Aging Angry Young Man or Bitter Old Fart in Training?
Ive been the kind of person who walks around wanting to punch those
shiny, happy people right in the pie hole and then ask them what theyre
so bloody cheery about.'
Ive got another birthday coming. Its really not that big of
a deal. Because it falls at exactly the halfway point of the calendar
year and because the last digits of the year and my age always match,
I generally start bumping up my age about six months early if people ask,
and thats usually a great cushion to the whole getting older thing.
But, as my father so often paraphrases George Burns, getting older isnt
the same as getting old. Getting older just means more candles on your
birthday cake. Getting old means getting bitter, crotchety, rambling and
broken down. And for some reason this years upcoming birthday has
started me thinking about that second part.
Im in my early thirties, so Im not a kid anymore. But I didnt
think I was a kid anymore when I was in my early twenties, and I know
now how wrong I was then. And people in their forties and up keep telling
me what a kid I am still. Regardless of when I stopped, or will stop,
being a kid I am nonetheless getting steadily older, and I do realize
that it does beat the only alternative. But whats got me worried
is that I think that I may already be old.
I think that I may have been old for a long time now: since those early
twenties maybe. I mean, I never have been one of those shiny, happy people
who walks around with a big smile looking at the bright side and pointing
out silver linings. Mostly Ive been the kind of person who walks
around wanting to punch those shiny, happy people right in the pie hole
and then ask them what theyre so bloody cheery about. Ive
tended towards the grim, the brooding, the indignant.
I also suffer from a brutal case of selective nostalgia:
Im absolutely certain that the world used to be a better place,
even though I know that it wasnt.
And physically? Sometimes I think Ive been creaking and cracking
and moaning and groaning forever. As far as the rambling part goes, just
see how long this goes on for. Yep, no doubt about it, Ive been
old for a while now.
But in fact, when I closely examine my life then and now I may have even
been older ten years ago than I am today. Im in marginally better
shape these days; eating a little better, exercising once in a while,
sleeping regularly instead of trying to make up on the weekends. I have
more energy now than I used to. Ive begun to find new outlets for
my artistic and creative energies for the first time since high school.
Im not as negative about the direction the worlds headed in
these days, or at least I dont dwell on it as much, and thus my
stress levels are lower than theyve been in years. Im calmer
nowadays. And every once in a while I catch myself smiling for no reason
as Im walking down the street, silently inviting others to punch
me right in the pie hole and ask me what Im so bloody cheery about.
Am I actually getting younger?
No, Im getting older and the only alternative to that isnt
younger. But I might be getting young. Or less old, anyway: Ive
reversed the aging process. I wish I could tell you how I did it, I could
make a fortune or put a lot of cosmetics companies out of business, or
a lot of therapists. The truth is, though, that I have no idea how it
happened. Worse still is the fact that I have no idea how long it will
last. What if its just a phase Im going through? Maybe Im
in some kind of transitional period. Maybe the early, Angry Young Man
version of myself is just hibernating, gathering its energies, waiting
to inevitably reemerge when Im in my seventies, or my sixties, or
my fifties even can I hope that this respite will last through
my forties at least -- waiting to wreak havoc on my life and relationships
in its Bitter Old Fart incarnation.
Dont misunderstand me, Im still old. Im just not as
old as I used to be, and I like that. Id like it to continue this
way, and Id really like it if I could progress in becoming even
less old as I get steadily older. Im happier this way: Im
still not one of the shiny happy people full on, probably never will get
to that point, but I am happier. So the prospect of regressing at some
time in the future disturbs me. The simple comeback is that I just shouldnt
let that happen, that its up to me whether I go on to become an
old man or an older man. But as I pointed out earlier I dont know
how Ive managed to become less old in recent years, so how can I
prevent the opposite from occurring just as ineffably? Could it just be
as simple as eating a little better and exercising once in a while, letting
my creative juices flow more freely and not dwelling on the negatives
of the world? Do I just have to make it a point to occasionally smile
for no reason as I walk down the street, even if that does make some other
people want to sock me one? And will it still work if I have to make a
point of doing it? Or is all of that irrelevant; is it just that my bio-rhythms
have temporarily converged at some incredibly high peak or perhaps its
some other, equally nebulous metaphysical happenstance?
Its a lot of questions is what it is, and Im not convinced
they even have answers. I guess the best that I can do is just to keep
doing what Im doing and try to enjoy the ride while it lasts. That
and feel secure in the knowledge that if things do go completely for a
stinker at least Ill be able to regale younger people with stories
of how I had to walk five miles uphill through waist deep snow to get
to school when I was a kid, or how ten of us lived in a one room shack
with only beans to eat once a day and no door on the outhouse. Ive
always kind of looked forward to that.
Colin James Haslett June 2002
This is the first piece on Hacks by Colin, for whom the word 'curmudgeon'
was invented. Ed
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