For the New Year

Conventional New Year’s resolutions don’t interest me much. At least not before careful consideration. Here, then, are suggestions to help reconfigure your 2018 list. They fit with the notion of the road not taken; or the direction not discovered. They are ideas to apply to your resolution-making, not a set of 2018 goals themselves:

  • Slash the resolutions you’ve already made! The more things on the list, the less likely you will attend to any of them. Achieving one or two life changes is remarkable enough. By reducing the number, you must decide what is important to you. The exercise has value by itself. When you consider the rest of the items below, keep this in mind.
  • Challenge your intuitions. Research by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Haidt suggests we quickly and intuitively come to our positions on matters as serious as politics and religion. According to Haidt, our brain acts as a kind of post hoc lawyer to defend instinct-driven moral beliefs and to fool us into thinking we reasoned out our convictions before arriving at them. Opening your mind to rejected ideas isn’t easy, but might enlighten you.
  • Don’t borrow trouble. Most of the things about which we worry never happen. Beyond taking proper precautions over what you control, worry is an anxiety-inducing waste. Yes, look both ways before you cross the street, plan your financial future, eat well and exercise, but don’t obsess. Consternation offers you nothing. Need help? Check out Craske and Barlow’s cognitive-behavioral program with your therapist or consider ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy).
  • Realize the road is not always comfortable. A good life depends, in part, on knowing rocky and smooth stretches are unpredictable, inevitable, and usually temporary; all part of the highway we travel. Years ago I asked a wise financial advisor, Rick Taft, “How do you think stocks will do in the New Year?” His answer? “The market will fluctuate.” We could just as easily describe the inconstant fate awaiting us as an unavoidable fluctuation. No matter how smart you are, Fortuna (the Roman goddess of luck) spins her wheel. Good emotional shock absorbers are essential. Failures and tears add to the richness of our existence, however much you and I wish they could be avoided. You can learn from them, but only if you reflect on your life and keep a mirror handy for an occasional self-inspection.
  • Whose life are you living? The one you want or the one designed to make people love you and accept you? Evolution led our ancestors to concern themselves with reputation. Those who did increased their chances of survival and mating success. Like a number of the qualities evolution “selected for,” a preoccupation with public opinion can drive us crazy. Happiness is not the aim of evolution, only passing on your genes to a new generation. Once again, you might need to fight instinctive tendencies if you wish more than an average measure of satisfaction. Anticipation of the world’s disapproval leads one to display a false self and worry about being unmasked. Remember, this is your life (not theirs), and tuning out some of the voices who criticize is part of creating a strong and resilient personality.
  • Relationships are the most fulfilling thing on the planet. Try to have some! (Oops. I offered a goal).
  • Research suggests generosity to others is more fulfilling than spending your nickles on yourself. Similarly, experiences will offer more pleasure and more satisfying memories (say, of a vacation) than things like an attention-getting sweater or a hot car. Think back. Do you feel warm inside as you remember the set of wheels you had 10 years ago? I don’t need to think hard: until three years ago I was still driving the well-used car I bought in 2000! More on how to get from here to happiness from Daniel Gilbert:

It is said that “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Not always, but often. Just so, maturity is achieved by surviving life challenges plus the passage of time, with some learning thrown in, of course. I’m not suggesting disappointment and mistreatment are equally distributed among us, but each of us knows suffering and, fair or not, it is in our interest to learn from the bad breaks.

All the above considered, here are ideas to push your sail boat off the dock and into the fresh waters of the New Year:

  • It is not that you have done wrong (you have), but whether you do more and more good.
  • It is not that you fall, but whether you get up.
  • It is not that you are a victim, but whether you are a survivor.
  • It is not that you make mistakes (you will), but whether you learn from them.
  • It is not that you get angry, but whether you get over it.
  • It is not that friends and lovers disappoint you, but whether you still believe in friendship and love.
  • It is not that you erred, but whether you took responsibility.
  • It is not that you take life seriously, but whether you also recognize its laughable absurdity.
  • It is not that you’ve forgotten what’s been lost, but whether you are grateful for what you have.
  • It is not that you see life’s ugliness, but whether you seek its beauty.

