It's dark when I get to work now. The summer passed so fast. Now I'm watching the leaves turn and planning work travel. I have always had to perform. When you are a research scientist the main way of communicating is presenting your research at conferences and meetings. I have two trips planned in the next six months. One to California and one to Austin, Texas.
The Austin trip is big. It's the annual American Meteorological Society (AMS) dog and pony show/annual meeting. The first time I presented my research was back at an AMS conference in Clearwater Beach, FL in June 1984. I was just a kid. A scared kid who had no idea what he didn't know. The last time I attended the annual meeting was 2009 and I suddenly realized that I wasn't the kid anymore. I was the guy on PhD dissertation committees "guiding" young scientists on their way to knowing what they don't know. I also became acutely aware of the passing of my mentors and how the field of meteorology had changed over the last thirty years. At the AMS in January I will be connecting with some of my favorite students from past years. It's really the only reason I'm going. I'm not a big fan of the meeting. It's huge and I hate commercial airline flights.
I find myself at a crossroad. It seems I'm surrounded by reminders that there are more years behind me than there are in front of me. On Saturday I was helping someone work through some pole moves that would get them out of an inverted crucifix and I realized that I was going to have to buy a chrome pole because I will no longer be dancing or performing on brass. Then I got another one of those creepy "What for?" moments. Like the last time I put new blades on my skates. The thought came to me that by the time the steel on the new blades could not be sharpened anymore I would probably not be able to play ice hockey.
Back in March I expressed some reservations to my former pole dance teacher about partnered pole dancing. There aren't many pole dancers my age, let alone ones who want to take ballet classes and work on pas de deux. When Balanchine started working with the great ballerina Suzanne Farrell he was in his 50's and Suzanne was nineteen. I was uncomfortable with the parallels. When I read about Balanchine dancing the role of Don Quixote himself with Suzanne after leaving so many wives for his young new ballerinas/muses I felt sorry for him. When I see a guy in his 60's driving a Corvette with a woman half his age in the front seat I always hope it's his daughter. My teacher was comforting and told me that Rudolf Nureyev was much younger than Dame Margot Fonteyn and that she kept dancing because he inspired her. He extended her career and some of the greatest ballet ever performed came in the autumn of Margot Fonteyn's life. For them it was all about the art.
The question in my mind as I stand here at the crossroads is, When have you stayed too long? When do you start looking like a person trying desperately to turn back a clock that has already struck twelve?
Do I buy a new dance pole and start all over with a dancer who has wanted to partner with me for over a year? Do I rent the ice for next summer so that the old gang and I can play pick up ice hockey? Do I buy those books on technical writing and hydrology so that I can be a better scientist and communicator? Do I take on more new students? Do I just bag it, retire, and move on to a quieter life without competition and drama?
Picking a direction at this new crossroad is going to take some soul searching and courage. The way I see it both roads look rough.
"It's easy to get buried in the past. When you try to make a good thing last." from the song Ambulance Blues by Neil Young
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