In one of my favorite moments of irrational young angst, my (lesbian) friend Shannon, who was being inundated by suitors, reached such a peak of confusion that she cried out in genuine dismay, “why is this girl sending me flowers?!” At the time, I was the one laughing until it hurt. Now, years later, we laughed together as we talked about the process of aging.
As an artist and highly social being it’s not something I come in contact with all that often. My friends range in age from twenty to forty and I rarely know where they fall in that spectrum because their level of enthusiasm, creativity and experience are much more relevant to me than the number of years they’ve had the option to engage the world. All too often I’ve met people in the their mid twenties who are so much more comfortable with themselves and have explored so much more of the world than others who have never stopped in all of their fifty years on earth to look into a mirror.
Because of this, I was completely unprepared for my first confrontation with the concept of aging. My friend Monkey had a birthday a few years back. He’s about ten years younger than me and swore that nothing could wear him out. His birthday gift of total athletic exhaustion started with a morning of intense martial arts sparring and then he was handed off to me. I set up rounds of squash, wrestling, and swimming which have all done a pretty good job of exhausting me in the past if I do them long enough. I hadn’t actually wrestled since high school, but at the time even a feisty little guy like me could be brought to the point of complete immobility by the drills we did.
After a few games of squash I started going through a series of takedowns with Monkey when suddenly something happened. I stopped. Not because I wanted to. I had his head and shoulders locked up and I was about to flip him over for a Russian Roll when suddenly… I couldn’t go anywhere. I heaved and sputtered and finally had to stop for a second, apologize, and start again. It happened a second time. And a third. It was freaky. My legendary boundless energy had, for the first time in my recent memory, completely run out.
At first I was in a panic about the weird illness I must have picked up. Now it was time for my older friends to laugh at me. Apparently, the ability to spike in energy, that impulse push, was the first thing they noticed fading. I immediately melted down and frantically began listing every activity I could start learning now and still do when I was eighty. Clearly, I was almost incapacitated and needed to study Go, Tango dancing, and bridge ASAP.
The word “age” suddenly meant the slow death of all things precious to me until, during my conversation with Shannon, she used it in a very different way. She talked about how happy she was to no longer be twenty, and sent into emotional overload by the irrelevant details of life. She talked about perspective and self confidence. Perspective is something I grew pretty quickly and is something I am proud of having been able to offer others for a long time. But then I realized what had changed for me in a positive way.
While I’ve always been comfortable and happy with who I am, only recently have I been able to see how much my experience has given me some pretty formidable skills. I woke up one day while on the project in India and realized that I was, in fact, a complete badass of versatility. Out there in the field, after having memorizing several technical manuals on the plane so that I could shoot confidently with new equipment, I was having partial German conversations at midnight with an engineer in Germany so that he would send me a firmware patch for our equipment. I was hacking code. I was setting up backup systems. I was working really well with people, often without the benefit of spoken language. By the end, I was already learning some of the language. I was shooting some great footage from extreme positions and often while running. I could have fixed our jeep if it had broken down. I could have built a house from scratch. In two weeks I’ll be performing Indian music at a wedding. All together it feels really, really good to finally realize the value I can provide. Now I just have to tag this realization with a word, its source, that thing that has caused me so much angst… aging.
Photos are from a photo booth set up by the excellent photographer Steve Noreyko.