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Our Last 50 Referrers

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August 25, 2004

Middle Age

Dear Vanessa --

What's news out your way? The Wife and I have been somehow kicking back and keeping busy at the same time. I seem to have figured out that life is better -- at our age and in our circumstances, anyway -- if we limit ourselves to going out with friends twice a week, no more than that. As a rough rule of thumb, this schedule seems to allow for a fun, urban social life; for work, work-exhaustion, and work-recuperation; and for kickin' back and lazin' around -- the most fun of these three categories, to be honest.

How slowly some of us learn, eh? Maybe it's turning 50. You set your sights lower, and you start to enjoy the passing moment more -- a lot more -- than the excitement of "getting somewhere" and/or "keeping up." You start realizing that what to do and what to enjoy is really all up to you. After all, who are you trying to impress?

And you stop trying to pound stuff out of yourself -- even where exercise is concerned. These days, I'm perfectly happy mixing up walking, yoga, and Pilates. Beginning yoga and beginning Pilates -- and I may never graduate from beginning classes. Why should I? It's not as though I'm in training for the 2008 Olympics.

This walking-yoga-Pilates mixture seems to suit my current energy level, and it certainly leaves me happy and cheerful. What more am I loooking for? In younger days, the main reason I exercised was to blow off energy; I didn't feel sane unless I'd discharged a ton of excess steam. These days, though, my standard, day-to-day state is happy and calm; I've barely got enough steam in me to make it through the day. So I exercise for different reasons altogether: to forstall decay, in order to feel better than I would otherwise, and -- oh, yeah -- for health reasons. I know that I should do a little swimming and a little elliptical-ing for the sake of cardio wellbeing -- but, y'know, I'm just not gonna beat up on myself about it.

All this probably does nothing but make me complacent and boring. On the other hand, what a surprise to realize that "boringness" and "enjoying life" aren't necessarily enemies.

Have you been doing any reading recently? I read a lot, but I confess that I don't get much straight-through-it book-reading done these days except when we're on vacation. The only books I do seem to make it through from beginning to end are the ones I go through on audiobook. Otherwise, my day-to-day reading is nearly all a matter of browsing and grazing, and sampling a bit of this 'n' that.

As far as fiction fixes go, I do pretty well anyway. There seem to be two considerations here. For one thing, middle age (as I'm a long way from being the first to discover) seems to leave you less hungry for fiction experiences. Life itself -- what it is, and how it got that way, etc -- seems much more fascinating than it did as a kid, when trying out my wings was my main interest.

Larger Question? To what extent is the getting-high-on-fiction habit a function of youthful play and experimentation? Perhaps we use fiction, at least when we're young, to explore our bodies, our imaginations, and our sensoriums. Perhaps relishing fiction is a human equivalent to the play of baby dogs and lions -- we're taking our bodily, intellectual, emotional, and imaginative systems out for a spin. Since one of the sad facts of being 50 is that, by that age, you've bumped up against your limitations all too often, you become less entranced by possibilities; enjoying (and exploring) your gifts starts to have more to do with conserving them than with throwing them away.

The other consideration is that, where fiction's concerned, it's just soooooo much easier (and really, just as enjoyable as reading novels) to settle in at the end of the day for a Netflix with The Wife. Getting your fiction dose this way has many advantages, I find. It's fast and intense: the Netflix version of the fiction experience doesn't span days or weeks; it's complete in a couple of hours. It's physically easy. Watching a DVD, I don't burn my eyes up; this becomes a real factor when you get into deepest middle-age. My vision poops out a lot faster than it used to, and no one's ever given wearing bifocals a good review.

And it ain't a minor factor that watching a movie, even at home, can be a semi-social activity. It's a lot more fun to swap reactions, thoughts, and jokes with a buddy who has just shared the same experience you've had than it is to be out there all on your own after reading a book, full of things to say and in touch with no one who knows what the hell you're talking about. Plus, Netflix (and the DVD medium) makes watching movies almost as convenient as grabbin' a book.

All of which makes me wonder, not for the first time, about the future of books and book-reading ...

Best, Michael

posted by Michael at August 25, 2004


>All of which does make me wonder, not for the >first time, about the future of books and book->reading ...

Oh, definitely.

I think about those people who collect DVDs and put them on a bookshelf! And there are many out there who have huge collections. This is male 35 and younger demographic, I imagine.

Do you collect DVDs? I own maybe three. Fellini's 8 1/2, The Terminator. I canít remember the third. It seems reasonable to own a DVD of a film that you truly love and would watch many times. Both of the above qualify for me. But there seem to be many people who buy DVDs of movies that they've never seen before. I understand that they're not that expensive, but still! When there's Netflix, this doesn't make sense. Plus those plastic boxes are plain ugly. Books are much more pleasing to look at, no?

Tangentially, since I started file-sharing music in earnest (I was late to the game, beginning little more than two years ago), I have become more discriminating about the music I buy. I know that the studies show that people who download music buy more music, but in my case it's just not true. The reason is that I no longer buy music on speculation. I know what it will sound like and I only buy my favorites. Then why buy when I already have the MP3s? Well, I buy for three reasons: 1) CDs have better sound and sometimes the MP3s are not the final studio versions of tracks but demo tracks or recorded off the radio; 2) I like album art and packaging; and 3) because I feel I'm ethically obligated to support the artist if I really like the album and listen to it repeatedly.