To close, the following old words from the nineteenth-century Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, seem right for 2018:

“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare us to our friends and soften us to our enemies. Give us strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death loyal and loving to one another.”

Can You Be Too Beautiful? When Sex Gets in the Way of Love

We live in a world of appearances and surface qualities, relentlessly sold, as if only beauty matters. But what of the wreckage that comes in the package when “the package” – the outer wrapping of a gifted female form – blinds the male observer to what is inside?

A few words, then, about the desire to be “known” as more than a “hot chick,” but for the soul and the idea at your core: the craving for understanding that women, in particular, find elusive in their male partners.

Men are built to be struck dumb by beauty, females to blind them, in order to procreate little duplicates and extend our mutual genetic life in the form of offspring. At some point in civilization’s course, we learned to reign in the lust and wait a bit, the better to determine whether physical attraction can combine with compatibility, protection, and parenting. But there is tension between the urge for touch and the restraint of such desire. So the human world has always been.

Good parents, especially parents of daughters, worry about the sex thing in their growing children. My wife and I did, for sure.

One of our little lovelies was unusually sense-sensitive. She craved affectionate touch from us, skin on skin. Not as though my wife and I held back. We couldn’t get enough of holding and kissing our children, just as we fondle our grandson at every opportunity today. Our tiny lady found special joy and comfort in the “skinny” of things, as she and we came to refer to it.

Well, to the good, she didn’t become a wild-woman, as we occasionally feared might happen. Our two daughters had different natures, and we tried to respond with what each one required, not a “one-size-fits all” approach.

In my clinical practice I treated a number of women who resembled my daughter’s wish for the skinny. Some of them came by this characteristic because they’d been deprived of loving touch when young. Others, however, perhaps had my little one’s nature, desirous of physical affection more than most, sense-oriented in their genetic template. I listened to stories from females who found being held more satisfying than sex. Young and older women, both.

The early stage of dating coincides with the early stage of physical maturity. If love is blind, it is blindest when the body parts spring into action, especially the part belonging to the man. Can a young fellow understand his girlfriend when he hardly grasps life at all and hormones are flooding his brain? Not well. But, perhaps the young woman hasn’t yet discovered what a precious thing it is to be precious, treasured for reasons other than her youthful glow.

What happens then? The female gets older, but not yet old, wonders if a “good man” exists – just one – capable of understanding and sexuality; less self-love and more of a kind that recognizes the unique qualities beyond “curb appeal.” “Me, not her!” she seems to say, referring to her appearance as if it had a life of its own. “Want me not only in the bedroom: the other me is important, too.”

Some of those I’m talking about fall in love with their therapists. Beyond the traditional Freudian transference, why might that be?

Could it be because his job is to get underneath the skin, beyond the skin? And, because he is forbidden to touch? He communicates in words, words alone. He thinks about you, listens to you, analyzes you, looks into your eyes, abides with you, cradles your being (not your body) when you most need a comforting embrace.

Moreover, often a counselor is older, less driven by his own sexuality. He is not so captured by his hormones and your fetching vision. He can radiate, for all these reasons, a more fatherly presence, at least the kind of father you might have wanted if your own fell short. The best dads cherish their children of both genders, recognize the human being inside, and speak the words conveying this knowledge.

We need, all of us need, to ache for love, the ache before touch, the ache that cannot grow when want is satisfied early and often. Romance is fueled by magic, imagination, and language; physical reality can get in the way. Not that romance doesn’t crave fulfillment, but lofty affection needs time to brew, age a little before you drink.

Does this sound quaint, the musings of a man raised in a less sexually free atmosphere than we live in today? I plead guilty. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Analogues similar to the doctor/patient growth of love do exist: in bygone days, when people separated by distance wrote love letters. My dad and mom were newly married when he went to war. The ardency of his well-traveled words can be read here: Love Letters.

Is this not what you want? I sometimes wonder, in our current environment, if a man’s discovery of a woman at the most genuine level is preempted by too much, too soon. In my dad’s day, sex was more a question of whether than when. Now, consummation is expected early and almost disqualifying if one or the other wants to wait very long. But these are general statements and may not apply to you at all. My apologies.

