Maturity is So Overrated

I make this claim boldly, though as all of you know by now, I have never supped of maturity myself. I simply rely on the expertise of my betters who have visited the halls of grown-up-itude, however unwillingly or briefly, and am assured that my current Peter Pan flight plan will serve my needs and interests far better than the perhaps morally uplifting or civically productive ones others pursue. Sorry, world. What you see is undoubtedly what you’ll get.

Still, I flatter myself (another of my peculiarly abundant gifts) that many of my true role models, from my esteemed pater on out to remoter avatars like, yes, S. J. Perelman, have made careers and lives out of similarly irresponsible seeming stuff and yet managed in the greater scheme of things to have marvelous adventures out of those lives and careers, and even influenced others so to do. While I have no delusions of my own future grandeur based on their successes, I at least think of them as a partial excuse.

Mixed media artwork + text: A Push in the Beezer

No Surprises Here

Digital Illustration from a Photo: Baby Carriage

Kids have an amazingly flexible sense of time. The week at the lake, playing with cousins, is so shockingly short that the suggestion of leaving there provokes crying fits of desperate sorrow over its unbearable brevity. The twenty-minute regular doctor’s appointment, with a quick squeeze from the blood pressure cuff and a thermometer swiftly passed across a healthy forehead, well that might as well have taken ten years, because the same child is now certain she’ll die in a matter of seconds from the prolonged trauma of it all.

But to be fair, isn’t this exactly the way we see time as supposed adults, too? I may not want anyone to catch me whimpering over the end of a holiday or the beginning of a doctor visit, but generally, I’m not less inclined to feel that way than I ever was in youth. The real difference, for adults, is that we have the perspective and experience to recognize the true brevity of our lives within the broad arc of time. We have, if anything, a deeper desire to cling to and attenuate all of the good moments and avoid the bad. It’s not childishness for a kid to abhor pain and sorrow and crave ease and pleasures, it’s an innate wisdom that tells us the clock is ticking.

I won’t tell you to stop wasting your precious time reading my blog posts, no, I am far from that angelic and selfless. But I hope that time thus spent is indeed a refreshment and pleasure, however small. And that, in the larger scheme, it serves to remind both you and me, if gently, to value our limited time of life enough to choose those things that reduce the ills of life and expand upon the joys—for self, for others—forever. Or as close to it as we can manage to stretch.Digital Illustration from a Photo: Carousel and Other Horses

Remind Me/Rewind Me

For a person who considers herself happily immature relative to her age, I am sometimes caught off guard when I realize how little of my youthful pleasures I’ve continued to pursue with appropriate enthusiasm into the present. Why on earth would I forego standing on a big plank swing, grasping the chains that hold it and me up, and pumping my legs until I feel like I could fly right on over the top steel bar of the swing set with the greatest of ease? Why not kick off my shoes and socks, abandon them in the dirt, and plunge into the cold river’s slippery, rock-strewn flow without regard for getting the legs of my pants all soaking wet? Is there any law that says a 52-year-old is no longer allowed to slurp her fruit punch noisily through a straw just because it’s so wonderfully refreshing and sugary?

Why, indeed, is the common phrase seemingly always about youthful enthusiasm, yet we tacitly agree to let only actual youths embrace it?

Remind me how being childlike and impulsively happy is so dangerous.photo

Despite being of an age where my childhood version of the high swing was of rock-hard rubber on a steel pipe frame and underlaid with gravel-strewn dirt, I am—well—still alive at this age. I never broke a single bone or chipped a tooth, and my only stitches derived from an indoor activity, a school game of floor hockey. Though I wandered recklessly through many a stream and ocean’s shallows, without regard for my pants or my tender soles, and even drank from the occasional icy mountain brook, the worst that ever came of it was a cut from beach glass, soon enough cleansed with stinging but healing salt water. No clothes were ruined, and I got bit by nothing bigger than a sand- or horse-fly or two. I failed to contract Giardia or E. coli from those wild rivulets I sipped. Even the vast quantities of evil cyclamates in my childhood fruit drink binges failed to kill me off.

So how is it that I lost my ability to plunge ahead without caution to where I seemed, nearly always, to find joyful things? Remind me how always being responsible and mature and playing it safe is better for me.

But write it in a note and slip it under my door. I feel the need to go out and look for a little happy trouble.

Peter Pan vs. Mother Earth

Maturity is a hard concept to nail down. So few of us would willingly embrace the larger idea of maturity after all: the implication is too much doused with the odor of aging and the loss of innocence, playfulness and joie de vivre.

But if I can move away from those irksome, unflattering aspects of maturation, there is a whole world of better and more admirable traits awaiting me. To refuse to grow up, as so famously done by Peter Pan, one has to reject all of those pleasures and opportunities afforded only to those willing to submit to the passage of time.

I will continue to avoid becoming ensnared in the traps and trials of aging as long as I can get away with it, and probably further. Who wants to become exclusively serious, constantly responsible or particularly predictable? Not I! Age may force me to slow down my physical pace or even make me willing to concede that there is such a thing as a skirt too short or heels too high or a blouse too fitted to be quite seemly for my years, never mind that choosing certain forms of entertainment or places to go or goals to achieve are not particularly well suited for me anymore.

But I am also glad to let down the barriers to other aspects of maturity, and to embrace my aging with a certain relief when it comes to those. I care less and less, for example, about whether I look fashionable or impressive, so the heels and hems can be whatever altitude suits my comfort and mood. I’m happier in my own skin with every year spent getting to know and define and design it.

