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.