I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I joke often about both my age and mortality. It’s not that I see my eminent demise or that I even feel much more angst beyond the banal aches, pains, and physical restrains which age brings. It’s more that I’ve lost that feeling of invincibility that comes with youth. Alas, I remember what it’s like to be young and bulletproof.
Now, I’m not here to wallow in the various challenges of aging. But, I’ve just been thinking lately about how aging changes one’s perspective. Things look at lot different when you’re heading up a hill than once you’re over the top. I suppose my level of introspection is spurred by my overly on-line presence. It’s a space where, real or imagined, people continually proffer advice on how to think better, trade better, how to be happy, and find meaning of life. I assume that some of that instruction is valuable but I also have to assume that a lot of it is people simply giving themselves pep talks and trying to convince themselves they hold a special key to the universe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, you know, be careful believing your own shit and all that rot.
I am impressed -though not really envious- with the many people in my age cohort on Fintwits who seemingly maintain their enthusiasm for their craft and espouse the need for continual learning. It’s hard for me to sus out if they actually are passionate about what they do or if what they do is just habit. That, of course, is the problem of assessing anyone simply reading their social media posts. A lot of people who maintain a tight focus on a single area of interest often come off (at least to me) as two dimensional. I much prefer seeing the color of the their lives, getting to know their sense of humor, art and cultural interests, and all that other pedestrian stuff that makes one human. But, most generally, I do find my fellow old-timers to be less confident in their understanding of the world than the sure-footed youth – especially in their outlooks. Still, I often get the sense that such a singular focus is an attempt to sell something – and, again, perhaps to themselves. God bless them if they find meaning in it.
I’ve been neck-deep in finance for over 40 years. I’m positive I’ll remain attached to it until my mental faculties slide away simply out of sheer habit if nothing more. Frankly, however, the thrill is gone. After reading uncountable volumes of finance and economic research, I rarely find anything that moves my center of gravity in understanding. Sure, I find a lot of it interesting and, for the better, much of it makes me questions my priors. Regardless, very few things leave me with more answers than questions. It often seems so Sisyphean. Does such a lack of interest make me uninteresting now? I imagine to some, yes.
But screw them. I find new pleasures as I age and many of them involve deep intellectual curiosity. My friends understand my fascination in such things as the alchemy of turning milk into gold. Likewise, I’ve recently entered the rabbit hole of coffee science. That’s really been my whole life – finding obscure shit that fascinates me and drilling down on it. My kids think I’m a little weird. My wife stands ready to deal with my next intellectual obsession. All the while I have to say, on net, I’m pretty satisfied with my meandering (though often addled) brain.
But happiness is a funny thing. Hunter S. Thompson is often misattributed as writing “All my life, my heart has sought a thing I cannot name” (actually he was quoting the obscure 19th century French poet André Breton). I think that’s what I see with so many people popping off with their “How to be happy, etc.” missives. As I’ve said, I think most of that sort of thing is from people trying to find their way, talking to themselves and/or often trying to talk themselves into something.
(I suppose I should get back to Prufrock and bring this to a close. If you’ve suffered through this so far, don’t cheer too loudly.) As I’ve aged, Prufrock has become one of my favorite poems. Be it far from me to argue with literary critics as to what Eliot meant. To me, however, he was being deeply introspective, acknowledging being past his prime, wondering what he missed along the way, and worrying that it’s over. He’s nostalgic for his youth (who isn’t – in at least some matters?).
I, too, think I’m past my prime. I view my most productive years as when I was in my 40s and 50s. Was I happiest then? I have to say, no. I was curious, ambitions, hungry and I had the same lust for life as now. But I was never satisfied and was always looking for the next thing that might fill my appetite. I think I have a lot in common with Prufrock.
Now, as the path to The Big Dirt Nap no longer seems like some abstract eventuality, I find myself amused with things that are mostly banal. I often watch and laugh when I see knucklehead kids doing things that defy explanation – especially if it embarrasses their parents. I find more joy in kids now than ever. Then there’s the deep satisfaction of when I feed something to someone and they’re induced into an involuntary guttural chuffing “uhm” – as if their senses are are taken by surprise producing an autonomic response. (I think this is what drives chefs.) I enjoy music more and in a wider variety. I increasingly find joy in other people’s personal victories. I pay more attention to the virtue of being kind. I find my life is most rewarded with what the French call “the little happinesses”. Life is full of them if one just takes the time to notice. Arrêtez-vous, et sentez les roses.
I doubt that I have the time left to ever amount to much in the measure of mankind.
But am I happy? I think so – at least for the time being.