I was having an unhealthy lunch in a certain chain restaurant on Smith Street, there more for the quality time I could spend with myself than any other reason. Except I didn’t end up doing that because two people on either side of me talked to me throughout.
They were both getting on in years and didn’t seem to be eating anything or there for any particular reason. They both seemed interested in what the time was. One leaned over and told me my watch was nice. She told me she’d lost some of her photos from her wedding in 1957. The other started asking me about how iPads worked. As she continued talking to me about her flatmates taking her clothesline space and whatnot, the other had closed her eyes and appeared to be fighting some sort of rising anxiety.
The whole subject inspires a rising anxiety of my own. What the hell do we do once we’re no longer marketable? What kind of emptiness does life entail once our looks have gone and there’s no palpable reason for people to sit and talk to us?
I hadn’t realised what a supernatural effort it takes to keep living past, say, forty-five if you find yourself alone in life, whether actually alone or distanced from people. Keeping it together is a struggle even for me at 31, so how do people stay sane when they are double that age with no stimuli to tie them over? One was talking to me about TV shows like X-factor, stuff I would dismiss as low culture for the brain-dead, except that disappointingly university lecturers talk about those things too. What keeps the mind sharp when there is no one around to bounce ideas off and you have one too many conversations inside your own head?
It scares the devil out of me. There’s no more employment at those ages unless you’ve clung on grimly to your existing work for decades. There is consequently no money (read: freedom) either. The lady next to me told me she can’t get a pension until she’s 66.
It opened an already semi-open glimpse into the purposelessness of life. It’s all well and good to play games with our looks and myriad of acquaintances and hook ups in our culture-friendly ages of 20-30, but what then when friends dry up and we no longer have the goods to get some new ones?
On one hand, beatnik writer Hunter S. Thompson killed himself at 67 once he could no longer call the shots in life. (His suicide note was entitled “Football season is over.”) On the other, philosophical/rapey TV shows like Oz had the ex-neo Nazi character James Robson convince himself that he must lower his standards and do whatever it took to survive, whatever the cost, since that is the very foundation of being alive.
I just hadn’t realised the fortitude it takes to do what on the surface is a default setting.