Some women should be treasured for their intellect, kindness, and talent; for their revolt and their surrender; for their self; but settle for financial security or sex or just someone to blunt the dull edge of loneliness. These women should have their hands kissed, but the bargain doesn’t always include tenderness. Stupefied by their own stupidity, men can be blind to what they too are missing.

In the last few years, I’ve come to the point of cherishing my long-time friends, something similar to what I think a woman wants from her mate. I have begun to tell them, men and women both, what makes them special to me. To express my gratitude for their being and for being in my life.

We need to age a little to find this gratitude for the things so long taken for granted. And maybe some of us (men too) need to lose 20% of our charm so the opposite sex will be less dazzled and see farther, less physically attractive to be loved for who we are. Might we need to look middle-aged and recognize our mortality before the whole of us can take precedence over body parts and hair and symmetry and the other handiwork of the sculptor who made us? Not our fault, but still …

I could be way off, as I said. I am a married man who has received more love than I deserve and listened to intimate stories in the office, too. I can’t know by experience what any of you, dear female readers, understand from the inside. But, before you dump my words into the dumpster, consider this. This is what I think you want, in a poem of W.B. Yeats. The kind of love he had for a woman who spurned him:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Maude Gonne, the woman for whom Yeats carried a torch well-beyond the writing of this verse, did not get the fullness of his love because she jilted him. His was an abiding affection even when she was no longer the beauty of her youth.

But then, the question is, do you want this sort of love?

You already know what I think.

—————-

The top photo is A Beautiful Female Mannequin, by epsos.de. The second image is a Boston photo of Jules Aarons. Next comes Beautiful Female Avatar from Second Life, the work of Jin Zan. The iconic American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin follows. Finally, a painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo entitled Flora. All the female images except for the Orkin photo are sourced from Wikimedia Commons and, quite intentionally, none of them are real women (with the exception of the Orkin photo), since the essay is about believing “the package” is the real thing.

Part II: So You Say You Want to Know Yourself? Thoughts on Examining Your Life

512px-Vladimir-Grig-Who-Am-I

In my last post I promised to give you my thoughts on the questions I posed about knowing yourself and examining your life. There were 13 in total, (superstitious anyone?). Here are the responses they prompted in me.

