Monday, July 16, 2012

Five Awesome Things About Getting Older…

…that nobody seems to ever tell you about. 

If there’s one thing a lifetime of watching angst-soaked coming-of-age movies has taught me, it’s that growing up, for lack of a better term, blows. Your health starts fading, your hair begins to gray, and no matter how much Jazzercise you seem to do, apparently nothing will prevent that marsupial pouch on your abdomen from vanishing.

Try logging on to an Internet message board - ANY internet message board - and you’ll come face to jowl with dozens of nostalgic individuals that do nothing but pine for the “good old days” of their youth. You know, the glory days of being a teenager, when you had nary a care in the world, or the wondrous epoch of being a college freshmen, when the world seemed so large and filled with possibilities. The way they go on and on about their “youth,” you’d think that reaching adulthood was the worst freaking thing that has ever happened to humanity…yes, even worse than Cher.

As a guy just now hitting his mid-20s, I’m slowly beginning to crawl into that perpetual weirdness known as “being an adult.” Granted, a lot of the common complaints you hear about have more than a grain of merit to them (the horror I experienced when I realized I could no longer read font size 8 lettering was on par with the ending to “Don’t Look Now”), but all in all, I think being an adult, is well…sorta’ awesome.

Yes, it’s a contrary opinion, I know. In a world obsessed with youth and age-reversal treatments, stating that aging is a positive thing is sort of like cracking open a copy of “The Audacity of Hope” at a Tea Party rally. Alas, I think there are five very specific reasons why getting older is not only not as bad as you’ve heard, but actually downright awesome, in many regards.

So, what kind of things am I talking about, here? Well, here’s my shortlist, detailing why growing old isn’t necessarily that bad of a process…

You gain the ability to phase in and out of your own existence

...and she's been doing that for about four or five years now, too.

When you’re a kid, things seem like they drag on forever and ever. Thirty minutes feels like three hours, and three hours feels like three weeks. When you’re excited about an upcoming event, it seems like it will never, ever come to fruition, and when you’re stuck in a predicament you don’t want to be in (like, oh say, a weeklong Iowa Test of Basic Skills examination), it feels as if you’re stick in purgatory for all of eternity.

When you’re an adult, however, your notions of time completely change. All of a sudden, the problem isn’t a surplus of time, but the complete and utter scarcity of it. No matter how early you wake up, and no matter how many tricks you find to economize your time, you never, EVER seem to have the ability to complete everything that you want to on a given day.

On the surface, this seems like a pretty negative thing. The reality is, however, that our notions of time have changed because our notions of what’s important have likewise been altered. As a kid - or somebody in your early 20s - you really don’t have all that many important things going on in your life, and as such, you find yourself perennially bored out of your skull day-in, day-out. By the time you get out of college, you actually have tasks and projects that eat into all of that free-time you used to have - meaning, in essence, that the lack of “time” you experience is actually a confirmation that you have quasi-important and significant things on your plate.

The trick here is that, most of the time, the amount of tangible, physical tasks in front of you are essentially the same as they were while you were in college - in other words, the ratio of “free time - to shit you’ve got to do” remains pretty much the same as it was when you were a sophomore. The key difference is that your “free-time” now involves mildly more productive tasks and activities, like raising a family, running a secondary business or pursuing some sort of artistic project that you actually have aspirations of finishing. Compare this to, say, your freshmen year in college, when your “free-time” consisted primarily of playing “Madden” for eight hour intervals and trying to find the easiest girl in your intro biology class based solely on scouring Facebook status updates at 3 in the morning.

The really awesome thing about how your perceptions of time change is that it, in essence, gives you something of a “cheat code” to make it through day to day life. As a kid, your ability to daydream is pretty good, but as an adult? Your ability to phase out of your own sense of consciousness is positively sublime, making hour long morning commutes pass by in what seems like the blink of an eye. Eventually, you get to a point where you realize there’s just so much going on around you that there’s no way you can ever address everything that you encounter on a daily-basis…and as a result, it makes it WAY easier to get from week-to-week, sans experiencing that crushing ennui that dominated our lives up until our mid 20s.

You begin to develop an appreciation for good weather

Because you're not really an adult until you're a well irradiated adult, ostensibly.

Yeah, yeah, everybody likes the outdoors. Kids love playing outside, and young adults enjoy getting liquored up at the lake and trying to avoid being killed by hockey-mask wearing psychopaths. The thing is, they may ENJOY decent weather, but they haven’t truly found an appreciation for it just yet.

As an adult, however, you come to ADORE sunny days and afternoons when you can go out without having to adorn a parka. When skies are blue and the sun is, uh, sunny, it’s an absolutely exhilarating experience, as if it really is the first time you’ve ambled out of a cavern and felt radiation on your flesh in eons. There’s two competing theories as to why this is the case, and odds are, they’re both probably true.

