We live in a society enamored with both the new and the young, so being old is hard, especially while we watch old things fading. As you grow old you treasure the past and old things more and more, and your ability to keep up with new things and understand the young gets harder and harder. One of the hardest thing about being old is trying to stay young, both in body and mind. Menopause and erectile dysfunction are cruel reminders that staying young at heart can even feel foolish. Sagging flesh, hair loss, wrinkles, age spots, varicose veins, gnarled fingers tells others we’re old even though on the inside we still feel nineteen. But should we still try to act nineteen?
Getting old is both fascinating and cruel. For most of our time on Earth we feel our life is in front of us, but then that changes, and slowly we realize that we have little to look forward to and much to look back on. The tendency is to try to stay young in mind, and patch-up our our tired old bodies so we can keep going. Staying young at heart requires the existential endurance of Sisyphus. The trouble is acting young makes us look old and silly. Sure, a few like Mick Jagger can pull off wearing hot fashions and acting twenty, but most of us would look like pug dog in a funny outfit.
Today’s technology allows old pop culture and new pop culture to co-exist simultaneously. When I was young that wasn’t true. My parents had their old pop culture they mostly remembered, and we had our new music, movies, television shows and books that dominated the pop culture landscape. Back then, we even had a name for it – the Generation Gap. Today, old people can love new stuff, and young people can love old stuff.
Do I remain young if I’m watching the second season of Orange is the New Black and running Ubuntu 14.04 on a machine I built myself? Would I be younger still if I watched stolen copies of HBO shows on a Mac Air? I’m rather clueless about the latest trends in hipness. But I have noticed something about my peers. Some only listen to 1960s music and watch reruns of 1970s television shows, and they marvel that I listen to Katy Perry and Mumford and Sons. I do try to go back to my old favorite shows of youth, like The Many Loves of Dobbie Gillis and Star Trek, but I can’t focus on them. I don’t know if that’s because I’m too old, or the shows are too old.
Don’t get me wrong I do love some old stuff. I’m listening to 1967 albums this morning as I write, and I’m reading Possession about 19th century fictional poets because I love the 19th century. But I also read modern books like The Goldfinch and The Martian. Is my ability to enjoy contemporary pop culture keeping me young, or was I born with the genes that make me like contemporary pop culture?
There are many popular trends I can’t comprehend. I can’t get into video games. I want to. They look cool. But I buy them and just don’t know what to do. I’m also embarrassed by comic books and movies based on comic books – they seem too much for children. I’m going to catch a lot of flack for this, but I can understand Ruth Graham’s POV in her essay “Against YA” even though I read and loved The Fault in Our Stars. I’m one of those old people that read YA fiction – occasionally. I also read Pulitzer and Booker prize winning novels too. I’m not quite embarrassed to read YA, but I am for comics. Is that my 1950s upbringing showing? I wasn’t too old to enjoy music videos in the early 1980s on MTV, but I am way to old to watch MTV today without cringing.
At 62 I find it hard to relate to anyone under 40. It’s strange, but I enjoy the company of people born closest to 1951, the year I was born. Rarely, I’ll meet a young person that actively studies baby boomer pop culture, or parts of it, and I find that rather strange. We’ll have a common interest, and I’m more than happy to talk about the old days with them, but I can’t fathom why they like my old stuff. Was I any different in my twenties talking to old guys about Big Band music of the 1930s?
I think old and young people can share old stuff and new stuff, but I’m not sure we’re seeing it in the same way. And if old people enjoy new stuff, does that make them youthful? And if young people like old stuff, does that make them mature? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about.
JWH – 6/9/14
9 thoughts on “New v. Old, and Old v. Young”
I love your pug all dressed up in pink — certainly better looking than Mick Jagger all dressed up in anything. I think Mick Jagger is exceptionally ugly.
The hardest part of being old right now for me is lack of energy and the second hardest is loneliness.
I’ve never been a high energy person, but I’ve got enough at the moment to keep my busy. I also have enough friends to fill out all my social time and more. Since I retired, I’m seeing far fewer people, but I’m actually spending so much time socializing that I wonder if I’m over-doing it.
Carol, how do you meet new people?
I meet people at church, at the Y, and volunteering at the symphony. But most of these are just casual acquaintances. My real friends I have known for a long time, some from school, some from the Red Hat Society. I could go to the Senior Center, but so far, I haven’t gotten into that. I have no male friends at all. None.
I socialize with women friends. My male friends have all become hermits. I see them some, but not regular. My wife works out of town, so I go out with lady friends. I think they like me because I’m willing to go to the movies, or plays, to art galleries, or out to eat, things my guy friends have stopped doing, or never did.
62 is not old. 62 is a great age – you can retire and do many of the
things you wanted to do as you still have the energy. It doesn’t have
to be high energy.
Check in when you are 70 and then you will appreciate old.!!
Thanks Elaine. I figure retiring at 62 makes me young old. I realize I still have a long way to go before I get old old. I pay lots of attention to people older than me. People in their sixties still try to act young, then somewhere in the 70s, I notice people settling down for a change. They start disappearing from social activities. People in their 80s and 90s are sort of mysterious to me because I don’t interact with many of them, other than relatives and neighbors. Of course, as us baby boomers age, we’ll probably change things.
I can relate to much of your post and wanted to add a thought. You mentioned the endurance of Sisyphus required to stay young at heart and immediately the comment by Camus popped into my mind about how he imagined Sisyphus as happy. I think that’s the secret. I’m 57 going on 14 in a lot of ways but the effort to remain how I was back in high school is for me worth it. If that ever changes then I might act my age. Maybe.
The existential view of Sisyphus is to find meaning, and even happiness, in whatever burden we must endure, no matter how tedious and boring it might be. There’s the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” I’m just young old, but I know the going is going to get very tough as I get older. I’m trying to psyche myself up for getting really old. Like Bette Davis said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” The trouble is I’ve always taken the path of least resistance and I’m a bit of a wuss.
You worry about it too much, Jim. Remember leisure suits? That was a fad at the time. It was something new. It might have been acting young to adopt leisure suits, but that didn’t make them any less ridiculous.
And computer games? I’m a huge fan of computer games, and I know enthusiastic fans even older than me. If you’re not interested, you’re not interested. It has nothing to do with age.
OK, it does have something to do with age. The older you get, the less you care about fitting in. If you don’t enjoy something, you don’t do it. If you don’t like the modern equivalent of leisure suits – whatever that is – you don’t feel compelled to adopt that fad.
Sure, part of it might be a resistance to trying something new just because it is new (and just because all your friends are doing it). But is that such a bad thing? Let the young adopt the latest fads, while we pick and choose what we find useful or entertaining.