[Editor’s note: Every Wednesday, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
It’s my birthday and I feel depressed. I never used to be one of those people that hated telling people their age, but for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m getting old. How do I keep the party going even though I’m old?
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Dear Aging Rager,
Your fear of not being able to party as you get older isn’t uncommon, but it’s unwarranted. If anything, the more experience you have at partying, the better you get at partying. The more you understand about what brings you happiness, the more skills you can acquire to bring that happiness about. Living longer makes you better at life.
This is why our elders are so appealing. We realize they’ve accumulated extremely deep stores of knowledge and wisdom precisely because they aren’t 18 years old. We stand in awe as we ponder what insights and secrets they’ve extracted from the volumes of life they’ve endured. Similarly, the more time we spend learning who we are in this world, the better we get at being ourselves — this is how one becomes a master — this is the great gift of aging.
As with many aspects of a materialistic culture, ethereal ideas like mastery and wisdom are often undervalued. We are made to feel bad about change, appearance, and, most of all, our immaterial inner world. Aging demands that we reckon with overwhelmingly intense ideas about the mysteries of the world, eventually dying, looking different, loss and heartbreak, and the impermanence of everything. But these things are only truly upsetting when we attach too much importance to the material world in which the pain of these ideas dwells, outside of our true inner self.
Our true inner self — our spirit — is ageless and never dies. But this concept is so hard to conceive of that we often distract ourselves with little games that seem to give us a place to rest our anxiety and distract us so we don’t have to dive deeper into what is really going on inside us. We worry about how we look, our attractiveness, about stuff and objects and pursuits and money and a million other things. And it’s totally fine to play these games, as long as we remember that they are only games. They don’t define our essence, and they are not why we are here. And when these games begin to distance us from the effortless beauty of existence, they take on a sinister and self-abusive quality. Some of these games are purposely set up to make sure that we can only ever lose — they only can separate us from ourselves — playing these games too passionately can kill us even though we outwardly appear to be living. Obsession with youth is just fear.
Besides, when we think back to our younger years, we often tend to exaggerate the good times and block out the bad. There’s nothing wrong with remembering things in an idealized way, as long as it doesn’t make us lose appreciation for where we stand right now. If we’re intent on always comparing our current situation with how things used to be, we are likely to never be satisfied and to dread moving forward into the new and unfamiliar.
There’s a difference between “getting older” and “being old.” Getting older is just another way to describe the process of being alive. The longer you go without dying, the “older” you become. We can easily understand how aging in this way is a great triumph. Those who have reached old age have truly achieved a remarkable feat of endurance, and we should recognize and respect all that they’ve experienced and withstood to survive so long. This is why it’s equally intense when someone dies much too soon, and didn’t get the chance to survive long enough.
The best we can hope for is health and strength and a mind that’s able to comprehend, appreciate, and penetrate the world around us, no matter what stage of life we’re in. Make the most of the age you are right now, and realize that you still are you, no matter how old you are. Don’t buy into the hype about “getting old,” because aging doesn’t automatically mean life gets worse. That’s all guilt-based nonsense usually used to sell products and fantasies that are never as good as they’re described — they’re just entertainment. And that’s OK. But don’t give in to it, or give up and get lazy. Don’t fall back on “getting old” as an excuse for not living full-on.
What matters most is using every moment you’re alive to become the best person you can be. All of us are children only for a short time. The majority of our life is spent as an adult. And as an adult, we have the tools, the resources, and the physical and mental fortitude to shape the world so that the dreams of our childhood can be realized. The gift of childhood gives us the vision and the gift of adulthood gives us the power. Be glad that you’ve even lived into adulthood. Be glad that you’ve even had the chance to have another birthday. Many children didn’t get to ever see adulthood. Appreciate yours, and celebrate it in honor of all those who’ll never get to have a birthday ever again. And remember…
People don’t stop partying because they get old, they get old because they stop partying.
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