  1. Someone asks for a year off your life — a transfer of 365 days from you to him in return for money. Would you accept? How much money seems sufficient? The old Twilight Zone TV series presented an interesting story involving such an offer: The Self-Improvement of Salvatore Ross. I can imagine circumstances in which I would take the offer. If I needed money to save the life of someone I loved, for example. Otherwise, probably not. But then, I am financially comfortable. Were I not, perhaps I’d be more inclined to accept. I’d not care to get a bigger house, win status, or travel the world. Nor would I give the year for any charity short of enough dollars to change thousands of lives. There are limits to my altruism.
  2. If you could trade one extra year of good health and youth for one less year of longevity, would you make the exchange? Everything else being equal (which is never the case) this is attractive. Pain can be instructive if you are young enough and the suffering is defeated. Living longer, at least into an old age suffused with agony has no appeal for me. Leon Kass, physician and philosopher, however, argues that discomfort and gradual loss of our abilities combine to make us less resistant and more grateful for the release provided by death. Note that my answers to all of these questions are personal. You might well offer ideas at least as worthy and persuasive, perhaps more faith-based.
  3. What would you die for? My post What Would You Kill For? includes many thoughtful responses I received from friends and acquaintances.
  4. What would you kill for? The same essay deals with answers to this query as well.
  5. Imagine you are given the opportunity to improve your physical beauty by 25% or your intelligence by a similar percentage. One or the other, just by saying so. Please discuss your decision and justify it. Were I a deformed young man, enhanced beauty would be difficult to resist. The importance of what meets the eye, of course, depends on the individual’s self-image and how much else recommends him to others in the mating game. The hand of time steals pulchritude from us all, a dime’s worth here, a nickel’s worth there, until at last those who once possessed surpassing beauty often sustain the most damaging psychological losses. We witness what some pursue from surgeons to fight the clock. The world pressures women more than men with regard to appearance, another consideration. At this point in my life, however, I’d take 25% more intelligence, being without an outsized vanity regarding how my externals are judged. Yet I wonder if the added cognitive burst might then separate me from friends and loved ones, literally change my thinking, our mutuality, and increase their discomfort in my presence. The value of relationships means more to me than becoming Einstein. Had I been given the offer of a bigger brain in my school years, however, I’d likely have accepted. We tend to think of ourselves as a kind of unitary whole, despite the changes we go through outside and inside. For a number of the questions in this essay, consider whether you would answer the same way when youthful, in middle-age, and in old age.
  6. You are offered the chance to live one day over again. A “do-over.” Which 24-hours would you choose, if any? Describe what led you to this determination. My first thoughts here were focused on my youth, when confidence and self-assertion were wanting. On the other hand, life worked out before long. Moreover, any edge won with increased bravado would have been temporary, or (as Rosaliene Bacchus commented in response to the original post) might have altered the course of events in ways I didn’t predict. For example, had I been more masterly with some young woman in my single days, perhaps I wouldn’t have met and married my wonderful wife, produced our two great daughters, etc. No, I’d let the opportunity for a “do-over” pass by for the chance of self-advancement, but take advantage of it with respect to someone I hurt. My answer to question #10, based on regret, offers the details.
  7. A genie will give you the ability to relive one day of your life just as it happened, without change. Which would you choose? Explain. My post What Memory Would You Take To Eternity? describes a heavenly reward consisting of living forever in a single, precious, blissful moment. I chose the instant I treasured most and treasure still, described therein. However, if I had 24-hours to live over again, I’d probably conjure up my father when I was a small boy, maybe three. He created a pretend radio show for me using the nozzle of our vacuum cleaner (hose attached) as a mock microphone. We played different parts, at least as the story was related to me much later. Though I lived it, I own no memory of the event. I’d like to visit him again in the fizzing sparkle of his relative youth, when his heart fairly burst with love and pride in his first born. The pictures of my dad with me show how overwhelmingly happy he was, beside himself with joy. I remember my own experience of this dad role with my children and watch it duplicated today whenever I go over to the home of my youngest daughter and son-in-law Keith with their wonderful boy — my grandson, of course.

That’s enough to ponder for now. Stay tuned, as my dad might have said in our imaginary radio days, for my take on questions eight through 13.

The top image is a work of Vladmir Grig called Who am I as sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

An Uplifting Moment (Two Therapeutic Minutes)

Therapy doesn’t only happen in the office.

Here is a brief and inspiring video, just over two minutes long. No essay for today.

I’m going to keep it a surprise, so take a chance. One hint: it is not about a soldier returning home. That is to say, the events in the video don’t contain anything unexpected. What is important is that you might feel better for having seen it and be reminded of something that is therapeutic for your life. I certainly was:

A Lovely Surprise

To Ink or Not to Ink? The Tattoo Question

image

When I was a kid (I think that was about 300 years ago), the only people who had tattoos were found at amusement park side-shows, on the docks occupied by Marines and sailors, and in a few other places you were discouraged by your parents from approaching. Tattoos were rarely associated with either high-class or high art.

Things have changed.

First, lots of people have them, young and old. Second, there is (thankfully) less prejudice against those who are inked. Third, the art of tattooing appears to have improved, and some of the images are pretty darn impressive, original and beautiful. And you just read that from someone who loves Rembrandt and Renoir.

But, there is still the question: should you or shouldn’t you? I’m going to address the pros and cons here from the perspective of someone who has a lovely cousin who is heavily into getting them, many patients of mine who had them, and many people of my vintage who have a kind of instinctive and negative reaction to the idea of getting inked.

Here is what one lady has to say:

I didn’t start getting tattooed until I was in my forties and they still look awesome to me. If you google old people with tattoos, you will see that what I’ve just said is true of all of them. People just say they will look bad because they like to criticize tattooed people.

