Life lets you know you’re getting older.
Not necessarily by robbing you of your hair. Maybe you’ve been receding follically since, say, your 15th birthday or so. You may, in fact, be on a journey that you like to think of as “Less shampoo, more soap”. And anyway, you’ve hit a certain age and the hair comes flooding back. But now it’s in your ears, your nose. Other places.
Your body is changing. There’s no getting around that. Maybe you go to your optician and he says something about “bifocals”. That might be a shock.
Or your doctor mentions something about a prostate exam. There’s any number of possible shocks there.
It’s the little things.
The singles chart (now the download chart, maybe? Honestly, I don’t really care) has long since stopped meaning anything to you. Except when someone you’ve heard of dies – then, for a week or so, you might have heard of one act that is still selling records. Downloads. Whatever.
Anyone on the red carpet at awards ceremonies has to be over 30 before you’ve heard of them. And you don’t want to know who the younger ones are. They’ll not be as good, so what’s the point?
And it’s true what they say about policemen looking younger. And teachers. People around the office generally. In fact, everyone starts to look younger than you. And they all drive like lunatics.
At first you say that ironically, pretending to be one of those old farts.
And then, maybe you don’t realize the first time you say it in a more heartfelt way. And soon your wife has incorporated it into her “hilarious” impression of you. Standing in front of the TV, shaking her fist at the moron onscreen, shouting out “Kids!” And you think to yourself how odd that she’s doing an impromptu, out-of-the-blue but eerily dead-on impression of your father.
But she’s not.
One time at university, someone asked in a seminar: Are we a brain with a body, or a body with a brain?
As we were in a media studies seminar, either someone was in the wrong room, or was covering up the fact that they hadn’t done their background reading on Chomsky.
The question felt pointless then; these days it’s sometimes the only thing I can think about.
Today, for me, my body feels more and more like the enemy. It is a time bomb that can go off any minute, with me able to do little or nothing about it. I wish I had some kind of religious faith, just for the satisfaction of having someone else to blame.
Because I am my thoughts and memories; my body is merely the extremely imperfect means by which I move around and nourish myself. More often than not, with indulgent quantities of cake.
What most scares me about my body is that it hates me. And not just because it redirects perfectly adequate hair from my head and sends it to my ears and my nose. It could have a very serious malfunction (a phrase I prefer to the rather more simple term “cancer”) and never feel a pressing need to let me – brain me – know.
At best it will gradually wear down, until the basics no longer work correctly – or fail suddenly, before the shop can order more parts from the manufacturer. At worst, the choice is between sudden massive collapse or one of those dramatic Hallmark movies where the man with perfect hair and pristine white teeth tells me how long I live.
“Don’t start any long books. I’m putting you on a diet of fast food.”
And so my ambition is simple: I want simply to hang on. I will not be cryogenically frozen. Walt Disney got that one wrong. I am hanging on until someone works out how to download my “self” onto a computer. Some day they will be able to store our thoughts, memories, and everything else that goes into making us, onto digital storage. And then we can live forever.
Or, at least, until a computer virus gets us. Or the electricity runs out.