Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It was mumbly-mumble years ago today

For the first several years of my professorial career here, I frequently was mistaken for a student. It didn't hurt that I never wore power suits or other markers of authority, I'm sure. But I also took those occasions as markers of a generally youthful appearance. I treasured them. I can't deny it.

That doesn't happen anymore, even though I wear suits just as infrequently as ever. Only from a distance or without their glasses could anyone fail to notice the stray gray hairs poking coarsely out of my head, or the worry lines that have creased my forehead. I've probably slowed down just a little, too.

But aside from the particular twinges and pains, and an increasing annoyance that manifests every time I am asked to stoop or bend in any say, I don't feel my age. I suppose I'd need a feelie-o-graph of some kind to be sure, some way to keep a record of how I actually felt as opposed to my vague memories that provide little standard for comparison. But whether it's the slowness of the process or just poor recollection, I can't say that I expected to perceive so little difference between 25 and 35, between 37 and 47.

Noel and I are in different boats. He writes about pop culture for a living. It used to be rock music almost exclusively, but he's transitioned out of that beat and into more general cultural criticism, television, and film -- areas where a sense of history is valued, and where the inherent youthful rebelliousness of rock is less likely to be leveled at him as a criticism. At 40 he began thinking about what the next stage of his writing life would be, anticipating that he couldn't keep his hand in the young man's game forever.

I am a college professor, and at least in terms of reputation and authority, age is an enhancement. One isn't really a professor until one meets the stereotype, which includes visible aging, at least halfway. I tend to think that keeping in touch with the generations one is teaching (through participating in their culture) is important, but I know that's not a universal opinion. Many college professors are happy to relinquish the effort to stay current with the world's fast-paced changes, and settle down in the slower timeframes of the discipline and the academy. (Well, in the humanities, anyway.)

When I think about the downsides of getting old, I don't think about my job. I think about my family. Will I be around long enough to see as much of my children's lives as I want to, and will I be healthy and vital enough to enjoy it and participate fully? Some people start thinking about retirement when they get to be my age, but aside from a little light financial planning, I resist having it on my to-do list. Instead, I think about whether I'll be able to keep teaching as long as I'd like, which is as long as they'll have me.  And then will Noel and I find meaningful ways to occupy our remaining years?

I probably should use this forty-seventh birthday to reflect on the past or make some resolutions for the future.  But I'm so enmeshed in the middle of so many things -- my children growing up, my career continuing to grow and expand, my research projects taking definitive shape, the books underway, the promotions around the corner. I can see a point up ahead, in a couple of years, when the book is done and the promotion is achieved, where I stop, look around, and decide how I want the rest of my teaching life to go, and where I want to spend it. I'm looking forward to that. But for now, I've got too much to do to feel old -- or even to wonder if I should.

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