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Sunday, January 28, 2007

It's 66 Degrees and I've Changed

I've been thinking that I'm aging very poorly. People are starting to say things like "You're older now, you can't do the things you did when you were a kid". Okay, not in so many words, but the feeling is there. And it's a freaky thing, because yeah, I'm older, but I'm not sure I ever bought into the age lie.

Point 1: When I was in college, I worked at Macy's. My manager was in his 60s and he was part of my crew. Some of the best college parties were in his back yard, standing before a roaring fire and sharing laughs with good friends.

Point 2: When I was in sixth grade my best friend was a couple years younger. My parent's told me that I should be playing with kids my own age, as if hanging out with a kid 2 years my junior was somehow wrong. I didn't get it then and I still don't.

Point 3: I threw away my toys too soon. Maybe that's why I have so many now. Maybe not. All I know is that I got rid of them when I was supposed to, not when I wanted to.

Point 4: Over the years I've "outgrown" numerous friends. That sounds arrogant. Pretentious. Maybe even unkind. But it's nothing of the sort. By outgrown I just mean that I've accepted the changes that life brings. I've gone with the flow rather than fighting against it. And it feels good. Comfortable even. Right.

Point 5: In high school I used to go to a friend's house to play Dungeons and Dragons. Except, I never learned how to play the game. The emensity of it bored me, but my friend's mom didn't. I would spend 15, maybe 20 minutes with the guys in the basement then sneak upstairs to hang out with his mom. Hours would pass and my friends would emerge from the basement and say, "you're still here?" When I look back on it, I realize she wasn't very good at aging either. The first time I met her she had one of those now quaint "Jesus is coming...and boy is he pissed!" t-shirts on. It wasn't state-approved suburban wife wear back then, but it fit her to a T.

Point 6: In elementary school I chose not to use slang. Any slang. It was survival, really, as I moved from one culture to another. Funny thing was people thought I was smart because of it. People who "knew" me knew better though. Now language tickles me. I use 60s slang and 70s slang and even some current slang. It's fun to say "groovy" or refer to friends as "my crew", or despite being a feminist, calling a woman a "skirt". It's irreverent and reflective of the fluidity of language. Like the people who create it, language is alive.

Point 7: In college I went with some friends to see "Harold and Maude". All I knew before going in was that it had something of a cult following. Fine, I was ready to join the cult. But after walking out of the theater and talking about it with friends, I realized I hadn't really gotten it. The fact that Maude was approximately four times Harold's age was such a non-issue that I didn't get the point -- to me, the fact that they both met a funeral for someone neither knew was what made it charming in a quirky sort of way. To me, that's what mattered so the age difference didn't bother me in the least. My friends were kind of disgusted by the thought of them having a relationship -- of having sex. I nodded and tried to go with the flow, but the thought of them having sex just seemed natural. They seemed made for each other.

Age is relative and practically irrelevant. I guess I've always felt this. Instintively. With every breath we take we change...from one second to the next we're not the same person we once were. We can't be. Because we've just experienced something else, and that something else affects who we are. The fact that you're reading this now, ingesting these word whether you like them or not, has changed you. I don't know how, or even care. I just know that you're not the person you were when you clicked on the link that brought you here. And that's okay. I like you still. Even if we end up growing in differnt directions.

It's 3:21 in the morning. 66 degrees. The sound of traffic ebbs outside my window. The sound of keys clicking. The fan kicks in. This confluence of experiences, of sensations, of activities has never happend exactly like this before. Oh sure, I've blogged at unfortunate hours, but the totality of the experience is not the same. Cannot be the same. Because I'm not the same and how it's affected me, is affecting me, can not be measured or even discerned. Suffice it to say I've changed.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

But there are those who fight it. I can appreciate that. But it does them no good. Life is about change, so getting set in one's ways is akin to death. It is the very desire for death. I don't want to die. Not yet. Not now. Still got a lot of changing to do.

So excuse me if I change the subject, or use this to segue into something else. Something equally important to me. Fiction. My fiction. And yours.

I used to believe that stories needed to perculate. That often, it was better to sit on a project rather than rush it into the submission stream. That way you could put it away for another day. You could then look at it with fresh eyes. Fresher eyes. And discern what it was you were trying to say...what lay beneath your intent.

