Coming of Age.
Life Go to the mall, the grocery store, or just stand on a busy street corner and look around at the people swirling about you. Are you younger than most of them? Perhaps you fit comfortably in the middle? Or do you notice that it is only the ones who look as if they might be collecting a pension that appear older?
2014 is the year I started to feel old. This came as a bit of shock, because as much as I flatter myself that I am a self-aware and a discerning observer of life around me, I swallowed more than a few glasses of youth culture kool-aid over the years.
Combine the decades-long bombardment of media messages exhorting us all to buy this cream, eat this super-food, join this gym program and follow these Six Steps to A Better You with the underlying premise that with enough money and effort you can reverse time, and you get a seriously messed-up culture.
Age is just a number.
You are only as old as you feel.
The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.
Only the sentence by Robert Frost is correct.
I and just about everyone else of my generation grew up in expectation. Life was ahead. It was going to happen. Out there. When. When we finished school. When we moved into our own apartment. When we got that job. When we met the right someone. And it was all going to be champagne wishes and caviar dreams minus the braying Robin Leach soundtrack.
Our whole lives have been aspirational. Nations’ economies depend on it.
My parents’ generation grew up in the still lingering shadows of the Depression and World War II rations. They strove to contribute to rebuilding a better world. They still wanted the house and the car and the summer vacations. But they talked about being comfortable. They could see how their lives were easier and more secure than their parents’ and that was success.
My generation grew up with the message that it was all waiting for us Out There and television showed us just how much Out There existed in the world. Greedy doesn't begin to describe the rapacious insatiable appetite for the good life we all came to expect as our due.
We had a road map too. Hard work, good looks, and a winning personality and the world would fall at our feet.
Hard work was a matter of will. Good looks used to be a roll of genetic dice but by the end of the Seventies you could buy a new face for not much more than the cost of a car.
The winning personality depended on what collection of self-help aphorisms was hogging the best-seller list. It started with I’m OK-You’re OK which propelled us down the path to magical thinking and all its other delusional siblings. It was quickly followed by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which promised to teach us how to win at life while at the same time reducing it to a series of lists. Lists are great. Lists are manageable. Lists have no time for ambiguous, or intangible, nuanced messiness of living. Lists reduce everything into easy bite-sized Happy Meals. (The internet loves lists—but that’s another issue.) We kept chasing after the mirage of more, because to settle for less is to fail.
And so we continued living life as possibility. It can all happen. Still. Until the day it can’t. We wake up and suddenly, with even the most basic grasp of mathematics we know there is more behind us than in front of us and what lies ahead looks grim no matter how fat the wallet.
It happens in small increments, mistakes, accidents. The first bumps are the sort of hip check that takes you away from childhood dreams of professional sport or celebrity. You shrug it off as silliness and set you sights on a new passion. The thing is time is against us. We all know this and I have yet to meet anyone who accepts it on a personal level.
Live each day as if it were your last.
That’s crazy talk.
If I did that, right now I’d be on a beach in Hawaii (it’s December and I hate the cold) with a plane ticket to Europe in my purse and nothing in the bank.
We are all going to die. It’s the when and how that eludes us.
I have been told I can expect to live longer than previous generations did. I am not guaranteed that the quality of those days will be any better. Already, if I make a list of all the people I have known, the list of the quick is smaller than that of the dead. I am at the age where I understand why my grandparents spent so much time discussing the past—it’s where they did their best living.
What nobody told me about aging is that the outward signs are nothing compared to the interior collapse and decay and that it begins long before the end. Bones, muscles, sinews, synapses, hormones—it all starts to break down; if I was a car I’d be trading myself in.
This is where, if this were a magazine piece, I’d be expected to impart a piece of warm hopeful wisdom. The wonderful thing I’ve learned this year.
I’m still in the middle of this. More people have left my life than entered it this year, so I can tell you to cultivate young friends. I’m not being flippant.
Most of my friends used to be older than me, because they were more interesting. They had seen and done things, while my peers were as clueless about life as I was. Most of them are gone. I am cultivating younger friends because now they are the more interesting.
I can also tell you that anyone who says that they have no regrets in life is either trying to sell you something, or is too stupid to know better. I regret plenty of things, and most of them are things I didn't do. What I regret is of no use to anyone but me, with perhaps one exception- I regret any time I had a chance to be kind and didn't take it. Except with politicians. And bankers. And bureaucrats. Oh hell.
You can follow @asta on Twitter here. Kitchen Bits is her Tumblr.