What It Feels Like - To My Generation - Part I,
You realise that people who are now in their twenties or even thirties, refer to the 90s in the same way you refer to the 60s! And it is a disturbing thought… Similarly you get annoyed (and a little bit insulted) when young people have “90’s parties”. As in “retro!” Or indeed dress in “Vintage clothes”, wearing the kind of things you’ve worn as a youth, and if you are being honest, can still be found at the back of your closet…
Art & words by Fanitsa Petrou
Time is a sneaky little bastard, and it creeps up on you, always catching you unawares. But if there’ s one thing we can say about it, is that you can depend on its punctual arrival. It is always waiting for you in your late forties. Hiding there in your “details”. In your knees and hands and neck and elbows. (The extremities never lie...) But mostly in your eyes, which even if they have been surgically altered to emulate a sort of surprised, waxy youthfulness, they can’ t really be freed from the look of someone who has been walking on this Earth for decades, having lived through pain and disappointment, and love, and fear, and loss, and the whole range of the human experience. Every tired look, every line telling a story and marking you for good. It’ s all there, in the details my friend, (the hypothetical Devil’ s evil playground…)
Ageing is admittedly a humbling experience, but thankfully, it happens to everyone. Yes, even to those who pretend to have been excluded from this inevitable, unavoidable, and alas, irreversible human condition. Personally I have never met anyone – woman or man, thin or fat, fit or a slop, with a botoxed, or a gravity-proving face - whose age I haven’ t guessed correctly. Give and take a year. It’ s my superpower. And given that praying on people’ s vanity is a classic money-maker, I could have a booth (or possibly a tent) in a circus, guessing people’ s ages for money, and make a nice little profit - provided they paid in advance of course… (“Hear ye! Hear ye! Come and have your age guessed! Dissatisfaction guaranteed!”)
Actually, there are certain things that predictably tend to happen to you in your late forties, as you see the big five-O, looming ominously in your horizon, like for example any of the following:
Even though more often than not, you will start your day feeling like you are still in your twenties, by night-time it will often be a different deal: I don’ t care how many hours of your life you’ ve spend doing Yoga or Pilates, touching your toes with your nose, or the back of your knees with your elbows, or whatever, you will eventually feel the irresistible need to groan as you collapse into a chair, a bed or as you are entering a bath tub. Making the same sort of noises that have always been identified with old age. And it will feel strangely satisfying too!
You also suddenly stop being able to name all the people under 30 in gossip magazines – a task that offered no difficulty just a few short months ago - and what more, you no longer fucking care who they are… You know: pop stars who look like they are twelve; young rappers who have been tricked by their stylists to wear fur hats in the middle of Summer; well-built actors playing in the latest comic book franchise; former child stars who seem to have grown overnight; fresh-faced ingenuous... (You also realize that it’ s probably no longer cute using words like “ingenuous”)
Right about that time of your life, you are also finding yourself clicking more and more on links that offer health tips (9 out of 10 times involving turmeric, or hot lemon juice). You still don’ t go as far as actually doing the healthy thing (I mean that would be too much…) but you do save the links in your reading list. You know, just in case they are needed. Having the suspicion that they will be. And soon. Though you do start eating more salads all of a sudden (on purpose!) and appreciating herbal tea. Like it’ s important. Or like it actually has a taste…
When you go to weddings, you try very, VERY hard to resist the irresistible urge to shout to the bride: “Are you insane??? Whatever has possessed you? Have you thought this through? What is wrong with you? How desperate are you anyway???!!! I mean look at him!!!” while grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her hard. Or at the very least whisper in her ear: "Blink twice if you want me to arrange a get-away car..."
