Over the weekend I enjoyed a lovely brunch with a poet friend here in DC (where I got to have aebleskiver–one of the few ethnic treats of my childhood!). Over the course of our meandering conversation, we talked about what it meant to feel old.
“I was just thinking recently about how no matter how old I am, I feel old,” I told her. I expected her to reciprocate the sentiment.
“Not me,” she said. “When I was in my thirties I had so much energy, and it stopped all of a sudden. I do feel like a different person now.”
Since our talk I’ve been thinking about this because
a) I’ve continued to feel old
b) I’ve continued to feel tired
I had to remind myself that I spent seven years living on college campuses, and that for the last three of those years, I lived with 18-year-olds. Hundreds of them. I lived with them, then I taught them in comp and creative writing classes, and then I spent the next four years working on their campus, surrounded by them.
For all intents and purposes, I spent roughly the first 13 of my adult years completely surrounded by 18-year-olds, deprived of adult contact and conversation, except among colleagues.
Although it’s not much time between, say, 18 and 25, the mental distance is vast. I watched young adults make the same mistakes I made, had conversations in which they said to me the exact same crazy/stupid/arrogant things I said in my own youth.
More than that, they saw me as old. They weren’t able to distinguish much between me and some of the regular tenured faculty, for example. I was pretty much a generic “grown-up.” I had a “real life,” whatever that meant. Bills, I suppose–a car payment.
It reminds me of an encounter I had at my Target Greatland. My cashier, a girl in her late teens, had been awkwardly talking to an older man. I took his age to be about 45. As he left, she rolled her eyes. “God!” she complained. “He always flirts with me. It’s so gross–he’s, like, thirty.” She laughed and looked at me. I must have had a shocked look on my face; she dropped her laughter and silently scanned my items.