Last week’s fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination brought about yet another Baby Boomer orgy of self-adulation. With this generation, of course, any sixties-tinged event can spark such a debauch. Kellogg discontinues a favorite old breakfast cereal? Frosted Krispies porn shows up all over the web. Some snot-nose Millennial compares a talented new band to the Beatles? Tie those kids to a post, hippies, and beat ’em with the White Album until they confess that John is God.
Born in 1955, I’m positioned in the chewy nougat center of the Baby Boom, yet one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more disgusted by BB sensibilities than me. The problem isn’t the nostalgia thing. Bouts of nostalgia come to old people naturally, like incontinence. Wrinkles don’t show in pink light. Memories are all beautiful in sepia.
Similarly, I do not disavow my generation because of its conviction that liberal politics and culture began and ends with us. Each person enters a world-in-progress, and so most folks tend to interpret the environment of their childhoods as metaphysically real and immutable. No one knows at the age of five or fifteen or even thirty-five that the actual life span of “always” is only about twenty years. Everyone ends up liking their “always” better than the upgraded version.
I can best explain my disdain for all things Baby Boom by taking a look at the term, itself. So-called baby booms have followed just about every natural or political disaster in history. People have a lot of sex after the conflict-dust settles and all of that post-traumatic fucking results in a fresh batch of newborns. What made the products of the post-WWII baby boom different is that this group embraced the title and officialized it with capital letters. The effect of this is a phenomenon in which millions of gray-haired arthritics still refer to themselves as BABIES.
In other words, I dislike Baby Boomers because we refused to grow up even as we insisted on taking over the country. Worse still, when the repercussions of our stubbornly adolescent decision-making translated into unpleasant realities, we did precisely what teenagers would do. We blamed our parents, got all gussied up, and went out partying.
This past Halloween, I realized that I have, in fact, retired my party girl persona for good. Since the party cessation coincided with my father’s death last January, I originally thought of my absence from nightlife as a part of the mourning. Then Halloween came around and I could think of few things less appealing than throwing on a costume, doing shots at half-a-dozen clubs, or facing one more “you go, girl!” pseudo-compliment when I hit the dance floor. The whole idea just seemed…I don’t know…undignified. Given that dignity is arguably one of the few attributes of beauty that women can keep well into old age, I recognized dignity as a quality that I want to cultivate and not toss down like a Friday night Jager Bomb.
Because I have lived much of my life as exactly the kind of Baby Boomer I revile, the decision to be a grownup has been a little uncomfortable. Somehow I managed to move from adolescence to almost-elderly without having experienced real adulthood. The pressure-change is occasionally disorienting. The street where I live hops at night, especially on weekends. Sometimes I can hear the thump-bump coming from one of the clubs on my block and, if only from long habit, I consider pulling on my dancing boots and heading towards the music. These days, though, wisdom prevails over impulse. For one thing, well, it’s 11 p.m. and the only reason that I’m even hearing the music is because I woke up needing to pee. Then, too, I think about the kids who belong in those clubs and I truly don’t want to invade their space. I remember that scene in Sister Act where the nuns sneak out to the biker bar across the street from the convent. When the nuns take over the dance floor, one of the bikers mutters something like, “If this is gonna turn into a nun bar, I’m not coming here any more.” I don’t want to spoil what’s going on at the 2720 by turning it into an old lady bar.
Not long ago at a party–yes, a party; I decided to be an adult, not an absolutist–the conversation turned to sex and hooking up and I was just drunk enough to admit aloud that I’m over all of that. Almost everyone in the group was under forty, so a stunned moment of silence followed, as if I’d revealed that my favorite dinner is live mice on toast. Next came expressions of fear–“If that happens to me, please kill me.”–and at last, pity and cheer-leading: “You’re not that old.” “You still look pretty good.” “Maybe you’re depressed.” What I wanted to say was “Wait a while; you’ll know what I mean,” but I held back. Everyone handles ageing differently and I hate it when my mom says that shit to me.
That said, my younger friends should not weep for me. After many decades of failing at adulthood, I kinda-sorta made it to that place and I like it here. The fact that I’d rather stick a power drill in my eye than perform my way through another hook-up does not mean that I’m dead inside. My intense desire to not hear a well-intended “I hope I’m as sassy as you when I’m old” at a club does not mean that I’ll never dance again. Really, all that my recent choices say is that after years and years (and years and years) of trying to hang onto youth, I’m ready to let it go. I kept up with the kids for a very long time. It was a great run, but it’s time for something new.
The effort to be forever young is a burden that is not only heavy, but dull. The day that I packed away Rebecca-the-ancient-girl and let Rebecca-the-elegant-woman out to play was the day that I became interested in my own life again. It is delightful when lost little kids at the supermarket come to me for help because I look like safe grandma. It is a relief to listen to younger people and encourage them instead of trying to be like them. Most of all, it feels absolutely moral and right to admit to young people that, having screwed up damn near everything, my generation needs to either step off or help them clean up our mess.
The Who had it wrong. The choice was never as reductive as die or get old. There was always a third option, although it doesn’t make for a very good rebel yell. We got old anyhow; may as well grow the fuck up.