You also finally realize (and are nearly ready to admit it) that travelling to off the beaten track places, is frankly not what is cracked up to be: waiting for hours in airport queues and eventually giving up and sitting on the floor, which you have the suspicion has not been cleaned for decades; living out of your suitcase for days; being lost in translation; feeling unsafe ALL the time; staying for days in crummy little rooms with no air conditioning and foul cooking smells; trying the local cuisine which as a rule results with you being bent over the toilet for the next four hours; taking buses and trains and taxis that have been apparently permanently branded with the world’ s worst B.O.; walking for hours in order to see the thing you saw in the brochure, which prompted you to take the whole trip in the first place, and which is of course closed by the time you get there… Hey, maybe the adventurer in you has never existed, or maybe she is officially dead after years of waiting for hours in badly ventilated airports. Can we just face it and move on? (Though admittedly, those open air bazaars with their ethnic, crafty goodies, will be for ever calling you, urging you to reluctantly board on new planes and have my stomach pay the price...)
You also develop an inability to take bullshit from men, and if you never really possessed this handy, apparently all-important female quality, you find that you are becoming unable to go to any lengths to suppress it.
You realise that people who are now in their twenties or even thirties, refer to the 90s in the same way you refer to the 60s! And it is a disturbing thought… You can be happily singing along to some tune on the radio for example, which you think was a hit just a few short years ago, minding your business, and having a great time, and then the DJ comes on, saying some nonsense like “this is a blast from the past” or “this is an oldie from the 90s” (as in way WAAAAY back in prehistory when dinosaurs roamed the earth, or when people had scales) and you just wanna wring his neck….
Similarly you get annoyed (and a little bit insulted) when young people have “90’s parties”. As in “retro!” Or indeed dress in “Vintage clothes”, wearing the kind of things you’ve worn as a youth, and if you are being honest, can still be found at the back of your closet… You also do realise that it’ s kind of natural, since the class that will be graduating high school this year, was actually born in 1999! (at the same time you were getting seriously worried about the 2K virus…) and it is a painful as well as perplexing thought. I mean you have T-shirts that are that old…
You also find yourself becoming more cautious with your dreams, which are now more of the “let ‘s hope things won’ t get any worse” than the “I bet things will get spectacularly better by next month!” variety. Cause you know, you’ ve lived through stuff. And the realisation has finally struck you: things do have the tendency of getting worse…
You start warming to the idea of naps. You don’ t go as far as actually taking naps mind you – because then maybe hell would freeze over - but for the first time in your life, you begin to understand why people go for them…
You don’ t give a rat’ s arse about your abs, though you do secretly wish you had taken a close up photo of them back when you actually had them, because they were spectacular God damn it!!! (If it's one thing we can say about the younger generation, is that their youth will be well documented. Ours was not...) You also start to think that exercising – which is of course more needed now, than ever before – is the most boring thing imaginable, and a complete and monumental waste of time, of which you have less than you used to…
You also can't wait for menopause to finally arrive, bringing her gifts of hot flashes and immunity to bullshit. You hear that it also stops you from having the irrepressible urge to feed people. (To cook for people who are perfectly capable of cooking for themselves. And then take it personally when they don't finish their plate) Oh boy! That must be something! The drama averted! The time freed up!
Incidentally, you feel like there are just not enough hours in the day, and that if only you could squeeze three, maybe four more into your working day, it would be just grant.
You just stop being interested in meeting new people, as they tend to be the exact same people you already know, just with different names and faces. But otherwise the same, you know… Saying the exact same things to you, asking the exact same stupid questions, being annoying and rude and thoughtless and boring in the exact same manner… Which means you’ ve also pretty much stopped making new friends. Because who has the time to deal with a whole new bunch, right? Which might mean you will be stuck with the same group of misfits, until you die: a handful of people with whom you can actually carry a conversation, some of whom you have come to consider your family, and then a whollot of other people who every time they open their mouth, they make you have dark thoughts about the future of humanity…
You also begin to realise (regardless of whether or not it is politically correct to say so: cute just does not go with maturity, and you begin to get seriously annoyed with adults dressed in juvenile fashion: grown women with grandchildren wearing cutesy tops with anime comics, emoticons, teddy bears, little rabbits and glitter hearts, or yoga pants with “Juicy” or “Taste it” written across their behinds (which - lets face it - prompts the question: "Really?") Also everyday women embracing the “sex-worker chic” style: over the knee hooker boots, above the ass tattoos which are on a permanent display, high heels that go all the way to the front, which have always been associated with strip tease dancers, ect, ect.
