I Hope I Die Before I Get Old… (invisibility, age & the fountain of youth)
When you’re 51 years old (like me) and you don’t FEEL 51 — “middle age” has an almost surreal tang to it. You look in the mirror and even at photos of yourself and you don’t really SEE the age. Psychologists call this “blindness” body dysmorphia (because it covers up weight loss/gain and a few other things). For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that you feel “OK” about how you look. True, there are a few more wrinkles, “creaks” and even grey hairs than ten years ago but you strive to think “young”, be “cool” (though you know you’re not) and to experience the world with a set of eyes eager to learn. You convince yourself that you see the world how you have always seen it (abet with dollop of experience, wariness and ‘healthy’ cynicism). So it’s weird and dislocating when the world is relating to you as “sir” (said in the submissive/officious way that makes someone’s voice go low) and random children in my building in Brooklyn point at me as an “old man”. Even the media talks about people (in Hollywood) being “over the hill” at 35 years old — oy! [That was sixteen years ago…]
My teenage kids think its cute, ridiculous and pathetic my attempts to share myself on social media. They are Jedis in that world. They were born into the language of “likes”, engagement, conversion, Snap Chat “stories” and being expert at modulating attention on whatever they want to shine a light on born in a conversation of NOW. For me, social media came upon me in my forties and I have been sprinting to catch-up. Social media is a narcisists’ paradise for the uninitiated and unexperienced. People I know in their 20s and 30s, tolerate my stretchy spandex “active wear” and newish tattoos as proof of my having a mid-life “crisis”. I want to put forth a bold, dynamic and energetic (read: sexually viral) man. However, I fear that the world sees a greying warhorse that should fade quietly away. Have I had my shot at relevance? Is my going to CrossFit daily with people THIRTY years younger than me a delusion or worse? Is there nothing sexy or cool about 51? Is it true that people who strive to be cool are the opposite? Why do I give a shit about any of this? In short, am I now invisible in a world that worships youth and plays by rules that I cannot possibly understand?
“The way you think about yourself determines your reality. You are not being hurt by the way people think about you. Many of those people are a reflection of how you think about yourself.” - Shannon L. Alder
“Reflection” or “Projection” is a theory in psychology where humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses and/or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. I seem to have great skill in this shadow “puppetry”.
So, in this context, I have no idea what the age of 50 is supposed to LOOK like, speak like, act like, have sex like, share on Facebook like and I certainly cannot use my parents or anyone I know in their 70s or 80s as a role model. Why? Because they too are wrestling with what “old” is and isn’t. So, I project my fears onto the adorable three-year old girl in the elevator who thinks the “big old man” (me) is “funny”. The searing glance of a child has me question every desperate-trying-to-get-my-groove-on action or even every time I’ve put my ass on the line in the service of the “new” in the last 18 months. I sell-out on myself so quickly. Idiot.
Age is not a state of mind. Age is meaningless. Literally. It lives as a measurement. That’s all. Our bodies break-down over time and eventually we will die. So, whatever I have about my age that is fueled by my ego-driven narcissistic pathetic petulant man-child is on me. I project this crap onto everyone and then I use this as evidence for how I don’t matter. (Oh, poor, sniff, sniff victim Michael!)
Here’s what I learned: things are the way they are. Wanna’ be relevant? Be yourself and speak not from truth but from commitment. Age is just the thing that has you be able to vote, drink, qualify for medical marijuana and a few other things that are possibly bad for you.
Frankly, I think I am thinking about age because I see my parents, my friend’s parents struggling with “being old”. In our society, being patronized, marginalized and even minimized as you get older seems to be the thing that happens. You lose your voice. Your ability to be heard. However, I am seeing that maybe we take our voices away from ourselves. We get “tired” and “fed-up”. Maybe the “fountain of youth” is letting yourself have ideas worth sharing until you die. I always thought the image of Beethoven writing a string quartet in his death bed was amazing — not completely accurate. However, the idea that a powerful creative person would give themselves PERMISSION to be creative no matter what until the end is incredibly inspiring to me. What voice do you want to inhabit? What voice do you want? Here in the world of the ageless, technology, innovation and community can lift us up and amplify our voices to cover vast numbers of people. WE JUST HAVE TO BE BRAVE ENOUGH.
Frankly, a limitless creative wellspring has given me a whole new future to live into: ageless, self-expressed, happy and living out loud — not stuck in the projections and shadows of fear, doubt and the unknown. I know how this ends. Death. So, let’s get busy living…
“The best way to predict your future is to create it” — Abraham Lincoln
Michael Whalen is a dad, husband, brother, son, friend, author, teacher, speaker, music maker and recovering ontologist who is 51 years young. He is grateful for his life and the opportunities he has been afforded to make a difference with others now. More information: www.michaelwhalen.com