Fitting into one’s space

I’ve been thinking that the real problem of growing old is to fit ourselves into the space we find ourselves in. By “ourselves” I mean the “I”, the human consciousness with all its ideas, memories & habits. By “space” I mean our total situation, consisting of body and habitat. These days old age is not heralded by years, but rather by the onset of physical and mental decline, which combine to shrink the space in which the “I” can strut and play. Old age is also characterised by flinching from the new and unfamiliar. Our surroundings may not be all we could wish, but it doesn’t mean we’re seriously going to pack up (“up sticks”, as an English idiom has it) and go elsewhere. So our best bet, as I said, is to try and fit into the space we find ourselves in. But the older we get, the less we are inclined to adapt: a kind of  Catch-22.

Before reaching old age, we may visualize a goal: to be in our prime and stay there. To optimize our situation, as quantified, say, in looks, style, fitness, income, possessions, habitat, status, power. For which we need motivation, as goaded by envy, success stories, celebrities,  glossy magazines. All of which are constantly fuelled by advertising. The entire economy of the wealthier countries is driven by the dream: the endless prolongation of “prime”. Having said this, I haven’t actually lived this, only viewed it as outsider. In retrospect, my life has been a series of accidents, like an unskilled pinball player. I wanted nothing more than to drift, with always a woman in my life. I could have been an artist in an airy studio, cohabiting with his model, but I’d not shown much skill in anything but writing essays and getting scholarships. What did I really want? To renounce the world like a monk, without the celibacy.

I neither sought nor attained this sense of “prime”, but got tangled in marriage, children, career, mortgage, then discarding the house and job for a hippie lifestyle; escaping from that via guru-worship, the coolest thing in those days. None of which I wanted in the first place. It was all negotiated to keep the marriage from foundering, a ploy which itself foundered in the end. The second marriage, in retrospect, was a means of getting out of the first. I finally landed in my prime at the age of 62. Am not past it yet, despite the shark-bites of old age.

Which is where I started this post, with the notion that fitting ourselves into the space we find ourselves in becomes a special problem for the elderly. But then, I came across a post by Phil Ebersole: “Kids these days”: can things be this bad?” which links to a post by Rod Dreher, a name I wasn’t familiar with. Its argument is that Generation-Z, aka the Zoomers, is completely off the rails :

a deeply decadent culture—that is, a culture that lacks the wherewithal to survive. The most important thing that a generation can do is produce the next generation. No families, no children, no future.

As evidence, he offers statistics, such as “30 percent of Gen Z women [aged 25 & under] claiming to be sexually uninterested in men”. Well, that seems hardly the basis for general alarm, unless to a young man in quest of a mate. What really opened my eyes was a letter from one of Dreher’s Conservative readers:

In truth, there is a kind of increasing self-aggrandizement that surrounds this idea of identifying as any type of LGBTQ. It’s a social marker that puts you in the ‘in’ crowd. It makes you cool, it makes you one of the crowd. It also makes you ‘safe’. Let’s dive more into that last one….I have seen an increasing number of women swear off dating, swear off marriage, swear off kids, and especially, swear off men, in the last several years….The New Feminists are also increasingly gender-fluid….The second you prescribe to any LGBTQ identity you become “safe” in the Neo-Feminist lens….I have another friend who is going ‘Non-Binary’ after years of only identifying as female. She has hopped full on the Trans-Rights Train, and likely won’t be getting off anytime soon. But she’s not a stereotypical female, and somehow, deeply, it feels to her as though she can’t be ‘fully woman’ if she doesn’t fit those check-boxes.

She dissociates herself from all this, because she fits into the Conservative space, and implicitly derides such behaviours of Generation-Z.

So then, in a flash, I saw that the young, like the old, have their own problem of fitting themselves into the social spaces available. If you want, you can ask yourself “What am I?” and never quite decide on your gender and sexuality, as if choosing from a smorgasbord offered at a cool party. Indeed, you can choose which parties you’d most like to attend. I know little about the agendas of American Conservatives; but I suggest that oldsters like me (or you?) have no choice but to trust our grandchildren’s generation to sort out the messes we are bequeathing to them.

For there’s not just the problem of growing old, there’s also the problem of growing up, way past teenage angst. If you are reading this (well obviously you are), I’d be interested to know what you think, whatever your age.

17 thoughts on “Fitting into one’s space”

  1. Oh dear, where to begin as I completely disagree. Here I am, old in years , leading a life that I chose and organised. Have always ploughed my own furrow. Looking around at the people that I know well plus those who live nearby, all at different stages of life, I would say that this was true of most of them. I know none who are affected by advertising or who have unrealistic aspirations. Is this really unusual nowadays? I don’t know.

    Ruth

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    1. I’m very glad you disagree, Ruth, after reading your reasons. I like the sound of the furrow you’ve ploughed, where it has taken you and the company you are able to keep. Others may envy you!–envy being one of the things I mentioned in my piece, as well as one of the 7 deadly sins.

      But then, as Blake said

      Man was made for joy & woe;
      And when this we rightly know,
      Thro’ the world we safely go.
      Joy & woe are woven fine,
      A clothing for the soul divine.