You are also bothered by middle age men who think that wearing red jeans (or any colour that is not black or blue for that matter) is a good idea, and you start to believe (“believe” being the right word to express the intensity of that sentiment) that unless a guy is under thirty, (or unless he is Ewan McGregor), he should actually be forbidden by law to wear skinny jeans.
You also start to feel very strongly about grown women having little flowers and miniature animals and zebra patterns and things painted on their nails (“when do they find this kind of time to have that done?” is another thing that perplexes you, and also, "WHY?!"). Plus you get literally outraged with anyone over twelve, doing the “heart” thing with their fingers. A gesture they usually accompany with the tilting of the head, the pounding of the lips and the closing of the eyes, to add that extra measure of vomit eliciting, sugary silliness, which makes your blood boil.
You also finally understand what your mum’ s seemingly life-long quest to find the “prefect bra” - that elusive thing – was all about… (She was right about that, and it pains you to say this, about a few other things too. Who knew?) The “prefect bra” becomes like a mythical thing, like Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness monster, or a comfortable stiletto shoe: you ‘ve heard about it, you saw blurry, grainy photos of it, you wanna believe with all your might that it exists, but frankly have never come across it. Yet, prompted by the same ardent zeal that forced all the great believers and explorers of the past to go out there, and discover new horizons, and new continents, and new unheard of planets, you hold on to your dream and you try bra, after bra, after bra, hoping that one day - just maybe – you will come across that perfect one that will not make you want to get out of it the minute you get home, crying “free at last!!!” while waving it in the air and scaring the dog.
Also, whenever you see a handsome young guy, you have stopped going in your head “Yammy!” and you more often than not, go “Awww, look at the little boy, thinking that he's a man! That's just adorable!" Or: "Oh, Look at how beautiful he is! I bet he was a very cute baby. I bet his mommy was very proud. And I bet he was a handful too. He musta given her hell! Poor woman. Cute babies are the worst!” (Of course, as you are thinking of their baby photos, they might notice you and they might think: “Why is this lady looking at me like that? Is she a friend of my mum’s?”)
I guess that is why older men go for younger girls without a second thought, and are completely unbothered by the fact that just a few years ago they were kids basically… The creepy horny guy instinct, usually wins over all other instincts I guess, because they don’ t have that empathy chip, or that “parental chip” (not to mention the self-awareness chip) deeply implanted into their consciousness, that is guaranteed to cause you to see young people from the point of view of a potential parent…
You also realise that after forty, many of your girlfriends have substituted food with cigarettes or drink and possibly, pills (which is another way of saying: have substituted everything that was good in them, with fear…) And whenever one of them asks you to go out on a Saturday night, you just wish with all your might, they would’ t. And then spend the entire week leading up to it, hoping you get a nasty cold, lumbago, the shingles, the bubonic plague, so that you can be justified to cancel. When Saturday morning comes, and your secret wish has not yet been granted, you shamelessly start hoping THEY will catch any of the above and they’ ll call to cancel. When that doesn’ t happen either, and you have no other choice but go out, you just sit there watching them drinking and chain-smoking and talking endlessly about their husband’ s cheating, or cheapness, or both, and going through the motions of eating without actually eating, dipping the same piece of bread into their sauce for hours without actually putting it in their mouths, because then, maybe the End of Days would be upon us, and you begin to wonder what has happened to them? And you know they think the same thing about you too, only difference being you refer to their soul, and they refer to your body… You also spend the entire time thinking to yourself: “I couldn’ t be listening to her going on about how horrible her husband is over the phone, while working on my computer, wearing my PJs and eating Chinese, without her watching me like she is both disgusted AND jealous by the sight of someone eating while being female?” You also begin to wonder what would happen if you ordered desert, and then go on and actually eat it in front of them? And would the sight of a middle-aged woman eating fresh cream cause them to spontaneously combust? What more, you are kind of tempted to find out…
