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On Aging

October 9, 2013

Another year has passed. I have been on the planet for twenty-six years. Ten years ago, when I was sixteen, I knew everything there was to know. It was a terrible burden knowing everything. It made me quite cross with everybody. Now, after passing my twenty-sixth birthday, I’ve found I don’t know anything and that the things I think I do know are dwarfed by the things I know I don’t know. While it is a relief to bid farewell to the weight of knowing everything, I still miss it from time to time. It brought a foolish courage. It was that voice inside that was able to convince you that risks can bring rewards, that security and comfort shrink the world and don’t expand it. I am like a junky for security and comfort now. I don’t let it out of my sight and no internal voice is ever going to convince me to give them up. Don’t touch my stuff!

It was knowing everything that made me confident enough to buy a banjo. ‘I can learn it. I can do whatever I want to do. I know everything.’ That confidence has gone. Hours of practice and impromptu jams and my playing is not fit for purpose outside of a living room or a high school bedroom album.

It was the belief in myself that made me believe I could survive on my own. I would not have to live and die in a cloistered pocket of America. I went to college hundreds of miles away from where I grew up. I met friends who have become like family. I discovered I didn’t know as much as I thought.

In childhood, the world is like a painting. It is flat. It is beautiful but there is no depth. Everything has one dimension. As you grow older, the painting seems to gain more depth. Time shifts your perspective so that before you know it, you are walking around in the painting. That flat painting was hiding the nuance and deceptions. The bald eagle’s noble bearing has become sinister. The infallibility of authority turns out to be a cruel joke. Grown ups turn out to be just that, just children that have grown up. Larger stature has no bearing on intelligence. You discover that you are one of them. Ten years ago, that was out of the question.

If my sixteen-year-old self could see me ten years later…

“You work at a bookstore?” she says with unconcealed disgust.

“It pays the bills.”

“I thought you were going to be a famous author.”

“I’m in the book business.”

“This is so embarrassing. So, what are you? Like, a cashier?”

“I’m actually like a shift supervisor.”

“What’s that mean? You’re the manager of a bookstore?”

“I’m sort of like an assistant assistant manager.”

“Is this some sort of Christmas Carol thing or something? Are you like the Ghost of Birthday Future?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’re like the worst possible future. I figure you’re like meant to scare me into doing better in school or something.”

“I did great in school. I got all B’s and A’s.”

“And you’re still just the assistant’s assistant?”

“Well, it’s not that simple. A lot of it is political, you know. If the district manager doesn’t like you, there’s only so far you can go. Just remember you don’t always have to say what you’re thinking, okay?”

“Ugh. You sound like my mom.”

“Yeah, well, she makes a lot more sense than you think she does.”

“I’ll tell you this, I’m never working at a bookstore.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“You tell me.”

“Well, yeah, my boss is an unfeeling narcissist and his boss might be a diagnosable psychopath and the whole corporate structure seems to favor the incumbent management who never relinquish a bit of power or a single red cent, but the benefits are okay and they pay me pretty good for retail.”

“You’re like a domestic animal, licking the hand with food in it.”

“Look, you don’t understand. The economy is pretty bad right now. The government has become so gridlocked that nothing can get done.”

“If I were you, I’d just do it. I’d just write a book or at least get a new job.”

“I try writing. I do. It’s just when I get home from work I feel so drained emotionally, that I just want to sit there reading a book or watching TV. I just don’t have the energy.”

“What does your husband think of all this?”

“I’m not married.”


“Not for a couple of years.”

“This is so depressing. You know, Scrooge isn’t supposed to kill himself at the end of A Christmas Carol.”

“You’ve never even had a boyfriend, so don’t act all superior. Men aren’t as great as you think they are anyway. Most chimps are more emotionally mature than a man.”

“Great. I become a bitter old spinster with a boring job.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being single. Jane Goodall was single.”

“She was married twice. You are not helping yourself.”

“Well, my life is okay, you know? Maybe it doesn’t look like whatever picture you doodled in your notebook, but I’d rather be me than anyone else, and in the end that’s more important than money or fame.”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that. Meanwhile, I’ve just found out that I end up becoming my mother.”

“I’m not like my mom at all.”

“You should see yourself right now. You are so mom.”

“It doesn’t matter. I am who I am. There’s no changing it now. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“What about college? I mean, you do well in college, you get a good job, right?”

“I told you I did great in school. I have a degree in psychology.”

She wrinkles her nose.

“What? What do you want? You can’t get a degree in comic books.”

“The plan was to go to college, meet boys in big coats with books in their pockets, get a degree in English Literature, have fun and then when it’s all over write a bestselling novel and join the cozy world of academia. How do you screw that up?”

“Ha ha ha. To be young again. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but if your planning on a degree in English Lit., you may as well skip it. You may as well just make a diploma in Mouse Paint for all the good it would do you. The ‘fun’ you look forward to having is dominated by those same cliques of people you are in school with right now. And boys with big coats with books in their pockets—Well, let’s just say the coat is directly proportionate to the ego.”

“So all my hopes and dreams are what? Hopeless?”

“You can get what you want but you’ll never be happy till you appreciate what you have.”

“Quisling,” she hisses.

“I can’t be a traitor. You don’t have a cause.”

“My cause is to never become like you.”

“Oh brother. I don’t remember being so dramatic about everything.”

“You are not me.”

That is a very good point. Maybe you really do know everything. Isn’t it good to know we’re nothing alike?”



One Comment leave one →
  1. October 9, 2013 10:57 am

    same thing happened to my dad. When I was sixteen he got real dumb, but by the time I was twenty-five he was real smart 🙂

    in work, job one is make the boss look good. If that’s hard, become your own boss.

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