By any standard of measurement more recent than that of Paleolithic man, I am — at 28 years old — very much in the prime of my life.
Recently, however, wistfulness started to wrap its first tendrils around my brain when I realized that, try as I might, I can't see shapes in clouds anymore.
Growing up, of course, my mind could sculpt the skies with a skill that Michelangelo would have applauded. Within seconds of looking up, I would see fleets of pirate ships, squadrons of dragons and vaporous giants by the hundreds.
Now, I can stare into the blue until my eyes sting, but all I see is so much suspended water. Of course, it's always possible that I've just had a run of bad, uncooperative clouds, but I have the sinking suspicion that isn't the case.
To some people, becoming less skilled in this particular area might seem like a nonissue or maybe a much-needed sign that I'm finally shrugging off the idle fancies of youth. I say that, if this is part of being an adult, I'd gladly give up being able to eat cookies and gummy bears for dinner in favor of giving my mind's eye the Lasik surgery it apparently needs so desperately.
It's not that I worry that this means I'm becoming an uncreative, soulless shell of a person. After all, as a writer and musician, I'm hardly lacking for creative outlets. But there's a sense of whimsical aimlessness to cloud-gazing that is painful to lose.
Cloud-gazing is something you do while lying on your back in a field on a sunny day when you could presumably be doing something productive. It meets no quotas. It pays no bills. It is -- in no uncertain terms -- utterly pointless, which coincidentally is what makes it so rewarding.
Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." The ability to make-believe is the source of the human artistic well-spring, and seeing mine weaken is sad, to say the least.
It doesn't help that this realization came just weeks before my nephew Clark's second birthday. I desperately hope that, to him, the wall between the real and the fantastic is permeable, bordering on nonexistent, and that clouds are a never-ending source of enjoyment for him.
For now, his ability to tell me things is still fairly limited, but I hope that someday soon, he'll be able to look up and help me find dragons again. I'm starting to miss them.
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...