Rites of Passage

The marker of half-a-century is less than a month away now, and I found myself the amused recipient of one of modern America’s rites of passage today.

Yes, I have received my first junk mail from AARP, trying to convince me to part with my hard-earned cash to pay for their dubious goals. Never mind that I fully expect to be working for at least another fifteen years, most likely more than that. Never mind that I keep looking at the approaching milestone and wondering where the hell all that time went because despite my various issues (and their issues, and theirs) I still feel little different than I did in my early 20s. Maybe a bit more secure in myself, but other than that I don’t exactly feel middle-aged, much less approaching old. (Yeah, I know, these days 50 isn’t old. It’s definitely well into middle-aged, though).

Which in turn reminded me that modern rites of passage kind of suck. It makes a coming of age piece set in modern times much harder, just because there really isn’t a big challenge that people can use to say that after successfully completing it you’re an adult. Instead you get a series of stuttering bits and pieces. Driving age, legal sex, legal drinking, voting age… It’s all over the place. Young adults here are apparently perfectly capable of having sex, voting, dying for their country, and starting a family… but not of drinking anything alcoholic. In other modern cultures there are equally “interesting” disjointed transitions.

What there isn’t, unless you’re fortunate enough to have the kind of family that teaches these things, is a partial shouldering of responsibility that allows someone approaching the child-to-adult transition to practice adult tasks with the supervision of someone who’s already passed the rites and knows the path.

The transition from “adult” to “elder” is even more blurred, possibly because it wasn’t until relatively recently that large numbers of adults survived into old age. There were still markers: the last child married, or failing that, an adult. Gray hair. Menopause (the sooner that finishes, the happier I’ll be. No more monthly mess). The first grandchild – which in my case will be the first of my siblings becoming a grandparent because I haven’t spawned and don’t plan to (too many genetic time bombs, plus I’d be a dreadful parent).

Of course, a big part of the reason we humans invent rites of passage is because we as a species suck at recognizing gradual transitions. We’re great with patterns, and not bad at distinguishing whether or not this is like that. But give us a slow process where over the course of somewhere between fifteen and twenty years that tiny baby becomes an adult ready to make babies of his or her own, we have as a species a definite need to find some kind of marker and say, “Here. Past this point this person is no longer a child.”

Human cultures are littered with arbitrary markers like this (they’re arbitrary because what is child and what is adult doesn’t change appreciably overnight, but our cultures insist on making it so. Same with a lot of other absolutes.) which of course give writers the opportunity to play with them.

So, Author, kindly cease sending me cultural markers that say I’m getting old. I’m bloody well not. Not where it matters.

44 Comments

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44 responses to “Rites of Passage

  1. paladin3001

    My condolences on nearing the half century mark. I am approaching it as well (next year mind, but still). I know what you mean by transitions. I have currently been a little delayed in comparison with my peer group. Call me a late bloomer (HA!) or whatever.
    Then again in this modern era it’s easier to put aside those things that used to be done in our youth. Like maturing and growing up.
    Here’s to another glorious 50 year.s 😀

  2. TRX

    You have to get older, but you don’t have to grow up!

    • Well… yeah. If we did it wouldn’t be as much fun being the respinsible adults we are. *tongue firmly in cheek, grinning*

      • Responsible adult? Oh no, I wasn’t even in the building when it happened.

        What did happen, anyway? 😉

      • Just because you’re old, crunchy and got reeesponsibilities does not mean you have to turn into some kind of wet blanket block-captain jerk out to make sure nobody has any fun.

        “Mature” is one of those words jerks use, like “appropriate.” Bananas mature. I’m not about to.

        “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” Hunter S. Thompson

        Sadly, Thompson wussed out at age 67, so maybe take that with a grain of salt. Its best not to be an idiot about these things. ~:D

        • Zsuzsa

          There’s a C.S. Lewis quote to the effect that one of the “childish things” to put away when you become a man is the fear of being thought childish.

          • Dorothy Grant

            Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

            -C.S. Lewis
            “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” (1952) — in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (1967), p. 25

        • Kate Paulk

          My goal is to keep going as long as I can, and keep enjoying it for at least that long. “Maturity” as defined by those who would be powers that be is overrated.

        • not mean you have to turn into some kind of wet blanket block-captain jerk out to make sure nobody has any fun.

          Hon, I know of ten year old kids who are wussy little wet blankets, just from listening to my son report on his day. He’s just talking about stuff that he’s experiencing through the day, but wow.

        • Mary

          False dichotomy. Unless you are already three-quarters dead and numb to everything not boosted on adrenaline, you don’t have to ruin your body to have fun.

  3. Ah: the first AARP junk mail. Why, it seems like only yesterday when I got mine. Came close to marking it “Deceased” and returning it. Then thought about writing them with “No thanks. If I wanted to donate to the DNC, I’d do so directly.” But the first real marker was when a restaurant gave me a senior citizen’s discount based on how I looked. No comment.

    I do feel old. I’m one of the old heads at work now. I work with a lineman who’s parent’s house I helped build before he was born.And, for reasons I won’t get into, I feel very old, indeed, here of late.

    • “You checked his ID, but not mine.”
      “1. I know you*
      2. You are graying some. ** 3. He was buying Keystone Light. You’re buying cognac.”

