Recently, on a road trip through South Texas, my mother told me she did not plan to live past 80. I turned to her and gave her a look like “What does that mean?” I suggested that she wait to see how things are when she is 80 to assess whether she is ready to continue living or not.
Later, when we stopped by a nursing home in Corpus Christi, Texas to visit an friend of my late grandmother’s, I began to see what she meant. As we all piled into his small room, and I looked over the old photos of him as a younger man with his wife and his children, and then viewed the failing frail body of this man before me, I thought about how he must spend his days, teetering ever closer towards death. I wondered if he thought much about it, if he reflected on the past, especially on mistakes or missed opportunities. Now, I know that what a 40 year-old thinks about is not what a 90 year-old thinks about, as there is that half a century gap of experience to consider, but I started to rethink my mother’s idea about life essentially ending at 80.
People marvel at the individuals who live well into their 90s, and ask things like “What is your secret?” But my question is, do these people also consider the quality of these years beyond just what is obvious? I don’t consider sitting in a room watching TV and having rather uninspired food served to me three times a day between naps to be a very good life, even if I am 103. Just being alive is not enough to justify a “good” old age. I understand the body’s tug against the individual’s will eventually wins, and one simple cannot keep doing the things they did as a younger person, but perhaps my mother was right about not wanting to live past a certain age that doesn’t seem that old right now.
If 80 is indeed a mark of descending into a passive old age, then I am already at the half way mark, assuming, of course that some other health issue or accident does not curtail my trajectory towards old age. “Yes, but people are living longer these days,” or, “Modern medicine is making strides to improve the quality of old age,” I have been told. Perhaps, but as one who has chosen to follow a creative path, rather than chase a paycheck, I will probably never be able to afford these “improvements” to aging better. So, I hope that when I feel I can no longer do that things that bring joie de vivre, I will be able to call it quits on my own terms.
My idea of a good death? Knowing like some animals do that it is “time,” wandering into a desert or forest somewhere and just letting the earth soak me back up. I’m ok with being a meal for whatever is hungry. Even though I am a vegetarian right now, god knows I’ve eaten my fair share of dead animals, so maybe it’s time to return the favor.
Hitting my 40s has definitely changed things. I do tend to look back a lot and see how expanse and endless my 20s seemed, how I dabbled in just about everything that ever interested me, and perhaps in someways, I still am. I wonder where the fuck my 30s went, and realize that making two feature films sneakily sucked most of that decade away without me even realizing it. I’d sure like some of it back. I realize that singing all of the lines to 80s electro-pop hits now is probably the equivalent to laughing at my parents singing to 60s hits just a few decades ago. I reflect a lot on bad choices I made in my 20s, especially when there were really great opportunities while I was an electronic musician, some very influential people I met during this time, but my stupid ego got in the way. I look at my ignorance in my early 30s about the “industries” of the arts and my naivete about filmmaking, thinking I could make films with my own distinct take, not understanding this is a business where men still largely rule the game, that appeasing corporate sponsors has taken over the agendas of once well-meaning film festivals, and there is little room for originality right now. I often feel that being 40 starts to make you question what is worth working on, as I am still trying to create significant and meaningful art through my films and writing. I am more reluctant to just jump into projects if they are not meaningful to me. I’ve been drifting back into prose and illustrating, even music, primarily because feature films (for me) take incredibly long amounts of time, and I’m not sure I want to be 50 and still have only made two more features over the span of 10 years. This is not from lack of trying, for ask anyone that knows me, I never stop working. Features are just massive beasts of a project. I am also starting to become aware of how our culture hates old people. We don’t want to deal with them, or what they represent as our destiny. We are obsessed with the young, and what the young do.
On the other hand, I am pleased as peaches about lots of things I did do: I dropped out of college when it no longer resonated with me, kicking the notion that high school graduates need to immediately go forth with higher education, and went back to college at 27 when I was ready and eager. I enjoyed my classes, took quite a few of them, studied three different languages, and had enough money smarts by then to get my degree without taking out more than $1000 in school loans, and this was for film school.
I am glad I never had children. I know few mothers will probably admit that they regret being parents, because tricky things like hormones and biological impulses influence our vision of our own kids, but I feel that had I tried to raise a kid, I would have had to make that choice that I see a lot of ambitious women make: between family/work and doing what they love to do. I barely have enough time in my week to really put as much focus and time as I want to into my projects, much less trying to shove raising a kid into all of that. In my own circle, I see women dropping their career ambitions, or the serious hobbies they loved doing, in order to raise children, when their male partners typically still can pursue their projects, careers, etc. Of course, if one of the ambitions is motherhood, then obviously, this is no problem. But I typically note that most of my women friends or family tend to hint at losing their own sense of identity, with some sadness, when talking about parenting.
I am glad I spent several years traveling to Europe and working on organic farms there, and then spending some time traveling in India. Getting some perspective on my own culture and country by leaving it for more than just a typical vacation, has been invaluable, even if it did darken my perspectives on American behavior on the international stage, and bring some degree of humiliation about being an American. Being in Spain during and after 9-11, I often found myself explaining I was Canadian, or wearing a Canadian flag, for fear of reprimand.
And lastly, I’m glad I pursued all of my whacky weird artistic impulses. I think it’s taken me this long to start really honing a voice and style, and I’ve made tons of mistakes in my films and other projects, but I have always been a creative risk taker, and faithful to the creative spirit(s) that likes to hang out with me for some reason I can’t figure out. I don’t consider myself that great of company, but they just won’t go away. It’s okay with me. I kinda like the cool little ideas they toss out at me.
So, assuming I have another 40 good years ahead of me, I wonder what sort of stuff I’ll look back on in 2055 (uh, gulp!), and how my perceptions of my choices will have changed over the years.