Confessions of a modern anachronism

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anachronism: a thing belonging to a time other than the one in which it exists

I’ve been reminded recently of an episode of the original Twilight Zone (“Once Upon a Time”), where a man from 1890 is transported by time machine to 1960, a jump of 70 years into the future. The man, played by Buster Keaton, is horrified by the incessant noise and dizzying pace of life in his new surroundings. He simply cannot tolerate it. I’m beginning to know how he feels.

While our hapless time traveler’s jarring experience is largely the result of a sudden and drastic change to his circumstances, this same process happens to all of us – just much more insidiously, like a steady drip to the forehead. The world changes slowly around us, and these changes reach a point when, just like our Twilight Zone friend, we find ourselves in an environment where we really don’t belong.  The older we get, the more we resent having to continually adapt to things and situations to which we are not accustomed, and for which we don’t much care. We want things to be the way they’ve always been – the way we liked them – but they refuse to remain so. The next generation comes along with their own ideas and ways of doing things (most notably in music, fashion, social discourse), and we find ourselves slowly becoming frustrated and obsolete.

One of the most pervasive examples of this is in the workplace. The expectations on the “modern” worker have become ridiculous. Most of us used to work at jobs that were much more specialized and focused, but now find ourselves wearing the hats of several workers and pulled in so many different directions that we can’t adequately focus on any of them. Everything must be done half-assed and under duress. There is no longer enjoyment in anything, just a constant struggle to not fall too far  behind. Multitasking and “doing more with less” (and for less) has reached a point where the worker of today is expected to match the productivity that used to be generated by two or more workers just a decade ago. Positions are eliminated (or slyly redefined) and hours are cut, and those remaining are expected to quietly pick up the slack, with fewer perks and benefits than those they’re replacing enjoyed (pensions? ha!). This is called “progress,” but for whom? The result is a workplace full of stressed-out and demoralized people – especially the older ones, those who know that it used to be so much better. The young ones are deliciously oblivious, and are therefore highly favored by Corporate America. They won’t complain, because they don’t know things used to be better. This is the true basis of age discrimination. The mature workers (who, by the way, usually have a better work ethic than their younger counterparts) know too much for their own good, and if you try to pull the wool over their eyes, they’ll likely speak up (disengaged complainers!) Can’t let that happen, lest the young workers be empowered and the revolution begin.

There is a certain pace and rhythm to life that we become used to by our twenties, and this pace seems to be constantly accelerating. We all remember our grandparents talking about much simpler (and presumably less stressful) times, when life was slower and people had more consideration for each other, better manners, and more patience. Just imagine, people used to actually make an effort to merge onto the highway, whereas now they just barrel on and expect that you’ll get the hell out of their way. It’s all about me! Once, people would never be so rude as to chat with their companion in line while a clerk was waiting on them, but today they jabber on their cell phone during the entire transaction like you’re not even there. Yeah, you have a nice day, too, pal!

As the pace of life gets more hectic and stressful, consideration for others declines because we’re all becoming more self-absorbed, frantically pursuing a happiness that eludes us. What we really need is a break, a slow-down – meaningful chill time that is not constantly intruded upon by the demands of work, social media or our ubiquitous smartphones. I think many have forgotten how to live “off the grid,” how to just be – or perhaps the latest generation has never really experienced this. Read a book, for god’s sake! Does anyone do that anymore? (too unproductive!) We’re like hamsters who don’t know how to get off the exercise wheel. Most days at work, I feel like one of those old ’70s stage performers who tried to keep a bunch of plates on a stick spinning before they all fell to the ground.

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By the time we hit “middle-age,” we’re adrift in a world where we just don’t fit, like our time traveler. It is run by others now, others who are willing (or rather, forced) to live at a pace and with customs that we find quite disagreeable and out of step with our natural inclination. 

Maybe this is as it should be. Maybe, if we’re lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, it makes leaving this world easier, because we no longer admire or respect it. Our gig is up. Good riddance! I hope they bury me upside down so . . . well, you know the rest. Time to make way for the new, just as our eventually disillusioned grandparents made way for us. So I needn’t bemoan my eventual demise, because I know I’ll increasingly dislike the future. It’s not really for me. And this, stressed-out reader, is why the older you get, the more you’ll reminisce about the good old days. Now put down your smartphone and go read a good book set in the past – preferably the three-dimensional kind.*

*Might I recommend Wally Lamb’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” It’s not terribly long for you easily-distracted types, and it’s absolutely hilarious. (Personally, I’m currently working my way through “War and Peace.” I’m ready, and it immerses me in a simpler time and place in the past, one of the greatest benefits of reading. But the current generation will just watch the movie. It’s quicker).

