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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

entry arrow4:41 PM | Signs of Dread After a Certain Age

I was watching reruns of Sex and the City the other week on HBO, and in one episode, the fabulous (and already iconic) New York girls -- Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte -- romped off to Atlantic City to have fun and gamble, and affirm the bonds of friendship and sisterhood. And then also to celebrate Charlotte's 35th birthday -- again. Over cosmopolitans, they discussed the subtleties and little trepidation of aging gracefully, or with defiance, in the era of Demi-Ashton and Botox. "I don't look 36! I don't act 36!" Charlotte demanded, "And besides, men are so much more interested in 35 year olds."

Which, in a sense, strikes many of us -- especially if you're burgis -- as a familiar horror.

Yesterday, I told Mark, "It's my birthday on Tuesday. Better make sure you remember that day is still my 28th birthday. Again."

He laughed, and I laughed, and we chalked it up as another joke about growing older in an increasingly strange world where becoming 20 has become the new mark of turning over-the-hill, so to speak. We used to talk of 35 as being the definite end to that much-prized category "youth" -- but this is increasingly hard to believe in a time when we already have a new demographic named: the tweens, that age between nine and thirteen where young people today suddenly blossom into the kind of sophistication and smarts we used to associate with turning 16.

I was still playing tayukok when I was 13.

Today's typical 13-year old -- reared on MTV and Cosmpolitan magazine -- is a vegetarian, wears make-up, and follows the exploits of Paris Hilton, as if The Simple Life is the bible.

But no matter how pooh-pooing I might be of the very idea of ageism, I still feel it in my bones: the dread of turning 30, of leaving the perfect cocoon of the 20s, that wonderful decade when your body and your mind are in perfect sync with the rest of you. These are the Happy Years.

When I was a decade-and-a-half younger, becoming 30 felt like going the way of the dinosaurs. I would look at my older brothers' friends, and I'd tell myself, "God, they're old" -- a sentiment, I realize now, that only the very young could offer with such innocent disdain.

Thirty meant becoming one of those middle-aged drones who have lost whatever vitality they once had that used to define them. There is, around them, that dreadful air of having "settled," be it professionally (stuck to a boring 9-to-5 just to feed the family), mentally (no time for reading or for watching a movie), socially (would rather watch Marina on TV than dress up and go out), and physically (the 36" waistline becomes the definition of having lived).

Becoming 29 is like knocking on the very door of that reality. It means one more year of reprieve, and then you become just like one of them.

My brothers, for one thing, have a tendency to balloon their girths to utter disproportion after the 20s. "It's a genetics thing," my mother -- who is also turning 73 on my birthday -- said. And she was right: Already, my body refuses to yield to what suppleness and energetic bounce it once knew. I easily get tired, and only Stresstabs contains enough magic to get me through any day. And now, buying new pairs of pants has become an ordeal in itself. Stripped bare under the harsh white light of Lee Super Plaza's fitting rooms, I have confronted the worst of my nightmares. Unsightly love handles from all those months of eating Dunkin' Donuts and fried chicken and lechon. I used to be a 28"; now I have to squeeze into a 33".

One could say, "What about gym?" But really who has time? At work, I am deluged with responsibilities that would make anyone's heads spin. If I find the time to even be able to read, that would be the very definition of "wonderful." And now, gym?

Then, listening to myself rant and reason out, I realize: Oh my God, I have settled. I have finally become them.

But why do we treat growing old as if it is a disease? The easiest reason anyone can give is to accuse an increasingly youth-centered culture. We prize youth. It has become currency to how we deal with the ideal. The beauty myth essentially spells out something springing of the youthful. The growing demand for Vicki Belo's services point to this. Words like Botox, liposuction, lipo-dissolve, breast augmentation, face-lift, and other nip-tucking procedures have become household words, no longer something foreign, or something to be wary about. To get under the knife and transform into a kind of swan (like how the reality show about plastic surgery, The Swan, affirms) has become routine, like going to the dentist.

In the process, we have demonized old age, and refer to it in terms of disease and diminished capacity. Wisdom through old age has ceased to be the goal and end-all of being human. Packaging with youthful trimmings is all what counts: look at Jessica Simpson and all her troglodyte lapses ("Who's Rigor Mortis?" she says in one of the episodes of MTV's Nick and Jessica: Newlyweds, "Did we invite him for dinner?") -- and we realize that anyone can be successful as long as you embody the youthful.

This is true even when we are offered new models of becoming old. Oprah Winfrey, Susan Sarandon, and Goldie Hawn have given us glimpses of what life can be when you just embrace it -- age be damned. In fact, the trend now is to distinguish between emotional age and chronological age.

So why isn't anybody happy yet about the age we have now?

I think the fear of becoming old basically springs from the fear of not having accomplished anything by a certain age. We want to die remembered, immortalized. We want to die having done something worthwhile for the world. Each passing year of not realizing the most basic of our dreams adds to that apprehension.

Some time ago, I promised myself, "When I turn 30, I'd be a millionaire." I'm 29, and I don't even have a car yet. Or a house. Or a name that will endure the forgetfulness of everybody else. And that scares me.

Numeric age becomes symbolic thus of time ticking by, taunting each one of us about our sheer incapacities. The fervent wish then is to delay what seems to be the inevitable, and fulfill our fondest hopes.

I still have a long way to go before I can call fulfillment my name.

So tomorrow, I still turn 28.

Never underestimate the power of denial.

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich