I have found myself thinking about age quite a bit recently.
Perhaps it’s been on my mind because of the ‘thanks but no thanks’ letters I’ve been receiving in response to my recent ungallantly youthful interview performances. Perhaps it’s because of Momus’s recent entry about sixtysomethings or because of my nostalgic re-watching of Fraggle Rock (which, by the way, is a show entirely wasted on kids). Perhaps it’s because I recently saw the ‘aging pool’ episode of Futurama or perhaps it’s because my twenty-fourth birthday is on the horizon and it doesn’t seem like five minutes since I was eighteen.
There are probably two main things about aging that so put the wind up people: the idea that you are inching your way closer to death (to nothingness! – the ultimate elephant in any room) with every passing moment, coupled with the fact that your youthful good looks are rapidly diminishing in a fashion akin to that uneaten peach in the fruit bowl. You’re gonna be wrinkled and dried up and no one’s gonna want to fuck you anymore.
Neither of these things really bother me. As something of an absurdist, I’ve come to terms with death and dying and I’m fairly confident that I’ll embrace them when I come to them. And as far as a withering complexion is concerned, I find that it pales when compared to all of the things I actually like about old people: the “wisdom, compassion, cynicism [and] self-knowledge” of which Momus spake. Surely these are the attributes everyone should have or aspire to have. When you’re old, it’s a case of ‘mission accomplished’ and you can finally get on with living instead of developing.
Here’s the thing. I am pretty sure I was born old. Or rather I was born with elderly aspirations. I’ve always liked prune juice, for example. When I’m old, I won’t have to go to work. I’ll just spend the days writing memoirs and digging the garden. This is of course assuming that I don’t become horribly physically crippled between now and then or somehow lose my mind so that the writing of memoirs becomes a constant relating of the mashed potatoes I ate on January 2nd 1996.
There was a Tom Waits feature in The Observer magazine a couple of weeks ago (I’m sure it was titled ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ which I thought was a great title but is for some reason called ‘Off Beat’ in the online edition). In it, Sean O’Hagan writes:
“Waits talks like he sings, in a rasping drawl and with an old-timer’s wealth of received wisdom. It’s as if, in late middle-age, he has grown into the person he always wanted to be. His tales are often tall, and his metaphors and similes tend towards the surreal.”
It’s a paragraph that has stuck with me simply because I’m so convinced that it will apply to me. By the time I’m in that Autumn of my life, I don’t think I’ll be cursing myself for a wasted youth but rather getting comfortable in my new older guy’s face.
People dispair at the idea of how they will look when they get old. I recently received a sample pack of Oil of Olay in the post presumably because Mr. Corporation assumes I’m a quarter of the way through my life and surely anxious about reversing those first wrinkles. But I want to look like Tom Waits or Samuel Beckett. I’m working on it: Willy Mason’s advice on aging oneself is to smoke cigarettes and read Dostoevsky – both things I am partial to on occasion. Old is handsome in my book. I want to have stories to tell; I want retrospect and hindsight, to be a leathery ball of received wisdom. I don’t need Oil of Olay. Bring it on, says I!