Thursday, March 3, 2011

Age Matters: Why Being the Youngest Lingers

Los Angeles, May 2010

My friend Lira (featured above, off of Santa Monica pier) mentions Gen X references in various conversations. Every time she does I think to myself, 'what the heck does she mean? Gen, what, the what?' My friend's cool. Timeless cool. There is a difference between cool and timeless cool. A lot of things I encounter are just cool. How a person smells to me currently is cool. Black nail polish against a kashmir sweater is cool now. A certain scent from a certain body wash is particularly cool now but I wonder for how long, and Jared Leto is cool. No doubt about that. And then there's Dante cool, Larry David cool, classic aesthetics cool, true friends cool, uhm, Mac cool, you know, proper cool.

I met Lira my first day in school. There we were. Both 14 and in a different environment. She was standing against a white wall, wearing pink shoes and tapping against the white wall, obsessively touching her hair and chewing her gum in an almost choreographed fashion. She became a favorite instantly. I mean, duh! On top of that, she liked Guns 'n Roses and Metallica and we were the only ones that gave a good damn about rock 'n roll and saw it for the thing of substance that it is: proper cool.

To me, Lira in connection to me exists outside of time. We're the same age, give or take a few months, we like a lot of the same stuff and time is always inconsequential when we relate. So, when she brings up time references I'm at a loss. What do you mean, there's younger people than us out there. So, what? We're just as with-it as they are. I mean, really, we've seen more, traveled more, been at more shows, and had more life than them. I mean, not to be too competitive, but come on! Yes, they're younger than us but only but a small number of years. We've only just embarked on a new decade, really. Count the years in one hand, that's hardly being removed from a whole generation, isn't it?

Being a word person, I tend to have some kind of reaction to most phrases I'm aware of. I know that I get irked when people resort to folk etymology and back formation and say things like, kitty-corner as opposed to cater-corner (I mean, try saying the latter, you'll get a good eye-rolling!) or "he must have saw, she must have went." You'll be happy you're not me. You're not I, to be accurate. You and I are both nominative, but who cares? (me, [I] for starters, but let's move on.)

I hear some say, "in our generation, people in my generation, we...." Wait, I think to myself, are they precluding me?! How dare you preclude me! "In your generation, you don't care about this and that, or your generation does things this way and that way?" I'm, what, 4 years older than you?
Or, sorry, yes, I'm antediluvian! I'm six years older than you. I couldn't possibly understand the existential dilemmas of Snookie and The Situation.
Mannaggia la miseria!

A few months ago, when we were about to see Bill Maher's Real Time live at the CBS sutdios on Fairfax Ave in Los Angeles and I was frantically trying to find a parking place so that we would not be late to get to the studio I distinctly remember getting mad at time. For moving so quickly. Or maybe I was mad at L.A.'s impossible traffic. Or both. Why does time have to move so fast?!

And then we're in the studio, siting in the second row. Dude, there's Salman Rushdie right there. And Sarah Silverman. There's Maher, a few steps away from us. Wait, how can it be over just now?! Didn't we just get here? Has it been an hour already?

I feel the way I feel after the first date with my person of choice. I'm acutely aware of time and I don't want it to move the way it tends to move in Bri-landia. I take in every single detail, the fabric of the shirt, the way the hair looks, the scent, the way the hands move when a photograph is being explained, and so forth. I want it to slow down so that I can remember it, a snapshot at a time. But then again I don't want to give the impression that I want to linger as I tend to take pride in the fact that I can always leave. Most expeditiously.

I didn't want the show to end. I wanted us to stay on longer. But we couldn't. We had to go, grab some Italian food, reminisce about what it meant to be in our 20's and I couldn't help but feel weird. I mean, dude, our 20's just happened. Good heavens, some of my clichéd indie outfits were purchased when I was in my 20's. I was just in my 20's. Being in the early 30's isn't so bad. I mean, think, we can travel more. We can say, "Yeah, let's meet up me in L.A., we'll go see Maher and then hang for a day. Or four."

I've given this some thought over the past few months. Thing is, I seem to have always had a rather particular relationship with time. I'm acutely aware of it on a small scale. Apparently, one of my high frequency phrases at home says, "I know what __AM/PM feels like." I do. I know what every minute of the day feels like. I have a clear relationship with time on this basic level. However, I do get rather confused, actually, I deeply resent, phrases like, 'it's a young person's thing, or old person's thing, or generation this and that thing.' What about, it's a human thing? Leave time out of it, people.
I think I know why I'm a bit testy about time.
I'm the youngest of three. My siblings are closer in age. I'm years behind. My whole life I was the late addition. I took time to come. And when I did come, my state kept being one of constant hurrying. And then my language contains phrases like, 'I was in haste when,' 'I seem to have fallen out of time,' 'Time's doing a number on me,' and on and on.

