On Aging

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Aging is the process of learn­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate grey­ness. It is on­ly a gen­tle irony that our hair takes on that hue. The things chil­dren ap­pre­ci­ate and learn about are de­fined by clar­i­ty: a col­or, a taste, an emo­tion. As time pass­es and ex­pe­ri­ences pile up, red be­comes oxblood, sweet­ness and emo­tions take shape by their in­ten­si­ty.

My near­ly-sev­en son cares not for fic­tion. He wants facts in books. The clar­i­ty has grown in scope, but not in com­plex­i­ty. This will con­tin­ue un­til at some point he will be­come old.

That’s where I sit: on old side of things. You be­come old when your ex­pe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge gives you the abil­i­ty to dis­cern facts from things that pur­port to be facts; and you ap­pre­hend or com­pre­hend that the act of know­ing is equal parts be­lief and agen­da.

So I no longer de­mand clar­i­ty. My scope has nar­rowed. I know that no mat­ter how good that beer might be, I’ll en­joy bour­bon more. I know that there is no point try­ing to con­vince peo­ple who hold fun­da­men­tal po­si­tions on a top­ic to change their minds. I have reached the lim­its of clar­i­ty and move cau­tious­ly in the vast mist that ex­ists be­tween facts, and be­tween knowl­edge and re­al­i­ty. Red is a gra­di­ent, fla­vors are com­bined, emo­tions are deep and sa­vored. I un­der­stand how it is frus­trat­ing to the not-old to see what ap­pears to be a lack of con­cern, or a con­cern with the un­sub­stan­tial. The fre­quen­cy of the old is longer, both ex­pe­ri­en­tial­ly and rel­a­tivis­ti­cal­ly.

To be old is to be a ship hap­pi­ly lost in fog, sa­vor­ing the sub­tle­ty of the phan­toms that flit about the cor­ners of our eyes, that, when we were young, we on­ce mis­took for friends.

If by Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, 27 February 2011

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are los­ing theirs and blam­ing it on you;
If you can trust your­self when all men doubt you,
But make al­lowance for their doubt­ing too;
If you can wait and not be tired by wait­ing,
Or, be­ing lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, be­ing hat­ed, don’t give way to hat­ing,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your mas­ter;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with tri­umph and dis­as­ter
And treat those two im­posters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spo­ken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to bro­ken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your win­nings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your be­gin­nings
And nev­er breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long af­ter they are gone,
And so hold on when there is noth­ing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the com­mon touch;
If nei­ther foes nor lov­ing friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the un­for­giv­ing min­ute
With six­ty sec­onds’ worth of dis­tance run -
Yours is the Earth and every­thing that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man my son! 

Rudyard Kipling

My mom gave me a framed ver­sion of this po­em on my 16th birth­day. I wasn’t a man then, so I didn’t re­al­ly un­der­stand it. Later, when I thought I un­der­stood it, I dis­agreed with it on all points. It sat in the clos­et in my old room un­til I turned 30, at which time my mom gave it to me again. I flipped it over and on the back was the note she’d writ­ten my for my 16th birth­day, the note she’d writ­ten for my 30th, and the hand­writ­ten po­em my Grandma wrote for me on my 16th. Reading “If” at 30 is yet again a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Now I feel like I un­der­stand it; now I strive for the­se list­ed virtues. 

Now it hangs in my son’s room, and I hope as he grows that he will feel the same ways I’ve felt about it over the years.

Varieties of Empathy

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

There has been a lot swirling around my head late­ly; some gen­er­al themes in­clude: fore­sight & hind­sight, the evo­lu­tion of the hu­man ca­pac­i­ty for change, ag­ing, em­pa­thy, the very dif­fer­ent im­pli­ca­tions & re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­her­ent in dat­ing as a fa­ther, and why my dog farts un­con­trol­lably when my son plays with his toy he­li­copter (pro­nounced, and this is very im­por­tant: “hel­lapoc­k­er”).

So I’ve been think­ing too much to write, much less co­her­ent­ly. So I’m go­ing to try and catch up a bit, right now.

Foresight & Hindsight

When I was re­al­ly lit­tle, I had a book about Thomas Jefferson and the val­ue of fore­sight. Although I’m not sure I ful­ly grasped the con­cept at the time, it stuck with me. It’s some­thing I con­sid­er to be a rel­a­tive strength of mine. I can look ahead long-term and see what the path I want to fol­low en­tails and act ac­cord­ing­ly. I fig­ure that the bet­ter and more prac­ticed your fore­sight, the less it will dif­fer from the 2020 of hind­sight. I al­so fig­ure that not very many peo­ple un­der­stand the val­ue of fore­sight or are ca­pa­ble of it. Or, I’m an ar­ro­gant dick.

Capacity Changes & Aging

In terms of in­ter­est, life seems to be a pro­gres­sion from the gen­er­al to the speci­fic. A child is in­ter­est­ed in every­thing (ex­cept a var­ied di­et), an ado­les­cent is in­ter­est­ed most­ly in the things they like, and in try­ing things they haven’t yet been able to do. An adult tends to­ward the en­joy­ment of things they have es­tab­lished as life-long pas­sions, and los­es in­ter­est in try­ing new things. I’m speak­ing in grand gen­er­al­i­ties, here. Wrapping it all to­geth­er with the fol­low­ing…

Empathy

I think em­pa­thy can en­com­pass more than just shar­ing in another’s feel­ings; in­clud­ing as­pects of fore­sight & re­flec­tion up­on the ca­pac­i­ty changes that ag­ing brings about. As ag­gra­vat­ing as it is to be an ado­les­cent who feels pa­tron­ized by “you’ll un­der­stand when you’re old­er”, what is seen as con­de­scen­sion is ac­tu­al­ly nos­tal­gia for (and there­fore em­pa­thy with) the feel­ings & ca­pac­i­ties of ado­les­cence & child­hood. Foresight is a kind of prepa­ra­tional em­pa­thy or an em­pa­thy with a fu­ture self; I look ahead and in the act of judg­ing pos­si­ble out­comes, place my­self in a cer­tain po­si­tions and re­verse en­gi­neer the best path to reach the place I want to end up.

Glad I’ve cleared that up for my­self.

Thirty

Monday, 22 November 2010

I’ve been thir­ty for a cou­ple of days now, but as I sit here watch­ing The Return of the King & eat­ing piz­za rolls, life doesn’t seem that much dif­fer­ent now than when I was 15. It is, of course. I’ve al­ways been some­one who wants to be tak­en more se­ri­ous­ly than my age would in­di­cate. Somehow I feel that now that I’ve com­plet­ed 3 decades, some al­lot­ment of dig­ni­ty or re­spect is my due. I’m per­fect­ly aware that dig­ni­ty & re­spect are earned, not be­stowed, but there’s not much op­por­tu­ni­ty to suc­cess­ful­ly work for ei­ther when you’re in your twen­ties.

Now that I’m thir­ty, there’s noth­ing left but to be se­ri­ous and ma­ture all of the time, for the rest of my life.