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The Age of Youth

October 11, 2012

It was my birthday on the fifth. I turned twenty-five. I am now twenty-five years old. It is a hard thing to reconcile in my mind and the last week or so has been a steady rotation of depression and elation. I know nothing changes when you turn twenty-five. It’s just another birthday in what one hopes will be a long line of birthdays. I think maybe I can rent a car now, but that’s not really something one looks forward to. But it seems like twenty-five is significant. I can no longer lay claim to youth. The future, that idyllic fantasy world that will come to pass when I grow up, is much closer than I would like it to be and I feel unprepared.

I can’t tell if it’s just the recent past in the Western World or if it is something that is genetically encoded in humanity, but we seem to cling to youth as if life is not worth living without it. Youth and beauty are synonymous in our culture. Billions of dollars are spent in the pursuit of youth. Women in particular are under immense societal pressure to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty. We primp; we preen; we inject poison into our faces to eliminate lines; we paint a new face over our true face. All this is done in the service of maintaining our youth, what we think of as our beauty.
But is youthfulness equitable with beauty? Is there anything beautiful about vanity and desperation? Is there really no beauty in a wrinkled face where evidence of a lifetime lived can be found? Is smooth skin frozen in place by toxins preferable to the lines of laughter etched on an aging face?

I spent quite a lot of money at the salon this weekend. I got my hair done. Later, I went to a spa with my mother. She came to town to spend the day with me. She paid for everything: a massage, a facial, and a manicure. I felt wonderful when all was said and done. I felt like a hirsute monster that had stumbled into the city from the forest and after a haircut and bath is revealed to be a fresh-faced princess. It was nice to see my mother too.
I felt confident in the evening when my friends took me for a birthday dinner. We had Thai food and it was delicious. Confidence followed me to the bar we went to after dinner. I danced like no one was around and confidently brushed aside a couple of would-be suitors. Chelsea got drunk and nearly ended up going home with an angry looking guy in a baseball cap. Matt was able to stop her by reminding her that cake was waiting at his apartment and the night was not over.
Matt’s apartment brought further birthday joy as he had arranged to have many more friends waiting for us along with a cake baked by the culinary student that he is currently seeing, Theo. It was shaped like a banjo and it was eaten before I thought of taking a picture. I have to ask Mattif Theo took one. There were about twenty people there. We listened to swing music, ate cake and laughed a lot. Of course, a great deal of alcohol was consumed and Chelsea fell asleep on the couch. The party started to cool down and Matt, Theo and a few others played a bafflingly complex board game called Puerto Rico. I sat next to Chelsea and watched. Chloe, Matt’s Rottweiler, laid her head in my lap and I petted her.

A kind of fear came over me. How many more irresponsibly enjoyable nights will I get in life? The appearance of youth is not half as important as the vitality of youth. A dread settled over me as I thought about all the “adults” I knew and how very few of them seemed happy, how few of them had achieved wise maturity. Living seems like such a gamble and you don’t even know what the prize will be. You could pour your heart out and receive nothing but frustration. You could drift along never caring andfind that you have drifted into good fortune or love. I spend my life analyzing moments rather than enjoying them.

There is no fountain of youth. There is only life. Life is new and then it is old. One end is not greater than the other. While young, you may be in possession of beauty and vitality but in age you have experience and knowledge. The rash optimism of youth is not better than the measured rationalism of age. That is what life is all about, the constant transformation, the journey of years. I think the biggest mistake I could make as I age would be to struggle against the passage of time. There is no shame in growing old. There will be regrets but there is no shame. There will be missed opportunities but there will also be lessons learned. Time will age you and gravity will wear you down but each day lived, truly lived and utilized to the fullest, is a badge of honor.

That is what I need to remember. That is the lesson I am taking from this birthday. Remember to live. That’s the most important thing.

My favorite birthday present was given to me by someone I’ve never met. It was a few days late but that doesn’t matter. I was nominated for a Lovely Blogger award by Ashley at “Everything is Blooming”. It was totally unexpected. I smiled all day. It is high praise to have someone whose blog I admire nominate me for an award. (You should check out “Everything Is Blooming”. It’s really good. Her post “Brighton Beach” moved me to tears.)

