Thursday, June 10, 2010

The best thing about growing older, and it’s not growing up

Everyone wonders if they’ll die in interesting times—the old oft-retold Chinese curse that places its recipients in a strangely unfortunate situation. It’s a parable almost. “May you live in interesting times.” Believing how something so innocuous sounding could be a curse.

Growing older is interesting times; perhaps, at least, it’s an interesting reflection.

Only through changes in the world do we have a chance to compare ourselves now to ourselves then. To see what’s change and what stays the same; or perhaps what keeps happening again-and-again. I’ve lived through some strange events—only some interesting—which have made life stranger for all of us. Things like 9-11 or the various wars-that-aren’t-wars, the election of a black President to the United States of America. But these, unless affected directly, are hardly “interesting times.” They’re just more of the same, swinging like a pendulum.

Growing older doesn’t mean growing wiser, nor more sedate really. Being a writer doesn’t just mean sitting around in front of a glowing screen—or a softly buzzing typewriter—it also means living. Getting out there and looking at the world. It means that those interesting times might as well become my words onto the paper so that I can not just connect with my audience but give them the broad stroke of my lifetime.

In growing older I also grew up on Mill Avenue.

Series that I write like Mill Avenue Vexations exist in an idyllic continuum of the street. Attempting to combine the curiosity and living-breath of the current street with the romantic ghosts of its past. My past. A lifetime ago, within my lifetime.

As writers we are not just historians of people, places, and things, but some of us reproduce worlds never visited, places that only exist in our heads. And we get older with them as well. Both the purely imagined to the imagined-from-real. As we age, we accumulate different parts of our life, and shed others. Certainly a teenager doesn’t have much of an experience to write about mid-life-crisis or living in a cubicle farm except bought cheap from the stories of others (thankfully I know neither of these by experience, but I sometimes I wonder.)

The trick, I suppose, is not to become conformed to the mundane times; or caught up in the interesting times so much that we make them mundane. Readers look to us to highlight, contrast, and stark out their world, to give them a lens they cannot access through any other means and to become that lens we cannot let ourselves grow too comfortable.

Grow older. Age that imagination like a cyclist training for the Tour of Germany. It’s not just the start—muscles bulging, brow trickling with sweat, breath bated—to the finish line—triumph in the veins, the burn of adrenaline, the tears dripping over cheeks—but also the vistas in between, the drama of the other racers, the strange, beautiful journey.

Not everyone can make that race; but with our help, and as we age with them, they can imagine it.

Reposted from Kyt Dotson’s Red Room blog.

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