When I was 38, I worked in an office with a girl who was in her early 20s. Christina would hang out with me and my officemate, Michelle, who was just slightly older than I was. We three girls would be happily chatting away when, invariably, Christina would make some reference indicating that Michelle and I were about a thousand years old.
She never did this with malice. Rather, she was pretty matter of fact about it. Like, hey, the sky is blue and you bitches are ancient. Some things don't require a whole lot of contemplation.
"You think we're really old, don't you?" I asked her one day.
"Well, you're like, almost my mom's age," she replied.
Michelle and I were silent for a second and then absolutely howled with laughter. We both had small kids at home. We were still trying to figure out how to act like real grownups around the other elementary school parents, but if you scratched the surface on either one of us, and you'd probably find half the cast of "Freaks and Geeks" living under our skin. We were still faking our way through this "adult" thing.
Yet, from Christina's perspective, we were already out to pasture.
Why is no one worshiping me?
It's a shock when you find out that the world thinks you're old. You've been busy climbing a mountain your whole life ... waiting for your turn at the top. Then you hit your late teens and your early 20s and you can feel yourself getting higher. Everyone wants your attention.
All the happening celebrities are in your age group. All the big advertising campaigns are made for YOU. When you check the age box in a survey, you get a little bit of satisfaction knowing that you're checking the cool boxes. There are teams of people all over the world who get paid full-time salaries to try to figure out what makes YOU tick. You're on top of the mountain and the world is at your feet.
And then you turn 35 and no one gives a shit anymore.
If you're not 35 yet, let me reiterate: YES. THIRTY FIVE. Maybe 38 tops. Or 42 if you're a man. But in any case, your stock is probably going to start dropping a helluva lot sooner than you expected.
That mountain you've been climbing? Well, surprise, surprise. You summited, but you didn't actually get to stay at the peak. There are other people coming up behind you. Probably just around the time you started thinking you knew a thing or two, you got nudged over the side and found your elevation plummeting.
And then you realize: It was never YOU that was being worshiped in the first place. It was your youth, and now that's gone.
You know what's even more depressing? That I take a little bit of sick joy in imparting this news to people who are younger than me. I am not displaying the best parts of myself right now ... but there is a part of me that takes some satisfaction in thinking that all the smug youthly types are going to have to experience this someday, too. (Hi Christina. Did you turn 30 this year? That might have happened but I can't remember. Yes, I know your mom probably forgets stuff too. Shut up.)
Once upon a time I was a smug youthly type, too. My goodgawd, did I know I everything. I'm sure people tried to tell me stuff ... and I'm sure I thought something horrifying like "Well thanks for all that, but that's not going to happen to me."
But it happened to me. And chances are, it's going to keep happening.
The smug youthly types are going to keep having their smug youthly party and they don't want us there. And that's OK, because we probably don't actually want to be there anyway ... so we need to have our own party with people who won't spend the whole time thinking about how out of touch we are.
Staying driven, staying hungry
My fiance' and I recently went to see the stage play of Steel Magnolias. A bunch of famous actors were in it, including Jessica Walter (who is 75), Susan Sullivan (73), and Patricia Richardson (65).
These are well-established actors. They didn't have to take these roles to build their careers. Chances are, they didn't decide to spend weeks in an old playhouse in a tiny town on the Delaware River because it paid a boatload of money.
Watching them up there, I got the sense that they took these roles because they were driven to ... they were not there to practice their craft like senior citizens who are just trying to stay active.
No. They were there to work their craft like the professionals that they are.
It inspired the shit out of me.
And so does this video about Norman Lear, who just turned 94. Far from turning into some shrivelly senior citizen just passing the time until his time is up, this dude is still writing and trying to get a TV show produced. (Please, someone, green light this show.)
Lear talks about how you're expected to learn and grow when you're young ... so why not when you're 80? Does our society tell people they're supposed to just stop ... and so we do? "There's a good time to be had at this age," he says.
He also wears a great hat. I guess it's his signature thing. I think it adds a nice crispness to his whole look. It makes me want to go find some jaunty wardrobe accessory to turn into my own signature item. Maybe a monocle ... I should probably spend some time thinking about this. I'll keep you posted.
If you need me, I'll be dancing naked in front of my mirror, with much amusement. (That won't make sense if you don't watch the Norman Lear video first. You should watch it. Don't make me tell you again.)
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