Apparently there are rules for accepting the award. I have to say seven things about myself and then nominate fifteen people for the award. I am going to follow Ashley’s example and nominate five. Fifteen seems a bit much. So, here goes.

Seven things about myself:

1. I was named by my father. I’ve never met him. My mom doesn’t know why he chose Salomé. I’d like to think that it’s Oscar Wilde’s “Salomé” but who knows? There is a very small town in Arizona called Salomé. It might be that. (Bonus fact: the nickname I’ve been called most by jokers, bullies and teachers is salami.)
2. I’ve written half a novel but it’s been languishing unattended for almost six months. It is a slightly humorous story of a teacher in a small town finding herself up against the most powerful man in town as he tries to get her fired.
3. For a year in high school, I told everyone I was Jewish even though I am not. I was tired of all the commercialism of Christmas and I had been reading a lot of books by Jewish authors: Mordecai Richler, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud. I stopped telling people I was Jewish the following year when I went with my grandparents to a neighbor’s Hannukah celebration. My grandma, who thought it was funny, told the neighbors that I pretended to be Jewish. They stared at me with eyes that were unamused. I had to tell everyone at school that I had been lying because I felt so guilty. This did not help my popularity rating.
4. I love reading. I have read voraciously since I was first able to read. Nancy Drew dominated my preteen years. In high school, I read what I was assigned, and discovered a few authors by chance. I was somewhat influenced by my grandma who read Agatha Christie, James Michener, and various authors in the mystery genre. I assumed because an adult I admired was reading them, these authors must be the pinnacle of literature. College was a whole new world for me and I was introduced to the greats. Here are five books that blew my mind: “If on a winter’s night a traveler” by Italo Calvino, “Barney’s Version” by Mordecai Richler (though I think you should read “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” first), “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (I still can’t believe that it’s over a hundred years old and it seems like it could’ve been written yesterday: timeless.), “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco (I read it twice because it was so dense), and “Ask The Dust” by John Fante.
5. I currently work at a bookstore. It is more depressing than you would think. The ability to read has nothing to do with intelligence or social grace.
6. I have a dishwasher but I wash all of my dishes by hand because that’s the way I was raised.
7. I like listening better than talking and I like reading better than writing.

Now for the five nominees:

1. “RetroRambling” curated by TidiousTed. It is an amazing collection of strange old things, retro advertisements, bizarre news stories, astounding photographs. It is definitely worth spending some time and rambling through.
2. “Nathanael Thiessen Art” which is run by Nathanael Thiessen. Every time he posts a new piece I am astounded. He is both insanely talented and crazy prolific. His work seems to carefully straddle the line between the traditional and the digital.
3. “The Song of the Week Blog” that is cared for by Padraig O’Connor. This is an eclectic mix of songs faithfully illuminated through text and video each week. It is both entertaining and educational.
4. “I Used To Laugh At Bridget Jones” is an honest, open blog that is both humorous and heartfelt. It is an illuminating exploration of adulthood and life. She insightful without being arrogant.
5. “Vivid Earth Artwork by Shayla” is an engaging blog with beautiful pictures. Shayla is creative and adventurous. She seems to have tried (successfully, I might add) her hand at everything from tattoos to full-on paintings. She is able to travel between humorous and serious art effortlessly. I’m immensely jealous of her skills. (My two favorites are here and here.)

That’s it. Thanks for reading. I know it was a long one. I’m getting quite garrulous in my old age. Please check out these other blogs. They’re pretty great.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2012 4:37 am

    happy birthday, and life is still fun at 50. May your journey there be filled with joy.

  2. iusedtolaughatbridgetjones permalink
    October 15, 2012 10:52 pm

    Holy crap, thank you so much – and happy happy (late) birthday! I think you’re onto something with the vitality of youth being so important. And if it’s important to you, how can you lose it, right?

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