Janet (j4) wrote,
Janet
j4

Age fright

I've been thinking a lot about age recently; feeling young, feeling old, how it's all relative. Obvious stuff, but I'm getting to the sort of age where I'm allowed to ramble off down memory lane from time to time, so bear with me (or just move on). My perception of my age seems to change more or less daily; and it's not just as simple as (for example) talking to students making me feel old, and talking to grandparents making me feel young.

My parents have got younger and younger as I've got older. When I was tiny, they didn't have an age (how could you tell how old somebody was if they didn't have cakes with candles on and you didn't know what class they were in at school?); and when I was older and more annoying they were clearly ancient; and when I was a teenager they were just the older generation and therefore Didn't Understand Me (yawn); and when I was a student and chatting online to people who were approximately midway between my age and my parents' ages I started to realise just how flexible it all was (and that the lines between 'generations' were really quite fuzzy and not terribly useful), and they started to seem younger and younger. These days I reckon they're in the same age-group as the rest of my friends-group. My office-mate (he of the birthday card) was born in the same year as my dad. So? So nothing. Just a fact.

And I look at photos of my parents from when I was a baby and think "bloody hell, they look younger than I am now", and realise that that's because they were. It's like time-travel. I'm having the same disconnect with the bands I used to like, the teenage crushes; I'm older now than Loz Hardy from Kingmaker was when I was a squealing fangirl. He claimed he was going to kill himself at the age of 23 because it was better to burn out than to fade away, better to die before you got old. Twenty-three. Okay, so he was an idiot, and fortunately didn't follow through on that threat, but honestly.

All the photos look such strange colours. I'm starting to recognise the peculiar colour-cast of "the 1990s" in photos; I sometimes still fail to remember that we're not in the 1990s any more, and at the same time, it's receding into a sealed decade like the 60s or the 70s. All those early digital photos, greenish, over-bright, making my acne and huge glasses look far worse than the browns and oranges of the 1970s ever made my parents' flamboyant shirts appear.

It's not so much about age, though, as about experience; not the having-done-stuff sort of experience, but the having-been-there sort. Being in the photos. Remembering. In a lot of ways I feel more aligned with a half-generation above me: remembering LPs, and the early home computers, and usenet, and so on. For every age there's a seam of experience that lets you calibrate exactly where somebody else is in relation to you: I remember the birth of Channel 5, but not Channel 4; the Berlin Wall, but not the Falklands. Every time you mention a date or an event, somebody winces as you make them feel comparatively old, or young. General elections, A-Levels, waypoints and markers.

I can't help wishing I was there. There's a cut-off point, or a fade-out point; I don't find myself wishing that I'd been there to witness, say, the 'discovery' of America, or the invention of printing, or even the last turn-of-the-'millennium', or the War to end all wars, or the War that proved it hadn't. But the things that are only just out of reach feel as though they're nearly within my grasp. I could have nearly been there in time to remember the moon landings (we're back to that again). I'd've only had to be born just over a decade earlier; and just-over-a-decade is a bridgeable gap. I've gone out with people who were more than that distance from me in age. So near... and yet so far, on the other side of the divide. The date of your birth slices through all those grey areas. 1978-05-05: I can't change it.

The things you can't remember always seem more significant than the things you can. The things you can't remember, they seem significant; they'd put you in a different class of people, a different zone, a different level of experience. But the things you can remember, you know that you didn't do anything special, you weren't singled out, you just happened to be there, watching, breathing.
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