Notes on Aging, Cont’d (Or: In Defense of Hermitude)

A couple Fridays ago, my friend A came over for a chill night in. We watched a movie, ate some snacks, contemplated a house party for about thirty seconds before deciding on bedtime instead.

The following day, Saturday, we traded texts:

Me: “Remember how I said yesterday that I might want to go out tonight? Now all I want to do is bake a cake. What is wrong with me!?”

A: “I know. The biggest decision in the past hour was to buy or not to buy lamb chops and a beautiful cookbook. Soon, cat people!”

As I wrote in my response, I have always taken minor solace, for this very reason, in the fact that I can’t stand cats.

Hours later, after drinking some wine and making banana bread with my friend C, I went to turn in. (Let us not discuss the hour.) For about ten minutes, I looked around my room–on and under the bed, in my dresser, on the chair/clothesrack beside my closet–in desperate search of my pajama pants.

It was only upon reflecting back on my day–yoga, writing, baking, etc–that it occurred to me to look down: I had never taken them off.

I have come up with a lot of explanations (read: excuses) for why I have become an almost-complete hermit lately: I need to be writing. I’m not looking for a boyfriend. Cake tastes good with earl gray tea and soy milk. It’s starting to get a tad bit chilly.

But I’ve avoided the one that A eluded to in her text: the one that involves realizing that I am getting, a little bit, kind of, maybe, you know, old.

I know: not really. As I told the man who I checked into yoga class last Sunday morning, who announced to me that he “is old” by way of requesting the senior discount: the word is relative, and kind of meaningless.

“Sometimes,” I told him, “even I feel a little old!”

And sure: it sounds funny, and absurd, in the company of a senior citizen. But in other contexts, not so much.

Such as the one in which: I found myself involved in a Facebook flirtation with a 23 year old I know from school, and ran into him at a coffee shop only to realize that we’d yet to actually flirt. You know, in person. (Welcome to the Millenials!)

Or the one in which: come the weekends, I have little desire to go out to bars, to go to parties, to do anything besides hang out with friends, in my house or theirs, drink a little wine, eat some food and watch some Netflix.

Or the one in which: walking home across campus the other day, I realized that I still think of myself as being in my “early” twenties, and have no recollection of turning that invisible corner that landed me at twenty eight.

Okay: so it isn’t just the millenials who are increasingly dependent on nonverbal communication–it’s all of us. And it probably is just a phase (also: winter) that I’m going through, and that I blame for making me more and more resistant to socializing. (Or, it’s just my nature: and I’m okay with that.)

And I’m not, technically, old. But I am older: not necessarily than I feel, but than I feel like I ought to be. I’m not that young anymore.

It isn’t that I want to still be in my early twenties: generally, as I’ve written (aging = more redundant?) I like to think that we improve with age. Get wiser, more confident, know more things. It’s just that it seems strange that I’m not.

So: what, exactly, am I trying to say? Time moves quickly? The years pass faster and faster, the older we get? I thought I’d have my shit together by now a lot more than I actually do?

You already know all that stuff. And so do I. Mostly, I just wanted to tell you the story about my pajama pants. And, to say, in case you’re feeling like you’re a little bit older than you think you should be: me, too.

 

 

 

On Jonathan Franzen, and Growing Up

I have mixed feelings about Jonathan Franzen.

For the most part, I adore his writing: I devoured “Freedom” in roughly the time it takes to finish the Sunday crossword. I similarly enjoyed “The Corrections,” and many of his essays in “How to Be Alone”–which may be one of my favorite book titles, ever. I find his craft¬† instructive, his characters’ compelling, his sentences crisp and funny.

But there’s something about him.

M and I recently argued about whether his notoroious Oprah snub qualifies as clever or dumb: I argued the latter. (In 2001, after Oprah selected “The Corrections” for her Book Club, he at first accepted and then expressed his reservations so frankly and so publicly that she had no choice but to rescind the invitation.)

“Why,” I said, “does anyone write anything besides to get as many people as possible to read it?”

(Okay, maybe there are a few other reasons. And snubbing Oprah may or may not have gained Franzen more readers than he lost. Details.)

Regardless of whether it was savvy, though, the Oprah move does come across as the behavior of someone who takes themselves, and their work, very seriously.

My sense about this was affirmed when I heard a Fresh Air interview with Franzen, re-aired recently for “Freedom”‘s paperback release. When Terry Gross asks him why so many of his characters are depressive, he explains that his readers–readers of serious fiction–are complicated, sometimes depressive people, too. (Also, that depressed characters are funnier.) I mean, come on. Whether he wants to admit it or not, his books are highly readable. And again: as a writer, there’s just something off about judging your potential audience.

But now that I’ve gotten my Franzen-feelings out of the way, I can tell you what he also says in that interview that struck me as really, really smart.

He talks about what it means to be an adult. This is something I think about a lot–especially lately, in the wake of what feels to be a more-significant-then-before birthday.

In his Fresh Air “Corrections” interview, Franzen talked about the fact that so long as our parents are alive (and well), it can be easy to dodge a full acceptance of adulthood. And in this one, he describes that, for him, it wasn’t until his fifties that he really stopped walking around every day feeling like he was about twenty-three.

