Or is it aging? I'm never sure about that word. Spellcheck doesn't catch on it, so I guess both are OK? (editorial note: aging is preferred in the US while ageing is preferred in the UK, and either is acceptable in Canada)
Anyway here I am on the morning of my fifty-fifth birthday and thinking about age, about the expectations we have about specific ages, how few of us Gen-Xers seem to feel the age we are, and what it means to finally qualify for senior housing and to order off the Senior Menu at Denny's.
I'm honestly kind of excited about it. It feels like a milestone, though I'm not treating it as a milestone birthday in any way...I don't intend to leave the house, much less have a party or even go out to dinner. I'll be hosting in Second Life, though I was offered the night off to celebrate, but I find I like working more than just being there, plus people tip like crazy on your birthday (or rezday, your SL avatar's birthday). So that and clicking the Love icon on all the birthday wishes on Facebook will be my birthday party.
It feels like I'm entering the sacred halls of Old on this birthday, like I've finished the Middle Age portion of the race and can relax. Of course if I relax any further than I already have, I am in danger of melting altogether and being absorbed by the carpeting, but there is nevertheless a sense of arrival having reached 55, safely under the marquee of "Golden Years."
Mostly it feels like I am now the appropriate age to be the physical and emotional wreck that I already am, like I am now allowed to settle into this curmudgeonly heap of thinning gray hair and drooping flesh that I've been occupying these last ten or more years as a birthright citizen instead of an interloper. I feel like I'm properly old instead of prematurely old, I guess.
Of course this is all based on expectations developed in early childhood, our first understanding of how the world works by observing our parents and grandparents and how they lived. I'm now in the age range that my multifarious grandparents and step-grandparents were when I was about five or six, starting school and learning about family structure and social structure in my early reading and television viewing.
All my grandparents had certain things in common because of their generation, the so-called Greatest Generation who grew up in the Depression and were young adults in WWII. Well, to be specific, both my grandfathers were older than that, born in the first decade of the 20th century, but their experiences were not dissimilar to their fifteen-years-younger wives' except they were too old to be drafted by 1940.
And then my parents and stepparents and aunts and uncles and all their cohort were first-wave Boomers, and they all had certain things in common, having grown up in the same place at the same point in history, with the same cultural references and social structures and sets of expectations to either succeed or fail at. The Boomers had a lot more choices of mainstreams to enter than their Greatest Generation parents had, but they were the same choices that all their peers had, and for the most part they aimed at having adult lives similar to their parents' adult lives, with long-term jobs and owned homes—but with a nostalgia for their golden childhoods and adolescences that the previous generation did not have.
Then my generation, Generation X as we came to be known as people started studying American culture through a lens of generational subculture, based our expectations of what adult life would be like on what our parents' lives were like when we were little, though we doubled down on the nostalgia by never letting go of our childhood obsessions and pastimes. We nevertheless based our expectations on what was modeled for us early on.
What was different, I think, is that the world changed faster and faster as we grew up, and has continued to change at increasing speed as we age, and we really don't know where we are or where we should be. Our grandparents' lifestyle that our parents more often than not emulated is simply not available anymore, and we've got generations of children and grandchildren now that we simply don't know what to do with.
That's the real mind-fucker, that our grandchildren are now coming of age and forming Gen-Z. That we've passed where our parents were when we formed our expectations of life, and are now zooming through where our grandparents were, and our models have turned out to be completely irrelevant. But they're still our base for what we think we can and should do.
These are of course sweeping generalizations, as most discussions of Generation Whichever tend to be, requiring sub-generations like Generation Jones and Gen-Y to bridge the gaps between actual population surges whose experiences will be different from those born at the beginnings of the Generations. But I find as I observe and talk with my own born-in-the-late-sixties peers that there are generalizations one can make, and the main observation is that we can't, and shouldn't, base our expectations on previous generations. But those expectations were formed in childhood, and anything formed in childhood will continue to echo through one's whole life. You can change your expectations, subvert your expectations, but you can't escape your expectations.
So that's what I'm thinking about on my fifty-fifth birthday. I'm off to write some notices and making some posters for tonight's Starfall shows, and make a nearly-naked outfit so I can party in my birthday suit, and expect to have a lot of fun. So here's a wish and a prayer that every dream comes true; and now, 'til we meet again, adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehn!
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