Reflections. Distorted and otherwise.
One of my best (and considerably chronologically younger) friends is convinced that he is going bald and going to fat. He is going neither. But he is certain he is. And his certainty almost killed us both because as he was driving, he could not stop looking in the rear view mirror at what he imagined to be his thinning hair and receding hair-line. Growing older can be scary. Growing older in a culture where the ideals of beauty have to do with youth and impossibly airbrushed gym-sculpted perfection is terrifying. Even more horrifyingly intimidating is the culture’s insistence that one is not complete without a partner; one must be in love, ever-after bound, in a nirvana of emotional and erotic bliss. And, one is taught from youth by fairy tales, media, and the mythos of cultural custom that in order to find one’s prince or princess, one had better be as close to the dream as possible.
So, the fear that one is losing one’s hair and unlikely to boast six-pack abs is – well – not a story one wants to be telling about one’s self. And more important; one does not want to be in the death seat of a…… car being driven by someone who is telling himself that story. I almost ate the rear bumper of any number of vehicles thanks to younger best friend’s delusion.
Now, obviously, I’m not as young as that best friend. And when I was, most of my best friends were considerably older. I have never had a life in which my chronological age matched my emotional age nor daily experience. The conventional cultural constructs of gender, sexuality, race, and age were never of benefit to me, rather, they worked against me, and so I felt free to eschew them and until my recent submersion in my batcave to focus on writing, my daily life was marked by beautiful exchanges with people of all ages . My life has been much richer for this. And, because of that, I thought – in my twenties with friends mostly in their forties and fifties – that I “got” the whole aging thing.
Of course, I didn’t. Not really. I am in the same age cohort as Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
And millions of others. But, it’s not those millions of others to whom I compare myself, rather, it is to Brad and George and because I do not look like nor have the assets of Brad Pitt and George Clooney, I have often felt “less than.” And while I don’t know Brad or George (more is the pity) I bet that their experience of aging is not unlike another of my aging friends who shared this with me when I recently bemoaned the ways in which stress and aging were undoing me:
“I know the feeling. Stress. Age. The organs are not in synch. My brain used to say, “Free time. No one around. It’s time.” which coincided with that other major organ, a few feet lower (and alas, a few inches smaller) saying, “YEAH! TOUCH ME.” And there it was. BAM! Ready, eager, willing and THROBBING for the touching. Now, after a lifetime of being male, the brain is still conditioned to trigger that response, but ANOTHER part of it that snuck in somewhere along the fourth decade interrupts and says: “LAY DOWN – TAKE A NAP” and that other major-ish (alas, not as major-ish as one would have liked) organ says, “You don’t touch me enough anymore, did I do something wrong?” But, you know, habit’s habit – so a person gives in and then it’s like – “Well, I’m touching you now – and you don’t seem to want to cooperate? What the fuck?” And the brain – now in cahoots – seems also to be shrinking in shame and refusing to allow blood to circulate fully, and adding insult to injury, jumps in with, “Well, did you forget that financial shit weighing? And uhm – all the personal stuff going on? And, oh yeah, you’re not eighteen anymore either . . . ” And if that isn’t buzz-kill (or boner-kill) enough, the brain then starts with the scenario – “This would suck – or – not suck – even more if another person was in the room with you, dude” (Dude, because when the brain is talking to you about your dick, it’s always a half-drunk fratboy) – and WHAM BAM IT’S OVER MAN – there goes the happy ending. And the only thing going up is the stress level.
“I know there’s a biological equivalent for women, but I’m like – “Thank shit I’m mostly into dudes, cuz, at least other guys (at least other guys who are not 18) get this – and I can be all – well – ‘dude, how about I just get you off cuz i don’t think I‘m happening today’ sort of thing.”
“Life. Circles. There was that whole couple of youthful decades of saying to your dick “NOT NOW – THIS ISN’T THE TIME” and then, well, these decades of “NOW DAMMIT NOW!!”
I shared that exchange with my considerably younger best friend. I meant to comfort him, but, I think, instead, he went into a panic about just how long he had before his genitals started to betray him as well.
Here’s the thing: who made up these standards? Who’s judging him for his imaginary hair loss and avoirdupois? He is. Who’s judging me for my gray hair, lack of wealth and fame, lack of Brad/George-ness? I am. We look in the mirrors on our walls (or, far more dangerously – especially to passengers -in our cars) and we find ourselves less-than and not-enough.
We could blame the mirror, like Snow White’s stepmother. We could blame the culture. But, maybe, what we ought to do instead, is take responsibility for the stories we are telling ourselves. As I came to realize this week during a liberating experience of self-discovery: The most dangerous, damaging, and deleterious lies are not those we are told by others, but, rather, the ones we tell ourselves. Somehow we have come to believe that our lives and worth are measured by how much hair or muscle we have, how ready to respond our genitals are, how big our house and bank account and reputation.
Those are silly stories. And they’re distortions and distractions, things on which we focus in order to sublimate the things on which we ought to be concentrating, such as: HERE WE ARE, GOING. If we’re worried about finding someone to love us before we lose any more hair, gain any more weight, or become somehow more “less than” than we already consider ourselves, then, my friend, we’re sort of doomed – because if we can’t love ourselves as we are, right now, here where we are, then we are going to consider anyone else who loves us as either doing us a favor we don’t really deserve or somehow flawed and/or even more less than than we are. That’s not love. That’s disaster. And, like I said; silliness.
So, we need to tell ourselves better stories, get better mirrors, and stop waiting for ever after and happy ends. Because ever after is here, in every moment, where we are, going. Happy Sunday.