Of Youth and Age: 5 Things That Have Changed As I’ve Grown Older

Author’s Note: Let me take this space to thank my lovely wife for helping me generate some of this post’s content. By “generate content,” I mean that she helped me remember things that have changed for me as I’ve gotten older, which, evidently, was too much of a mental struggle for me.  

I stole part of the title of this piece from Francis Bacon, who’s been dead for about 400 years. Such is the brashness of youth, I suppose.

His original is basically a list of what we’ve come to recognize as the stereotypes of young people and their elders: recklessness vs. caution, passion vs. timidity, foolishness vs. wisdom and so on. In re-reading it this week (I’ve been forcing my students to read older works because otherwise they would, you know, never do it – don’t I sound like a fun teacher?), I tried to recognize in myself some of the changes that surely must’ve taken place in me as I’ve moved from my teenage years into my late twenties. If you think that twenty-seven is too liberal an interpretation of the term “age,” I won’t argue, but in my defense I’ve been a husband for all but eleven days of my twenties and a father for nearly four years, so that’s something. As Bacon said, “A man young in years may be old in hours, if he hath lost no time.” So there.

Anyway, in thinking about all this I’ve come across a few things that have changed for me personally, but that Bacon never gets around to mentioning, mostly because he was writing in the 16th century.

  1. I don’t care whether my music comes via mp3 or CD anymore.

When I was in college, I spent an inordinate amount of time (and a not insignificant portion of my UK Plus Account) in CD Central, the creatively named local record store down the street from my first apartment. My musical education really hit full stride in that place, and part of what my time there convinced me of was the intrinsic value of physical copies of albums. For years I saw the people eagerly flocking to the iTunes store as sellouts. It was probably a good thing nobody bothered to ask me what exactly these people were selling out. I’d probably have muttered something about not trusting technology and liking the album art and topped it off with some rant about sound quality before changing the subject.

But Amazon’s mp3 store (I know, I know. Why not just drive down to CD Central and burn the place to the ground while I’m at it?) offers a lot of good albums at low cost and better sound quality (256 kbps as opposed to the oft-standard 128) and all without making me interact with a single moody clerk who’s judging me for listening to something as BOURGIEOUSE as Mumford and Sons. I just can’t muster the rage any more, especially not if I’m going to continue to support artists by actually buying their music. CDs, at ten or twelve bucks apiece, really don’t provide me with as much opportunity to get to know new artists without forgoing things like food and shelter. Eighteen year-old me would be so disappointed.

  1. I don’t like eating at buffets any more.

There was a time, let me just tell you, when, as the fella says, I saw ‘All You Can Eat’ as a challenge, not an offer. This was at a time when my metabolism whirred audibly and my 6-4 frame supported something closer to 180 lbs. than my current 225.

Through my early college years, I relished the opportunity to gorge myself on whatever deep fried (the more deeply fried the better) concoctions the local junk displays offered. There then passed some unnoticed moment when suddenly the prospect of several plates of mediocre (at best; let’s be honest about the extant quality of the average buffet) food became much less appealing than a single well-made dish.

I can’t say that my palate is all that sophisticated or that I’ve adopted what any sane person would call a “healthy” diet, but at least I’ve lost my taste for the trough.

  1. Staying up late is no longer appealing.

I often went to sleep in high school after Conan O’ Brien’s first interview was ending at about 1:00 AM. The school day started at 7:30 and I woke up at about 6:15 (read: my mom knocked on my door at 6:00 and I grunted incoherent syllable combinations until she finally had to raise her voice). By college, my whole schedule looked something like I imagine the Rolling Stones’ did in the 70s: plan to start the night at 10:00, don’t actually get things going till about 11:30, stay up until your eyes get all bleary and start to burn, get to sleep before the sun comes up and do it all again. Bonus points – I did it without the aid of amphetamines and cocaine.

I don’t see my old friend midnight much anymore, and only on weekends even then. All-nighter and I don’t keep in touch at all. Sleep and I, however, are closer than ever. In fact, there are few whose company I enjoy so thoroughly.

