3 Things You Don't Get Any Better at With Old Age
Growing older brings with it all kinds of awesome things -- responsibility, pubes, and the legal right to drink. Unfortunately, there's a few downsides to old age, such as wrinkles, malfunctioning genitals, forced retirement, obsolescence, that old-people smell, the increased desire to buy Werther's Originals, yelling at neighborhood kids, hair in weird places, losing your teeth, rheumy eyes, sagging, love of Matlock, and so on. Also, you'll start to realize that you don't actually grow out of shit you hoped you'd grow out of. So really you just need to hide it lest people think you're deranged in some way, because no one likes a neurotic, childish adult who can't function properly. They like neurotic, childish adults who pretend to be normal, mature adults. Who can't function properly.
Talking to Strangers
I have issues talking to strangers. I'm very friendly, usually, and I seem to fit in at social events. I'm not a hunchback, I don't live under an opera house, and I never greet people penis first unless I've been assured by example that it's kosher. Still, while I will schmooze you like it's my job (and sometimes it is), in the back of my mind I'm secretly convincing myself that you're not listening to me, not caring about what I'm saying, or plotting a way to remove my kidney and make angry love to the wound. I have never been in a social situation in which I believed, right off the bat, that people were interested in and enjoying my company without some ulterior motive. That probably speaks volumes of my self-esteem, but meh. The alternative would be to live like some egomaniacal Donald Trump-esque cockhole who thinks the world revolves around him. Or maybe just being normal, but I don't roll that way either.
I'm putting this entry in specifically for the people who like to be contrary and disagree with me. "Oh Felix, you must be a sheltered/neurotic/insane/sad/CHUD-type person who barely functions in the real world." Yes. Yes I am. But I submit that, whether or not you operate on the same level as I do, you still have a degree of anxiety in a situation with new people, and it's a product of the society we live in. Who in all the world are we conditioned to be more uneasy around than a stranger? And literally everyone we don't know already is a stranger, so we're constantly at the mercy of billions of people that we're assured, from childhood, could all be pedophilic kidnapping terrorist mugger rapist killer thief drunks with poor hygiene. Why the fuck would anyone want to talk to a stranger?
"Hope you like lookin' at dicks."
As you grow up, you of course come to realize your parents were just being cautious and the police were just giving you sensible advice, but the fact remains that every stranger you meet might actually be a stark raving mad lunatic. That guy in the overcoat could be a harmless pervert about to show you his dick or a guy with a shotgun about to show you his dick and then shoot you. Or maybe he's just a harmless pervert who doesn't want anyone to see his dick, he just likes wearing nothing but an overcoat in public. Stop trying to look to see if his dick is showing.
Paranoia has made it so that interacting with a stranger is always a tense situation. This isn't the same as picking up a hot girl in a bar (for you ladies, I mean picking up a hot girl in a bar. Tell her she's pretty and that you like Felix Clay articles. She'll say the same and you can share lipstick and dance boob to boob), this is like when you're walking home at night and some dude asks you for the time out of nowhere. He may just be the one guy in the world without a watch or a phone. Or maybe he is holding his balls in his hand right at that moment so that when you start to answer, he'll tell you "It's ball handling time!" And man, that will make you feel bad.
What freaks you out? There's always something that gets each and every one of us. Personally, I dislike maggots. In fairness, I bet very few of you read that and thought, "Felix, you pompous ass, what have maggots ever done to you!" and then went and hugged some filthy, wriggly larva. Still, probably not everyone has a visceral reaction to them. I get freaked the fuck out. Little writhing, shit-encrusted wastes of space. No one likes you, maggots. No one!
I need to take a second to gird myself when I take out the garbage in the summer, as inevitably the little shit grubs will be all up in the garbage can, enjoying the stagnant heat and smell of my half-rotted old Hot Pockets and Genesee cans. So I need a good 30 seconds to just stare at the bag and remember that when I pick it up, the maggots won't automatically leap into my mouth, and later I can wash my hands and be mostly good as new. After that I'm fine. But I need to do it every time. You'd figure you'd get used to whatever it is that makes you uncomfortable after a few times, but it doesn't work that way.
Like any irrational fear, when you're confronted by the thing that freaks you out, part of your brain should be letting you know that you're probably fine. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. But the louder part of your brain that assures you doom is waiting inside the tiny face of a bat or behind the eyes of the Chihuahua that's making you piss yourself is hard to ignore, and it never, ever learns its lesson.