First of all: as an adult, you probably have a job. If not a job, you are at school, or at home, probably raising a kid or doing something else that is not having a job or being at school. No matter your lot in life, this much is a reality for pretty much all adults: you’re going to be spending a lot…and I do mean a LOT…of time indoors.

It’s especially bad in winter, when you’ll wake up, go to work, and then come home, without ONCE seeing the sun in the sky. It’s even worse when you spend most of your day peering out a window, watching all of that sunshine and shit happening while your busy being a technocrat and whatnot. So, when the weekend comes, not only do you want to be outdoors for most of it, you want to strip off your shirt and just run through the countryside like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.”

Another theory - which is a lot more interesting - is the biological argument that we NEED sunlight as something of anti-depressant. While this sounds like pseudo-science (and yeah, it probably is), the reality is that most of us get a majority of our vitamin D from the sun, since it’s kind of a social faux pas for people in their 20s to chug Sunny Delight at mixers. And since vitamin D is known to play some sort of role in how our brain produces serotonin (not to mention that the form of vitamin D we get from sunlight is way more potent than most of the vitamin D forms we ingest), there’s a strong likelihood that the abnormally long periods we spend away from sunlight may in fact give us a chemical urge to soak up as much UV rays as we can when the opportunity arises.

In many ways, I guess this one is just reconfirmation of the old “deprivation leads to appreciation” platitude. Which, as fate would have it, as an excellent segue into our NEXT awesome aspect of getting older…

You can TRULY enjoy food and sex now

Don't worry - you'll definitely move on to better boxes from here.

As a young adult, you’re basically just trying to get what you can get…regarding both food AND sexual activity. 

Needless to say, the diets of most college-aged kids is piss-poor. My senior year in college, my breakfast for an entire month consisted of S’mores Pop-Tarts and Vanilla Coke - by the time graduation rolled around, my skin was so flakey that I could’ve passed for a Dick Tracy villain.

You really don’t appreciate good food in your early 20s, primarily because you never actually get around to trying out good food. Rice, ramen, cold pizza, the cheapest coffee available at Starbucks…not exactly the kind of stuff that you’ll find at a five star restaurant, obviously. And it’s not just gustatory quality that you’re missing out on here, as the low-budget life of a college kid typically entails an aversion to foods that are nutritionally sound, since things like vegetables and fruits are a.) expensive and b.) spoil quickly, which means one has to ingest them pretty much as soon as he or she buys them. And seeing as how I had a bottle of Heinz Sauce that was a mainstay in my fridge for a solid four years, you can see the problems that may arise here.

As an adult, however, you develop a certain appreciation for foods that are actually flavorful and mildly healthy, because hey! You can afford them, and you’re at an age now were you’re just beginning to feel the pangs of health issues that may or may not nag you for the rest of your life. Even in your mid 20s, all of that heavy drinking and dependency on cheeseburgers could be showing signs of prolonged damage to your body, and if you're smart, you’d be wise to ditch the Fritos for some fresh berries every now and then. This one can be attributed to a confluence of factors, I suppose: financial stature change (you can afford decent food now), biological needs (you actually want to eat decent food now), and improved sociographic spaces (you actually have room to cook and store food without your roomies eating them before you get a chance to) chief among them.

The same holds true for sex, I suppose (uh, barring the part about having more money, I hope.) As a young adult, your sexual forays are generally…well, uninteresting, for the most part. This is primarily because a.) you don’t know what the hell you’re doing most of the time and b.) you don’t actually HAVE a connection with the person your bumping uglies with just quite yet. The quantity of encounters may be pretty high for some of us, but the quality, almost always, is quite lacking.

As an adult, however, sex becomes a truly amazing experience, for a number of reasons. For one, you’ve probably figured out how to do it right by now, and that makes things WAY more enjoyable for all parties involved. Secondly, you don’t (usually) have to worry about your roommates (or even worse, somebody’s irate mama or daddy) getting jealous and trying to charge through your bedroom while you and your lady friend are playing Missile Command with your respective genitalia. That, I assure you, relives a LOT of pressure going into encounters of the like.

But the number one reason sex becomes truly enjoyable as a REAL adult is because you’re not “just having sex” anymore. Maybe the girl you’re with is “the one,” and whenever you are with her, you get that amazing, incomparable experience that heightens everything to near celestial levels of awesomeness. Now, you have something you probably didn’t have during your early college years - an actual, genuine, authentic, emotional connection with the person you’re humping. As a result, this genuine affection not only makes sex a truly astounding sensation, it tends to make everything else in your life a little more bearable, too. Yeah, some surprise there - love-making with a person you legitimately have feelings for (preferably, after a really nice gourmet meal) is a little more awesome than an impromptu pelvic rumba with some girl you just met, while the scent of convenience store nacho cheese lingers in the air.

