Later this month, the leading digit on the old mortality odometer will advance one click. And while I place zero significance on any birthday that affects only the least significant digit, changing decades always summons a moment of reflection — usually with negative consequence.
Thirty years ago, in order to insulate myself from the emotional impact of a new decades digit, I decided to dispense with the idea of Base-10 mathematics — creating a model that divided life into a series of 20-year stages. This same year, Tim Berners-Lee was still beavering away on an idea he called the “world wide web,” so I hadn’t the technical means to distribute my new paradigm to a global audience. But in the spirit of “better late than never,” I shall present that model now.
At ages 0-19, one is a “kid” — ensconced in a microcosm, and devoid of any practical knowledge or skills. Without any real-world concerns to occupy their minds, the kid years are a breeding ground for the neuroses, fears, habits, misconceptions, and aberrant personality traits that will cripple us for the rest of our lives. This is the stage in which serious psychological trauma occurs when we realize that other people have an entirely different idea about what constitutes “acceptable behaviour.”
At ages 20-39, one is an “adult” — individually insignificant but, collectively, ruler of the world and dictator of both culture and commerce. Energy, enthusiasm and idealism are at their peak — matched only by ignorance, stupidity, and a seemingly endless supply of demonstrably poor judgement. This is the stage in which no serious psychological trauma occurs, because we are all just cogs in a vast collective, even though we’re too benighted to know it.
At ages 40-59, one is “middle aged” — rulers of themselves, and masters of self preservation. Extensive knowledge and experience enable one to establish niches of expertise, and to build comfortable and fortified castles, with moats of freshly imported alligators. This is the stage in which serious psychological trauma occurs when we discover that our philosophical enemies have managed to build bigger and better castles.
At ages 60-79, one is a “senior” — ensconced in a microcosm, and devoid of any practical knowledge or skills. Though one does indeed possess boundless wisdom, 20 years’ worth of middle aged complacency has rendered it totally irrelevant. This is the stage in which serious psychological trauma occurs when we realize that we’ve wasted our prime years of life, and there’s no getting a second chance.
At ages 80-99, one is a “geezer” — historically rare, but through the miracles of modern medical advances, is now a “thing.” Much like kids, geezers accept their standing as second class citizens and also enjoy bragging about their age. Unlike seniors, geezers have managed to re-purpose their vast reserves of knowledge into more practical concerns, like devising tediously complex medication schedules. This is the stage in which serious psychological trauma occurs when we realize we haven’t a clue how to operate any of our household appliances.
At ages 100-119, one is a “living monument” — possessing first-hand accounts of events long-relegated to the dusty tomes of the past. Living monuments often pique the interest of local television news editors, who frequently punctuate their town’s upcoming celebration of an historical event by interviewing the one person, still alive, who was there to witness it. Unfortunately, these brief moments of celebrity are soon forgotten — both by the viewer and by the monuments themselves. This is the stage in which serious psychological trauma occurs when, in those rare moments of lucidity, we realize who we are, where we are, and how damn old we are.
At ages 120 and up, one is a “vampire” — possessed with a thirst for blood and a chronic sun allergy. Vampires gravitate toward dank, dark, secluded recesses where they feed on vagrants and other societal misfits who were unable to build or retain castles of their own. This is the stage in which serious psychological trauma occurs whenever some yokel with a torch cracks open the coffin and shoves a crucifix in our face.
In hindsight, I think these classifications might be a tad bit naive — after all, I conceived them during the age of “ignorance, stupidity, and a seemingly endless supply of demonstrably poor judgement.” But, like most psychological games one plays with oneself, they did help ease the pain every other decade. Turning 30 was a breeze for me; as was turning 50. Turning 40, however, was an existential train wreck, and it took several years before I could fully reconcile that I had graduated into ‘middle aged.’ I know now that the blame for all that turmoil rests solely on the shoulders of this ridiculous classification system of mine.
Fearful that I’m about to succumb to another psychological meltdown like the one I endured at 40, I recently revisited my life stages theory, and discovered that I’ve basically failed to adhere to any of my own definitions. My kid years were often spent reading history books, biographies and philosophy texts, while my teenage musical forays extended well beyond the pop music of my time, and deep into the classical and avant-garde canons. My adult years, though filled with the requisite idealism, did not reflect the idealism of my own generation — and I rebelled against it with the ferocity that others rebel against other generations. And in middle age, I failed to command a niche, build it a castle, or purchase a single alligator for its mythical moat. And yet, in spite of this, I never became vampire food — even with my proclivity for hanging around dark alleys at night, taking photographs.
So as far as I’m concerned, my whole “stages of life” thing is total crap. Debunked. And if that’s the case, there’s no reason whatsoever to put any merit on a decade shift that’s about to propel me into some nebulous fourth stage… At least that’s what I’ll be telling myself later this month.
Coping mechanisms are a wonderful thing.
©2020 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: I don’t really know why I’ve adorned all these photos with latin titles. Given my age, I’m going to chalk it up to a case of nascent senility. Should I ever start publishing photos that should be read literally, rather than metaphorically, you’ll know my brain has entered an advanced stage of senescence. Mercifully, by that point, I will no longer know how to operate any of my digital devices — so any tangible evidence of my cognitive demise will remain unpublished.
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