"First you will love me. Then I will destroy all you hold dear. While you watch."
That isn't to say you can't overcome a fear -- it's not exactly what I mean. It's a dreadful appreciation of awfulness, if I needed a more accurate description of it. I'm not afraid of maggots. I don't think maggots are after me. I don't think they're in my garbage talking about me and planning to show up when I'm sleeping and maybe bring poo snacks and eat them on my crotch while I sleep. Could you imagine that? Gyaarggh.
You can get past a fear -- people with a fear of dogs meet dogs and learn that not all dogs are rabid werebeasts intent on eating your face off and pooping it onto your lawn and so on -- but even if you do overcome the fear, you'll still have that in your head. You know why you were afraid of a dog. I know why a maggot grosses me out (it's because they're fucking gross). Other people know why clowns make them uneasy (probably something to do with Pennywise or John Wayne Gacy or the million horror movies people insist on making about clowns). Nothing makes that stop. You just need to deal with it every time and talk yourself down from that ledge where you feel like maybe a can of hairspray and a lighter will fix your immediate problems.
There's a great thread in the Cracked forums right now called the "Learn a Fascinating New Skill in 2013" Project. It's all about making you more than you are right now, about learning to do something with enough skill that it would arguably impress a stranger, not that you would ever want to impress a stranger because, as we established, they all want to take your wallet and fill your bum with gravel. Anyway, the thread is about becoming good at something that requires effort and knowledge. It's a mountain of an idea.
You've probably watched TV or some YouTube videos at some point and seen a 5-year-old shredding it on guitar, or surfing, or rattling off amazing facts about American presidents that you didn't even know. Likely you were caught somewhere between amazement and depression after seeing this. There are 5-year-olds all over the world right now who can do things better than you. That's a terrible feeling, because we internalize things like that as failure, even if it's only very mildly on a subconscious level. Anything we can't do makes us feel like we did something wrong or we missed the boat somehow. And of course you can then be a bigger person and just be impressed at someone else's skills, or be OK with the fact that we can't know and do everything on our own, but for a second there's that flare of almost jealousy, when you wish you could do the same thing.
Given all of this, it seems like bettering yourself would almost be easy. You want to play guitar, don't you? Knowing how to play guitar would in no way ruin your life, it would only enrich it. If you could learn guitar right now, at no cost either temporal or financial, there would be no reason not to (for you people who already know guitar, imagine I'm talking about building a life-size sexbot). So what stops you from learning that skill, or any skill, that would enrich you or make you better? It's that temporal and financial thing.
"Singin' 'bout male yeast infections. They're a real thing, ya know?"
The easiest way to talk yourself out of doing anything is to start looking for reasons to not do it, and since a body at rest prefers to stay at rest, you want your ass on the sofa as much as possible. Isaac Newton said that. Yeah, you could learn guitar, but you need to buy a guitar. Even a cheap one could be pretty costly. Then what, picks and stuff? And strings? And a book of children's favorite songs? Hair like a dirty hippie? Then lessons? Shit, how long will those be?
Now suppose you don't want to be a human turd and you actually do this thing to make you a better, more well-rounded person. The next time you get an incline, you will go through the exact same thing. Your brain is out to ruin you. Luckily for some few motivated people, they can easily talk themselves into all kinds of fun, new experiences. These people are envied by the more lazy types like myself. For us, every new endeavor requires this same stupid internal struggle of trying to convince yourself to be better. Which is so tragically stupid, someone should write a black comedy starring Joan Cusack about it. The fact that you need to convince yourself to be better than you are, and the fact that you will likely not succeed, is a testament to man's ability to not give a shit about anything.
I deal with my lack of betterment through writing. I could have learned to play guitar instead of writing this article. But here we are. I can hum "Stairway to Heaven" for you. Or "SexyBack."
This is a stairway to the bathroom.
To take some of the sting out of this, at least on my part, I have written a draft of a novel, which, even if no one has seen it yet, is still an accomplishment for me and something I am proud of. And I still want more, but find it hard to make the time and put in the effort to do these things. I have screenplays to finish, but then what do I do with them? Who do I send them to? I need to look into that. And I really do own a guitar, but have yet to develop much beyond my strumming. I want to bust out some Clapton when I'm drunk. Maybe one day, right? That's what we all say.
Do yourself a favor and make yourself a better person. You're never too old to learn something new. If I can't come back by this time next year and say I've learned a valuable new skill, I'll consider my whole career a failure. Hold me to that. Or just hold me. I'm lonesome.