But it is a pandemic among women these days: You also find for example, that more and more emaciated female supermarket cashiers of all ages (though the older ones are the worst, I guess because they’ ve been hungry - and therefore grumpy and irregular - for longer, possibly for decades) are attempting to shame you when you are buying ice cream or chocolates, by actually commenting on the fact – like it is any of the their damn business – or at the very least, giving you dirty looks. Do forgive them. It is after all, one of the few pleasures (possibly the only one) still permissible to the deprived of this world (the religious freaks, the always-on-a-diet poor souls, the sex-haters) to feel superior when faced with those who are not self-loathing enough, and therefore still able to seek and indeed feel pleasure from time to time.) You also find that it doesn’ t bother you one bit. Though you do get the occasional wicked urge to say to them in a really hash voice: “Oh honey! I know all your dark and shameful secrets. And what makes me eat, is not even comparable to what makes you unable to!” And then maybe spoon-feed them Häagen-Dazs pralines & creams, seeing them collapse from the unexpected waves of pleasure, which has totally been forgotten by their body and their soul…
And when it comes to music: there are probably 3 songs that you've probably never bought and which were probably never included in any of your playlists, and you would never CHOOSE to listen to, which however have the power to instantly transport you to your youth AND to make you feel utterly silly at the same time as they are 1) Very silly songs, and 2) they make you sing at the top of your lungs, like a possessed person, whenever you happen upon them on the radio. Especially while in a car. These songs are: a) "I'm gonna be (500 miles)" by the Proclaimers, (which of course you sing while having a go at a Scottish accent, head bobbing manically at the beat), b) "In the Jungle the lion sleeps tonight" by the Tokens (you know the one I mean: "A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh / A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh / A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh / A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh...." and c) Down Under by Men at Work. And then there's a fourth song, which is all of the above, and which however is possibly included in all of your playlists - not that you would go admiring it, of course. And this song/ultimate guilty pleasure, is none other than "The Total Eclipse of The Heart". (If you've never sang your heart out to it while having your eyes closed, it might mean that there is something wrong with you...)
If you belong to my generation, you also find tiny Ariana Grande’s choice to always be dressed like an underage nymphet to be frankly quite disturbing. And even though it’s horrible to say, you are bothered for some weird unexplained reason (that you suspect is related to your age more than anything else) by Ed Sheran’ s face (who is an otherwise exceptionally talented young man), and find ANY of the Coldplay hits to be catchy, yes, (in an elevator-music kind of way), but with really boring lyrics, even though they sound all important and serious-like (possibly because Chris Martin plays piano and wears glasses and cardigans and looks like an almost cute nerd…) You probably also find it hard (tried as you might) to warm up to Florence and the Machine even though you know you are not really supposed to say that out loud. (The same goes for Mumford & Sons BTW, whose songs you find to be indistinguishable, though again, you are well aware that you are not supposed to say so...) Plus you could bet good money that the pop stars who perform wearing masks covering their faces, are not really being avant-garde and making "brave" and "artistic" statements about how women are perceived etc. They are probably just self conscious about their looks. Which explains why after the nose jobs and the procedures, they suddenly throw away the masks. "Bravely". (Proving the opposite point of the one they were supposed to prove...)
You also realise that when you were young you would have spent so much time obsessing about James Bay just because he is a Chris-in-Northen-Exposure artsy-looking type... And when you shamelessly Google his age, you discover that - of course - not only he wasn't even born when you were young, but he was actually born in 1990 (1990! I ask you! The very year Northern Exposure began. Which says it all...