That, my friends, is the greatest gift of aging: I am freer from the worries, demands and expectations of the world around me and can work at shaping who I am, what I want, and how I feel more deeply and contentedly than when I thought there was a greater need to conform. Youth is not nearly so unfettered as we idealize it as being; so long as more mature people own our territories of home, school, work and even play, they also rule our lives. So long as we concern ourselves with comparison, competition and popularity, we let others have the power as well. When we learn to fit in and find community by being our truest selves, it changes the tune entirely. This is the richness, ripeness and harmony–within and between–conferred by true maturity.digital illustrationAnd while I’m thinking about musical metaphors, I really must give you a link to my husband’s latest YouTube appearance, conducting the beautiful and magical Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 with the Collegium Singers and Baroque Orchestra of the University of North Texas, with some tremendous guest artists singing and playing alongside the artful student and faculty musicians. This production was the premiere performance of the new edition of the Vespers that was developed by UNT professor Hendrik Schulze and ten of his graduate students, and among the instrumentalists playing on marvelous period instruments were some of the greatest players now gracing the halls and stages of the Early Music genre. Enjoy!

Peace as the New Superpower

It was a wonderfully happy anniversary yesterday. The birthday of one of our nephews.

It was also a horrible anniversary, as far more people know: that of the infamous terrorist attack on US soil in September of 2001. You understand my intense desire to have the former event wholly eclipse the latter. I don’t demand that all the world celebrate our nephew’s birthday (though our niece and any one of our nine nephews would all be well worth the attention), but I would absolutely recommend that the whole planet get a lot less warlike and a lot more humane overall.

If grey is the new black, we should be mature enough by now to play well together.

Americans, first and foremost. We may be barely over 200 years old as a country, but we’re old enough to know better than to tear around the planet saber-rattling and messing around in every other country’s business whether they like it or not. Aren’t there enough things to keep us occupied in more peaceful pursuits? Many such valuable actions could probably be funded on the strength of one month’s national military expenses, things that might not only make the country better educated, healthier, more scientifically advanced but also better able, even, to improve conditions for other people, other nations.

Call me naive.

But first, here’s a nice little bouquet, from me to you. It’s a small thing, I know, but I’d like to start somewhere. You’re welcome. Pass it on, please.digital illustration

Mama’s Girl

Yeah, I’m a big baby.

I’m past the half-century mark, don’tcha know, and yet the older I get the more I realize how much growing up I have yet to do, not to mention how much I am shaped by my genes and my formative years. And unlike many people, I find I am heartened and grateful when I look in the mirror and see my mother. There may still be hope I’ll turn out well.

It’s not just that I’m pleased to start looking more like Mom, though that wouldn’t make me sad in the least; I think my mother’s beautiful. But since we’re a pretty close-knit family, I like to think that enough of her more objectively wonderful qualities will have rubbed off on me over the years that I have a chance of continuing to improve with age in many other ways as well. To grow into some semblance of her patience and compassion, her grace and gentleness and big-hearted love is certainly a gift to be fondly wished.

Meanwhile, however, it’s Mama’s birthday. It’s she who should be getting gifts. But then, given my mom’s character, having her children turn out well ought to be just the sort of pretty good present she’d like most, and if my seeing her in my mirror confirms that the best I can turn out is as a good imitation of her, why then I’ll keep working and hoping and trying what I can to head in that direction. Hmmm. Maybe I should bring her a box of candy or something just in case.

Happy Birthday, Mom!digital photo

What if I Never Grow Up?

digitally doctored photoAside from the fact that all of you know already that this is a given rather than a question, I can still pose it rhetorically and ask it of all people in general. See, I think about this a fair amount, and not just because of my own level of maturity at any given time or in any given category. It’s simply a question we all get asked in one way or another at some point, or should jolly well ask ourselves, at the least.

This marvelous Möbius loop of inquiry and insistence begins the first time we are told, as children, that we need to Grow Up, and it can be applied to any number of circumstances. The irony that this mandate is almost invariably handed down to us by a person or persons barely older and more grown than ourselves is of course lost on all of the parties involved, because we’re all too inexperienced and naive and, conversely, too full of ourselves to understand it. The bigger kid tells the littler kid to Grow Up mainly because the elder wants something that the younger has or has simply lost patience with her.

It doesn’t change. When we’re older, the toys and privileges may have changed to different brands of money and power, but as long as we think someone else has more of whichever kind we desire than we do, we’re just as inclined in adulthood to nit-pick at that someone for his supposedly lower maturity levels both as cover for our covetousness and in shallow hopes of shaming him into being more generous than we are ourselves. The failure of this silly system doesn’t change either, but it doesn’t stop the less magnanimous and less mature from nagging at those who are more so, no matter the age or the occasion.

There are perfectly good reasons to wish anybody, including ourselves, would think and act with maturity and keen sense and the wisdom of experience. Those things tend to lead to our being more level-headed in emergencies, more practical in the everyday, and more inclined to share those traits and all sorts of other things with other people–and that leads to better community. Who knows, even World Peace.

But isn’t it grand, all the same, to forever retain a large enough pinch of immaturity and, if not childishness, then at least the ability to be childlike, that we can still look at the wide world with the awe and wonder it requires. We should hang on, with youthful enthusiasm and gleeful tenaciousness, to innocence and hope, to curiosity and rambunctiousness, to unalloyed silliness whenever the moment permits. Maybe we should even be willing to get down there with the actual kids and roll around in the grass once in a while without batting an eye over how dirty it’ll get us or whether it might make our old joints sore tomorrow. If we can’t still do somersaults, then we’d better find other ways to regain and retain our not at all grown up point of view, because the world, especially while it’s still short of outright Peace, can really use a healthy splash of the ridiculous now and again.