As far as work is concerned, it has never been a problem for me. I wear long sleeves and let’s face it, I’m not really a professional of any kind (although this woman does have a college degree). G.S. I think a lot of the people in my son’s generation are more concerned with that. My lifestyle is different now, so I really don’t have to care about employers. I would never take a job where they were uptight, but I don’t really need a job. (Perhaps those who aspire to professional positions do need to consider this, however unfair the discrimination might be). G.S.

To understand why I get tattooed, you’d have to know who I am. I was a hippie in the ’60s and ’70s and my friends were mostly musicians, artists, fashion designers, and actors. I have always been part of the counterculture. I married into the music business. As our kids grew up, we had to settle down quite a bit and give them a more mainstream lifestyle. But, as I’m sure you know, you can’t deny who you are forever without costing yourself a lot.

When our children were in their teens, I had a number of moments that I might call epiphanies. I realized that I didn’t have to be the perfect PTA mom anymore. Tattoos were getting popular and I thought they looked really interesting, so for my daughter’s 19th birthday we decided to get tattooed together. I will never forget that night.

First, I have to tell you that just about all tattoo artists are actually fine artists or musicians — real professionals. So, anyway my daughter and I went to a shop and while we were getting tattooed we were talking to the guys there. I soon realized that I was having a great time, more fun than I ever had with the PTA ladies and the church people! I also recognized that there is an amazing counterculture that is built around body art.

That experience started me looking at tattoos and talking to a variety of tattooed people. I saw some amazing art and I decided to get more. At first, I always got them where they couldn’t be seen. For years I thought about getting a “sleeve,” which is what an arm fully-covered with tattoos is called. I found an artist whose work I really admired. Finally, I decided to go ahead. Now, it took a really long time to get my arm done — over 30 hours. And it really hurt. So, when other tattooed people see me, they have a lot of respect for not only the art, but for anyone who has spent that much time in pain getting tattooed.

I was not, however, prepared for the amount of attention I started getting. I live in the suburbs and the suburbs aren’t very forgiving toward alternative people. And, I’m not gonna deny it, tattoos are popular with some lower class elements of society, like people in prison. So, although it has gotten to be more acceptable in the years since I first started, most mainstream people still see the body art subculture as a negative aspect of society.

I have received some really rude comments from stupid people. I live in the Bible-Belt. The crucial thing for me is, I used to keep who I really am to myself. Now I can’t. I am such an “alternative” person in a lot of ways. I am drawn to the edgy side of life. I am kind of unusual even within the body art culture because of my age and because you don’t see that many tattooed women. But it has helped me in that I can now express myself.

My tattoos are really important to me personally. They have a lot of meaning to me individually. They were designed for me and only me. I have one that is all about my dad (who died when I was very young). Of course, there are a few small pieces I would do differently now. But I’m not tired of them.

On the negative side, there are times when I wish I didn’t have so much of my body covered by tattoos; like when I go to the doctor. Or when everyone is staring at me.

But the whole experience has helped me to see who I am. It has been part of the process of finding myself, something that some of us in any generation have a tough time doing. Especially for me, born into an almost immigrant family with very conservative values, my uniqueness was rarely valued. But, like I said, who you really are comes out whether you like it or not.

Datoga_Women_Tattoo-8

Beauty, as the old saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. It is a position that I have been a bit slow to come to since I listen to Beethoven and Brahms and Bach and tend (still) to think that little else offers anything like their art. But, the friend I just quoted enlightened me and humbled me, helping me realize that I’m in no position to judge in that way; that no one is. Taste is not as simple as right and wrong.

Yes, some of the tattooed are doubtless trying to get noticed. Surely, some are trying to stick a figurative thumb in your eye and show contempt for a world that, after all, is often contemptible. And, I suspect, that at least a few of those into body art simply want to fit in with whatever crowd they wish to belong. But is that any different from buying a Gucci handbag or driving a Lexus or wearing a Brooks Brothers suit?

I learned something from this thoughtful lady, as a therapist must if he or she is to be any good at all. We are often taught by our patients, friends, and acquaintances. The world is quite a school, but, just like school, you must pay attention. What did I learn? To look for the personal meaning in body art and be less ready to jump to judgment, something that seems to make us feel superior, but does much needless harm.

