“Am I too old to do that?”
I find myself asking that question to no one in particular at least once a day; checking in with the universe about my choice of shorts, my choice of drink, my choice of shows to watch. The cultural police person in my brain wears their judgement on their face when I finally decide what I’m going to look like as I leave the house. A far cry from the Ralph in art school who rolled out of bed and threw on whatever didn’t smell to run to class. And that makes me think about going back to school for more education, which I then think I’ve aged out of as well. Some may say I’ve grown and matured. Some may say “Who cares? Roll out of bed and throw on whatever if you want.” I guess what I want to know is how old is too old? And why do we care?
This post came about for a few reasons. One, my love of Madonna will never die and her new album just came out this past week. I’ve grown up with her and now as she ventures into her 60s we’re all getting to see what happens to pop royalty who dares to get older. And in this case, a pop icon who built her empire on being an outspoken woman who fully and unapologetically embraced her sexuality. There aren’t enough pearls in the world for some people to clutch or cluck their tongues at an artist who refuses to “act her age”. But who’s to say how to act at any age?
Another reason I wanted to write this post is two articles I saw this month that both point generally to the same question. One was a BBC article that announced the first art exhibit of a 98 year old woman from Venezuela. The other was a LADBible article about an 85 year old retired priest who is now a porn star and is having mind-blowing sex for the first time in his life. Granted these three stories could be considered galaxies apart, but they all address an inherent bias in society. How we should act or what we should try to accomplish as we get older.
There are unspoken rules we all adhere to as we age; some for each phase of our lives. There are things that are expected of us as teenagers, as a 20-something, 30-something, and 80-something. All dependent on our calendar age. And we are rewarded by society for following the rules. We fit in. We belong. We don’t rock the boat. The trouble starts when someone doesn’t conform to those unspoken rules and blazes their own trail. Teenagers who are book smart and conscientious about the future. 20 and 30-somethings who want to travel and don’t start a family. 60-somethings who continue to push boundaries and ask questions with their music. 80-somethings who begin a career in adult films. 90-somethings who land their first art exhibit. These people are outliers. Why?
Maybe because they challenge what it means to be a certain age. Maybe they challenge our perceptions about what we should be “ashamed of”. Maybe they challenge gender norms. Or maybe they are making us think about our age and what makes us comfortable. I don’t think any of us want to be confronted by our journey to old age, but I am heartened by people who refuse to “act their age” and pursue what makes them happy and fulfilled.
I love reading about older people doing amazing things. They inspire me. They also make me feel lazy. But I’m sure we all know older people who are doing their own thing and are undeniably happy. Each one of them inspires someone else to be amazing no matter what age they are. Then we all slowly begin to stop listening to that cultural police person in our heads. We wear what makes us comfortable and happy. We go back to school in our 40s. We make music in our 60s. We get our first gallery show in our 90s. And we all deserve to have mind blowing sex way into our 100s.