The Obsession with Youth

They say youth is wasted on the young, and looking back, as a man in his mid-forties, I have to say that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. When I was a young man coming up, it always felt like someone was saying, “Wait your turn. Your day will come.” And unfortunately it never did. Anyway, not how I expected it to be.

As a young man, I was saddled with certain responsibilities that are inherent to starting out. I chose the path of family man as I also worked to fit my goals and dreams into my life where and when I could. In stolen hours at night when the kids were asleep, I worked on short stories and novels. Sometimes that degenerated into watching Kurosawa movies until 3am because nobody was up to tell me to go to bed. Of course, I would pay for it the next day as I medicated myself with caffeine to keep up with work.

This year, I turned 44 and one of the presents I got was my first bout of pneumonia. I’m still recovering. One of the hardest things to come to term with in this illness has been just how difficult recovery has been. Pneumonia feels like such an old person illness too, or something reserved for frail antebellum children to die from in order to push the plot forward for their protagonist/antagonist siblings. We can credit shitty lungs to the longevity of Jo March as a beloved literary character. Also, why we love Doc Holliday so much too. He was a badass with a wheezing cough and a wit nearly as quick as his draw.

In working on the travel writing I have noticed a major difference between visiting places and reporting on what I have found with creating entire worlds out of whole cloth. When I started out in my twenties, most of the writers and editors out there were part of what is considered the “greying of speculative fiction.” Unfortunately, we have lost a great many of their kind, who have been replaced with Personalities for the most part who suck at writing, aren’t especially good at editing, and have little to show for either. Other than their names being on the covers of anthologies and getting invitations to conventions. Their political leanings and cronyism has more to do with their success and now they serve as gatekeepers, whereas before, the big names in the field had more to do with the ability to tell a good story. Nowadays, everything is subversive. Edgy. New.

Young.

My generation was sandwiched between the Boomer generation and the Millennials. I’m not going to go on a rant against either. I have readers who belong to both categories, and I have found there to be so many redeemable qualities in either that I am happy to share this planet with them. My generation didn’t have much to work with except Grunge music and we were the last generation to suffer the public education system without a mini-computer in our hip pocket which had literally all the answers.

What I will say is this: as I have begun to do travel writing, one of the important parts of getting yourself out there is the use of social media. And unlike the stacks of Sunset magazines that my grandma had stacked up in her house in anticipation for winters away from the bone-chilling cold of the Rocky Mountains from November to April, travel writing seems to be bent more towards the young crowd. Not the middle-aged GenXers, who are still waiting for Baby Boomers to retire so we can be promoted in our jobs, but towards Millennials, who for all of their “faults” are really still waiting for their turn as well.

But the Millennials have something that the previous generations don’t have. Their youth. And maybe that is why they are so maligned. Considered spoiled and entitled. Their politics and sensibilities are panned by just about everyone, just as this has happened since the beginning of time.

To create an online presence, you need social media for distribution, creating contacts, networking, and getting your “brand” out there. I mentioned the magazine “Sunset” earlier and something struck me. I used to think it was about the glorious sunsets you would see on your travels as an elderly snowbird retiree, but it wasn’t. It was about approaching the end of your days and the moment of calm and relaxation before the long dark night of mortality arrived.

Pretty damned morbid to think that a travel magazine devoted to old people could be so blatant. You don’t see much of that anymore. Even though most of the money is still in the bank accounts and pensions of Boomers. Instead, now you see Instagram which may as well have a sign on it that reads, “Nobody over 30 allowed.”

If you use “travel” as a keyword in your feed, you’ll see the same pictures of the Amalfi coast with the same posed 19 year old bikini models or girls in big floppy hats, wraps, and sunglasses staring wistfully at the blue waters of the Mediterranean. You’ll see “influencers” standing in front of row houses on Notting Hill (much to the annoyance of the actual residents). You will probably see sculpted girls in yoga pants and young men with chisled washboard abs hashtagging the fuck out of “summer vibes” or pawing at salt-rimmed drinks at outdoor cafes in Europe.

I used to feel bad about this, because the focus is on youth. Having the vitality to be young and beautiful in exotic locations, like the crooning of some Lana del Rey song, making sad choices, but bouncing back from it because “hashtag go-team” and any handful of motivational relationship memes that can perk you right the hell up again like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of an overdosed junkie.

