When my daughter was seventeen, and I was in my late forties, she remarked how sad it must be to grow old (she was focusing primarily on externals). I protested vehemently and pointed out that the view one has from a lifetime of experience makes all the difference in living. “You were cute as a button when you were seven years old; but would you want to still be seven now?” I asked. She shook her head. “Well, that’s how little I want to be seventeen now that I’m forty-seven.”
That same week my mother, who had just turned 80, gave me one of her sharp, seemingly out-of-the-blue injunctions about life. She was talking about the ocean, and the rosemary growing in the yard, and the latte she’d had for breakfast, and suddenly she exclaimed: “Live a long time! It makes all the difference.”
The fact is that an experience seen through the eyes of different ages is distinctive. Christopher Isherwood expressed an idea that every human being has an interior age that they fundamentally ‘are’ no matter what their biological age. Mine is definitely fifty or a bit more. Even when I was a teenager I remember thinking that when I was fifty I would understand something; I would know something true about life. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps.
I was at a poetry reading the other day, and a celebrated 92-year-old poet was asked whether living so long was a curse or a blessing. The question seemed to startle him, and then he hesitatingly replied, “Maybe a little of both.”
What’s your interior age? One way to discover it is by working on this next fun writing practice: Writing for the Ages.
Fun Writing Practice – Writing for the Ages
Write a scene that describes: a house, two or three people, and a trip that is about to happen. Use details in your description, including furniture, weather, clothing. Try to avoid ‘feeling’ (in other words, don’t say: “I felt sad at saying goodbye to the old dining table.” Instead try: “The polished dining room table seemed blurry and I realized I was trying not to cry.”) Write the scene from the point of view of the age you’re at now. Take your time. This may turn out to be a fine short story.
Now describe exactly the same scene, but from the point of view of a young child. Use different vocabulary: shorter words, less interpretation about what’s going on. Perhaps the description will evoke more excitement (“the dining table was piled high with all kinds of thrilling things: toothbrushes, hairbrushes, snacks for the car, books to read…”) or a fog of misery (I sat at the dining table and waited, knowing they wanted me out of the way… )
And now – yes, you guessed it: exactly the same scene from the point of view of someone at a different age. Try them all: adolescence, heading off to a nursing home in old age, an adventurous sixty-year-old. Write one dozen pages in all: the same description/story written from the point of view of twelve different ages: (around) 5, 15, 25, 35, 45, 55, 65, 75, 85. 95, 105, 115.
When you’re done, you’ll be absolutely clear about which one flowed the most easily. That’s your interior age, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay there. It means that’s the one you relate to, where you’re most comfortable. So: don’t get stuck there; instead go back in your memory and see what happened around that time. If you can access that particular ‘feeling’ again, you’ll find you can always feel good about yourself – no matter what your age.
- the first frost
- talking about politics with a friend
- the warm night air when you emerge from the LAX airport terminal
- traveling light
- using the right words
- an encouraging hug
- Joshua Tree