You also tend to get seriously annoyed with how silly the lyrics in pop songs are these days (you also use the phrase “these days” a lot, all of a sudden) Like Justin Bieber’s song “Baby” for example that goes: “And I was like baby, baby, baby oh / Like baby, baby, baby no / Like baby, baby, baby oh / I thought you'd always be mine (mine) / Baby, baby, baby oh / Like baby, baby, baby no / Like baby, baby, baby ooh” On and on,
or the Rihanna song that goes: “Bitch better have my money! Bitch better have my money! Pay me what you owe me / Bitch better have my (bitch better have my) Bitch better have my (bitch better have my) Bitch better have my money!” both of which make you want to shout to the young person who is around you: “ENOUGH!”
(The minute you hear yourself shouting to teenagers to turn off their pop music, is of course the minute your ageing is officially signed and sealed, and the precise moment you realise that the days when you will become the equivalent of the old man shouting to youths to "get off his lawn" are not that far behind...
Still, despite the above realisation, current pop music irks you. You know, songs that are kind of pointless, and seemingly manufactured by a hit machine, that is probably located somewhere in Sweden, that adds all the right ingredients to make a hit, and “having a soul” is never among those. Songs that make no sense and that make you wanna break the radio. (Also, incidentally you still make most of your music listening from radios instead of websites. Or from your i-pod which you still think is cool (even though it’ s been sixteen years since it was that…)
And then you realize that the lyrics of the pop songs of your own youth, were not that sophisticated either, and yet you still catch yourself singing along completely unbothered by the fact. (Because that’ s the thing about youth, isn’ t it? It makes everything seem better, prettier, cleverer, shinier, more fun, doesn’ t it?) I dare you not make embarrassing robotic moves for example, on the rare occasion the deep and thoughtful lyrics of: “Abra abracadabra / Abracadabra / Abracadabra / I wanna reach out and grab ya” are heard on your radio (I bet Trump really likes that one…) Or indeed any of the old Duran Duran songs (whose photos were plastered all over your teenage bedroom walls), like:
“Whyyyyy don' t you use it? / Try-yy not to bruise it / Buy time don't lose it / The reflex is an only child he's waiting by the park / The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark / And watching over lucky clover isn't that bizarre / Every little thing the reflex does / Leaves you answered with a question mark / The reflex / The reflex / The reflex (flex, flex, flex)
After all these years, you still don’ t know what the fuck “the reflex” is of course, but that doesn’ t stop you from singing along “flex, flex, flex” like a mad person whenever it’s on the radio, right?
Even Nirvana gave us some pretty bizarre (I bet drug-inspired) lyrics, like: “I feel stupid and contagious” (Well, it’s flu season, what do you expect?) or “Sell the kids for food / Weather changes moods / Spring is here again / Reproductive glands / Hey - he's the one / Who likes all our pretty songs” (WHAT??)
The thing is, it’ s not the obscure bands, or the songs with the poetic lyrics, the folk singer/song-writers with the intimate renditions of their pain, or the tortured blues and soul artists that you go back to, when reminiscing your youth, you find. It is the light, pop songs with the catchy tunes and the silly lyrics. Maybe because those other genres are timeless, and as good now, as they were when they first came out, but pop leaves its mark on your memory in a different way, because it lasts for a minute, and only belongs to the time that bore it. Because of that, it always sounds out of date after a couple of years have gone by. It is therefore attached to specific memories, and can instantly take you back to that moment in time when you were listening or dancing to it, making you relive your past. Back to that time when you were skipping school because you broke your toe. Or when you had the most horrible haircut of your life. Or when a tall boy who smelled like cigarettes and bubble gum, kissed you in the car park, behind the school yard.