Come to think of it, I would do the same thing with books. That is, sample before I buy. But there isn't a library close to my apartment in Brooklyn. And more importantly, unless I invested a great deal of time and went to the main New York Public Library branch, I wouldn't find the kind of books I like. Art books, contemporary literary fiction, and such. Plus, you can kind of sample books at the bookstore, right?


Posted by: tim on August 25, 2004 11:32 AM

Tim -- Interesting reflections, tks. Fascinating to take not of how things are shaping up (and the way people are adapting) as the media go digital, isn't it? I'm struck, as you are, by the way younger people seem to collect DVDs the way older generations used to collect books. I own a few more than I should myself, but only because I can't resist a bargain, and ain't it amazing how cheaply they sell some perfectly good DVDs? When a DVD gets to be about the price of a single movie ticket, I start being willing to buy. But I do try to pass them along to friends once I'm finished with them. I haven't entered the world of file-sharing myself -- too old, probably. But I've been struck by how different my music-listening habits have become now that I've got most of my CDs on my Imac's hard drive. You're right: it's a sampling-the-media universe these days.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 25, 2004 2:03 PM

A couple things.

1) First, re-reading my comment I see that I said I only own DVDs that I love enough to watch repeatedly. Interestingly though, now that I own them, I *don't* watch them. I can't even remember what my third DVD is. I'd much rather see something new and chart undiscovered country. I want to find my next favorite movie of all time. I'm the same way with music and books. I'm not a re-reader or re-listener (well, some re-listening, of course).

But I gather there are many people out there who do a lot of re-reading and re-watching. They return to their favorites like old friends seeking new layers of meaning, etc. Personally, I tend to be a bit disappointed by re-watching and re-reading. As they say, nothing's like the first time.

I wonder, are you a re-reader/re-watcher/etc.? What kind of demographic or personality type do you think the re-reader is? I suspect I'm a bit ADHD in my media habits.

2. I notice that you compare the cost of a movie ticket to that of a DVD. I know this is an old trope, but isn't it crazy how expensive it is to see a film in NYC these days. As a result, we hardly ever do it. (And I'm sure we miss out on lots of good things. Like the re-release of Visconti's The Leopard at Film Forum. It's closing today, I think.) I gather that films tend to make more money in DVD sales than at the box office. Has there ever been a film that's simultaneously released in theaters and on DVD. That would be an interesting experiment. Another thought: what if a movie studio like Universal sent free DVDs like AOL discs as a mass mailing. The discs would have previews on them. I'd watch. And finally, do you think that there is a certain type of movie visual style (Bruckheimer, etc.) that is intended to bring people to the big screen as opposed to waiting for the rental. Dolby surround, explosions, etc. Also interesting that the theater experience is re-created by many for their own homes (Dolby surround sound, big TV, etc.) Cocooning.

Posted by: tim on August 25, 2004 3:06 PM

Tim, I understand BAM Cinemas promising Visconti retrospective in December.
(Yeah, it's Broklyn, waaaaaay over there. Whole 15 minutes on a train across the river)

Posted by: Tatyana on August 25, 2004 4:27 PM

Far and away the biggest factor seperating those over fifty from those under is that the overs have finally arrived at understanding that there are a limited number of things they really want to do, are doing them, and are not all stressed out about missing out on a whole lot of other things that they "should" be doing but aren't doing because they don't wanna do 'em in the foist place!
Are we clear!!

Posted by: ricpic on August 25, 2004 6:16 PM

Two more things about hitting 50 that the young 'uns don't understand:

* Just how physically slowed-down you start to be. Aches and pains that won't go away and only seem to build up year after year; no more of that "bursting" energy that you count on as a kid; memory and eyes that begin to falter; bones and joints that feel heavier and more brittle; muscles that don't have anything like the resilience they used to ...

* The fact that by 50, you've got (or I've got, anyway) almost zero desire to take part in the usual arguments. You've been through 'em a hundred times already. Not that we don't all have a bit yet to learn, but where the standard arguments go, you know what they are, you know what the standard points are that get made on both sides. And you simply don't need to take part any longer. By this point in life, you've actually developed your own thing to say, your own handful of qualities or observations to contribute, and you're certain of them in a way that's inconceivable to you when you're a kid. You just know. You aren't arguing in order to get anywhere any longer; you're there already, and now it's time to give.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 26, 2004 10:28 AM

I actually am looking forward to my 50's. No more kids in the house which means less laundry, cooking, cleaning. Menopause, which has been punctuating my life with exclamation points, will be over. My hubby and I will be free to take off and go whenever or stay home and watch TV, eat Chinese and neck on the couch--something that just doesnt happen with two teenagers in the house. I see it as my Power decade. Advil takes care of the aches and pains, btw.

Posted by: Deb on August 28, 2004 9:48 AM

Deb, my son is 18 today, and in less than a week he'll be outta here, off to Ann Arbor! (At least till Thanksgiving)

Oh, what do I do first?!!!

Posted by: Tatyana on August 28, 2004 4:02 PM

Tatyana, do what my parents did when I moved out--turn his room into a den/TV room!

Posted by: Deb on August 28, 2004 9:15 PM

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