Saturday, November 21, 2015

On Aging and Playfulness

My city is full of construction in preparation for Light Rail Transit. I hit the bookstore today and was walking towards the hardware store for some blinds when the sidewalk abruptly ended. An orange mesh fence framing a "Pedestrians, use the other sidewalk" sign stopped me in my tracks. I considered turning back, but I had come this far. So I made my way across four lanes of traffic to the other side where, lo and behold, there was a twin sign and fence bookending the highway. There WAS no other sidewalk!

After determining that there was absolutely no other way to get from point A to point B, I slithered my way around the fence and into a 2' deep trench that once featured a walkway. Sloshing through lovely suctiony mud, I was further pleased that I wasn't able to find my sneakers at home earlier and had resigned myself to heavy boots on a reasonably mild day. And as I was happily stomping through the muck on the busy street, just 20' or so from where the sidewalk would begin again, I thought about a book I had just paged through but hadn't bought.

Ian Brown is a favourite writer of mine. I even e-mailed him about a bit of writing I had done once, and he courteously responded (which I printed and saved). His newest book is about turning 60. He wrote a diary-like entry once a day for a year, and I immediately regretted not doing the same at the start of this year, my 50th, except I know I'd never keep it up for a year. Once I started a blog taking a picture a day of myself - no words or ideas, just a snapshot. I lasted three days. Routine is not my forté.

But I didn't buy the book because it would make me too introspective. I buy books to face me outside of myself. John Ralston Saul's The Comeback was my choice today. A book about someone turning 60 would have me dwelling on turning 50. Even just paging through it a bit has done that well enough, obviously!  Brown wonders about what 60 looks like, what pleasures are found and lost, what it means to be 60 these days. I understand those questions as I find myself searching out which famous people are close to my age. Woody Harrelson is close, and Robert Downey Jr. But famous women my age don't often look like anything I could recognize in the mirror. What does 50 look like? It's so hidden it's become foreign to us. And how do 50-year-olds act?

I thought of Brown's book as I enjoyed my muddy journey trespassing around barricades on a busy street in broad daylight, and I became briefly self-conscious, suddenly aware that I'm not 10-years-old, but a middle-aged lady intentionally splashing mud like a crazy* person! This makes it all the more hilarious. Somehow I'm typically saved from acknowledging the gaze of the other through some magical built-in obliviousness to norms, which allows for a strange sort of freedom. I might look ridiculous, but I'm causing no harm.

Why is unself-conscious playfulness the thing we give up as we get older when we could just as easily give up judgment and spite and crabbiness. Because shouldn't we all enjoy a bit of a splash now and again?


* I waffled over how to word that line for ages. I considered "like something's wrong with me" or "like I'm on drugs" but both have the same problem of stereotyping behaviours. Yet I do want to get across that childhood behaviours in an adult are ridiculed - people think less of us as they would someone with a mental challenge or illness. And the whole point is, wouldn't it be cool if they didn't?

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