I mean the catchy tunes of early Madonna, or Cyndi Lauper, Tears for Fears, Bananarama, Spandau Ballet, the Bangles, Blondie, INXS, Wet Wet Wet, or the Spice Girls, did not exactly change the world, or spoke of great – or even insignificant – truths, but they do connect you with memories of youth, and they do get stuck in your head for days, and admittedly are guaranteed to lift your moods:
“I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want So tell me what you want, what you really, really want I wanna, (ha) I wanna, (ha) I wanna, (ha) I wanna, (ha)I wanna really, really, really wanna zigazig ah…”
Deep, right? Or the all-time Wham classic: “You put the boom-boom into my heart / You send my soul sky high when your lovin' starts / Jitterbug into my brain / Goes a bang-bang-bang 'til my feet do the same”
…that makes you think “God! this is crap!” but by the time the refrain comes along, you just give up and close your eyes and go: “Wake me up before you go-go / Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo / Wake me up before you go-go / I don't want to miss it when you hit that hi-high, yeah-yeah!!…”
And when you were a kid, it was ABBA, and Boney M, and Bee Jees and Barry Manilow and Billy Joel, The Carpenters. You know, cheesy, corny, campy, silly, HAPPY music that belongs in a simpler world. The kind that makes you smile without knowing why. The kind that could still be prescribed as an anti-depressant...
But there is something else that happens to you as you get older: upon meeting with people from your past, who dominated your thoughts and your desires possibly for years, you are discovering that the hold they used to have on you, not only is not there, but it has been replaced with pity, with boredom, with "What the fuck was I thinking?", and because of that, of course, also with guilt. Because you have betrayed them by getting over them. By “allowing” time to erase all trace of the power they used to have over you. By finally seeing them as strangers. While you are at the same time, still quite in love not with them , but with the person you hoped and still wish they were. And you also know that they probably go through a similar version of that too (Not in these complicated terms of course. But just on account of you not looking as good as you once did). And it is quite a significant moment when you realise what love is all about (a thing you create in your head, because you need to!) that sort of “sobers” you into finally becoming a “real” adult!
And finally, speaking of ageing: every once in a while - usually at the end of one of those 18hour-long working days - you will look in the mirror expecting to see the leggy youth you used to be, and for the briefest of seconds, you will be at a loss, and you will wonder: “who is this lady in my bedroom, and why is she looking at me like that?” And then you will relax, as you will see your mum looking back at you… Don’ t worry, you are not going senile (not yet anyway...), you are just ageing. And possibly, turning into your mum. It happens. It’ s just life. This lady in the mirror by the way, is STILL you! She may not look exactly like you used to (and when it happens for the first time, it does take some getting used to, let me tell you), but she is still you! Hey, don’ t go betraying her by pretending you haven’ t noticed the changes, or by panicking and attempting to reverse the irreversible. Because you can’ t. No matter what your personal trainer, dietician or plastic surgeon will promise in exchange of a bucketload of your money. Don’t turn your life into a race to eliminate Time. For it is a formidable opponent. And fighting it tends to steal your soul... Don’t fall into the popular female trap of making your fight against ageing your ONLY remaining goal. Just be brave and go with it. It’ s just a part of the deal of being a human… Besides, all that is truly worthy in you, won’ t be affected. In fact, it will become quite improved.
So for the young women out there: ageing is not as scary, if you have not put all your eggs in the “I’m-young-and-pretty-and-won’t-you-please-PLEASE-like-me-for that?!” basket... Understand that you are more than your body parts! And what you truly are, doesn’t age. And those who TRULY love you, know it too! Find out who you are, find your bliss, find a purpose, find something worthy and good in you, make a difference in someone's life, (or even the world!) and be kind to yourself and others. So that you won’ t crumble underneath the “ruins” left by that first blow ageing will give you… And know also that it is those who have done something with their life that do not feel smaller and less significant by ageing...
And for all of you ladies who belong to my generation: hey, there’ s still some way to go before you’ ll start seeing your grandma staring back at you in the mirror. There’ s still some fire in your heart (or some "boom-boom" if you like). There's still some fight in you. And you can still make some damage. So think about that, and cheer up.
And keep on dancing, because “I don' t want to miss it when you hit that hi-high, yeah-yeaaaaaAAAH!!…”
- Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved.
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READ ALSO: "To my Generation, Part II": http://wp.me/p7jQTY-tv
and "Millennial Times" (To My Generation, Part III): https://wp.me/p7jQTY-ut
"To my generation"