A Dog’s Life

Let’s face it the young are different because they do not have young. Immediately you have young, in this day in this society, you start to feel old. But you cannot admit to being Old until it is undeniable in the eyes of others. You can be older but not Old because Old is dreadful. You may as well be dead. No: Old is worse than dead.

    Dear Will
    I had a number of responses to seeing and hearing you last Friday and I want to dash then off before my week hits.First things first: you look great. I think it is your sudden long hair but I see you and I think, lucky bugger, barely forty but still young in that dangerous looking way and with that whole decade in front of him. I am fifty-something and the pride in my mental state is probably this: I can type those words without flinching. My arrow has been round and round our wheel of fortune: confusion – fear – anger – sadness – shame – and, on this matter, most of the time – it now holds on acceptance. I have accomodated so much this last year (new lower status, new activities, new house, new kids, new city, new wife) but nothing has required the embrace of the statement: I am a man in the middle of my middle years.
    It has long been said that above the slab of the Underclass we are all middle class now. I am working on a theory that we are all actually middle aged now. The marketing mantra Kids Grow Older Younger is self-evidently true. Earlier this year I was given to muttering ”13 is the new 18” as I went to bed and left the assorted young in the house to a dvd of some bloody Tarrantino fight and fuck fest . And now I do not have any 13 year olds in my life, they are 14 and they know everything. You cannot be young for long any more.Let’s face it the young are different because they do not have young. Immediately you have young, in this day in this society, you start to feel old. But you cannot admit to being Old until it is undeniable in the eyes of others. You can be older but not Old because Old is dreadful. You may as well be dead. Actually on balance Old is worse than Dead. And so we have the ever expanding Middle Years. By my count they start as early as late 20s and the upper limit is getting pushed higher and higher by the Baby Boomers ( people like ME) as they put off Old. My birthday card last year, from my team on the day of my sacking, read – in large bright letters – Fifty The New Forty. Next up Sixty The New Fifty. The Middle Age has expanded and it incompasses most nearly all of us.
    There is something else going on too. The young are so carefree. I look at the adolescents in my life and I think: You do not begin to get it. How you plan to live this life made possible only because you are living at home? Do you know what it is like out there? Do you know how sodding expensive it is? And yet in our society our children – the young – must have everything most particuarly they must have time to have fun and play and spend years with no thought as to their place in the world. In my head looming out of the fog is a polemic my father must have felt. Give the young everything and they will take you for all you have. Yet hold back and I draw disapproval from others and worst of all from myself.OK, I am not obtuse, I see I have a chronic fear of what the future may bring. I see this polemic is arising within a man worried about his next thing which is to to keep his many plates spinning. But it is also coming from a selfish man who walked out of a marriage when it became so much about the kids. Children first! To this man it often feels like first, second and fucking third. I am beginning to ask: why? Can one ask ”why?” and not be put on some central register for Category X offenders? Not be cast – Bateman like – as the pedarast at the kiddies ball? To smack a child is bad for both parties but I do not subscribe to the intellectual opinion that says such a blow defaces for ever. Our minds are not a silver shimmer on a blank slate scratched and scarred by the smallest hurt. We are born as hard wired survival machines. We are programmed to take and to keep on taking. Kids are cute because cute is useful – cute secures attention, cute creates guilt, cute works. In our relationships with our offspring there is alot more going on and it is a lot more selfish than our current climate wants to acknowledge.

    Burrowing away under all the stuff I feel about kids is the questions of what’s life about, specifially what is my life about? We scream in the hall and if we pause to listen the echo changes over the years. I thought – like many others – that it had to do with the way one perceives one’s own death. Like Larkin I wake most days (and worse some nights) to feel unresting death, a whole day closer now. In your throat and earlier this year in your mouth you told us you felt the same. Of course. Well, at least we don’t welcome it (and once we both courted it). Now I share your concern and say this: get a second opinion (and stop smoking, stop smoking because you will go mad before anything else). I do not intend to be alarmist but the subject itself is completely alarming. It cannot be other. I smoked high tar for many years and my cells are aging. I am biologist and I know in outline the mind-bogglingly complex checks and balances of the intra-cellular mechanisms. And I know that these mechanisms have to fail – fail catastrophically – just once for the enforced coalition of a trillion cells to break down. The fail-safes fail and the code in one somatic cell will fulfill its destiny at the cost of all the others. It will do what code is there to do, what it exists to do, what it came into being to do. It will replicate.

    OK…perhaps the right response lies not in any reflection on the proximity of my death but rather on the difficutly I have – most of us have – in the perception of time. I owe this nudge in my thinking to John Gray’s Straw Dogs. I read it in Cornwall in July on my epiphanic sojurn with six teenage boys. I remember delighting in the unexpected canine theme: I am old dog tending young pups, I am reading Straw Dogs, beside it lay my holiday novel, Yellow Dog.

    Darwin rewrote our understanding of life but only recently do we get it (it was not easy, Darwin didn’t get Darwin). John Gray has grasped much of this and there was little new to an evoutionary biologist in what I read. But the moment I thought the price of the book was value was when I read his assertion. ”We do not fear the passing of time because we know death. We fear death because we resist the passing of time. Animals are not burdened by time but we are. We will find a respite only when we no longer dream of immortality in its many guises) but when we make a willing surrender to never-returning moments…The aim of life is simply to see.” This was a triangulation with the things that matter most to me if I let them matter. The art of life as simply to be, to improvise in the moment, to weigh what time to give my kids and what time for myself (because, quite soon now, they will still have time but I will not). And then I remember you met John Gray: does he have kids? do they want to be with him?… Damn it: why are these still my first questions for a man of perceived wisdom?

    Enough. Let me toast your good health and my own and I will be gone.