Friday, September 24, 2010

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

Growing older is a pain in the ass sometimes.  Some days it's really difficult to reconcile the face in the mirror to the face one actually wears.  Perhaps I'm a tad delusional in this way of thinking, but it happens to me now and again.  Sometimes at the oddest moments.  "Who is that?"

I always know when a new play is foating around in my head by the amount of time I spend silently musing on the subject matter.  And it's probably true now.  Lately I've been spending a lot of time thinking about time.  Elapsed time, time lost, time badly spent, time fleeting.  And like a lot of people, I'm always a little confused by how it all happened. 

There are sign posts along the way that I can point to.  One is 1988.  I remember getting ready for work one morning (I was a lunch time bartender in a restaurant on Fifth Avenue in NYC) and I was shocked to see the beginning of some crow's feet in the mirror.  I stared at it for a long time, the small, uninvited wrinkles just beginning to take shape around the edge of my eyes.

Skip ahead to 1994.  I was getting made up before a show I was doing in Florida.  I noticed a bunch of grey hair in, of all places, my eyebrows.  I stared at them for a long time.

1997.  Doing a play in Pennsylvania.  The official photographer for the company was a close friend of mine and he was doing some preliminary shots from the balcony just to get the lighting and the lense and all that on an even keel.  The next night we were having beers in the local watering hole and he showed them to me.  And there, plain as day, was glaring proof that I had the beginnings of a bald spot, of male pattern balding.  I was appalled.  I stared at the pictures for a long time.

I was in Chicago in 2004 and was getting out of a car outside a big awards type thingee.  I was wearing a tuxedo.  Across the street a girl was getting out of a car at the exact same time.  As we both headed toward the door of the theatre, bumping into each other, she suddenly said, "Oh, my God, it is you.  I was just telling my friend that that guy looks like a fat version of someone I used to date."   I stared at her for a long time.

And recently.  I was having a ton of new pictures taken by a new headshot photographer here in Los Angeles.  The headshot procedure is considerably different now than when I started out in the business seemingly a hundred years ago.  All in all, I think I've had about eight or nine headshot sessions as I grew older.  Having pictures that look like the person who is actually auditioning is a big plus, I'm told.  In any event, the shots these days, having been digitally done, are immediately available.  So we transferred them right to my computer and took a look at them.  I thought at first there might be a mistake.  He'd somehow accidentally downloaded a bunch of pictures of an old guy.  I stared at them for a long time.

Aging milestones along the way, like dropping breadcrumbs we can never follow back home.  It's a seedy business, this aging thing.  And the most alarming part is the insidious and gradual element to it all.  For the life of me, I can't recall getting older. 

I have never been the kind of guy to make people do a double take in the first place.  While not 'stop the clocks' ugly, I've also never been exceedingly beautiful.  I have known, over the course of my life, some exceedingly beautiful people, however, male and female.  And I suspect the aging process for them is even more traumatic.  It certainly explains a lot of bizzare behavior from movie stars and well-known athletes as they approach middle age. 

But what does it all mean?

Years ago I used to play a little game on my calculator.  Remember calculators?  I would take the median age for a healthy male in this country, which I had read somewhere was 72, and then use my calculator to figure out what percentage of my life was over.  I did this periodically through the years.  I remember being a bit saddened to discover once that 29 percent of my life was over. 

"Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May."

There is a moment, and none of us can ever actually pinpoint the exact moment, when a paradigm shift occurs in our thinking.  One might expect it to be the day we get married, or perhaps the birth of our first child, or maybe even the day we make a spiritual conversion.  I don't think it is.  I think the most shattering moment we have in terms of our actual belief system, in terms of the way we live our lives, in terms of the simple choices we make from day to day, is not connected in any way with someone else.  I think it is the day we, without realizing it, grasp the overwhelming fact that we are mortal.  That immortality is a conceit of the young.  People, family and friends, pets, public figures, idols and mentors, just up and die on us.  They die on Mondays and Tuesdays they're not there.  They die on Saturdays and Sundays they're not there.  They just cease.

I don't think anyone can pinpoint that precise second of realization.  In fact, some never do.  The trick, I suppose, is to accept this moment of clarity with as much grace as one can muster.  The problem is, one can't prepare for that moment. 

I don't mean for today's blog to slip into the maudlin.  Because there is undeniable truth to the idea that happiness is not about what happens to us so much as it is about what we make happen.  An almost impossible concept to grasp while cavorting in the midst of youth.  Which is, indeed, often wasted on the young. 

Society, especially in the past fifty years or so, has become ingeniously adept at treating age as euphemistically as possible.  Golden years.  Senior Statesman.  Wisdom.  A good life.  Influential.  Retired.  Veteran.  An old lion.  Whatever.

My goal these days is try and see myself exactly as I am.  A question I often ask close friends is how old are you when you dream?  I am always, give or take, around thirty.  Maybe this is when I felt best about myself.  Who knows.  Oddly, the answer I get most often is mid-twenties.  It takes some thought.  Dreams are discarded quickly and some can never be remembered.  But over the years a pattern does start to emerge, I think.  And that pattern, for me anyway, indicates I'm more often than not around thirty years old in most of my dreams that I can remember.  It's a powerful age.  Still vigorous but no longer treated as a youngster.  Still physically attractive to some but not childishly so.  Ripe but not green.

I don't have a moral or a tidy paragraph to explain today's blog.  Except to muse that perhaps sometimes when trying to explain our behavior, it has nothing to do with what's happening immediately around us.  Sometimes it's just a way to tilt at some windmills.  Sometimes it's just an attempt to find all those breadcrumbs in the dark leading back to a home that's only in our memory.  Sometimes it just might be a futile rage against the dying of the light.  Sometimes all we can do is stare at it for a long time.

See you tomorrow.