      So I am old…. enough to have some taste, it seems.

      Also, some folks get bewildered at the need to compute age. In youth it is All Important if only because others say so (“I’m three AND A HALF!”) then there is driving (typically 16 – USA), voting (18), drinking (21, now – USA. I recall when it was a mix of ages 18-21 depending upon state) and then, perhaps 25 for the better auto insurance rates. And then, unless one is running for an office that has an age requirement, it doesn’t matter until retirement – assuming such a thing happens anymore. So from 25+ to 60-something… who cares?

      * It’s the horns. They stand out, they do.
      ** I’ve known people to go gray at 16, so…

      • Zsuzsa

        Oh, I’m going to keep calculating my age. We’re going to keep having cake and presents on the anniversary of my birth, and I’m going to brag about every one of those candles until the fire marshal shuts us down.

      • Dorothy Grant

        Heh. Pilots are like that, too. “How many hours do you have?”

        1. “13.9!” (Often pronounced “one tree decimal niner!” in textbook ICAO format.)
        2. “About 200.”
        3. “Flown or logged?”
        4. “Sonny, I stopped logging at thirteen thousand.”

  4. Yeah, I’ve been throwing away AARP junk mail for a little over a decade, now. I, also, keep wondering where all those years went and why they passed so quickly. I’m not only the oldest person in my company’s IT department, the next oldest is still a few years away from receiving mail from AARP.

    Just remember to embrace your age and experience. On those occasions when some whippersnapper tells me I’m old, I give them a level stare and reply, “At least I lived to be sixty. You have no guarantees.”

  5. Mike Houst

    I passed the five O mark nearly 9 years ago. Took a deep look at what AARP was supporting, and said, “No Way Jose`!” They’re a perfect example of Dr. Pournelle’s Iron Law.

  6. I’m not old. (Shut up, knees!)

    • Knees, that was not an invitation to come kvetch at me!

    • Some days I feel 18. The next day, I usually feel 81. I should know better by now than to heed that little voice that says, ‘Oh, come on, you can do it. You’re not that old.” I’m not, but the mileage is higher than the year model suggests.

      • Holly

        Old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway!

        That’s what I tell folks. I was raised that it isn’t polite to ask adults their age. Apparently that wasn’t the case for this region, as I get asked pretty much every birthday. The youth group has either gotten my age from my kids, or has decided it’s a waste of time to ask as long as I’ll take them ziplining for Hallowe’en.

  7. 50? You young people are so impatient. George, 70.

    • It helps to not be a patient. That means something is wrong. Of course, being a patient beats being a corpse. At least that is the working assumption. I could be wrong, but the corpses aren’t offering evidence to the contrary.

  8. Given that I started receiving mail from AARP in my mid twenties? That’s a bit of a flexible line… Their target identification is rather off.

    • Dorothy Grant

      After my snowfall driving, and first ticket, the judge sentenced me to traffic school and practicing winter driving conditions in the Big Box Store parking lot when it was deserted. (A very wise man, that judge.) The only one I could take with my work schedule was aimed at the elderly crowd for “Driving while aging.” It had a lot more about macular degeneration and decreased reaction times than about young whippersnappers with fresh driver’s licenses. It also had a lot of ladies and gents who eviscerated the hopeful instructor with real-world experience and application of such. “Sonny, if I give ’em eight car-lengths, I’m going to be constantly slamming on my brakes because people will be cutting in! Got anything practical?” I felt like a mascot, but I sure did learn a lot!

      ..And then, two weeks later, I started getting AARP mail.

      • Draven

        yeah i am about to move back to the land where people expect these car lengths… at least some of them…

  9. kaflick

    You forgot to add: “And stay off my lawn!”

  10. I’ve been getting those blasted junk mailings for about 4 years now. *eyes calendar* 53 in just over 3 months.

    I did have to laugh when my sister started getting them last year. *blink* What, 27 months does give me some leverage, right. :-p

    I’ve been looking into less political alternatives. …

    “What there isn’t, unless you’re fortunate enough to have the kind of family that teaches these things, is a partial shouldering of responsibility that allows someone approaching the child-to-adult transition to practice adult tasks with the supervision of someone who’s already passed the rites and knows the path.”

    Ah yes, one of my loudest lamentations – we grant the privileges of adulthood before requiring the responsibilities of said state. *sigh*

    Age is a state of mind. My body keeps trying to state my age, and I pay it no mind.

  11. Sam L.

    I gave up on AARP, when it became clear that we didn’t see eye to eye.

  12. Draven

    if knees hurting is a being old thing then i got only when i was 19.

    Oh, and i am apparently an elder now because my younger sister’s oldest has a child.

  13. As a much older friend of mine used to say: “Yeah, it sucks to get old, but it beats hell out of the alternative.”

    I probably won’t ever stop working – like my late business partner, who was working at the Tiny Publishing Bidness until the last year or so before her passing. I like to think I will still have projects going when the medical examiner’s van carries me off to the morgue.

  14. Mark

    AARP campaigned against the last serious attempt to fix Social Security’s finances. For this reason they will NEVER get a penny of my money, and if I get the opportunity to cast a vote that will hurt them, I will take it.

  15. Mary

    Birthdays are GOOD FOR YOU!

    It has been scientifically proven the more you have, the longer you live.