“I feel, actually, about fifty-one,” he says, “and it’s shocking.

I think I came to the realization a while ago that one may not ever truly feel their age. So there’s some hope in Franzen’s admission. But what I find most interesting is the way that he framed what it means to be an adult: to be a child, he explains, is to have everything be possible. To be an adult means to accept that those possibilities have shrunk–accepting our identities as narrower. As finite. As limited.

And when you think of it in those terms, it’s no wonder so many of us are so loathe to accept our “adult” status. We’ve been told our whole lives that everything is possible. How, and when, are we to resign ourselves that it isn’t?

The other night, after a concert in Santa Fe, I got into a bit of a friendly argument with an aquaintance who insisted that thirty is middle-aged. (He’s twenty-nine.)

“How can you possibly say that?” I scolded.

I pushed him to admit the absurdity of his position. But he wouldn’t.

“I just feel really old,” he said. And when I made him explain why, his response paralleled Franzen’s definition: “There’s just a lot of stuff I feel like I’m too old to do.”

But when I demanded specifics, his best response was: “play professional sports?”

I mean, yeah: I used to take comfort in the fact that even the youngest of the champion Olympic figure skaters was older than me. And it was slightly traumatic when, by the late 90s, they no longer were.

But not that traumatic: I never really thought I’d be a Gold Medal skater. (Well, I did: until I got to the part of the lessons where they expected me to do jumps, when I was about eight. That illusion shattered pretty quick.)

There are a lot of illusions, though, to which I still hold dear: that I’ll be a successful writer.(Whatever that means.)¬† That I’ll find an ideal mate, have a happy, uncomplicated family where money and love and success are all, blissfully, taken for granted. That my parents and siblings and close friends will be around as long as I need them: you know, forever.

Basic and universal ideals, in other words, that are as unrealistic as they are common. Not that I won’t find some measure of those things, like most of us: but I won’t find them in the clean, simple way they exist in my imagination.

And I know that. But I don’t really know that: I still walk around most days, feeling about twenty-two, thinking I’ll find them.

And you know what? Until life forces me to learn otherwise–for Franzen, it was the death of his close friend, David Foster Wallace–I’m pretty okay with that.

I know innocence doesn’t last forever, but I’ll keep it so long as I can.

 

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Today in lowbrow gym reading, I perused myself some Glamour. (I claim, by the way, to read the New Yorker at the gym. Once in a while I do. But let’s be real: when there’s a lighter option available, I am not above taking it).

This issue featured Katie Couric conducting a serious interview with Whoopi Goldberg. Okay fine it was really, really unserious. Among her puffy questions was one about what she knows now that she wished she had known in her twenties.

Being Whoopi and being awesome, she replied that she wished she knew that being twenty-something is not, in fact, all that different than being fifty-something.

Which, if you’re not Whoopi, may be more or less true. But regardless it reminded me of a conversation I had last night with one of my best friends, R.

R is starting law school in the fall, which means she’s moving back to New York. She is currently contemplating a decision: whether to go back to her bright-but-expensive-and-ideally-located Brooklyn apartment, or move in, for a few months at least, to her parents bright-but-free-and-ideally-located Brooklyn house.

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Relationships, Careers, Priorities and Abstractions

When I was deciding where to go to graduate school, about a year ago, I had lunch with a family friend who is in her 70s, exceptionally accomplished, and whose opinions I take as seriously as anyone’s.

At the time I was choosing between New Mexico and North Carolina, having begun to tell people that I’d ruled out Columbia “unless I tripped on a trust fund.” I didn’t.

I was also, at the time, dating my Missed Connection: the guy I met through Craiglist after a subway sighting, who is a labor lawyer and performed his younger sisters’ weddings, and who frequently gets mistaken for John Krasinski, the guy from The Office.

In other words, the one who–on paper–seemed like an absolutely ideal husband. And who, accordingly, I had concluded should probably be my ideal husband.

As I weighed my options, he was also weighing his–having been offered a job in Washington DC. A place, it was not lost on either of us, within reasonable driving distance from the school I was considering in North Carolina.

I should add that, despite my delusions about marriage, I actually managed to keep things rather casual between us. Or rather, allowed him to: we only saw one another a couple of times a week. We were both clearly smitten, but despite occasional teasings about who was going to leave whom, we refrained from indulging–to each other at least–in fantasies of our shared future.

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On Ever Feeling Our Age

When I was little, I took comfort in the thought that even child stars were older than me. People like Michelle Kwan and Macauley Culkin.

As though, given a couple more years, I too could become an Olympic champion or become male, blond and dysfunctional after starring in a blockbuster Hollywood movie.

When I started high school, the reigning national Spelling Bee champion was in my class. I rationalized the fact that such people were now my peers with the bizarre way that she compulsively tapped her feet and thrust up her arms during freshman English class.

I thought that I’d still managed to hang on, to some extent, to this method of self-justification.

But today, reading a profile of Greta Gerwig–the female lead in Greenberg, who I fell for in the movie Nights and Weekends–and seeing that she, like me, is twenty-six–I hardly flinched. Which made me wonder: when did I surpass the age when it was surprising for me to be older than a critical mass of really successful people? Really successful people who aren’t even considered young to be successful?

In other words: when did I get to be older than I feel?

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