In the 1950s it was unimaginable to almost anyone in the USA that there might ever be a black President. Homosexuality wasn’t disclosed and was almost universally and publicly mocked. The acceptable world was mostly white bread and mayonnaise, which left lots of people out. Things change. It is your body, after all, and the art you put on it harms no one. While I’m not likely to try it myself, I’m more open and accepting of it than I’ve ever been before.

In 2000, in a Vice Presidential Debate, Dick Cheney, a man with a gay daughter named Mary, said:

I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into. We live in a free society and freedom means freedom for everyone.

Perhaps there should be a book, something like a high school year book, that we update from time to time. I guess Facebook is like that. But one that requires us to say a few words in summation of our life. And if I could write that summation for the lady who is the subject of this blog, it would go something like this:

I was lost and now I am found. I did no major harm and, in fact, raised two fine children and am helping raise one of my grandchildren. I met and married the man I love and decorated a body that he loves with beauty as I see it. I had a heck of a good time doing it too, and met a lot of neat people along the way. I don’t preach, but if you watch me and have a problem with tattoos, you still might learn something from my example: you might discover just a little about why some people like me decorate our bodies in the way we do and ask yourself why that bothers you.

It is a philosophy and description of a life — dare I say, something that might eventually serve as an epitaph and bring a smile, at least to me. Not many of us do better.

The top photo of a son and his mother was taken by Jeff Stelle and Kat Moya in Columbus, Ohio. They are the same mother and son mentioned in the post. The second image is the Traditional Tattoo of the Datoga People, Tanzania by Kathy Gerber. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Seven Signs of Getting Older (on the Wretched Road to Decrepitude)

A Toast

I thought of calling this essay “The secret signs of aging that THEY won’t tell you about.” I figured that might engage the conspiracy theorists out there. TRUST NO ONE, as The X-Files used to remind us.

Still, I hope that you will trust me enough to treat what follows as a public service designed to inform you of some little-discussed, but tell-tale signs that your body is heading in a direction from which there is no return.

Why am I doing this? I don’t want you to be taken by surprise when decrepitude finally arrives. It happened to my mom in just that way. One day, past middle-age, she looked at her face in the mirror and heard herself uttering, “When did this happen?”

