And the sad price some pay for being too terrified to age. Let's talk.
It's five-thirty my time. I have a yoga tape on in the bedroom, the elliptical is warming up downstairs with a movie to watch while I pant a bit, and in a few hours I will be going horse riding.
I still have one left arm down from two rotator cuff surgeries in ten weeks. It still hurts and is still healing. I'm riding anyway.
This year I HAVE to have surgery on my left hand, which is finally crippled with CMC arthritis. The only option is to cut and fix, and that means twelve weeks down. So right now I am getting used to doing things with one arm down. It's training. You learn how to do these things as you age.
Age is THE great teacher of how to manage pain, problems, persistent issues and people.
But not if you and I don't get there.
This past week a very public suicide rocked a lot of folks' world. I am no beauty queen pageant fan, but I couldn't avoid seeing the suicide of lovely, brilliant and accomplished lawyer and queen Cheslie Kryst. I had no insight into her reasoning until I read this story yesterday by fellow Medium Crow's Feet writer and editor Nancy Peckenham:
I didn't realize that Kryst was full of angst about turning thirty. So full of angst and society-induced self-hate that she was willing to end her promising life before she aged past her imaginary prime.
Those of us who are well past our prime in that regard (only as it regards youth) are, in so many ways, deeply grateful to be beyond the have-to hooks of beauty, perfect skin and youth, those things that we must forfeit if we are to enjoy being older. Where kindly, we really ARE in our prime.
Looking back with hindsight, the signs of trouble were evident in a 2021 essay she wrote for Allure magazine as she faced her 30th birthday:
“Each time I say, ‘I’m turning 30,’ I cringe a little. Sometimes I can successfully mask this uncomfortable response with excitement; other times, my enthusiasm feels hollow, like bad acting. Society has never been kind to those growing old, especially women.”
Ms. Kryst, a supporter of Black Lives Matter and related causes, decried other social ills in her piece. She said the constant drive for more achievements left her feeling empty and trolls ridiculed her physical appearance at every turn. But it was the mere act of turning 30 that sparked the anger in her essay:
“Turning 30 feels like a cold reminder that I’m running out of time to matter in society’s eyes — and it’s infuriating.”
Nancy and I are of the generation that went public for the first time about not trusting anyone over thirty. Kryst's generation is hardly original, but now they hate themselves for turning thirty. That's very different, and dangerous.
One of the reasons I address this so often is precisely this. Our society is set up, with social media as its enabler, to engender self-hate at any age, any size, any color, any culture, because there's profit in it.
If you read me regularly you know I've been slamming the toxic productivity part of our society lately. AND I've been doing a lot about it. Like taking Hump Days and pulling myself away from the compulsive lifestyle that only existed as an outlet for personal pain. As it does for so many of us.
But this is bigger. This is about how we beat others up because we beat ourselves up, and we do that because others are beating US up on social media.
That same compulsion towards self-hate is precisely what drives people to hate on others, like Ms. Kryst, because of the false belief that because of her beauty and accomplishments she has access to happiness that we don't.
If that were true, then America wouldn't be mourning her death.
Nancy has also written, as do many female writers of age including myself, what it feels like to face that aging face. Yesterday, I drove up and down I-5 here in Oregon doing some shopping for the house. I had a mask on. Good thing, because THIS aging face had forgotten to replace her clear pink night guard with her snap-in dentures, a fact which would have become hilariously obvious the second I smiled at someone had I not been masked up.
That's just FUNNY. The ability to laugh at that kind of thing ONLY comes with age, maturity, perspective and hard-won grace. But you don't get that superpower if you choose to check out young. Nor will you ever have kids or see your grandkids if you check out young.
Nor will anyone receive the gifts of your wisdom, borne of age and experience, if you check out young.
Where would we be had Maya Angelou, or Jane Goodall, or Toni Morrison committed suicide before they turned thirty? Where, pray tell? Poor. That's where. For as they aged, they ripened, as they ripened, they gave us far greater gifts. ONLY available through age.
Any fan of Maria Popova's The Marginalian can attest to the exquisite wisdom about life and aging that is ONLY and will ONLY ALWAYS be available from those who have aged. If you aren't reading her curated pickings you are poor, for where we put our attention, as with Ms. Kryst, when we focus on the wrong things, the wrong things can kill us off.
Popova’s materials are rich with hope and happiness. That is a fine place to place our attention.
Our society doesn't want to know their elders, who are proof-positive of their own deterioration and demise. So we shuttle too many out of sight, and those who do dare to toddle around in public are subject to derision, anger and outright murderous attacks for being old.
When society harangues and belittles people not only for their beauty but also for color, for their youth but also their aging selves, their bodies no matter how lovely, we have indeed become a society of murderers. We are committing slow suicide with self-loathing, and in our perfectly understandable desire to bleed off the pain, we take that pain out on others.
This is Skinner's Box writ large, but created for us in our little black rectangles to which we are attached with emotional umbilical cords.
Silicon Valley has been only too happy to set up systems by which we can commit mass murder via daily viciousness, hatred, trolling. We have become equal-opportunity haters, driven by such a level of fear of just about everything that we are killing ourselves with anxiety and hatred, and killing others with our comments because we can't handle what is killing us.
