January 15, 2007

Old age is cool.

According to Norman Mailer (who is 83):
There's one good thing about old age that people don't recognize. Which is that if you have a reasonable old age, as I do, in that you're not in pain, and you're not in terrible trouble emotionally with your children, or your mate, then what happens is you cool. And you finally are cool in a way that you never were before. And you realize that you won and you lost, and that's just what happens to everyone else. They win and they lose also. And what you didn't succeed in doing, you didn't succeed in doing, so f--- it....

In other words, I'm at peace with myself in a way that I wasn't for many, many years. I feel more sane than I've ever felt in my life.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've always liked Norman Mailer.

He's refreshingly blunt.

Revenant said...

I dunno, it sounds like just a wordy way of saying "my life's over and it turned out pretty well, so I've no complaints". Given that he's going to die rich and famous that's not too surprising.

Personally, I plan to live forever.

Ken Stalter said...

Win some, lose some. I guess I can see what he is saying. Myself, at age 24, I just feel like "I gotta get out there and f-ing win."

Pogo said...

Norman Mailer, the quintessential destructive narcissist. He was a radical leftist with a penchant for punching people. In 1960, after Mailer had stabbed his wife Morales, he rushed over to Norman Podhoretz's apartment. Podhoretz has since wondered whether he did the right thing in helping Mailer avoid psychiatric institutionalization. Mailer married six times and has nine children among that half-dozen.

In 1980, Mailer engineered parole for convicted killer Jack Henry Abbott, and helped helped him publish "In the Belly of the Beast," about his experiences in prison. Abbott murdered a waiter not long after his release.

In the 2003 piece "The White Man Unburdened" ostensibly about the Iraq war, Mailer makes America responsible for Saddam Hussein’s killing fields, and the deaths of the Iran-Iraq wars. America, he says, is never right.

Ever the anti-capitalist, Mailer, the Brooklyn-bred, Harvard-educated, Cape Cod-dwelling gynepugilist sold his memoirs in 2004 for $2.5 million ...to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

I'm glad he's cool with all the time he wasted typing.

Ann Althouse said...

I think a key lesson here is that at various ages, life feels pretty normal and good (as long as you don't have problems). When you are young, you imagine that it's terrible to be old, but when you get there you find yourself happy with it, maybe even much happier than when you were young. When I was in my 30s, I thought it was just tragic to hit 50, as if you were falling off the edge of the world. But in my 50s, I realize it's amazingly good, and that I feel much better than I did in any previous decade of my life. It would be helpful to younger people to know this.

vbspurs said...

It would be helpful to younger people to know this.

I didn't comment on the Grace Slick thread about this general topic, largely because I cannot stand her, or people that thought like her in the 70s, but I can't help to reply here about what you just said, Ann.

The problem with your "Wish I had known at 30, what I know at 50" is that young people who think old age is creepy or a bitch, largely disregard this sage advice at THAT AGE.

So it's no good you saying that if only you had known then, since that 30 year-old you would've thought the 50 year-old you is an old fart, who is making lemonade out of lemons.

Maybe because I'm an historian (or an only child), I never had these thoughts about 50 or 83. I couldn't wait to grow older.

I get along so much better with older people, than I ever did with my contemporaries.

Cheers,
Victoria

J. Peden said...

If Mailer's more sane than he used to be, then he used to be "certifiable".

The last thing I heard him expound upon - on Air America only about six months ago - was Cheney's shooting of Whitehead. Mailer, showcasing his self-assigned superior intellect, claimed the most critical thing to know was how the Cheney bird hunting party had done earlier in the day. Mailer thought that they must have got skunked, therefore making Cheney trigger-happy. Wow!

Mailer admitted that he'd never hunted, but essentially postulated that "good hunters" would get frustrated if not successful, leading to unsafe gun action. "Good hunters" - say what?

As usual, all Mailer was talking about was his own psychopathy, then projected upon others, and probably fueled at base by his own hotly burning Bush Derangement Syndrome.

So I don't see how Mailer could now be less frustrated than before: he's apparently still the same disordered person he's always been.

Otherwise, I would agree with him.

Dale B said...

I'm with Ann on this one. I never thought that I'd ever agree with anything Norman Mailer said but he's pretty close here. I'm not as old as he is but I'm old enough. at 56, to realize that youth is not all it's cracked up to be.

Being old(er), and in decent health, is great. It's a lot calmer here. You know much better what things matter and what doesn't. You know what things you can't do anything about and what things you can fix. I would only go back to being younger if I could still know what I know today.

Plus, with grey hair, you can get away with stuff that you'd never be able to pull off in your twenties.

nobody special said...

