Friday, July 5, 2013

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.

These days, I've been pondering a lot on the idea of age, life course and what does it mean to be "old", "young" and "childish"/"mature". These terms are often held in dichotomy. I don't aim to unpack the multifarious academic discourse of the notion of age, but rather, intend to reflect upon how recently, I've had some sort of age-identity crisis.

As it is already rather commonly known, I work with young people on a number of occasions in planning of conventions, tuition and theatre. From my experiences, I find myself ageing. Let me first clarify that ageing here, refers to the process of slipping and sliding between ages, rather than the conventional idea of growing older. So here are 3 scenarios.

1. When I was planning the convention with students, I am a much older adult. I have to hold authority that is expected of my position from all parties, students/teachers-from-schools as well as my boss. I have to be the sensible adult, to "know better" when to hold students back when they are beyond themselves, such that they may cause harm to themselves and others. What happens, is that the "adults" start to band together, and what the student organisers see, are a bunch of immobile and stuffy "elderly" who don't understand how to live a little. Therefore, I have been cast as the immovable headmistress. Yet what is interesting, is that these students also recognise that we're not that much older, and yet give the same respect as they would to an older person.

2. In another situation as a tutor, I have to be a role model. A figure of calm and collectivity, a guide. I age even more, sometimes dishing out words of wisdom that transcend the life experiences of my much tender-aged students. I am proud to be able to use my experiences, to shape how they see things, and in so doing, widen their world view. It sometimes feels like their field of vision is "reaching" mine, and this sense of arrogance and confidence of one's place in the world, ages me upwards the timescale even more. Time again, students surprise me with when they confide their worries and problems. The thought processes that go through their minds, seemingly feels akin to mine as well. It is an out-of-body experience, where you completely comprehend how they are feeling, but similarly also go through the same.

3. In the last situation, as a theatre facilitator, producer and director. My age slips even more as my roles change - theatrically. It is funny, that I play Fun Run with my students as we are travelling between places, that I age downwards. Suddenly, I feel 16 once more, being childish and expressing antics that were not befitting someone of 23/24. On the other hand, being a director, I act in roles that are younger, to demonstrate the emotive aspects of a certain role, and the younger participants are disturbed at the "youngness" of my acting-demonstration. Internally, I want to cut lose and just be "one of the kids", the role within the script provided a catharsis, that I am able to become 14 again. Sadly, my universe of being "14" only exists within the sphere of the script. Outside of it, I have to be 23 once again.


During this period, this thing called age, has become even more capricious. With some people, I am a childish innocent teenager, giggling like first-love's bloom. On other occasions, I age so quickly, dealing with insurance policies and pesky people who refuse to be "mature" in their world views about life.

Do you suppose age/time is only buy a category we buy into, and are socially conscripted by? For instance, in my previous post about dating younger men, why do most relationships with younger men not work out? Why is paedophilia frowned upon? Why there exist this concept of "age-gap"? If the person were to go through the same experiences but in a much shorter time, why do we say s/he is much older for his/her age?

I have always been tagged since young, to be wiser/more mature/older than my age. It is often perceived as a positive thing. It is almost as if, growing up is a quality that is desirable to possess. Yet, we also frown at "childish adults", but grin at "mature children". Is this not a form of social control altogether? What we are really saying, is that people need to control themselves, to be conscripted to the age-given roles. You should be studying at 16, and not be a mother. You should be sensible at 36 and not spend your parents' money frivolous like when you were 17. I guess, what we're really saying, is to adopt the qualities that people of that age normally have. It is burdensome on the child, to ask him/her to bear responsibilities far above his age, as it is troublesome to deal with an overgrown-boy.

As society becomes more complex, with varying life experiences across all ages, will there come a point, where the confluence of age does not match up with the prescribed roles? Will life course be something of a background factor, and that while it shapes the majority of our qualities, it can be evaded by the individual? I feel that when we age, what we really want, is the distillation of the bad, for the good. Growing up means being more responsible, more sensible, more sensitive, more mature…and remaining young is stemmed with stereotypes of the bad, more rash, brash, obnoxious and selfish. However, the young also mean we have more energy, more creativity, and the old subsequently refer to stalemate, and stasis.

Perhaps, it would be more meaningful to delve into the qualities, rather than the age-specific norms, when we deal with issues of life course. I'm not sure if you agree, and this of course deserves full introspection.

I guess writing this is a transition for me into the academic ivory tower; now onward to devour those books in the library/online journals. For a while anyway =)

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