Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This Too Shall Pass

Perception of age is a strange beast. When I was 6, I remember pledging to my mother that I wouldn’t need birthday parties once I turned 10, because then I’d be “too old” for them. Of course, once my 10th birthday rolled around, I adamantly pushed for having a birthday party, despite my younger self’s notions of maturity. At 6, though, I was absolutely convinced that 10 was an important, even momentous age, at which I’d blossom into a slightly smaller version of an adult, probably writing novels and sipping lemonade in my spare time. Birthday parties? Childish! “Leave me to my craft,” I’d say, hunched over a notebook while rocking back and forth in a chair on the porch.

A Portrait of the Blogger as an Idiot Child

Similarly, when I think back to where I thought I’d be at 25 – once I could conceptualize numbers that high –I was also pretty confident that I’d have achieved Great Things (TM). This isn’t to say that I haven’t accomplished anything; I have, but it occurs to me now that I’ve spent the bulk of my life thinking of age in terms of achievements naturally unlocked by the passing of time. Just like a health regeneration rate in a video game, age (or how I thought of it) was a passive counter ticking up and up and up. Rather than life being, well, work, it seemed to be a half-effortless progression into jobs, marriages, children, and whatnot. Part of the struggle in my aging has been to undo this weird idea I’ve had and to build a new, more realistic model of age for myself.

Whether it’s good or bad, I now think of age most often in terms of comparison to fictional characters. Buffy was 22 when the series ended, so I had to shift to the world of Spaced for my (lackadaisical) mid-twenties inspiration. I may be coming up on a gap – needing a new show or book to parallel – with the latter half of my twenties. The comforting thing about this model is that fictional characters are just as clueless as we are, but we can observe them from a space where we know that their problems are going to work out all right (though Joss Whedon kills off a few too many people for his works to be deeply reassuring). As silly as it might seem, I’m soothed by looking at fictional characters because I know that there are so many different ways that they live, achieve, grow, and change. It’s a little like breaking out of the linear “level up or else” way I’d thought of age before.

Penny: Role Model for the Ages
Aging, especially for women, is often something we talk about with dread. (I would really like it if there were an equivalent female term for ‘silver foxes’ – ‘silver vixens?’). Wrinkles, disease, persistent spinster or bachelorhood, ‘dead-end’ jobs, and emotional crises come hand in hand with the ever-encroaching territory of continued existence, at least by typical standards. But whenever you can find a person who’s your age, and handling life in an admirable way, even if they’re fictional, it’s a relief –reassurance that the cultural ideas we have about aging aren’t an inescapable prison.

Of course, the joke about adulthood really does seem to be that you never feel like an adult, at least not fully. It’s all some weird trick of the light where you look at a picture of yourself from ten years ago and think “wow, I thought I knew what I was doing then, but I sure as hell didn’t!” and the same thing will happen in another ten years with a different photo. Constantly shifting self-awareness (or lack thereof!) as a dominant emotional state – it’s kind of terrifying, and kind of calming. It’s a reminder that, in the words of that old saying, “this too shall pass.” Since that applies to the good and the bad, it helps to quell anxieties and to temper euphoria. And I’ll keep on celebrating my birthday until I damn well please. 

Like So.


  1. I love this so much, and I will fight tooth and nail to help bring the term "silver vixens" into this world. I will be the grappling, muscular midwife to the crowning baby of your newly coined phrase.

  2. Awesome post. I <3 silver vixens.

  3. First of all, who’s the lady on the right in the bottom picture? I recognize Dame Judi Dench, of course, but I can’t place the other one!

    I can definitely relate to your experience of age being achievements unlocked: I remember frequently contemplating how I’d be 16 in x number of years, and I’d have my license then, or I’d be 21 in y number of years, and be finished university (sorry Child Me, didn’t finish university ‘til 22!). For a long time I held onto the idea that I’d be engaged by the time I finished university, until abruptly deciding that that wouldn’t be the case, and that I didn’t want that anymore anyway.

    I can’t relate to the comparisons that you make with fictional characters, though! I’ve seen you mention this before somewhere, and the idea is really novel (haha) to me. I’m not sure if it’s just the types fiction that I’ve encountered or a different way of experiencing it, or most likely a combination of both, but I don’t find myself relating to characters very often as far as my own life is concerned. The closest thing I can think of would be the way I felt about Holden Caulfield when I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school (God, everyone is seriously such a phony).

    And finally, “silver vixens” is awesome! Somehow we need to introduce this as well as rehabilitating “spinster” in the lexicon.

    1. It's the lovely Helen Mirren! (Have you seen this picture? It's kind of intimidating - http://www.zimbio.com/Helen+Mirren/articles/48/HELEN+MIRREN+BIKINI+63+YEAR+OLD+ACTRESS+STARTING).

      Maybe we should write a Dictionary of Preposterously Underused and/or Unappreciated Terms and Phrases for the Modern Lady. :)

      And yes, I'm not sure that I identify with *every* character, but there are a few whose experiences I find particularly resonant.