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  2. I find that no matter how much older I get, I still have a lot of growing up to do. Wisdom does not come automatically with old age, but it should. I sometimes find myself saying the wrong thing when my grandchildren or children ask for my input or opinion. I’ve spent many a sleepless night regretting a missed opportunity to have said something worthwhile and worthy that they could have carried with them into their futures. On the other hand, every time I see young couples out & about with their young ones in tow it instantly makes my heart sing. Seeing what attentive & good parents they are and remembering that stage of my own life makes me happy. It’s a guilt-free and organic joy that has so far made growing older not seem so bad.
    I like your reflections on fitting into one’s space & what a wonderful title it made for this post. I used to become very anxious & panicky if I started to get too comfortable in my surroundings. It’s nice not to feel that way anymore. Although, if I was on strict lockdown like you are there in England, that would so horrible. My ridiculous government has a bad habit of imitating everything yours does, so I am sure by the end of next week we will be locked down, also. I have readied my family for anything they can possibly dish out.
    Wonderful NEW post! As long as you keep writing new stuff all will be right with the world. Hang in there and God Bless!
    This video called ‘Crossroads’ by Don McLean reminds me of your post and you. Happy and healthy 2021 to you and your beloved Karleen.

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    1. Great to hear from you, Cindy. I can imagine that you have many emotions about your government especially with recent turmoil. Wanted to avoid poliitcs in our discussions, that’s the main reason why it’s been a long time, I think. But I like the way you subtly convey what you think of our UK government, and your chagrin at yours imitating it.

      “Guilt-free organic joy” – yes, exactly, what a good phrase, especially when it refers to seeing so much good happening before our eyes: as opposed to the dire stuff that’s reported in the media.

      What a beautiful song by Don McLean, and so appropriate in the present context!

      I fixed Karleen’s name, no worries, you know I can edit anything in any comment!

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  3. Of course I agree that joy and woe are both inevitably experienced in human life and I have experienced both. One just has to be careful not to hang onto the woe and many people do.

    Ruth

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    1. The point I would have liked to make in the post—not sure if it came across, because of my own conflicted feelings, as well as empathy with others—is that letting go of the woe may not be easy, however much one wants to bask in the sunlight of joy. An interior monologue is likely to fail precisely because the mind that wants to let go is the same mind that wants to cling. Dialogue—sharing—can present opportunities for catharsis.

      I won’t deny that some of us some of the time in certain situations can simply snap out of it, and benefit from encouragement to do so.

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  4. I think that I understood your point and would suggest that Joy doesn’t stay forever either. Time helps with woe and we live most of our life between the extremes. Perhaps most of life is steadily plodding along dealing with what arises. The thing that gives me joy is the sheer beauty of the world. I am grateful for the fact that we have an aesthetic sense and wonder why we have been so endowed.

    Ruth

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  5. We don’t put the Joy in one pocket and the Woe in another. Joy & Woe go into the same pocket so that they can interact. As Blake says they are woven together.
    If we never experienced Woe how we we find Wisdom, Strength, Compassion, Self-control and Empathy. Joy, on the other hand, can teach us Gratitude, Forgiving, Generosity, Peace, and Appreciation for Beauty and Truth and Love.
    From the cloth which is woven from Joy & Woe, is constructed the garment which clothes the Essential Nature, the Soul. In this world we interact with one another through the garment which provides the tools for acting in ways which may feed the Soul.

    Thank you William Blake for all you have to teach.

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  6. Right! Not to mention the question of how you measure it. And when you feel past your prime, you may wonder “Now what? I spent my life wanting to climb the mountain, never managed to do it. No chance now.”

    I like this reply, from Richard Bach’s Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah:

    Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.

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  7. Yes — we shouldn’t interfere and control, we should let young people live.

    Therefore the sage says:
    I take no action and people are reformed.
    I enjoy peace and people become honest.
    I do nothing and people become rich.
    If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves. (Tao verse 57)

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  8. It’s not that I disagree with anything in your post Vincent, it’s simply that I can’t relate to it. All that you describe is factual but you speak of old age, the elderly. growing old etc. as if these are immutable conditions that we all experience in the same way. You say “we” but in reality, being any specific age, young or old, is never an identical experience even if for the sake of convenience, bureaucracy, advertising or healthcare it’s spoken of in generalised terms. Of course there are similarities in some of the ways humans change throughout life. But even those changes, physical or mental, are individually experienced very differently. I don’t recognise in what you wrote my own experience of being the age I am. But this isn’t a complaint or criticism. I am frequently and similarly ‘out of tune’ with so many perceptions of reality!

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    1. I think you’ll agree, Natalie, that you’re exceptionally fortunate. I don’t like using the universal “we” unless it refers to something truly universal like birth or death. In this case I equated age-related difficulties I’ve had recently with the plight of millions of others, but obviously not everyone.

      My theme for the post was how to find joy in the midst of unavoidably woeful circumstances. One of which for me is difficulty in sustained thought and expression!

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  9. Ian wrote:

    “but I suggest that oldsters like me (or you?) have no choice but to trust our grandchildren’s generation to sort out the messes we are bequeathing to them”.

    We can’t deny that the world we create will fall into the hands of those who come after us (this is a corollary of living in time). Our responsibility is to leave our grandchildren more opportunities to exploit than messes to clean up.

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  10. Thanks Vincent. I’m not denying age-related difficulties (I won’t make a list!) but I rebel against the usual assumptions made about “the old”. There are so many exceptions to the rule that one has to question the rule. Anyway, yes, I absolutely agree with joy and taking up joy as an occupation. Somebody once said my flat is like a toy shop. That’s what I do, find joy in playing with my toys, the ones gifted to me by life, dna, the Cosmos and even God, however one chooses to experience this.

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