Of course, some of the more obvious signs of aging are well-known. Things like losing your hair, going gray, loss of muscle tone, and increasingly “jiggly” body parts are already represented in popular culture as danger signals. So are wrinkles, age spots, a tendency toward a thickening of the mid-section, memory issues and so forth. So I’m going to deal only with those things that are a bit less obvious.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Becoming invisible. As a kid I enjoyed watching reruns of the movies that were based on the H.G. Wells tale The Invisible Man. Eventually, however, I discovered that no secret formula was required in order to achieve this apparently non-material state. Germaine Greer described it in a 1993 book called The Change. She was referring mostly to women, but it applies, to a lesser extent, to men as well. Simply put, if you are someone who has historically drawn the gaze of others because of your fetching appearance, eventually that stops, usually earlier than you were expecting. Instead of turning the heads of others, they now walk past you with hardly a look. You have become invisible. Your age is showing.
  2. The descent. Your body parts are on the move, like an infantry in retreat. Breasts, butts, jowls, double-chins, and even your height are slowly succumbing to the superior force of the opposing army, otherwise known as gravity. The direction of their path is toward “The Underworld” as the ancient Greeks used to call it. We usually refer to it as “six-feet under.”
  3. The generation gap. I started teaching at Rutgers when I was 25 in 1972. I can recall a moment in my first year there, lecturing a group of 19 or 20 year-olds. For some reason I brought up the name Adlai Stevenson II. No one had any idea who I was talking about. Yet Stevenson had been the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, and famously confronted the Russians at the United Nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, only 10 years before. Yes, he died in 1965, but most Americans my age would have known who he was. In that moment, I realized that there was a body of knowledge that I could no longer naively assume I shared with those younger than I. As you might have noticed yourself, it eventually grows to cover lots of ground, with you knowing about things that are older, and younger people knowing about things that are newer. Movies, music, and TV shows are among the areas of information that seem to overlap less and less. Familiarity with historical events and technology also inhabit this divide, separating you from the growing group of people who were born after you.
  4. Betrayals of the body.  There is way too much territory here to cover fully, but let me give you a sense of what is in store for some of you. Your body will begin to inform you that its performance of actions you have taken for granted, does, in fact, take some effort. You are likely to discover that you actually have knees and that their job isn’t easy. Some aches and pains here and there tend to creep in, particularly involving your back. By middle-age, arthritis isn’t unusual, although it can be quite mild. Your nose and ears can begin to look bigger. If you are a man, shaving your face eventually becomes more of a challenge because the contours of your face change, leaving tiny hills and valleys that resist your effort to scrape them smooth of stubble. Your skin is likely to get drier. Sense of balance can decline. Many of both sexes encounter the need to urinate more frequently and find themselves scouting out public washrooms just in case. Yikes!
  5. How People Treat You. I remember taking my daughter Carly to the Art Institute of Chicago when I was 50, asking for two tickets, and being given a “senior discount” automatically by the young cashier — well before I was actually a senior. Young people, when they notice you at all, will see you as ancient by the time you are 40. Not long after, they will begin to refer to you as “sir” or “ma’am.” In the grocery check-out line, even middle-aged cashiers will ask whether you need help carrying the groceries to your car. I realize that some of this kind attention is given simply as a matter of course even to those who are younger. But, regardless of how fit you are, it will remind you of the fact that you are no “spring chicken.” And, just in case you are a checker at the grocery market, I’d like to let you know that I do indeed need some help. The help I need is to stop being asked if I need help!
  6. Sleep disturbance. You are at an increased risk of having trouble sleeping. This is actually much reported, so you can find the details elsewhere.
  7. The evening out. No, I’m not talking about a night on the town. This item refers to the changes in physical appearance that cause people to begin to look more alike. It is pretty scary really. Some male faces begin to look more like the female kind, with or without the addition of “man boobs” a little lower down. Some women’s faces look less different from those of men, even to the point of facial hair growth and thinning hair on top of the head. Perhaps worst of all, people who were once movie-star beautiful eventually discover that their declining level of pulchritude makes them less distinguishable from those who were never good-looking. I guess Mother Nature figures that the unfair advantage of beauty is just on loan, not a permanent gift.

Now that I’ve described these lesser-known signs of aging, I’ve gotta ask you a question. Why did you want to know? If you are young, whatever that is, you almost certainly don’t really believe you will ever become aged. And, if you are old, well, you probably already know the secrets I’ve mentioned. But, what good, at either period — young or old — does it do to know this stuff?

Yes, if you are young, perhaps you will take better care of yourself because you give some thought to your body’s future. And, consideration of your physical destiny will remind you to develop sources of self-definition, pleasure, and meaning other than the glorious state of your face and physique. Still, decrepitude is a “bigger than life” opponent who tends to have his way. There is little you can do to fend off time’s offending hand.

I suppose you can put the information above in the category of “the examined life.” I’m usually in agreement with Socrates on the matter of the unexamined life not being worth living. But, I’ll tell you what, your unexamined physical future is probably best left hidden under a rock most of the time. Like the thread on the sweater that begs to be pulled, a preoccupation with such things is pretty destructive. Believe me, you don’t want to imagine a day when you will ask your lawn care service to add the trimming of your lengthening nose hair to their weekly task of cutting the grass.

The top image, called Everyone’s Invited, is the work of SuicideGirls and was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Cosmetic Changes: How Far Will We Go?

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A funny thing happened at this morning’s dental appointment. In the course of a routine cleaning, my lovely dental hygienist mentioned that I might want to consider Invisalign, a clear plastic alternative to metal braces. The reason: to create a greater cosmetic perfection to my lower front teeth.

I had a good laugh when she mentioned this. It’s not that I couldn’t use it, but what I said to her surprised even me: “You know Kristina, rather than do that, I think I probably ought to just replace my entire head!” Why, after all, have a perfect smile and still have the same bald head, the same wrinkles, and the same less than completely even and taut facial contours. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” as the old English saying goes. Don’t just paint the old car, buy a new one!

