still describe myself as "in my mid to late 40s".
But the five and the zero are coming to get me and there is something about those two digits that is more ominous than the others.
The other day, I mentioned my birthday to a friend. "I had mine last year," he said. He did not mark the occasion, except by going into a three-day sulk.
"It's just that you know that unless you're very lucky -- or they invent something amazing -- you're well over the halfway mark," he said gloomily.
When I was in my 20s, I made a list of life goals. I wanted to be a columnist on a national newspaper. I wanted to be happily married and have a family. I wanted to write a book.
If I did these things, I thought back then, I would be cool and famous. Women would want me, I thought, and men would want to be me.
There were other possible versions of me available, mind you. There was the scenario in which I entered Foreign Affairs and became a cross between 007 and the Irish ambassador to France.
Or the one in which I practised as a top barrister, saving prisoners from the gallows and taking on powerful despots.
Life seemed full of possibilities. Watching something on TV would prompt the almost automatic internal response: "I could do that."
Tennis, rugby, literature? Sure, if I really trained and practised and worked hard, why not? I could win junior Wimbledon/an Irish cap/the Booker Prize.
As life goes on, these half-open doors blow shut. Not because of anything you do, but because you don't do anything.
Time passes. You're engrossed in things. Stuff happens. And before you know it, it's half over. Life, as they say, is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.
In many ways, I feel exactly the same on the cusp of 50 as I did on the cusp of 40. I feel wiser, but not older, I suppose.
In your 20s, you burst upon the world like something shot out of a canon. Everything is bent upon moving forward at speed. There's not much time for musing on the beauty of existence.
But one of the advantages of getting older is that, by definition, you have more life experience. Your trajectory slows. Your focus widens. You can look about you more.
You tend to get involved in things outside yourself -- community things, perhaps, or charities. You see one or two aspects of life that need a little care and you give it.
You come to understand that things come in cycles. You have seen most things before and therefore do not get blown over by the latest gust of wind from London or New York.
You are calmer. You drink alcohol more slowly. You drive more slowly. Your mill grinds more slowly, but it grinds more finely too.
As my birthday approached (I'm on the cusp between Virgo and Libra, if you must know), I realised that I had done many of those things on that list I compiled in my 20s.
I have a column on a national paper. I am happily married. I have a daughter. (Don't mention the book, okay?) It's just that they feel differently to the way I thought they would. Better, mostly, but not in that ego-boosting way I had anticipated.
I have decided to celebrate this state of affairs, rather than lamenting it. I am having a party at which I shall feel only barely qualified to talk to the adults.
And when it's over, I really must get down to the serious business of deciding what I want to be when I'm grown up.