So, this began as a blog post about wrinkles, and during the writing has become something else. I’ll include here at the beginning some disclaimers/notes:
I dig wrinkles
I believe you can make changes in the way you live your life
I don’t wish for immortality, but I do hope at least a few select people think of me fondly after I’m gone
I’m a hopeful and optimistic Agnostic
I like ‘em. I know the entire beauty industry is out there trying to make me fear them, but I’m sorry, I’m not buying it. I do, however, wish to CHOOSE the sorts of wrinkles that show up on my face, at least as much as I am able.
You see, when I first noticed my wrinkles growing in, they were primarily between my eyes. Two deep vertical lines between my eyebrows. When I first noticed that, I really was bummed. As noted in #4, I’m a pretty optimistic sort, and I didn’t like to think that the story written in the lines on my face was one of scowling or frowning or judging, which is what those lines said to me.
In defense of my scowl lines, I do believe that they’re more from deep thought than from negative thought, but that said, I also know I’m subject to big-time stress and anxiety, and there are a lot of times that my deep thoughts aren’t super happy ones.
A little over ten years ago, I started dating my (now) husband. We had known each other since we were kids, but had never dated. I knew him as a funny dude, always ready with a joke. He knew me as someone who, based on observations from the seventh grade, didn’t laugh at his jokes. Refer back to the big-time stress and anxiety for more understanding of the whole, not-laughing-at-his-jokes-in-seventh-grade bit.
Thing was, I’d been fighting with the stress and anxiety that whole time. From early on, up to and including the time we started dating. There was a lot of stuff to be anxious about, including two unhappy marriages and a pesky drinking problem, among other things.
It was about the time we met back up again that I stated looking at those wrinkles on my face, and comparing them to the ones on his. He has awesome wrinkles. They’re all around his eyes and mouth because his wrinkles are from smiling.
I was jealous. I wanted happy wrinkles! Not stressed out ones!
I believe you can make changes in the way you live your life:
I believe this, because I’ve done it. One of the ways I’ve done it was to walk away from that pesky drinking problem.
I make light of it, but it wasn’t light. It was heavy and ugly. Alcoholism is a real drag. If you haven’t experienced it first hand, my sincere recommendation is that you give it a hard pass.
It’s also tricky. Addiction is a tricky business. Folks with the best and most hopeful intentions can get derailed by it. I knew that was an absolute danger going in. Quitting is hard. Staying quit is even harder. So, when I’d given myself an absolute deadline, I started doing things ahead of time that would help me stay quit.
WARNING: The following bit is a little icky.
When I was in the final stages of my alcoholism, those last few awful months, I was sick every day. I felt horrible, like every cell in my body screaming in pain. The only thing that kept it at bay, of course, was the numbing effect of the alcohol. The irony, that it was also the thing that was causing the pain, wasn’t lost on me, but changing it was beyond me for a long, long time.
I would drink all day, every day. I had to. Otherwise my hands would shake too much to write, and my body hurt too much to stay upright. Every morning, I’d drag myself out of bed and take my shaking, nauseous self to the shower, where I would shiver and cry and puke up stomach acid. Then, when I was done, I’d go into the kitchen for my morning 2-3 shots of vodka that would hold me until lunch.
Every morning. That was the routine. Unpleasant, right? So, with my deadline in mind, I focused on never ever being able to forget that feeling. The pain, the nausea, the desperation, all of it. I wanted to be able to remember it any time I thought about having just one more drink.
I’d read something at that time about brain elasticity. How as we learn and grow, our brains physically change. They get wrinkles! And the bigger the memory, the deeper the wrinkle. It’s like that scratch on the wood floor underneath the door that doesn’t fit just right. Every time you open the door, the scratch gets deeper.
I wanted one of those.
I wanted to make a really deep wrinkle. I wanted a freaking moat. I wanted something that was like second nature to me whenever I was tempted to have, just one drink. I wanted that temptation to be forever associated with standing naked in the shower, shaking, weeping and vomiting acid.
I don’t wish for immortality
Here’s where this blog post got wonky. Somehow or another, during my thinking about wrinkles and aging, I dumbed onto a podcast (Hidden Brain – “We’re All Gonna Live Forever!”). It’s about the search for immortality. It starts off with the story of the first Emperor of China who was on the hunt for an elixir that would ward off death.
He searched his land for magicians, alchemists and philosophers who might be able to help him out and he landed on a dude called Shi Fu -- which basically translates to ‘teacher’ so it’s probably not what his mama called him, but there we are. At any rate, Shi Fu asks for a ship, supplies and a mess of virgins so he can sail to a far away island and retrieve the elixir for his Emperor. Emperor goes for it.
