When Did We Get So Old?
Yes, my generation, born between 1946 and 1964, has physical concerns: Friends are dying, joints are aching, and memories are failing. There are financial issues, with forced retirement and unemployment, children needing money and possibly a bed, and dependent parents. But for many of us, it is a psychological quandary that is causing the most unpleasantness: looking around and suddenly being the oldest.
Every generation gets old, but for those who were told we’d be forever young, it just seems more painful. “It’s a huge issue,” says Dr. Anna Fels, a psychiatrist in New York. “I see so many who are trying to adjust their lives to this new phase, which for some reason none of us really pictured ourselves going through.”
Why didn’t we? We knew that eventually more people around us would be younger rather than older. But it still rankles.
This isn’t really a new phenomenon; you can go back to Greek writing to find the old bitching about the young and vice versa, so in a lot of ways this incessant whining amongst Boomers — a generation I generally loathe and will deny to my dying breath that I am a part of — is (like most of what Boomers expound upon) nothing at all new. OTOH, now that I’m actually in my 50s (did I just really type that?) I found the article somewhat resonant.
It’s a tricky thing, getting older. Or “old” I suppose. 50 isn’t nearly the same as it used to be; looking at older movies and even photographs makes 50 in those days look like 70 these days, thanks to far better nutrition, health care, and fewer physical labor-intensive jobs. But bodies still tend to break down and we wrestle with our attitudes as we grow older. For me, I haven’t deteriorated too much; I still have most of the strength and endurance as when I was 30, thanks in most part to daily hard work in the weight room. Probably more, actually, as I’m way more disciplined about working out these days, not to mention drinking far less beer. Still, things have started to go awry. I had to cut short an archaeological survey out in the back country a couple of years ago because my knee couldn’t take hiking over rough terrain. And I’ve needed reading glasses for the past few years now; that’s been frustrating as there’s nothing much I can do about it and I still whine about it (“Well, I guess I’ll have to find my $^@)*^$)*@ reading glasses before I can read this”). OTOH, it’s hard to tell what all my various aches and pains are from aging since ye olde weight room has been causing me various injuries and such since I was in my 20s. But, you know, I can still go out and dig 10 shovel probes in a day with little problem so I can’t complain too much.
On the attitudinal side, there’s this paragraph:
And I am learning some lessons of another kind. For example, never start a sentence with, “When I was your age…” or “In my day…” Do not attempt to show that while you may look old, you’re still 22 inside. Even if you know who Schoolboy Q is, don’t brag, because you’ll get something wrong eventually. Like too many cosmetic procedures, rather than youthenizing us, they only make us seem older.
Yeeeeup. There are those who stick to what they know, only listening to classic radio and playing music from their teens and twenties and bitching about how music sucks these days. Or the wanna-be hipsters that try desperately to keep up with whatever’s new and supposedly hip but they end up just looking like, well, wanna-be hipsters. Or, as I wrote some time ago:
Some (most?) people go through some form of mid-life crisis and buy a brand new sports car, or maybe that classic muscle car they either had or wanted as a teenager. Others dump their wife/husband and kidsOrangeHeader and take up with a trophy spouse or perhaps an old flame they recently met at a school reunion or found on Facebook. Still others decide they really feel 20 again and start wearing the clothes that today’s “young people” wear, listen to the music they listen to, and maybe try to skateboard or trail bike their way into contemporary youth culture, but end up mostly skating their way into the ER.
I’ve tried to stake out a middle ground. I did make a few promises to myself in my youth that I’ve largely kept:
– I wouldn’t let myself go to pot physically (i.e., fat and out of shape). Check.
– I wouldn’t stay stuck in the past, listening to only old music and not know anything about modern pop culture; Check.
– I wouldn’t let hygiene go just because I’m old. You know, farting in public, etc. No. Just. . .no.
So, you know, I still have (and collect) a lot of old LPs, even some stuff I didn’t listen to then. I just recently discovered The Allman Brothers, for example. But then, I love love loved the whole grunge thing (which would have been a “new” thing for people my age at the time), listen to KEXP a lot, and am at least passingly familiar with things pop culturish. My attitude is that I don’t have to like a lot of pop culture but I’m at least going to be familiar with it.
I also have to watch my cultural touchstone phrases. I’m noticing people sometimes don’t get some of the phrases I use on occasion. I mean, who doesn’t know every catchphrase in Blazing Saddles???
I will also refer to “back in my day” and “young people today”, but always ironically.
So I dunno. I’ve learned to let youth have their day as I had mine and try not to compare the two too closely. I try not to “act old” or “act young”, except when it suits my purposes of course (“I’m 53, do you really expect me to dig that many holes?”). I try not to get stuck in pastopianism, but at the same time try to remind younger folks that virtually nothing they’ve thought of hasn’t been thought of at least a million times before.
But, for all you “young people” out there, two pieces of sage advice:
– Start saving early even if it’s a few dollars a week
– Take care of your teeth; you seriously don’t want to deal with dentures. I have all of my teeth still, but the thought just squicks me out something awful.