Monday, September 12, 2022

Aging In and Out of Fun

In Aging Out of Fun, I described having spent the past few years immersed in a comical number of tasks I hate and am terrible at. Attempting to mine some insight from the experience, I observed that you reach an age where "you've dipped so deeply into the bucket of stuff you're good at and enjoy that there's not much left. Having consumed all the green, red, and brown M&M's, all that remains are those goddam yellows."

In Aging Back Into Fun, I reversed course, deciding that I was just an old dog grousing about learning new tricks:
I have described this process as a hell, enduring all the things I suck at and hate. But all I'm actually saying is that I learned things! How is this any different from an 8th grader learning geometry and haiku? The 8th grader may not deliriously love school, but he certainly frames it differently than I just did. The friction that's vexing me is born of my own resistance [to learning].
I spent two years either learning and growing....or else undergoing an ordeal. It depends on how you frame it! But I think I can unify the contradictory perspectives.

Learning shouldn't be an ordeal, in and of itself. But life can compel you to learn stuff you'd rather not know.

I didn't want to learn how to defend an online community from hundreds of vandals, psychos, and spammers. I didn't want to learn how to manage volunteers or survive working in a large high tech corporation. Chowhound was a decade-long education in skills I never wanted. Worst of all: I learned how depraved humans can be. Retail workers deal with hundreds of humans per day, coming away with ample battle scars. I handled tens or hundreds of thousands per day. Not just kooks and creeps, but stone-cold sociopaths like Julie. As I once wrote:
One of Chowhound's moderators is a doctor who's spent years treating indigent addicts in the South Bronx. After just a few weeks working with us, she declared that she'd been shocked to observe vastly more twisted and demented behavior in a given week of moderating Chowhound than she ever had at her day job. Helping to manage Chowhound amounts to what she describes as "a post-graduate course in aberrational psychology".
So regarding my recent experience, both takes are right. I was learning...about things of no interest to me, constantly rubbing against my talent gaps and phobias. I'd have been fine going to my grave without knowing how to navigate Portuguese bureaucracy, or how to renovate, declutter, stage, and sell a house.

But, per interpretation #1, such dreary tasks are all that's left because I've already immersed lengthily in the delightful, and have taken my talents as far as they can go. These were the remainders at the back of my closet, which I'd resisted all this time. The grounds in my coffee cup. The yellow M&Ms!

It's not that I woke up moaning. I didn't hate my life. Hell, I marched forward and spun the plates, just as I'd done with Chowhound, and with my app (a monster to complete), and all my various book projects (life advice: never write a book). Learning/growing is always a greater good, but stoicism may be called for.

This explains the aging process - why many older people recoil from change, and don't learn, and recede into a contracting comfort zone. Familiar plates are spun with great ease, so what's left are literally the last things you ever wanted to have to grapple with.

These three postings show how my mind works. None of it is smart; in fact, much of it is rather thick-headed. I'm blundering around to draw banal conclusions and rekindle insights previously forgotten. And playfully, uncertainly, working to integrate my conclusions, aloof from any emotional duress. Maybe I'll get somewhere, maybe not (on a bad day, I'm more or less Joe Pera).

There’s cumulative benefit to idle musing (not worrying; not fantasizing; not brooding; not constantly replaying that nasty thing that awful person said...clear away all that self-indulgence to make room!), even if you feel/seem/are sloppily adrift. If you apply steady curiosity, never straining to prove yourself brilliant, flashes of brilliance may errantly arise.

Did that happen here? Or was this posting trilogy entirely tedious? No idea! But I'm sharing my process. Worthy insights can sometimes arise from thick-headed piddling. I blithely hover between knowing and not-knowing - between self-inquiry and self-instruction. That's the game for me.


Anonymous said...

Rather like this trilogy!

Jim Leff said...

Thanks for the feedback. I was worried it wasn’t really worth the convolution!

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