Posts from Memory Lane: The Cult Against Aging

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

These posts were written during the summer while I was in Bangladesh, in preparation for the upcoming academic year. Long story short: when I looked back at the archive, I didn't have the desire or the time to put them up. But now, since I'm coming back to the blog, I decided that some of them aren't half bad. Read on!

Recently, though ill-advisably, I read Meg Wolitzer's The Ten-Year Nap. Though I knew that the novel might not be relatable to me on a personal level, I was hoping for some enjoyment and a look into other peoples' experienced reality. What I didn't expect to come away with was a feeling of utter dread at the idea of that most natural process: aging. 

It's hard to say what made me so agitated. Obviously the characters were dissatisfied with their lives over age 40 and these women, all mothers in various ranges of the middle class, had left behind some of their dreams and were reseeking the meaning that they had once found in their lives. But this is part of the story's framework and the point of having characters at all is to challenge them and make them upset. However, Wolitzer's writing seemed to offer very little by way of a silver lining, prompting me to think that post-40, we all throw in the towel and struggle to crawl out of bed each morning because of our existential dread.

Needless to say, this world created by Wolitzer is only one slice of humanity. But it got me thinking about the way we look upon age as a whole. There are indeed life stages and the stereotype is that you get less passionate and more stable, more rigid in your viewpoints and less willing to challenge systems. But is that really true?

Lifestyles change. Opinions are formed and solidified. Focuses narrow. To be sure, there are inevitable changes and stages. But I also believe that the culture of American society is to prize youth over age, which markets not only products for our consumption, but beliefs about how older people are "supposed to" act, perpetuating an "us" and "them" system that allows for little trade of ideas.

In reading another book, an anthology called The Black Woman edited by Toni Cade Bambara during the 70s, I realized just how narrow Wolitzer's vision of age was and how, in some ways, she went right along with the commonly held belief that young people are prized and older people less able to articulate and achieve their desires. But people at all ages, especially the women effecting change and writing about it in The Black Woman can certainly participate in movements and live fulfilling lives even if they're not trying to "cover up" how old they really are.

I don't want to be afraid of growing older. I don't want to value this time in my life as a "golden age" or a "pinnacle" because that makes life too simple of an arch. We can't all be going downhill from here, even though the myth made by advertising companies tells us that we are. We must appreciate ourselves in every stage of our lives and roll with the punches. In short, we make our own rules and our own frames about who and what is valuable.