Guest Blog: On Aging and a Writer’s Job
Guest blogger Matthew Warner and his wife Deena have been friends of mine for a long time (well over ten years, by my reckoning). In this thoughtful essay, Matthew ponders the emotional impact of the passage of time and wonders “Am I Old?” Sheesh…I sure hope not. Because if he’s old then that means I’m old, too. — N.C.
Am I old?
No, seriously, before you laugh at my fretting over this First World problem, consider the evidence.
I’m 42. I graduated James Madison University twenty years ago. Twenty. The girl who babysits my 4- and 6-year-old boys was born after I graduated. Our previous babysitter is now in college.
I got married twelve years ago. Since that time, our family tree has grown: children have been born who are now entering middle school. They’re fully formed people in the sense they can read, write, talk, and wipe themselves. Even my 6-year-old can do those things (most of the time). Their physical appearances change, radically, on a regular basis, while I just grow grayer and hairier.
When I was a kid, life had an agenda laid out for me. From ages 6 to 18, I attended first to twelfth grades. After that, four years of college. That all proceeded as expected. But then in my twenties, it fell to shit. No more predictability. I went through what we call “adultescence,” an adult adolescence. I worked crappy jobs and had to move back in with my parents to save money. I fretted over whether I would ever find a decent woman to spend my life with, defined at that time as a dependable source of sex.
At 30, I married my wife and in that way officially entered adulthood. About one third of my life gone. Now I’m twelve years farther down the road and asking myself existential mid-life-crisis questions: am I doing what I always envisioned for myself? Have I “made it”? Is this all I’ll ever be?
And I continue to wonder: am I old? My 25th high school reunion is coming up. When I attend it, I might judge how fat, wrinkly, happy, successful, or dead my former classmates are, as they’ll judge me. While there, we might discuss famous people who are younger than us, recognizing the absurd reality of the fact that that could happen. After all, people who are more accomplished than us have always been older. And I’ll ask myself, “Who is old?”
Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Most of the evidence I presented to you is external: children, school, marriage, employment, comparisons to others. Nothing internal, like whether I feel old. (The answer: not usually.) Nothing about the top-secret eternal life elixir hidden beneath my floorboards, which would make this discussion moot.
The only thing I’m sure of is that life is a series of events, some more significant than others. How these events permanently change us is the best measuring stick for determining how much of our life has passed and how much more we feel we deserve to have. It’s true that a 20-year-old Army veteran returning from combat could have lived as much, suffered as much, and loved as much as a 100-year-old on his death bed. Life is experiences, and experiences mean risk-taking. Through these events, we age, for better or worse.
My new short story collection, , attempts to identify these key experiences in the lives of a diverse set of characters, such as a Civil War soldier, a modern fashion model, and a far-future priestess. As a writer, it’s my job to dramatize the key domino in a character’s history — the event that changed them or aged them the most. By doing that, it’s my hope to teach myself and you something about life, so the next time any of us asks, Am I old? we can unequivocally give the correct answer.