I don't believe that anymore. Which is not to say I haven't found success doing just that. But I don't believe I told the story I set out to write. Not when I set down and poured out that first draft, or that first chapter, or that first page. No, the person who wrote that is long dead and I can't possibly tell the story he was going to tell. It's just not possible. It's almost as extreme as if I were to take your story -- polish it, revise it, and reposition its purpose and intent to what I believe you were trying to say. Yeah, almost. Maybe exactly.

But if with every breath we change, everything we create is by committee, right? Yeah, in a way it is. But if you compress the time, create your work in as short a span as possible, the collection of yous are more sympatico. Each writer is a slight variation from the one before, except maybe, in the case of long works, where the time it takes impacts the writing committee. Sometimes adversely, sometimes not.

Because we don't know how we change, how each experience, each breath affects us, it's impossible to know how much impact these changes have actually had on us. Ever begin a short story and by the time you reach the midpoint the magic is gone? And you can't finish it? Or maybe you've spent a year penning an 800-page novel and the vison is as clear at the end of the novel as it was at the beginning. It doesn't seem to make sense unless you think about it a bit. Maybe while penning the novel, the changes in you were slower, more subtle, or even directed in the path most conducive to your creation. While writing the short story things that were building, were leading you to a shift, came suddenly to fruition. Or maybe something seemingly benign had a dramatic effect on you and affected a major shift. Which is not to say that the new you, the altered you, doesn't have anything to say. Just that what you started out to say when you put digital pen to screen, and what you ended up saying, are not the same. I think that's why outlines never work for me -- by the time I've completed the outline, I've changed, and the person who sits down to pen the prose refuses to go along. He can't -- those were someone elses ideas...

This is so stream of conscious...and I've gone on way too long. The person who began this diatribe and the person who completed it seem worlds apart now. The cars still ebb. The keys clack. And it's 66 degrees in here. But something is just not the same. Come on, join me in redisovering self, moment by moment.


Sidney said...

I think about aging. I was talking to some friends in their early 30s and we all agreed we don't want to get old.

I was thinking I might get there sooner than they because I've got a head start, but maybe not. I still feel young, and I'm certainly encouraged by the notion that 60 is the new 40 because 40 wasn't so bad. Maybe I'll still be young when they're old.

I pop a Lactaid before pizza now, but otherwise I'm not letting up on the things I love or letting up on endeavor.

And I'm with you on the don't let stories sit that long notion too. That's a good point about the changing perspective. Maybe it is best to let the story by the right-now me go to market and let the six-weeks-from-now me write his own story.

Kate S said...

Lovely blog. Enlightening too. I've never thought of it in quite that way, but I see I've done just that many times--couldn't finish a story because I'd changed at some point in the writing of it.

As for age...I was born old. Ask anybody who knows me. And I've never truly feared old age because of it. Sometimes, though, I do have a sense of loss, sadness, at "what might have been" had I started some things earlier, or knew what I know now. That's when, like Sidney, I take comfort in the fact that age isn't what it used to be, and the maxim that it still ain't over til it's over.

Thanks, Clifford. Now enjoy your warm weather. It's 11 degrees here.

Charles Gramlich said...

A really well-written piece. A very good point about how everything is written by a "committee," a committee of ourselves. I hadn't really thought of it that way before. Good food for thought.

Clifford said...


I'm lactose intolerant too -- but I don't need Lactaid unless I'm especially bad. I'm a coffee shop junkie (frequent nearly a dozen), so as long as every third or fourth latte is a soy latte, I'm okay!

kate s

Thanks for the kind comments. Try not to ruminate on the "might have beens" though, because I don't believe there is such a thing. There's only what is, as temporal as that might be. And in the end, success, I think, is all about moving forward and accepting change as it happens. I have a feeling that that's what you're already doing -- which puts you a step ahead of most of us in this thing called life.


Thanks Charles -- and yeah, the stuff we create is written by a committee. A more succint and elegant way of saying what I was trying to say.

Sidney said...

Silk is a miracle. That's how I have all my lattes. I think my case is pretty mild, too, but I pop a Lactaid if I'm having toast with butter.

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.