In seriousness, I know that having a kid and a job with normal hours was always going to knock a pretty big hole in my old habits, but even during the summer when I don’t really have a strict schedule I feel like a bum if I sleep past 9:00. I haven’t necessarily become a morning person, but the appeal of the late night has all but vanished except in certain rare circumstances, say, the infrequent visits of old friends.

  1. I no longer hate dressing up.

My wife and I (before we were married, maybe?) actually got into a fight – you are absolutely right to translate that as, ‘I was being childish and my wife got justifiably angry at me’ – because she wanted to go into the Gap and I refused. Wouldn’t even walk through the doors. Why? It’s almost too embarrassing to type, but I was a zealot about a lot of ill-defined concepts like “authenticity,” which I somehow tied directly to wearing shirts with buttons and the amount of time spent making oneself presentable to the rest of civilization. I used the word “poser” a lot, always unironically. Like I said, it’s embarrassing.

I’ve worn a tie to work every day this week. I own a three piece suit. My wife bought me collar stays a couple of months ago and I got genuinely excited about it. A pretty far cry from my (and I’m absolutely not exaggerating) two-year streak of wearing sweatpants or gym shorts every day, no? Considerations of comfort preceded all others then, and as a result, I spent most of my time looking like a street person. (This is a bad time, even rhetorically, to ask how I ever convinced someone to marry me, isn’t it?)

  1. I no longer enjoy midnight movie premieres.

This one is kind of connected to number three, but has a few distinct features of its own. One of the side effects of being a night owl was that I loved going to the first showings of movies with all the other crazies. I saw the Matrix sequels, all three Star Wars prequels, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, at least a couple Harry Potters, and both volumes of Kill Bill at midnight showings, driven by a love of the communal experience of something I was so eager to partake in. I thoroughly enjoyed the buzz of being around like-minded nerds and beating everyone else to the punch.

Around the time a group of middle school-age girls ruined the fourth Harry Potter by squealing during a scene where Dan Radcliffe isn’t wearing a shirt, I started to sour on the whole experience. I started to notice the extremes that midnight showings encouraged. Those in attendance seemed to be either humorless snobs or overly exuberant fanboys/girls bent on drawing constant attention to their own obnoxious behavior. The innocent excitement I had first experienced in 1999 at a showing of The Phantom Menace had turned into something else. When the TTAF crew made the last minute call to see The Dark Knight Rises at midnight this past summer, the novelty of it was almost palpable. I felt like ‘the old guy’ for the first time outside of my classroom and spent an inordinate amount of my time concerned that somebody would do or say something stupid during the film and make it even worse.

This is, of course, the way things go. We make promises in youth that we can’t keep because youth can’t imagine age. I’m sure there’ll come a day soon when I tell my son to do something “because I said so.” On that day, I’ll need some consolation, so feel free to give me a call to make me feel better. But make it before 9:00, ‘cause, you know, I have to be up early.

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2 Comments on “Of Youth and Age: 5 Things That Have Changed As I’ve Grown Older”

  1. Bob Taylor
    February 22, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    I enjoyed this one Josh.
    Oh by the way, things get worse…

    • joshacorman
      February 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

      Chuck Klosterman once posed the following quandary:

      “Assume everything about your musical tastes was reversed overnight. Everything you loved, you now hate; everything you once hated, you now love. If your favorite band has always been REM, they will suddenly sound awful to you, they will become the band you dislike the most. Everything will become it’s opposite, but everything will remain in balance (and the rest of your personality will remain unchanged). So-in all likelihood-you won’t love music any less (or any more) then you do right now. There will still be artists you love and who make you happy; they will merely be the artists you currently find unlistenable. Now, I concede that this transformation would make you unhappy. But explain why.”

      When you say “things get worse,” this is what I think of. It’s funny that all these changes and concessions I’ve made as I’ve aged DO have a vaguely negative association for me, but I can’t explain why. When I really look at it, I shouldn’t feel worse for wearing slacks instead of sweats or loving the Sunday matinee more than the Thursday night midnight premier, but I do. There’s an odd kind of guilt that comes with rejecting the habits of youth, even if the habits become legitimately untenable with age. This is different, of course, from, say, finding that I have less time to do things (like read, watch movies, play video games, etc.) because I’m older and other constraints on my time / responsibilities.

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