If you’ve had your car repaired, you will be able to relate. Fixing a damaged vehicle is expensive. The car doesn’t actually have to be beyond repair for it to be considered “totalled.” When the body shop tells you this, they mean that the expense of the parts and labor exceed the current value of the car. In other words, you’d be better off buying a new one. It displeases me to say that my head has reached that point.

Imagine the following conversation with a salesman: “I can offer you a good price on the new head you want, Dr. Stein. But, I’m afraid that there isn’t much I can give for trading in the old one.” God, the humiliation of it!

The picture of me (top, right) is actually pretty realistic. I have some serious mileage on this head and this body. To the good, however, my younger daughter recently commented on my upper body to the effect that (unlike all other middle-aged or older men she has seen) “you don’t have ‘man boobs,’ dad.”

You can only imagine how wonderful this made me feel. But, it is true, my body is pretty fit. Lots of aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and weight lifting account for it. However, since I didn’t conduct therapy sessions with my shirt off, I didn’t hear much about my physique while I was in practice. Just as well, since I actually wanted to continue practicing. I wouldn’t have enjoyed a professional review board questioning me about the topic of “topless” therapy.

We’ve all seen those TV shows where someone gets a major “makeover.” Teams of surgeons and fashion consultants transform some unfortunate soul who really needs it. He or she never has to pay for this because the services are donated. Retail price would probably be a seven-figure sum. I’m not that vain or that rich.

I would, however, like to look like Jon Hamm or Brad Pitt for just one day. I’d also like to be Beethoven, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and Willie Mays (a famous baseball player) — each in his prime, also for one day per person. It would be pretty neat to know what it would feel like to inhabit those bodies and brains from sunrise to sunrise, and to receive the world’s approbation for the same 24 hours. I’m not quite evolved enough to say I’d like to be a woman for a day, but I’ll bet it would be even more informative and interesting. None of this will happen, of course.

Yet.

Cosmetic alteration clearly has a future. And, I suspect, all of us who are less than perfect in appearance (in other words, just about everybody) have an appointment with that future. Let me explain.

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There will be a time when you won’t have to have a million dollars to make yourself look like a million dollars. I imagine a future in which each person will have the capacity to holographically alter his appearance, even if the actual body hiding behind the holographic image isn’t the world’s most beautiful. Every day would be like Halloween, but with really good — and good-looking — masks. Mail-order catalogues, websites, and brick-and-mortar stores will have a department that lets you pick out the face you’d like to face in the mirror. Computer programs will let you “photo-shop” the image to your precise specifications. Everyone will be stunning! Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

How would that change the world, I wonder? Well, yes, there would doubtless be some who still want to stand out at any cost. Lots of perforations and punctures, body art, wild clothing, that sort of thing. But for the most part, just beauty as far as the eye can see. Jaw dropping appearances. Men would look like Jon Hamm or Brad Pitt if they wanted to, women could be as physically attractive as Marilyn Monroe or Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez or Katy Perry. A movie-star level of beauty all around.

The effect would be paradoxical, I think. In a world without disease or death, for example, no one would think about how he feels or worry about getting sick. In a climate that is always mild, sunny, and clear, no one would care much about the weather. And in a future of endless and omnipresent pulchritude — where anyone could become exquisite just by visiting the department store — the value of physical allure would surely diminish. The beautiful girl or guy would become something of a commonplace.

Other things would correspondingly count for more. The trophy spouse would have to be a Nobel Prize winner or an author; or someone of unusual charm or wit, generosity or kindness. A different world, for sure.

Until then? I think I will hold on to my old head. Despite some relatively high mileage, it has served me well. It is not the head of a handsome 25-year-old, but there are some good ideas and interesting experiences contained therein. I wouldn’t want to be without them. I’ve earned the weathering and learned from the lines. With a little buffing and waxing, it still does its job.

See you at the car wash.

The top photo is of Jon Hamm. The bottom image is a poster of John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde in the 1920 Paramount Pictures classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.