The Day Before Turning 60

January 9 into 10, 2021

59, as it turns out, was a hard year; a bad year? I’m not sure. I’m not sure 58 was so much better — It didn’t start that way; Dad’s death; the big artistic setback of the same time — but 58 had its producing highlights (when I used to think about producing highlights. Guess what? I still do!) Flash forward to this year of pandemic struggle; cascading crises; an organizational coup; a White Supremacist riot. My final week of 59 was spent catching up on medical appointments — too many — with the Capitol insurrection sandwiched in the middle. A Covid Test on Monday (came back negative Friday morning); Tuesday, the one good writing day (god bless); Wednesday, dentist, chiropractor, Trader Joe’s (always a strategic ordeal, bordering on a surgical strike); Thursday shingles vaccination from my primary care doc who refers me to a hand specialist for x-rays on my right middle finger, injured (sprained, not broken, it turns out) packing up the back of the Prius in Chicago with too much frozen Romanian kosher meat in one grocery tote bad wrapped sideways around a finger idiotically; gruesome Colonoscopy electrolyte prep Thursday along with flu-like reactions to the shingles shot; and then Friday’s colonoscopy (want the details? TMI! — I’ll be back for more fun soon enough with a different prep). The upshot: There’s a good reason to avoid 6 medical visits in a week! But there’s a better reason to submit. Submit I did. Depressed I got! But I’ve rallied, last night and all day today. Why? Cause I got a great family. And great friends.

Sports teaches us the value of losing. All athletes lose some times. Artists too. Politicians? We’re just barely enduring one who has Not A Clue — a Loser his entire life, though he’s never admitted it once; he’s learned to accept nothing. We of the Good Fight have no choice but to learn from loss. We learn and must choose among the lessons loss teaches. I’ve lost as much as I’ve won this year — and last year too — and that’s a batting average that amounts to, what we call in The Theater, “Mixed Reviews“ — a mottled scorecard; nobody’s idea of a Hit — But then a fine batting average in baseball is 333% (out of 1000%). Outs are more common. Every ball player knows this. Harold Clurman knew it too. “You need the flops to have the hit! The flops are our manure!” There’s been so much to appreciate this difficult year, and so much to rue. The fracturing of community (my community, at least — its diminishment); the evaporation of our industry; the refortification of resolve. It’s been a year of reckoning, personal and collective; racial; existential. This new decade will be different for our nation — we’ve voted in Change of the Healing kind. Will Biden realize its promise? Will we sabotage our chance to move everyone forward? I am holding onto what I’ve learned about being less reactive; letting anger die, and righteous fury simmer. There is fire and there is fortitude and there remains a bounty of fortunate blessings.

Today was a day of forgetting the hardness. There was a walk in Rock Creek Park with Katie and Evachan — There was working on the house with workmen — them patching the roof around the 3rd floor half-moon window; re-caulking the tub, the sink; fixing the leak from the 2nd floor shower; the leak from the backyard to the basement; there’s a metaphor here. From medical check-ups to the household patchwork: ’Tis the time to batten down hatches! And then there’s a time to buy pillar candles from Crate and Barrell. And make fresh fried oysters and rare Ahi Tuna with black sesame seeds and cracked pepper, prepared by a brilliant chef, who doubles as CEO, wife, mom, sister, daughter and is spectacularly good and generous and a fabulous partner and source of strength and stability.

There was playwriting business throughout the morning into the afternoon, and there was a Magruder’s run after Rock Creek to restock the Liquor cabinet for the first time in 15 years — I bought 3 vodkas (Stoli for the father-in-law; mango vodka for the fun of it, and Absolut to support the economy of Sweden); gin, rum, Cuervo silver, vino verde, crem de framboise for Sophie — and tartar sauce for the fried oysters (which were better than Buck’s Fishing and Camping and that’s saying something). Had 2 screwdrivers and one amber St. Michael’s beer watching the Washington Football Team. Thoroughly enjoyed that competitive game, and between that walk and the shopping and dinner and the game, I got in an amazing bubble and mineral salt bath with 5 candles flanking the tub and no lights on, as the steam rose up from my knees; I love when that happens.

So as rough as the year was — as hard as it’s been — today was a dream day; a fabulous end of one passage, and a gentle entry to a new one. January 10 is a happy, poignant day of surprise; it always has been. There are yahrzeits aplenty this month, and there’ve been great bar-mitzvah anniversaries to remember (I can vividly recall my first college birthday as well, throwing up 6 times from bad dormitory lettuce in Alice Lloyd Hall with the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy For the Devil” playing on a loop all night long). There’s a hard-won Inauguration Parade for a tiny phalanx coming up in 10 days; I can’t wait for Joe & Jill (Dr. Jill) to set us back on a responsible track.

I too will have announcements to make after Inauguration Day. Every birthday for the past 5 years I’ve been fundraising for the theater — and Facebook reminds me how much I raised last year, and the year before that, and the year before that… This year of 60, I’m not doing any fundraising. Yet. Let’s wait till after the impeachment. After inauguration day. And then let’s get back to building something collective — with new learning — new partnerships — with fierceness, gentleness, and contemplation-power guiding the way forward. I’m exciting about what’s coming up from within. I’m excited for renewal. I’m appreciative for this break in the action. I don’t mind losing some games, like tonight’s against the TB Buccaneers. It’s a loss that sets us on the right course for next season. So be it. Happy birthday to all the theater people I share this day with; Leila Buck and Derek Goldman, and maybe others. Mostly, I share this day with my family; sisters, brothers-in-law, mom (and dad in memory); in-laws, cousins, and of course, the best daughters ever invented, and aforementioned wife, gardener, tennis partner, fundraiser (much better than me), cook, reader, gift giver, and more. I’m grateful to be here, and ready for the next vaccination. And the road ahead.

Ari Roth is an award winning playwright, producer, and winner of the 2017 DC Mayor's Arts Award for Visionary Leadership.