I gotta say that even feeling the full weight of my 44 years, at a time when I didn’t expect to get old, and looking back at my elementary school years where our P.E. teacher in his early 30s used to complain about being an “old man” I have to say this is truly a screwed up situation. That guy was just a whiner. Do I want to be that pathetic douche-bag?

I feel bad for the Millennials because they are also struggling to find decent employment. The message the “influencers” give them is “this could be you if you were beautiful.” God, that is even more bleak than “Take that trip to Tuscon before you die!” that Sunset used to promote. What an awful thing to feel. Because I know a lot of these kids at this age, and they can’t afford to go to Santorini. And even if they could, are they going to feel comfortable enough to stride on a white sand beach in a barely there swimsuit, looking all nonchalant and squad-goaling anything?

So, here we are, all of us, outsiders looking in. Not rich enough, pretty enough, young enough, or financially reckless enough to have the life that we are supposed to be lusting after. We clip coupons. We hang out at home drinking bottom-shelf liquor. Scrolling through our social media feeds, empathizing with paid escorts who are living the dream while our youth fades and we get to feel like shit for it.

When I set out on my mission to Getting Out More, it wasn’t because I wanted to be one of those people in the magazines or social media. It was because I looked at those people and I thought “they are taking all of this for granted.” When I go places, it is for the full experience. It is to learn not only something about the culture of a new place, but also a little bit more about myself. And in doing so, I write about it because I want to tell the rest of you, my faithful readers, that we don’t have to emulate that life. We can make our own.

We can be the kids at the back of the classroom, passing notes, goofing off, making jokes. We can be the kids who never thought they would leave their small town, or crappy marriages, or terrible jobs, ghosting, heartbreak, or have a life as good as what has been gleaned from the best of a photographer’s shoot of 200 pics and Photoshopped heavily to show you only what you are supposed to believe, and find out that none of that matters. Happiness is something you find inside yourself. An equilibrium that has been trying to happen all of your life, but you have been fighting to hold onto the bullshit while your soul has been trying to let in the good stuff.

Part of which is just accepting yourself for your faults and loving yourself anyway.

We can be the goofballs, the misfits, the people digging for change in their couch cushions to buy a burrito because payday isn’t for another few days. We can step off that plane, we can get in our cars and drive, and we can just take a walk on a chilly autumn day because in our hearts we will always be young, and there isn’t a magazine or Instagram yet that can make us feel old unless we let it. We can enjoy this life and the people who join us for this journey if we let it.

And when we start to do that, we aren’t nearly as irritating to be around.

This site isn’t for the affluent influencers who sip champagne in their first-class seats, or even the upwardly mobile types who don’t know the struggle of being told they need to get out more. It’s for the rest of us who have wanted to take that chance and get out there because we hear that call to adventure, like John Muir said about his mountains. And we must go.

But where the hell do you begin?

I wish I could tell you, but I know this much; you’re never too old to start.

3 Replies to “The Obsession with Youth”

  1. Pingback: The Obsession with Youth – Wendigo Mountain

  2. Soon Lee

    Oh I don’t know. Weren’t the Grey Writers of Speculative Fiction once the Edgy Young Bucks in their day? Perspective counts for a lot, meaning how you might view things depends a lot on how young/old you are.

    As for the travel writing stuff, I wonder who the target audience is for the various writers/influencers. I am guessing that the boomer generation would be the biggest sector of the demographic *and* the age group most likely to have the money & time for travel, but I don’t think they Insta very much. The Instagram travel writers? I expect they are writing for a younger audience.

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  3. Joyce Reynolds-Ward

    Eh, it’s always been that way. And keep in mind, the crusty old farts had just as many poseurs as the Edgy Young Thangs do.

    As for the age bit, well, you’re at the age where mortality starts to sink in. I always thought that Sunset referred to the magazine’s West Coast orientation–originally primarily Washington, Oregon, and California (but then the inland West started sneaking in), and not your darker casting of it. Dang few articles about the Midwest or East Coast in it. I’d pick one up when there was an article about someplace nearby that we were either going to visit or wanted to visit, or had some sort of connection to (between the Wallowas and the coast, we’ve got a lot of regional connections).

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