Less than a week ago I turned 43.
It didn’t phase me.
42 was a learning year. I joked a year ago that I was turning “Life, the universe and everything years old.” At the time I felt panicked and hopeful about my employment situation. I was six months post-layoff. It had been three months since a short-term contract position had ended. I was one month into working part-time retail. 42 – and 2017 – was surely going to bring about the change I was hoping for.
It did. And it didn’t. I didn’t get a full-time career position and continued working retail. But I also felt more comfortable with the freelancing life, finding it fulfilling and rewarding in ways I hadn’t expected it to. Clients have come and gone but everything is more or less working out.
I had planned to write something deep and insightful about turning the page on another personal year, but nothing came to mind. This is life and I’m living it as best I can. It’s all anyone can do.
The only moment when it really hit me was when I was pondering the linguistics of age and numbers. If you’re like me you’ve had opinionated conversations about what number of items constitutes a “couple,” a “few,” “several” and so on. So as I approached 43 I realized that, simply from a numeric grouping and classification point of view, I was now indisputably going to be in my “mid 40s.” That wasn’t so much a shock as it was a reconfiguring of my mindset. It’s not that suddenly I’m going to adopt a whole different set of behaviors. But that reality can’t help but shape my worldview. By any objective measure, I’m middle-aged.
What actually had me pondering the passage of time more concretely was a document I read at work recently. The Chicago Tribune was letting vendors know the price of the daily paper was going to be increasing to $2.50, effective in the new year.
This isn’t about the value of journalism or supporting media institutions that can no longer rely on the advertising market increasingly dominated by Google and Facebook.
No, the announcement of the price increase brought me back to my childhood.
I’ve written before about how my maternal grandfather, with whom I spent many summer and other days, was an avid newspaper reader, always buying each day’s paper instead of subscribing. When he did so, either himself or by sending me and my brother to get it for him, we’d do so either at the convenience store down the street or the nearby newspaper box. For the latter, he’d give us the appropriate coins and we’d put them in the slot then press the button, hoping the machine worked and it would open up so we could retrieve a copy for him. It didn’t always work, in which case an awkward conversation involving the maintenance of said machines would ensue. It usually worked, but those were a nerve-racking few seconds as we waited to see what would happen.
The cost at the time for the weekday Chicago Tribune? $.25.
It is 10 times more expensive to buy access to a print version of the day’s news today than it was just 30 years ago. That’s something. Again, without getting into what that means from a media business model standpoint, am I 10 times the person I was in 1986 in any regard?
Measuring one’s self by an external number like the cost of a newspaper may not be completely accurate or healthy. I know that. It struck me, though, at a time when I’m turning over the calendar on a couple fronts and caused me to evaluate the passage of time.
A lot in my life has changed in the time since the Trib was just a quarter and could be found on many corners, even in the smallest suburb. A lot will change in the next 30 years. There are new adventures, challenges and surprises that will no doubt cause me to look back at the age of 73 and reflect on the world that was when the Tribune was just $2.50.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.