Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/11/2012

And now, for something completely different

A NEW REALITY SHOW: “The Meaning of Life”

I’m waiting for a new show
on Reality TV, a show that will
declare “the meaning of life” once for all.
The name of the show, I suggest,
will be “Sixty is the New Forty,”
and in order to maintain reality,
this show will be available
only on pay-per-view, and
only to those subscribers who are
exactly either sixty or forty years of age.
You’ll have to present
a government-issued photo ID
to view the show
(a nod to the elitist,
exclusivist, intransigently
segregationist Republicans
who will immediately see it as
another luxury for the one percent).

the old 40

the old 40

What can possibly be the difference
between sixty and forty? you might ask.
As every mathematician knows (I only quote them–
I do not pretend to understand, which would
ruin the possibility of it being “reality TV”),
reality (in numbers, at any rate)
“may be either rational or irrational.” ** (see footnote)
The new TV show will focus on the irrational.

When I was young, being forty meant
you had settled into a routine of life designed
to provide you with the maximum benefit
for the minimum amount of effort
(unless you were a Type-A personality
and could never settle for less).
I, at sixty-seven, am allowed to write
this poem because at forty I was
a practicing drunk and was exerting
the maximum amount of effort
for the minimum amount of benefit;
I’m a “Baire space. . . used as
a surrogate for the real.”

Being forty meant your body had begun
to need upkeep, similar to the house you had
bought when you were thirty—unfairly a house
that had had one owner because you could not
yet afford a brand new one. And your body, at
forty, felt more like a fixer-upper than a mansion.
“Reality” in those days was “used to measure
continuous quantities,” and in those days
sixty “represented a quantity along a continuum.”
Gliding along the continuum, you collected
stuff in your pension fund until you reached at least
the two-hundred and forty thousand dollars
they told you would be needed
for medical expenses in you old age.
Or, because your effort was too minimal,
you didn’t reach the maximal benefit by
age sixty, and you were in trouble
(or about to be).
So you worked to keep your body up–
a little golf, a little sunning on the beach,
a vacation in Hawaii now and then,
and–for the daring–a facelift or two.
And this minimal effort was sufficient
to allow you to begin actively to prepare
for retirement when you reached sixty
because it was but five years away after that.

And that’s what sixty meant—its “construction start[ed]
with a proper class that contain[ed] every ordered field.”

Now, I understand, forty means you have
not yet (or are about to) hit your stride.
Running about ferociously, you attain the status of
the hyper real. The hyper real
“extends the set of the real. . by infinitesimal numbers,”
and you see your forty-hour work week extend to forty-one,
then forty-two, then forty-three, then forty-four, and then
(by the time you are sixty) sixty.
You know what that entails. You have discovered, at age sixty,
that “real[ity is] uncountable, that is, there are
strictly more real [years] than natural [years],
even though both sets are infinite.”
Then you have to do drastic upkeep on your body–
aerobics, Pilates, marathons, power-walking, triathlons,
the Tour de France and its requisite
performance enhancing drugs.

And so, at sixty, you have reached the new forty.
You are working harder than ever, you are racing
about believing that both your body (with its meticulous
upkeep and a few shots of Botox now and then) and your
mind (with its knowledge of the “the affinely ***
extended real [years] system [that] adds two elements”
–greed and frenzy) will live forever.
Or at least until eighty, the new sixty, when you can begin
to plan for retirement because it’s only five years away.

You are racing along two parallel lines that have “some
topological properties (connectedness) that are
a technical inconvenience.”
The first line is irrational greed and frenzy.
The parallel line is rational.
(Please forgive my sermonizing.)
But you have not had time for that.

(Pardon my sermonizing.)
Your body, while you pretend it hasn’t,
has changed, and had you paid attention,
you could have learned to love the change.
This decaying body is loveable,
it’s not a machine to be driven,
it’s not a slave to make you money,
it’s not a trap to ensnare sex partners,
it’s not a shell to protect your private, vulnerable self from intimacy.
And even with your marathon upkeep, it is fragile.

(Pardon my sermonizing.)
You have not had time to notice that, in the slowed down moments,
your mind can house more beautiful, more important, more ambiguous,
more perplexing, more tolerant, more loving thoughts
than any forty-year-old mind can imagine.

(Pardon my sermonizing.)
You have not noticed that you are something akin
to what some might call your spirit.
Ineffable. Holy. Quiet.
Connected to everything–even your greed and frenzy.
That is so mysterious I don’t believe it most of the time.
But the moments I know it, I know it completely.

the new 67

the new 67

Now I’m sixty-seven, an eon past forty
a period past sixty, my experience having moved
without notice from the Ordovician to the Cambrian.
“A real number is a value that represents a quantity along a continuum,”
and I would not be forty again for anything,
not even if it were the new sixty.
Because more than anything I cherish my knowledge
that I will die,
that I will become once again a part of everything,
that I will be allowed finally to stop worrying, thinking, working,
frenzying, greeding, flailing about to protect my small somethingness.
I’m in no hurry for that to happen (I’ve got a lot of living to do).
I had no idea when I was forty, or even sixty I’d know that.
But now it is my most precious reality. It’s not a TV show.

** (footnote)
Almost all quotations are from Wikipedia.
I will not bother you by being specific
which are and are not.
“Reality TV” forbids such precision
of meaning or accuracy.
*** of or pertaining to a transformation
that maps parallel lines to parallel lines
and finite points to finite points.


  1. this is good. really good. you are at a new place.


  2. Marvelous.



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