I like this picture of me. It’s a bit harsh, a bit shadowy, very serious and boy, do I look like my mother – more and more so as I get older. It’s reality. And I’m not a young thing anymore.
Don and I both work in the theater. At the moment, he’s working at a well-known theater center that champions the development of new plays and musicals. It’s a very famous (in the theater world) conference that happens every summer. Consequently, there are lots of people around at any given moment – most of them quite young. He’s noticed something that’s been happening to me for more than a few years.
Everyone surrounding him is young. Young interns, young staff, young actors. He said it’s like watching an audition episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” – young energy catapulting and frolicking everywhere. Nothing like watching all that unlined, unwrinkled, unhunched-over-from-back-pain energy to jolt you into reality.
I’ve been talking to Don about this for a while now. Almost every time I work on a play nowadays, I am one of, if not the, oldest people in the room. In my head, I don’t feel any different, but the fact remains, when I look around the room and take a quick reality check; oh my lord, I’m old. Do those young actors and assistants look at me the way I looked at anyone over forty when I was young and think, “She’s old?” Do they automatically assume things about me like I must have a boring life and compartmentalize me because of my age? I hope not, but I must admit, like all young people, I used to do that very thing. It’s part of being young and feeling you’re immortal and having lots of energy and being at the beginning of your career. I was there once. So was Don.
Of course, I want to see young people going into the theater. It keeps it alive. It’s as it should be. There’s a cycle to all of this that is utterly natural. But it’s strange being on the other end of that cycle. Don’s been working as a professional actor for over forty years. I’ve been doing what I do for over thirty years. That’s seventy years of combined experience.
How did this happen? How did we reach this place that others were in, not us? How did all those years go by in a flash? To tell you the truth, I’m usually shocked when I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Not only because I see gray hair and a sagging jowl line, but because, in my heart, I feel much younger than that person in the mirror looks. And isn’t that what every ‘older’ person feels? I bet all those over-forty-somethings that I made assumptions about when I was younger felt the exact same thing. So do over-seventy-somethings.
I’m still a wacky, funny, silly but intelligent thirty-something. That’s where I am in my heart and soul. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all wear some sort of sign that says: “No matter what you see when you look at me, I’m still young?” It would be a great equalizer.
This is a strange, unsettling phenomenon. And one I bet everyone experiences, whether it’s in an office, a store, a restaurant or just about anywhere. It’s something I think about a lot.
I even think about it as a blogger in a world of thirty-something bloggers and mommy bloggers. My sign reads: “Don’t compartmentalize us. We may be of a certain age but we are consumers. We have experience and wisdom. We write fabulous blogs. We write posts that will knock your socks off.”
I thought about it when I applied for teaching jobs during the past ten years but was never considered because my resume is so extensive that the institution would have to pay me too much, so the job went to someone just starting out. But, back to the cycle, that’s how I got my first teaching job. They could pay me next-to-nothing (and they did) because I was at the beginning of my career. Still, my sign reads: “I have tons of experience. I’m a great teacher. Your program will be richer because of that. My work will knock your socks off.”
Not that those actors I work with treat me with anything but respect. And they quickly realize that, though I have age spots on my hands, I have a sense of humor and am fun to be around and that helps a lot.
What a strange thing it is to reach a certain age. Obviously, the alternative is not a good one, so I’m glad I am where I am. But there is still a part of me that is just starting out. Just on the cusp of discovery, on the brink of a whole new adventure. And why not?