Some years later, he goes back to Shi Fu, and finds him, ship landed, supplies used up, virgins deflowered, and no elixir. The story goes on to say that the Emperor gives him a second chance (complete with another batch of ship/supplies/virgins) and shockingly never sees Shi Fu again.
The bit about this story that really irked me to begin with was the flippant haha isn’t this funny careless treatment of the virgins in the story. Clearly neither the Emperor, the podcaster nor the researcher being interviewed has ever been a young, virginal girl traded off to complete strangers as chattel, so it’s – you know – funny!
With that irritation needling me, I listened to the rest of the podcast. What stuck with me was that all the folks they discussed who were really hep to find immortality, were dudes. I know for certain my own husband (whose wrinkles I really dig and who started this whole line of thought in the first place) has expressed his feelings on dying to me, a number of times. His thoughts? a) not a fan b) makes him mad c) would much rather avoid it entirely.
That’s one of the things that came up in the podcast too. The specifics of immortality are complicated (do you stay young? do you stay old? how does this actually work?) and the one thing they could really agree on was, We Just Don’t Want To Die.
Just don’t want to die.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any big hurry to go there, but honestly? This line of thinking seems just off to me. That’s weird, right? That not wanting to die (like, ever) seems off? I mean, look around at our cult of youth. Our adoration of all things vibrant and powerful and … unwrinkled. It is clearly the way to be, right? Like, wtf is wrong with me?
So, I did some more research, and lo and behold, I came across an op-ed from the New York Times (Jan. 25, 2018) by author Dara Horn who’d just released a fiction book, called “Eternal Life: A Novel.” In her article she talks about the research being done by biotech companies on something called, “life extension.”
This is a field of exploration that covers a wide range of scientific studies (genes, chromosomes, telomeres) don’t ask me, I was an English major. But the thing she did notice, was that the more dazzling and exhibitionist of the claims like the one “to ‘end aging forever’” or “solving ‘the problem of death.’” were those made by the male researchers.
One fella, in particular, one Peter Nygard who on his YouTube video evidently, “compared himself to Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin while dancing with a bevy of models – or as a voice-over explained, ‘living a life most can only dream of’ – nine minutes of YouTube expanded into a vapid eternity, where time melted into a vortex of solipsism.”
By comparison, the female scientists Horn writes about who are involved in similar research “are focused on curbing age-related pathology, a concept about as controversial as cancer research. They do not appear thirsty for the Fountain of Youth.”
Horn points to what she sees as the fundamental difference between the way women and men look at longevity. She sees the male view as a distinct type of “hubris” wherein they see themselves as “invincible.” By comparison, she notes, “being a female human has meant a daily nonoptional immersion in the fragility of human life and the endless effort required to sustain it.”
It’s a really great article. You can read it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/opinion/sunday/silicon-valley-immortality.html
All of which goes a long way towards explaining how I feel about immortality. I don’t want it. I want to be mortal. I want to, as Horn quotes Cynthia Kenyon as saying, “Just have a healthy life and then turn out the lights.”
I’m a hopeful and optimistic Agnostic:
We’re circling around to this because I figure my folks are probably going to read it eventually, and their response is going to involve some element of concern for my soul. My folks, you see, are not Agnostic. Their faith is both reasoned and passionate, and I respect the heck out of them and their beliefs, despite the fact that I don’t share them. Love you guys <3 it’s not your fault. You did your best. 😊
Clearly, faith in an afterlife renders this entire dilemma moot. Which is great! Seriously, yay! If there is a fabulous afterlife and I luck out and get, like, a plus one invitation or something, well then, go team *insert appropriate deity’s name here*!
Agnosticism, you see, leaves me plenty of room to be wrong.
That’s generally where I land on this, and most all existential arguments, to be honest. We’re just wrong. Hubris. I don’t think humans are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I don’t think we’re invincible, or ever will be. I think we’re probably not unique in the universe, I think we’re up to our eyeballs in our own absurd self-importance, and I think if we’re lucky, we’ll only kill ourselves, not the planet. That way maybe, a few million years from now some hyper-intelligent strain of sea snails can take over and really do it up right next time.
I also think, we’re here right now and we have breath in our lungs and dreams in our hearts. We are bluegrass and Picasso. We are Shakespeare and Serena Williams and Robin Williams. We are Stephen Hawking, Billie Holiday and so many more brilliant little lights. Why shouldn’t we live? Why shouldn’t we love and build and dance? Why shouldn’t we mourn?
So, I’m going to enjoy creating my wrinkles. I’m going to enjoy every single second left to me to laugh and love and write my story. And then, when the lights go out, I hope at least a few special people remember me, and smile.