Saturday, April 3, 2021

Today I Turned Old

I'm 58. This, it seems, is the age where you actually start to get old.

For 25 or 30 years, I've asked myself whether some new propensity or degradation or screw-up was the result of "old age". But as I've often written, a speculative mind offers no bell of truth. Truth doesn't come from the stories you tell yourself; from your frothy worries or emotions. Amid the idle breezes of the mind there will appear no transcendently good one to latch onto. It's not like that. The wandering, speculative, story-attaching mind is pure indulgence, and coughs up gems only serendipitously. If you've been worrying about your friend and the phone rings and your mind screams "That's her and she's dead!!!", that's not intuition. That's just your neurosis.

Real intuition doesn't feel cinematic. It's nothing like a flight of fancy, and it doesn't surface out of dramatic, visceral emotion. Real intuition is indistinguishable from knowing. It's just like any other knowing. You actually need to take time and effort to reverse engineer it all and recognize that the conviction appeared from nowhere; that a bit of knowledge has no real basis for feeling known.

When we learn in biology class about instinct in animals, we imagine we're above that sort of thing. We can persist in thinking so because we have little time to reverse engineer all our seemingly solid convictions. What sort of obstinate dweeb (besides me) actually invests time in trying to sort out which knowledge comes from knowing, and which knowledge just sort of materialized into place?
It's like brushes with angels. I wrote about them once, starting off with the observation that "Angels are real but they're not what you think."

Angels are so ordinary, banal, and unsparkly that people rarely notice they've received help impossible to reasonably account for. An upturned bug doesn't recognize some kid named Herbie just did it a solid and turned it right side up. The bug just obliviously wriggles away. A door appeared to have opened, and the bug lacks cognitive horsepower to draw the very subtle distinction between doors simply opening before you and doors improbably opened for you. Many human beings, especially these days, are similarly unable to draw this distinction. It all just happens. 
Intuition - real intuition, with truth value - isn't some touchy/feely/spooky Something Else, covered in magic pixie dust. It's rock-solid, and baked squarely into our lives. When I drive my car past some random eatery and my heart rate suddenly jumps and I slam on the brakes, it doesn't feel like Jesus whispered to me from the cloud tops. Frankly, my first instinct is usually to roll my eyes, because I'm trying to get somewhere, am usually late, and, even worse, I've most often already eaten. Yet every cell in my body is exuberantly hollering "We're Here!!!!!!!" and it's awfully tough to simply drive away. I feel compelled to go in and eat, blandly aware that it'll unfailingly be great. And it's not a heavenly compulsion. It can be a bit of a drag. It took long experience and normalization to appreciate the kooky weirdness of the whole scenario, but it sure doesn't feel "magical". It's indistinguishable from any other arrival point.

What intrigues me is this: what was the state of my internal landscape one pico-second before the brakes pumped? Here's the answer: I knew, then, too. But it was still unconscious ("Unconsciousness" is still a little-understood term, even at this late date; this short post offers some visceral feeling for what it refers to). At some shadowy level, I felt it all coming, because the foot doesn't pump brakes without some sort of instruction. I had to orchestrate that result. The knowing (which had no way of being known, which means it was pure intuition) was lurking in my peripheral vision, and at some point it bloomed into the main stage of my consciousness. Eureka.

Let's pursue that "moment-before" aspect a bit more, because it's juicy. Consider this: whenever you've been sick, there's been a period where you suspected maybe you were sick (but often turned out not to be), but then, finally, there arrived a moment of knowing; of conscious declaration. Logic dictates that, if you were sick, there had to be a single moment when you realized it (obvious exception: weird "silent" diseases like hypertension operating beyond awareness). So...what made you know it? And how did you know what you knew?

Was it scientific - some precise scanning of vital signs suddenly exceeded a threshold and set off an alarm? Unlikely. We don't declare we're sick because the seventh sneeze strains credulity ("Six? Maybe! Seven? Ok, that's it!"). Rather, speculation - story-telling about how, geez, you might be coming down with something - is replaced by a deeper, vague, unconscious feeling, which finally blooms into a conscious knowing with no solid basis for knowing, aka intuition. The evidence hasn't radically changed. You'd noticed your dripping nose well before. But ongoing suspicion was briskly replaced, with a thunderous clap (though nothing had materially changed), by a firm sense of certainty. Suddenly, you simply knew, with the knowing knowing of knowing....though, if you'd thought about it (which is something bugs and humans alike rarely do), you'd have realized that there was no trigger, no threshold, no solid basis. Were you not equally sick a minute earlier?

Getting back to where this digression-within-a-digression-within-an-introduction started, at age 58, I know - with a feeling not of speculation but of actual knowledge - that I'm getting old. Which means I was probably old at 57-1/2, as well, and knew it subconsciously, but it continued to manifest as idle speculation and ditzy neurosis. Today marked the arrival from nowhere - like a firmware update - of hard knowledge. Thunderclap!

And now, finally, the posting.



My favorite aunt had a favorite story. Her mother's mother was a piece of work; a hard-assed, uncompromising, raging bucket of unreasonable impossibleness. My aunt's besieged, haggard mom had pleaded with her, as a child, "If I ever become anything like my mother when I'm old, please let me know!". When the day finally arrived and my aunt let her mother know, her feisty, pugnacious response was "She was right!!!"

That's old age.

Today I sat down to try to write a Slog posting which essentially restated a previous one. Not building upon it, or coming at it from a different angle. Just flat out restating the point.

When I started this Slog, 12 years ago, I resolved to never do such a thing. A writer friend had warned me that after a few months I would run out of things to say. So I figured I'd floor the accelerator, and when the dust settled and the tank went dry, I'd suspend operations. It didn't turn out that way, and while I can't say I never repeated myself (again, excluding postings that deliberately built upon, reframed, or polished previous thoughts), it didn't happen often. I was 46 when I started this. Young!

When I'd notice repetition, I'd think "Hey, I must be getting old, hahahaha!", and would add wry footers linking, self-deprecatingly, back to the previous statement. This is surely how Simpson's creator (and Chowhound user) Matt Groening feels. At a certain point after long iteration, your field starts to really fill up and collisions become inevitable (South Park did a whole episode, titled "Simpsons Already Did It", about the struggles of entering that crowded field).

But this morning, I was prepared to sit down and pound out something I well knew I'd previously written. And I didn't give a damn, because I just wanted to, gob nabbit. And that's when I realized I'm old. I'm exhibiting the same slightly unhinged, embarrassingly headstrong, yeah-I've-dropped-my-standards-a-solid-notch-and-fuck-you-if-you-don't-like-it mindframe that's capable of conjuring up "She was right!!!"

It's not speculation, neurotic fear, or some story I'm telling myself. This is the moment when sneezy bleary nose-drippiness congealed into knowing. I'm old. Hokay.


Remember when it was the hippest time to be 48? Hahahahaha. Yeah, I remember that. Now I look like hell, Jon Stewart looks like hell, Steven Colbert looks like hell, and even Barack Obama looks like hell. And Jonathan Winters and Ed McMahon, in retrospect, seemed like perfectly cool dudes to hang out with.

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