According to neuroscientist and author Richard Restak, one aspect of growing older is the loss of “emotional memory” — the feelings of joy, sadness, anger and elation from past experiences. So if you forget your childhood delight in frolicking on the lawn, you are in danger of yelling at kids to get off yours.
In order to stay in touch with my youth, I occasionally poke holes in cans of Budweiser and shoot the contents down my gullet while cranking up “My Generation” and playing air guitar in front of the mirror. Then I reread “Slaughterhouse-Five.” But that might not be enough to keep me young.
In “The Art of Doing,” Restak advises exchanging letters with your previous self: “First, find a picture of yourself in which you are half of your present age. Stare at the picture for a while. Then write a letter to your older self from the perspective of the younger you in the photo, expressing all of the younger self’s hopes and concerns about the future. Follow this with a letter back from the present self to the younger you, telling that younger self about all the things they will do in their future and who they will grow into.” So I decided to give it a go:
Dear 54-year-old me,
Whoa! You got old! (No offense.) First of all, please ignore the letter I sent you when I was 17. I’m 27 now and, despite what sounded like excellent advice from Pete Townshend, I no longer hope I d-die before I get old.
Mary and I have Ben now, so I’m more interested in longevity than I was at 17. I guess he’s all grown up in your world, but right now he’s an angelic infant sleeping next to me and I can’t stop admiring his tiny fingernails. That’s a thing that keeps life interesting, I guess. The weirdest shit can blow your mind.
My job still sucks. Please tell me it gets better. I hope to start grad school soon, but since Ben came along, everything else seems unimportant. I’m sure that’ll change when I finally sell my first novel.
We got rid of our typewriters at work and got “personal computers,” with “word processors.” If you ask me, they will never catch on, but they could be handy in the future for famous novelists like me. Thank god for one thing: At least I’m not some loser who writes opinion columns. High-five, right?
Hope life is treating you well, old man, but you’ve probably already died from acid rain or a nuclear holocaust or something like that. Take care. Love, 27-year-old me.
Dear 27-year-old me,
OmigodOmigodOmigod, you’re going to have so much fun! YES, it gets better and better. And better.
Sorry, but that whole novel-writing thing doesn’t really pan out. But you are going to become a writer and work with really smart people, and your jobs are going to take you to amazing places, and you’re going to be able to watch TV on your phone! Which won’t be connected to the wall!
There will be some bad stuff, too. You will lose some people you love. And also some dogs and cats and pigs and horses. It will suck. A lot. But it will also make you stronger and kinder and more aware of what’s really important and what is not.
There are some great aspects to growing older. You won’t be as cocksure and judgmental and aggressive. You will become more patient and comfortable with your identity. You will stop expecting people to think like you. Won’t that be nice?
In the past, if I thought I could offer advice to my past self, it would probably have been something like, “Buy Apple” or “Bet Thunder Gulch in the ’95 Derby,” but that doesn’t feel right. You’ve got a good life going, and something like that might really screw it up. My advice instead is, slow down, make every day count and don’t take things so hard. Pretty much everything happens when it’s supposed to happen.
So imagine this: Ben is now your age. And he’s still as beautiful and fascinating as ever. You also have a daughter, Laura, you will be meeting soon, and she is also beautiful and fascinating. They are doing great things. So relax and enjoy yourself. See you in the opinion columns. Love, 54-year-old me.