There are many ways in which I am intellectually compromised. Mathematics, organization of physical spaces, remembering dates... Not the worst set of issues, but each its own special ass-pain, its own slightly embarrassing hurdle. I turned 40 years old twice. Somewhere in my 30s something shook itself a little loose in my head and I lost track of precisely how old I was. I know that there are several documents in my possession that could have corrected my failed internal record-keeping, but why would I consult those records if I didn't perceive a problem? As far as I was concerned, I was as old as I thought I was. That being exactly a year older than I actually was.
I proceeded to do a sloppy rendition of emotional crisis. I felt obligated. It was only half way heartfelt. In truth, I felt a sort of literary need for turning 40 to be a full blown crisis, when in reality all I was experiencing was a sort of mild unease about the state of the universe. The kind of unease that is usually treated with meditation, prayer, Martinis, pills, or sitting in a tepid bath reading old New Yorkers. The one serious flare-up of crisis-like symptoms led me to purchase a firearm. You can read about that elsewhere.
After the party at the restaurant, after the series of mildly abusive cards from friends about how I was turning into a crotchety old fuck, I went back to work and things were normal. Until a week later, at Thanksgiving, when my oldest friend pointed out that I was not, in fact, forty, I had turned 39. We checked my driver’s license, visited howoldami.com, and his assertion was true. I was 39.
The mockery that ensued has not really let up since. Even when I really did turn 40. I still hear about it. But I feel that something other than a certain slackness of mind drove that error. Every mistake has a purpose, and if think I know why it took two attempts for me to successfully turn 40.
I needed a practice run.
It might be a simple trick of human psychology, or a cultural more reinforced by a lifetime of media from industries obsessed with aging, but things look different when you finish that forth decade. Especially if you have young kids. Things look different than you'd hoped they might.
Every generation must go through this, the reversal who's on which side of Us and Them. For a lot of us it feels more like Me and Them, as you build your little fortress around the things you love, the hours and the people you long to preserve from harm. As we get older the Us is less coherent. Less meaningful. The distances between us become difficult to navigate.
But oh, look at the new Them. Skip down two generations and you'll see the enemy, and they are legion! They are motivated entirely by self-interest. They have forgotten the ingredients that go into cool. They will ruin everything we've built in the name of recontextualization and the commerce of nothingness. Their music is somehow both inscrutable and a direct rip-off of what you were into twenty years ago. Making elaborate 6th wave coffee drinks is what now passes for "working with your hands". They have problems, true... But their problems are solved with a willingness to move instantly on to the next thing. Their clothes are too tight in the crotch, or hanging halfway down their ass, but never just properly fit. In their blind self-interest, they are letting the physical world go to shit. How can they be so twee and so vulgar at the same time?
No. Stop it. Bad secular humanist.
At 40 we might get tired and look around during a long commute home and see that bleak world. What we do not see is that some of those kids are developing the nanotechnology that might one day remove the cancer from my pancreas one precise molecular zap at a time. They might really get somewhere replacing Styrofoam with molded mushroom fiber. There might be a transition to a non-fossil fuel based global economy that doesn't involve apocalypse. They might engage in on ongoing effort to improve the conditions of the poor. Some of these kids are frightfully smart. Even if they haven't mastered the art of wearing pants.
After a good night's sleep and a cup of coffee it is easier to see that much of what we find alarming about younger generations is superficial. If the kid is a promising chemist, what do I care that he stares into his mobile while strolling through the crosswalk of a busy, unpredictable intersection? Let him do it his way.
What I'm beginning to see is that not all change is a process of degradation. And some of the things that are, in fact, degrading, need to be accounted for in the controlled burn of evolving culture. Some change has a lateral value, some of it should be encouraged. New tools will create new perceptions of freedom, new openings in what we've thought of as closed loops. It can still be good. I wonder if my grandparents had a chance to feel the same way.
Seriously, though. Nothing good is going to happen and we're all going to die in a tidal wave of fire and satanic mucous if you don't put your fucking phone down while you drive. Please pull over, set the device to detonate in five minutes, and find a way to swallow it. Let this be the form of your honorable death.