Oh dear God it's Althouse again. There must be a method to this madness! No matter what I research, it seems I always find your ominous name lurking somewhere. I need to check and see if you have some kind of cookie on my computer. However I do like the way you think Althouse, and a blond too, who would have ever thought! at least you're not one of those annoying porn sites. No I really don't mind putting up with your pretty face, I've been doing it for three years now. Maybe it is a sign I should stop being so irregular and start paying closer attention.

Revenant said...

But in my 50s, I realize it's amazingly good, and that I feel much better than I did in any previous decade of my life. It would be helpful to younger people to know this.

Well, individual people vary. But on average, 50-year-olds have more money and security while younger people have a lot more more health, fitness, and opportunity. Which you consider better is a function of personality, I guess.

bearing said...

The problem with your "Wish I had known at 30, what I know at 50" is that young people who think old age is creepy or a bitch, largely disregard this sage advice at THAT AGE.

Oh, I don't know. I'm 32, and what Ann says sounds like good news to me.

Anonymous said...

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

—William Shakespeare

Damn right about that.

Speaking myself, standing amidst the bare ruin'd choirs, I'd rather have it be

Just as it was so many years gone by
When we in mystic springtime yet did dwell.


I'd trade accumulated wisdom (mental sloth), security (inertia), and self-knowledge (excuses) for another night or two with a past female companion, each of us being sweet and twenty again.

But that's just me.

Mortimer Brezny said...

But in my 50s, I realize it's amazingly good, and that I feel much better than I did in any previous decade of my life.

That's probably because of the sex robot.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was 14 and older people would tell me it was the best time of my life. At which point I would go ballistic, "Would you EVER go back to a time when you couldn't make your own choices, you have to do what pretty much everyone around you tells you to do, you can't drive, you have acne, a decade more schooling in front of you , etc, etc." until crestfallen they would admit that no way in hell would they be a teenager again.

The only real downside about very advanced age is the health problems that occur. I hope that anti-aging tech pans out and that becomes a thing of the past. Except for that concern I've found aging to be incredibly beneficial. For example if I could go back and be 14 again but retain my current knowledge and seeds of wisdom I would just smile at the "best time of your life" garbage and not crush them like a bug. Great quote paraphrase:

"I'm amazed at how often the 'mature wisdom' of age resembles being just too damned tired to care." - Heinlein via Lazarus Long

tjl said...

"I'd trade accumulated wisdom ... for another night or two with a past female companion, each of us being sweet and twenty again."

Theo, your response is the poetic counterweight to Ann's prosaic good sense.

But here's another take on the issue:

"O she had not these ways
When all the wild summer was in her gaze."

W.B. Yeats thought that certain people grow even more irresistible with the years.

PatCA said...

I'm glad he's more at peace, but more sane? I think not.

Revenant said...

crestfallen they would admit that no way in hell would they be a teenager again.

That's certainly true, but I'd go back to being 21 in a heartbeat.

Gary Rosen said...

"I feel more sane than I've ever felt in my life."

Not *that* big a deal, in his case.

Pogo said...

My anti-Mailer tirade is meant by way of suggesting I couldn't take the advice of a man I don't respect, and especially one that was a barmy narcissist. Mailer always thought he was cool with himself. It was ever thus.

Life's better at 50-60-70? I suppose it can be. If your health is good, and your family is safe and you saved enough money along the way; probably so.

Richard Posner wrote about this, siding more with Victoria's view, that the young Norman has trouble envisioning himself as the old Norman and the decisions he makes when young tend to favor a short time frame. (Or, as the Grass Roots said it, Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today.)

That's why we do better in families, where the old instruct and model for the young. But that message gets harder to relate when there are fewer such families.

vbspurs said...

Richard Posner wrote about this, siding more with Victoria's view, that the young Norman has trouble envisioning himself as the old Norman and the decisions he makes when young tend to favor a short time frame. (Or, as the Grass Roots said it, Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today.)

That's the thing you see, Pogo.

Bearing echoed that he thinks what Ann said at 50 is sound advice, though he's 32 (my own age, this August).

But the point is that people who ARE NOT predisposed to this idea, and look at old age as Grace Slick/Norman Mailer do, aren't easily influenced by this sage advice when younger.

Of course, short of finding a time machine, and shaking your younger self into wisdom, this discussion is largely moot.

Cheers,
Victoria

Revenant said...

Given that there's nothing humans can do (yet) to get out of aging, there's a powerful incentive to convince ourselves that things get better the older we get. I suppose 18th century women convinced themselves that it was really for the best that they were limited to staying home, pumping out kids, cooking and cleaning. Men had so many troubles to deal with, after all.

amba said...

It's just that his locus ceruleus is burned out -- that part of the brain that makes almost everything seem like a matter of life and death.