Friday, September 9, 2022

Aging Out of Fun

Two postings back, I described how I've spent the past two or three years immersed exclusively in a comical number of tasks I hate and am terrible at.

At several junctures, I paused to wonder, with amused exasperation, whether I'd died and gone to hell. It seemed so strange  to be trapped in a confluence of my very worst aversions, phobias and ignorances. "Jim’s Greatest Shits"!

I made out well. I got it all done - I lived straight through it! - and, honestly, it feels lke a miracle. On someone's score sheet somewhere, I "won". But, looking ahead, there's no rest for the weary. I still need to complete a move, which is my second worst phobia after the dreaded Boxes.
Like most NYC musicians, I moved dozens of times in my 20s and 30s, in and out of a series of crap rental apartments owned by raving lunatics, often with very little notice. Gentrification kept sweeping me out of outer boroughs neighborhoods, as if I were a pestilence. I have recurring nightmares about moving.
Also, I need to learn Portuguese. I'm not good at languages, and my Spanish "contaminates" my Portuguese, and people there detest Portuñol (pigeon Portuguese/Español), and I could really use less social headwind, thanksverymuch.

Special bonus fiasco: I missed selling my SIGA shares at their $26 peak, and they're down to $14 and sinking fast (I believe they'll rise back some, but never again to $26; I'm so well-trained re: "hanging on" with this stock that, after 16 years, I almost can't imagine unloading them).

So, going forward, at least for the short term, it's just more more aversions, phobias and ignorances. Jane, stop this crazy thing!

But I had a eureka. I realized what’s happening!

By the time you're 50, 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 (totally unrelated, see "Leff's Law of Green M&Ms").

I have a friend who's spent his life avoiding his family's real estate business. He hates real estate. He's built up a whole other enterprise, without nepotistic assistance, to avoid getting ensnared in real estate. But now, with his real estate mini-mogul father pushing 85 and unable to keep plates spinning, my friend is forced to dive deeply and protractedly into, yup, real estate. Jesus. But that’s the chunk that remained. It was spring-loaded all along! Who knew that Michael Corleone is all of us?

This makes for interesting commencement address advice: at some point, all that will be left is the stuff you hate and suck at. That will be your diet. Be ready for this!

But let's consider a step further…

It always struck me as peculiar that comfort zones retract with age. We grow less, do less, stretch less, tolerate less, are less. We become increasingly conservative and complacent. I feel this process playing out within myself, and I rage, rage against it by deliberately placing myself outside my comfort zone.

In fact, hmmm, that's why I'm decluttering and selling a house, and going through boxes, and moving to Portugal. Those are not normal activities for 60 year-olds. Most keep cluttering ad infinitum and certainly never move to some other country, like some vagabond. They hunker down for the duration and let the kids declutter and sell the house after they croak (which will be the kids' big first taste of the cycle I'm describing!).

And if they for some reason (e.g. impending civil war) do move to Portugal, they won't learn the language; won't take steps to avoid social headwind. They'll find whatever comfort they can, and hunker down in that nest of complacency.

Out of a perfectly understandable aversion to doing stuff they hate and are bad at, they tolerate suboptimal results and mounting tedium. And clutter. And boxes. Even maybe civil war. They essentially collapse. This behavior is hard to fathom if you’re observing as a 25 year old, starry-eyed about an enormous exciting world full of glittering trophies to grab at.

I don't judge the complacently collapsed! I get it! When taking any remaining step forward requires full-on broaching of phobias, aversions, and ignorances, it's no wonder old people are so averse to change and growth!

Here's why it's actually sort of okay, when you finally reach this point, to occupy yourself with things you hate and are bad at:

By the time you're 35, parental instinct kicks in (even if you don't have kids). You become less concerned with getting your way than with keeping plates spinning. You become a plate spinner.

As years pass, plates aspun, you notice it hardly matters whether it's your favorite plate, or just some stupid plate, or even an appalling one. They're all just fodder. It's about the spinning, not the plates, themselves. And there's genuine satisfaction in learning to spin less familiar plates...even if they're unappealling (which they will be, 'cuz the appealing ones - having become much more familiar - practically spin themselves!).

There's a generational issue, however. My real-estate-hating friend and I share a stoic tolerance for suboptimality. I'm not sure the current younger generation - helicopter-parented, bursting with entitlement, and seemingly incapable of suffering silently - can fill such a role. I'm far less stoic than my parents, who were far less stoic than theirs, etc. Have we reached a tipping point? Or am I just falling (as all old folks do) into the fallacy that society's perpetually disintegrating? Time will tell!

Follow-up posting totally contradicting all of this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn, really needed this post today. Still sifting through the bucket for those rare M&Ms though!

Blog Archive