[Note: I'm interrupting my mixtape deep dive for this note on something I've been thinking about recently. Mixtape recollections will continue in my next post.]
Well, "older." Since moving to Austin and getting into web development, I've been put into the company of ::shudder:: twenty-somethings more than usual. Sure, when I was teaching composition in grad school, I occasionally taught to twenty-somethings--which was one of the things that drew me to teaching in the first place: I liked the idea of being around young people, who were curious and excited and open-minded.
None of which really describes the majority of composition students in practice. But the theory is still good.
Still, those students were students and I was their teacher; and except for one awesome group of MA students, that division clearly marked the relationship as hierarchical. (Man, when was the last time I got to use the word "hierarchical"?)
But now my roommates and colleagues and even mentors--and especially my friends--tend to be, on average, around 8 years younger than I am. And that's the highest estimate. (One of my best friends in Austin is 10 years and 9 months younger than me and won't ever let me forget those 9 months.) That and some recent life changes (hello, mid-thirties career shift!) have got me ruminating on my elder status.
And I mean ruminating in the classic herbivore sense: as soon as I think I'm done with my age as a topic--urp--here it comes again, ready to be re-chewed.
To be certain, most of the time, this is my issue, and no one really cares about it. When I started attending MakerSquare, the first few days I made comments about how old I was and no one really responded. Most of the time, my age comes up in regards to something I lived through that is a dim memory or history for them, like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the movie Titanic. But it's not like my age was a looming iceberg, overshadowing any conversation.
Except for me, it kind of was--maybe not an iceberg's blueblack shadow, but the more traditional Jungian shadow, the darkness of me that's always there. Whatever the topic was--money, education, experiences--I felt that shadow, nudging me and arching his eyebrows (he's my shadow, so he arches his eyebrows) and whispering: "You're not as far along as you should be."
"I'm going to start putting more into my 401K [you're notas far along as you should be]; and I've really learned a lot about programming in the last few months [you're not as far along as you should be]; and I could see myself as a dad [you're not as far along as you should be]; and and and-- [you're not as far along as you should be and you can't catch up]."
So yeah, my shadow can be a dick. But he's a Jungian shadow, which means he's part of me and what he's saying is just what I'm saying to myself. [Note: I don't know I've ever read Jung, but I've read Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, so that's close, right?] How do you deal with a shadow that tells you what you already believe?
I'm not sure. But I was talking to a friend recently--younger than me, naturally--and when I commented on my advanced age, she said, "Fuck that."
Which is somehow liberating. It's not repression and denial ("what age issue?") and it's not sadness and self-pity ("oh, you poor old thing"). It's recognition and moving on. Now, if you know me, you know I dislike rah-rah sentiments, so I don't want to say something like: "Sure, I'm older and not in the same position as my peers, age-wise, but I can still do things!" (Urgh, even that anemic attempt strains my rah-rah muscles.)
But here's something I can get behind and push on: as my shadow's comment indicates, my age issues are precisely located at the distance between where I am and where I think I should be--and fuck that word "should." I'm here now (urgh, I feel the rah-rah rising, bilious in its own way--another form of "should").
I recently read Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection which hits on that note, an idea that has been swirling around in various fields of interest: Julia Cameron touches on it, I think, in The Artist's Way; and it's come up from various improv teachers (both in real life classes and in podcasts I listen to). You are here now and to live that story of the here-now, you have to relax your hold on the shadow stories of other lives, the shoulds and parallel dimensions.