Being the youngest meant having the kinds of freedoms and access that the older siblings didn't get to have. I always did my thing and everything I wanted. When I wanted. Being the youngest also came wrapped up in a rather unique fabric of 'allowability' and accountability.

I don't know if it's my genetic makeup that primarily feeds my accountability. Some think it is. Maybe it is, maybe it is isn't. My allowability, however, i.e., allowing myself to jump, take any freedom I want to take, and experience things my own way and on my own terms (often without terms at all, I am told) is what renders my existence interesting to me. This, this 'allowability' thing, is what I find is utterly age-free. And it is utterly non-negotiable.

So, I wonder why I get so annoyed by phrases like, 'it's a young/old people thing. Our generation does this, you see?
Being the youngest of three and always being referred to as 'the young one' does play a role here. I've often factored age in my self-identity so I don't see why it should matter to me now.

I am proud of a few things I've accomplished at a younger age.
I was able to learn to function well when I was sent away to school at the age of 14. I did well in the new environment. I mastered it intellectually and socially. Then I was sent away to college. In an entirely different continent, which as luck would have it, also happened to be the one geography that ever spoke to me on a fundamentally honest level. I could just be in it.
Then, the achievements came.
Here I was.
28. With a doctorate. Dr. Ribaj, this and Dr. Ribaj, that.
And Dr. Ribaj took her and hers to rock shows with the same gusto she took them to see Verdi's Aida. She skipped while walking the way she would when roaming on a rocky beach.
Age does not matter.
I don't know why it bothers me. I mean, what does one mean when one says, "it's a generation thing, you see?"
No, I don't see. What, you get things better because in six years you'll be my age and I'll be embarking on a new decade all together? I mean, what? I move fast, faster than many more often than often, I've lived in different continents, I take active steps in 'changing it up,' I go from the business world to the academic world and back to the business world with the same effortless I go from Kings of Leon to Beethoven. I know 23-year-olds who are older than a 60-year-old and 60-year-olds that are, to quote a fellow 34-year-old, "hella cool!"
So, no, it's not a generation thing, it's a human thing.

Maybe being the youngest comes with a sense of entitlement.
I want attention but I demand anonymity and yet I've never not drawn attention to myself. Ever. In every setting. Whether I'm lecturing on Greek aesthetics and why Alexander was keen on Hephaestion or discussing the merits of The Killers 2004 album Hot Fuss. There's always going to be someone who will react positively to the words. And I'll always hear at home, "well, that's what you get for being "interesting." Because, of course, being interesting, it turns out, is more of liability (or maybe responsibility?) than anything. And it seems to an age-free one at that. Well, at least I have that. I'll have that.

So, no, age means nothing. I can relate to a 25-year-old the way I can relate to my best friend, a 34-year-old because I know what it means to me when it's 8:04AM and 9:07PM. I know exactly what time feels like, whether it's dawn or dusk. I get it. It doesn't do much to me. Yes, I started college when Nirvana was dominating the airwaves and I graduated when all the THE bands made it big, you know, The Hives, The Strokes, The Bravery, etc.

In sum, all the 'gen' talk is making me rather tired. And it's now 6:45AM and I know what that means to me. It means shower and hair straightening and driving up north and hoping that I don't get a ticket for wearing my seat belt underneath my arm as opposed to over the shoulder. But I digress.


Sra said...

Good post. I think age is one of those useful stereotypical labels -- it'll tell you something pretty accurate much of the time, but there will always be some rather surprising exceptions. I like to think of one's age in terms of phase of life rather than number of years. Like, almost all of my friends are now married with children, and I'm neither, and that makes me feel like we relate to each other differently now because we are in different life phases. We may still be the same age, but somehow now we are no longer the same. Meanwhile, some of my closest friends are 10 years older than me numerically, but we are on the same wavelength life-experientially-wise, if I can coin a rather obnoxious word.

Unknown said...

We, as a culture, obsess over age and time. We live in such a fast paced society that being time-conscious is totally inescapable.
I dug this. :)