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Coping with old(er) age

Today I turned 48. Funny how as you get older, you’re always a bit shocked at just how long you’ve actually been around. Lordy! But many don’t feel their chronological age, including me – usually. So, to hell with it! I try to forget how “old” I am. I’m just me. I don’t need to prove my age in order to buy anything or enter anywhere (well, at least until Senior discounts), so why keep tabs on age? The only time I’m even mindful of it is when I’m passed over for promotion (or not hired to begin with), seeking to attract someone (as you age, character does this more than looks) or when I have to check off one of those age bracket boxes on demographic questions (which always seem to have a 44-49 box…. so I have another two years to go before I move up to a new box!).

A few years ago I was really having a hard time with middle age… you know, feeling worthless, past my prime, out to pasture, all those scenarios. But I’ve found there are benefits to being older, not the least of which is feeling more confident in who you are – knowing what makes you tick, operating from a more solid center. Not worrying so much about what others think. Being more tolerant of others who may not yet have the wisdom you do. Being a teacher, offering counsel. Feeling freer to express yourself without ridicule. And heck, I notice that those even older than me seem to have a better social network than I do…. Seniors know how to network and look out for each other. So there’s something to look forward to. I think I’d love gated community living.

So it’s not so bad. I’m still fine tuning things, but for the most part I’m increasingly content with my life. I’m discovering new things all the time (in music, literature, film… all of which I hold dear), and looking at things I thought I knew with new scrutiny. Learning never ends. I remember when I was going to the local community college there was a much older woman in class with me. I thought that was so cool. I never want to stop learning. There is so much to know and experience. But you can’t lose hope. That is the killer, and I’ve been there – especially when my life fell apart a few years ago. I lost my home, my business, my life’s savings, my only sister, and the normal use of my left hand. Hope was scarce at times.

But it eventually returned, first sporadically, then more steadily. It took time. It is more a state of mind than about circumstances. Rose Kennedy, who experienced so much tragedy in her life, said “Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?” Robert Bly offers that “where your wound is, that is where your genius will be.” Beethoven, who cruelly lost the one sense he so desperately needed, created his masterpiece (the Ninth Symphony) while totally deaf. Tchaikovsky did similarly in spite of massive self-doubt. Though his life lacked any satisfying romantic relationships, he composed the score of what is universally seen as the ultimate musical depiction of love (the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture). There is no killing the human spirit. As Jesse Jackson used to say, “Keep hope alive.” How? Focus your thoughts differently. Careful what you believe, as it will no doubt come true. We are walking, talking self-fulfilling prophecies. “According to your belief, so be it unto you.”

Books, music and films are great ways to snap yourself out of a funk, as is the company of an old friend. I recently met one for drinks and found it quite refreshing. Of course it can also be disquieting, as it can remind you of who you used to be, back when you originally knew them. But that’s OK. Everything you once were, and everything you will become, is a part of you now.

Neil Diamond, a man whose music has always had a direct line to my emotions, has a great new song that he performs at the end of his concerts (replacing the iconic and equally great “I am, I Said.”) It’s called “Hell Yeah,” and is basically his reflection on his long life in the spotlight, and his firm contentment with its quality, in spite of disappointments. “I loved it all…. this crazy life around me/it confuses and confounds me, but it’s all the life I’ve got until I die… time is all we’ll ever need, but it’s gotta have a meaning/you be careful how its spent, cause it isn’t gonna last…. if they ask you when I’m gone, was it everything he wanted, when he had to travel on, did he know he’d be missed? you can tell them this: Hell Yeah he did. He saw it all. He walked the line, never had to crawl. He cried a bit, but not for long, hell yeah he found the life that he was after, filled it up with love and laughter, finally got it right and made it fit, hell yeah he did.” (there’s a great live performance of this song on my main page here).

Who could ask for anything more? Stay hopeful…….