At work, I happened to look out into the dining room and saw a little girl, about seven, round face, sleepy eyes, shoulder-length blond hair tucked behind her ears, picking her nose with her thumb. It hit me that I was seeing my own daughter, two years older.
I don’t remember right now where I encountered the idea of the Long Body. It’s a Native American concept, but that’s a big group of different peoples with different life ways and ideologies. At any rate though, the Long Body is the body you will occupy all through your life, your body in four dimensions –the fourth being time. It was Einstein, of course, who had the idea that time was a dimension or something like a dimension, an idea which was pretty radical for the scientific community. The Long Body concept takes that as a given.
People tend to associate with people their own age when they can. That’s probably always been true – we like people who are like ourselves. Those who are close to us in age are generally at the same stage in life, generally have the same interests and tastes. That’s perfectly normal and natural.
In the past, everyone was regularly exposed to people of all ages. Before the Industrial Revolution, things changed very slowly. Certainly there were “generation gaps”, but they were not as extreme as what we know now. The Baby Boom after WWII and the social upheaval that happened when the Baby Boomers (aka “the Worst Generation”) reached their teens and caught the attention of marketers created the Generation Gap, capitalized. Youth culture became a thing. People stopped associating with their elders whenever they could, advertisers realized they could cash in big on selling fabricated youthfulness, age became awful and eternal youth became the obviously unattainable goal. The phrase “midlife crisis” appeared as aging Boomers pathetically scrambled to return to their glory days, listening to Beach Boys boxsets in their PT Cruisers. Viagra made it possible for old farts to get boners so they could fuck their kids’ friends. Fucking disgusting.
(The peak year of the post-war Baby Boom was 1947. Allowing a life expectancy of eighty-three years, we can expect to be rid of the vast majority of Baby Boomers by 2030 and then we’ll never have to hear “Octopus’ Garden” again.)
Friends, we’re all gonna die. Some of us will be lucky enough to get old first. I, personally, intend to live to 100. Beyond that, I have no aspirations. I am not afraid of old age. I expect to be able to work at a job well into my seventies, after which I’ll retire to just make music and art and be a burden on my daughter. I’ve begun to see some signs of aging – I’m sorer after much physical labor and I’m losing my close-up vision. I recently found a pair of reading glasses, but my arms are long enough that I don’t really need to use them yet.
Getting old is a good thing. Ideally, age brings wisdom, but in any case it brings the knowledge of experience. I thoroughly advocate aging. I also thoroughly advocate finding old people who are the kind of old people one wants to become and looking to them for example. I haven’t really dug much of Tom Waits’ music since 2000, but I do respect him as an old guy who has stayed true to himself, avoided any attempt to fake youth and has continued to follow his muse. Johnny Cash was another old guy who stayed his course, exploring artistically without selling out right up to the end. Cash’s version of “personal Jesus” is a remarkable adaptation, a cover that transcended the limited cheese appeal of the original to become something no one could have foreseen. Joseph Campbell grew old the right way: letting go of the forms and follies of youth and middle age without ever giving up or giving in. All three established a degree of stately dignity that I find entirely appropriate to age. There are a few individuals in my own life who stand out as examples of the right way to get old, but you don’t know them.
I should point out that being cool is not something to aspire to. Campbell was never cool. Waits and Cash are cool now, but they became cool by never giving a shit about being cool. Try not to be cool. Also, banging chicks and horking blow are not things one should hold in high esteem. Jack Nicholson may be a hero to the Worst Generation, but he’s a scumbag and never was much of an actor.
So, the Long Body. The body you were born with is the one they’ll bury. It’s a good body and deserving of care, but it is only a meat carriage. Don’t be too upset when the parts start to wear out. Find some old people who have the kind of qualities you want to have when you’re old – if you’re lucky enough to get old – and follow their example.
And enjoy children. You’ll never be one again, but you can enjoy childhood through them.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.