(also posted at http://liliales.tumblr.com)
Something I saw earlier on Tumblr has been nagging at me. It was a photo of the most attractive man I can name, with a mild note of misery that he had inevitably aged. They were enchanted with the face, but maybe not the man wearing it.
This is wholly enchanting, isn't it?
We celebrate youth, and we sometimes celebrate the aged, but we rarely celebrate the process from one to the other. I think that's what I'm attempting to do as middle age crawls over me like a late summer afternoon shadow.
I would never wish a celebrity or anyone I knew would stop aging or look or act just the same as some one point in time. But I sometimes wish there would be a point at which we're old enough and wise enough to travel fluidly back and forth in our own time stream, to witness events and people as they were then, but from our current point of view. We'd be sensible enough to stay out of our own lives, of course.
You may know the year I was born fascinates me.
It was so dualistic in every arena; concurrently buttoned-down and loosened up. I'm both of those things in one small (ish) package. I believe in dressing up to go out, in manners and dignity and respect and slow-growth investment, and I'm also so open-minded I don't have any doors in my head, and I don't wear shoes unless I absolutely have to, and I just really don't care for money at all. I could dig outside in the dirt all day long, but rarely without my iPod or satellite radio plugged into my ears. I love Dave Brubeck, Dave Gahan, and the Dave Clark Five. And I love absolute silence.
Many people I know who are the same age as me feel like that. We're products of what I truly believe was a unique point in history. You may think you know just what I mean, but unless you're between 41 and 46, you really don't. I'm explaining it very poorly because it isn't explainable.
Anyway. I'd definitely visit 1965. All my first loves, I still love em. I watched them grow up, grow out of date, die or grow old. I don't love those people and that stuff only for what it was when I first made the discovery; I love all they were and are and will be. After all, as Madeline L'Engle once put it, "I am all the ages I've ever been." We're just flowers; we open up, take in light, produce seeds and begin to dry out and get droopy. People preserve flowers in books, to carry the memory of when their scent was fresh. It's the same flower, though, whether fresh or dried-out.
We preserve star photos at Tumblr the same way. But if you could go and visit the moments those photos were taken, what would you discover? How would it affect how you see these people now, so many years after their youth faded or they passed away? I guess it depends on whether you're viewing them as real people, or only a glorified reflection.
When I was a very little girl, my ideal of a man was a distinct cross between Bret Maverick and Speed Racer. This largely informed my view of men in general, so you can imagine I spent a few years somewhat confused and disappointed at what I saw around me. But still I've never not loved men utterly, for all their strengths and frailties and just basic maleness. (Except their socks. I can never love those.) And I've been thinking about kissing men for over 40 years now, though I've still never kissed a race car driver or a western anti-hero.
Much later on, when I reflected back on those early crushes, I read up on James Garner, who played Bret Maverick and another favorite TV character, Jim Rockford. I decided I'd probably like him even more than the characters he often portrayed. It wasn't possible to do this with Speed Racer, but I've read lots of books and articles and watched lots of interviews with all my other childhood favorites, and I found I liked them even more, most of the time, when I learned about their ideals and humor and weaknesses and real-personnesses. Would they like me in return? Well, who thinks about that? (In Fantasy Land, I have straight pretty teeth, though, and the rest is easy.)
In 1965, I'd want to watch some of these people and certain events right at the genesis of all that social change which flavored my childhood. They may have largely ignored it all, but it didn't ignore them, either raising them up or viewing them with disdain.
Now, inside my aging head, my brain still sees me as the young hopeful woman with a 24-inch waist and long lean legs, socially awkward, casual in manner and formal in speech (or the reverse, depending,) slightly manipulative yet confused by outright duplicity…very little of this has changed except my waistline. And I'm calmer and wiser, and much less awkward as a result.
So more even than just visiting my birth year, I'd most like to go back and see some of my favorite stars when they were the age I am now. (Except possibly Bill Holden. I'd meet him post-vasectomy, pre-Audrey Hepburn, but that's another tale altogether.) I want to see if they were recognizing then what I'm recognizing now.
This is the time in life to start defining what contentment really means, and to realize it's mostly just a choice we make, if we're willing. To be willing, we have to accept the utterly tiresome loss of collagen, a thickening waistline, sometimes the hair on our heads. The tradeoff is totally worth it, though. Youth is wasted on the wrong people. Aging can be very sexy, because it becomes a choice rather than an imperative. In our current era, we have more leisure to contemplate this, but I suspect plenty of people have known it right along, only it's a native secret that you can't quite understand until you're fully initiated into the club.
And if you reach the age in which the contemplation of nature and all that came before now takes up the largest part of your day—that age at which, apparently, you're taking in more data than ever before, but don't feel so much like bothering with it all—you've earned the privilege of laughing at the notion that prettiness is largely defined by youthfulness. Even if you're a little wistful about it at times.