Reading becomes an immeasurably enjoyable experience

As an adult, you will want to "hit this." 

I guess I’m something of an anomaly, since as a kid, I really enjoyed reading. Yeah, there are plenty of us that have been lifelong bookworms, but for the aggregate youngster, anything fatter than a Spawn comic book is like radioactive material.

Nowadays, I could literally spend all day just reading. And in some particularly sluggish days, that’s precisely what I have ended up doing (and nothing, I might add, makes you feel like an egghead quite like polishing off a Martin Heidegger manifesto in one afternoon.)

The peculiar thing I’ve noted is that I am willing to read pretty much EVERYTHING that is put before me. It doesn’t matter what the material is about, no matter how light, complex, technical or familiar the subject may be. If you put an issue of Cosmopolitan in front of me, I’ll probably feel the same urge to delve into its contents if you were to place a mint copy of “Sociobiology” or Lenny Bruce’s autobiography in front of me.

I guess you could say that as you get older, your thirst for knowledge becomes a little more insatiable than it used to be. After all, you have spent at least four years of your life doing nothing but taking notes, and that’s a hard habit to break. I suggest, however, that one’s predilection for the written word (as opposed to other forms of electronic media) stems from one’s desire to actively experience things through intellect as opposed to his or her senses. And before you automatically write me off as a pretentious douche-hat, let me explain.

Reading, for all intents and purposes, is the most immersive form of media that has ever been, or ever will be. Electronic media (TV, movies, video game, the Internet, etc.) may arouse your senses more intensely, but the written word creates a more intimate - and therefore, more effective - experience than any of those newfangled mediums listed above. TV and the Web has ads that suck you out of the experience, and at the movies or theater, there’s an audience alongside you that “breaks” the connection between experience and spectatorship. Books allow you to make the greatest connection between one’s intended media vision, and as a result, it’s perhaps the most intellectually stimulating form of “entertainment” that human beings partake of.

So, anyway, when you get older, you end up wanting more of that shit, because you want stimulating experiences that provoke you mentally and philosophically as opposed to visually and sensually. There’s no real answer as to why this is the case, other than the fact that as adults, you kind of want entertainment that caters to your gray matter as opposed to your caveman urges. And as an added bonus: it gives you a fair excuse to scout around Barnes and Noble and hit on girls that wear Lisa Loeb glasses and practice Wicca, too.

You end up mastering the art of multitasking

Fun fact: if you show a device like this to anyone over the age of 40, their head will explode. 

Nowadays, I typically end up doing more things in one day than I did in an entire week five years ago. And in one week, I probably end up accomplishing, producing, scheduling, arranging and outlining more projects, tasks, goals and plans than I did in an entire YEAR 10 years earlier.

By the time you get out of college, you HAVE to be a self-trained expert in the field of multi-tasking. Gone are the days where the locus of one’s craft was A single project - at any given moment, you’ll probably have at least five or ten major plans going on simultaneously, which you can tackle, break off, and resume at pretty much any moment. The truth is, we’re not a part of the multi-tasking generation, because we never STOP juggling multiple assignments and plans. The crop of kids getting out of university today are, for all intents and purposes, the first generation in history of Omni-tasking individuals.

A lot of this can be attributed to mobile technology. Simply put, we’re never really “off” as a culture, so unlike our parents, we’re part of specific networks all the goddamn time. In a way, we never really “leave” the workplace, because so many components of our careers are invested in Web applications…a statement which is 25 bajillion times truer if you’re a self-employed entrepreneur or freelancer type.

This is a negative thing in many regards (really, who wants to friend their boss on Facebook?), but at the same time, it also allows us to get a SHIT ton of stuff done. There are things we do for sheer amusement (like blog, and sell homemade trinkets on Etsy, or produce videos for YouTube) that would’ve only been accessible and doable by professionals with heavy duty equipment 10 years ago, and at an absolutely absurd upfront cost to the producers of said media. But nowadays, there’s so many free applications at our disposal that pretty much anybody with a laptop can find a way to make a few bucks without ever doing an ounce of what was formerly called “work.”

As an adult, you are able to juggle a career, a secondary career, a love life, personal finances and about a thousand or so social connections (in addition to doing superfluous things, like eating and sleeping) so easily that you really never take stock of all of the things you do on a daily basis. All of a sudden, it just dawns on you that you’re able to uphold so many duties and obligations, seemingly out of the blue. Of course, it’s a skill you’ve acquired after a good quarter century of practice, but you never quite take note of it.

And on the day you do? That, my friend, is the day you FINALLY reach adulthood…and it ain’t half as bad as everybody seems to think it is, either.


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