Yet, I'm ridiculously happy. No, really. Even when I forget my dentures, have to strap braces on my aching knees and plan out more surgeries on my various parts so that I can train and stay in the game at a very high level.
I love being alive, and I do not mind one damned bit that next year I turn seventy.
Here is my RX.
It's ridiculously obvious, but it takes discipline. May work for you, may not. I'm still experimenting but there have been considerable gains so far.
First, decouple yourself from most social media. I'm not sure there's a more direct or immediate way to get relief. For my part, I am not on Instagram, which has been shown to do terrible, terrible harm to people, especially impressionable young girls. This report is five years old and you can bet things are much worse now:
From the article:
There were certainly some benefits associated with social networking. All of the sites received positive scores for self-identity, self-expression, community building and emotional support, for example. YouTube also got high marks for bringing awareness of other people’s health experiences, for providing access to trustworthy health information and for decreasing respondents’ levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
But they all received negative marks, as well—especially for sleep quality, bullying, body image and FOMO. And unlike YouTube, the other four networks were associated with increases in depression and anxiety.
...“These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude.”
Compare and despair is precisely what may well have killed Cheslie, or at least added to her burden.. For there will ALWAYS be younger and prettier. ALWAYS. The inability to separate oneself from fake photos, the inability to accept that aging is fundamental to life, the inability to deal with life's inevitabilities are all fed by social media.
Because there's profit in it.
That addiction is just as lethal as alcohol or opiates for this reason: the moment you and I become addicted to something, we stop growing and maturing. We are always and forever stuck in the cycle of the next dopamine hit, be it sex or porn or comparisons to Instagram or whatever it is that is robbing our time and trading it for despair.
This is what I do:
Twitter gets my posts, but I don't follow more than a couple of people. Same on Facebook. I don't accept friend requests. I will NOT be seduced into scrolling. I can't get that time back. I don't do TikTok and most other social media. The older you get the more precious time becomes.
I don't want a tombstone that reads: "She sure consumed a lot of social media." Is that where you're heading?
Not only that, the sludge that I accumulate while scrolling is mental, and it doesn't wash off. I still have images of tortured animals that some sick psychopath posted and which landed on my feed years ago. You and I might just as well shoot up with belladonna. Really? You willingly look at that, and let it infect your heart and mind? That is a choice, and it is costing us.
I am slowly removing myself from Medium, which these days has become almost as bad as other sites, getting overwhelmed by trolls, too many articles worthy only of National Enquirer, and the algorithms benefiting clickbait topics. I don't belong there full-time any more, because Medium drives the same kind of scrolling through trash that we see everywhere else on line.
Because it makes them profits at the expense of good writing and real personal growth.
There are of course exceptions. Many good pubs like Illumination and Crow's Feet feature good writers who focus on important topics, but as I keep hearing, those writers get shitcanned to the bottom of the pile in favor of clickbait even when readers identify certain authors as their faves.
That is city hall, and you can't fight city hall if you don't own it. You can only build your own version of city hall. I am doing just that right here (for those on Medium, that's at www.walkaboutsaga.com) and you are welcome to come play. But that's up to you. That's at least one space where trolling and comparison to others to our detriment is not going to be part of the experience.
But that's just me. I don't know what you're going to do.
Here's what else I do:
On Hump Days I drive, often to the beach, and often I just walk up to people with dogs and start conversations. Sometimes they last for an hour, sometimes a few seconds. However that regular interaction is so joyful and renewing that for my part, getting out for a day of doing nuthin' but meeting new people is one of the great highlights of my week. Those folks are often story inspirations, but in all ways they remind me that at ANY age I have something to offer.
I am reminded that I am smart and funny and interesting because I find others smart and funny and interesting. Those Hump Days push my conversational and interactive skills and remind me that I am really good at this, because I like and am interested in people and their stories. That's a skill like any other. You grow it with age and experience. Nobody out there on the beach gives a flying poop about my aging face. They care about how much I care about them and their fur balls.
There is nothing that social media can offer that being around real people trumps every single time, without fail. Nothing. Real folks are not going to troll you in person about your love handles (okay, maybe your wife might) or your aging face. They have one themselves.
And finally, I read.
I am increasingly convinced that the most radical thing we can do in this digital age is read. Good old-fashioned books, before the crazies get them all burned, and kindly don't underestimate crazed ignorance. It has happened before and we are heading there again, as illiteracy rates skyrocket and as more people incited to violence via social media lose their minds. For my part, I'm heading into more books even as I look at escape routes.
We lost a very beautiful talented woman in Ms. Kryst in a very public way because, in my personal opinion, we have built a society that damns you for being pretty, damns you for being ugly, damns you for youth, damns you for age, damns you for fat, damns you for skinny. We built it. We support it. As long as you are in it you allow them to win it. Your time and life, that is. Your attitude and self love and happiness, that is.
I don't. I don’t. I carefully control how much time social media gets, and it’s strictly limited to what I need to do to run a business, write, and reach out and engage with people I care about.
And I am very very happy taking my aging, cranky but very powerful body towards seventy. Facing my aging, laughing (and yes, toothless unless I remember my dentures) face towards seventy.
What will you choose?