Category: Aging - THE CATASTROPHIZER
 
A while ago, I wrote about "eldergrimming," which is what happens when an inspiring, affirming moment is ruined by an old person.

Today I was reminded that it's not just the elderly who are capable of introducing an uncomfortable note of awfulness into a pleasant situation you really didn't expect would turn awful.

I was on the streetcar and a mass of tiny children got on. I immediately thought, "I want to kill myself. Very soon, I'm going to want to die." But I soon noticed that the children were implausibly adorable and that their teenage counselor was implausibly attentive (to them, I mean) and resourceful and engaged and funny. The kids were bouncing around in a way that was still cute but on the verge of being not cute at all anymore, and the counselor asked them all the following question, which suddenly and fiercely focused them on something other than starting to no longer be cute: "If you had all the money in the world, what would you spend it on?"

Cue head-exploding cuteness explosion. One tiny boy said, "I would spend the money helping other people who need help." Adorable. One girl said, "I would buy Gerrard Square mall." Slightly less adorable—because more commercial and acquisitive—but still acceptable. The tiniest boy of all looked like he'd been hit by a thunderbolt of inspiration and come up with THE BEST IDEA EVER, and he shouted, "I would buy...A CAKE!"

By this point, I was smiling widely and feeling generally uplifted. I got up to leave the streetcar, still smiling in a "I am old and sophisticated, but still capable of being softened by the magic of childhood" kind of way, and a sweet-faced girl yelled:

"SLAVES! I would buy A LOT OF SLAVES!"

And then I went to the grocery store and a sweet-faced elderly woman was really mean to the cashier.
 
I have always known that if I were to become addicted to any substance, it would be one with sedating, rather than stimulating, properties. I am sufficiently nervy already, thank you very much, without taking something that would make me peppier and full of a burning need to conquer the world of 90s advertising.

I am also, however, tediously law-abiding, and so will never be in a position to lay my hands on whatever my dental surgeon gave me when I got my wisdom teeth out.

So what I needed was to find something non-pharmaceutical that would recreate that post-de-toothing bliss, that calm, carefree, unbothered serenity.

In the end, I found two things: Murder She Wrote and Matlock.

It started innocently enough. Murder She Wrote aired on A&E every few hours when I was younger, before that network was taken over by shows about what Jessica Fletcher would be like if she never went out and spent her time arranging her belongings into teetering, dangerous piles and alienating her family. One day, I caught just the last few moments of it - what I call the "Fletcher freeze-frame." At the end of every show, the camera focuses and then freezes on Angela Lansbury's face while she does something like laugh indulgently, shake her head regretfully, or look generally smug. It was so outrageously awful, I had to watch a whole show. In each and every show, children are innocent and sometimes poor and in need of a free bicycle, an easily-identifiable and generally straightforwardly-Biblical motive leads to murder, and some stupid, stupid person thinks an elderly retired schoolteacher probably doesn't have what it takes to solve a crime.

Before long, I was watching it all the time. 

During grad school, when I was in a vulnerable and susceptible state, some station in Kingston started running Matlock at two in the morning. Did I have room in my heart for another folksy old person who brought order to the chaotic modern
world by solving many murders that somehow often involved Patrick Swayze's slightly less successful brother Don? It appeared I did, because before long I was watching as much Matlock as I could get.

It never ceases to amaze me that it was Murder She Wrote and Magnum P.I. that had the cross-over episodes, and that Jessica and Ben never shook their heads complacently at one another and then brought someone unscrupulous (inevitably played by a guy who also guest-starred on the Love Boat, or Don Swayze) to justice.

When I watch either show, my heart-rate slows and I feel like I am being hugged by a loving grandparent who compulsively brings criminals to justice. I used to tell myself that I watched these programs ironically and so made a point of chortling knowingly to myself during each episode. But how many times can you watch Andy Griffith play his ukulele or trick someone out of money to buy himself a hotdog before your cold, unforgiving post-modern heart is conquered by a warm, forgiving, pre-modern kind of love? 

So I am profoundly grateful for Angela Lansbury and Andy Griffith, even if they have inspired unrealistic expectations about how when I'm older, I'll be really successful and happy while all around me, people drop dead.

Also, I've been planning to write about these shows for days and days, but the post ended up being unexpectedly, and regrettably, timely.
            

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Andy Griffith June 1, 1926 – July 3, 2012


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
 
It's always upsetting when you realize a lot of people are younger than you are. Really, everyone no longer in elementary, junior high, or high school should be older than I am. There are certain kinds of people, though, whose youthfulness is especially egregious.

1) Doctors
Doctors should not be younger than I am. Doctors, from what I know of them from 1990s television, spend approximately 25 years in school, and then an additional 56 years as residents. They spend years and years falling in love with one another, having sex in closets, developing tragic friendships with people who are dying, and fighting off knife-wielding attackers in the emergency room before they become actual doctors. So the fact that every specialist I see looks at me appraisingly from eyes that never appraised the 1980s is upsetting and wrong and generally unacceptable.

2) Newscasters
Newscasters should not be younger than I am. Sure, the ones who look a little bit like high-class prostitutes or rich men's mistresses - they can be youthful (in that soon-to-overripe kind of way). But the ones who've cut their call-girl hair and developed those immovable hair hats should not be younger than I am. They are supposed to give the impression of gravely delivering grave news they don't fully understand because they're newscasters, not journalists, god dammit, and they're supposed to do so using lips that existed prior to the year 1990.

3) Mothers in telephone/internet provider commercials
Actresses playing mothers in telephone/ internet provider commercials should not be younger than I am. You know the ones I mean - they're often ethically ambiguous, not actively attractive, but not noticeably unattractive, and they are enviable because they are lucky enough to have husbands who don't know how to use the television remote and children who have attitudes and inappropriate boyfriends. They look both despairing ("That's a remote, you darling, hapless man!") and smug ("I have a husband, children and a television, you darling, hapless spinster!"), and as of a couple of years ago, they started looking about ten years younger than I am.

Thank God I'm not a successful professional or a contented family woman, or I'd be surrounded by such upstarts all the time.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
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Now that the rich, rewarding, and spiritual experience that is Christmas has passed away, leaving only bulging, exhaustion, and garbage in its wake to remind us it ever was, it's time for New Year's.

There was a time when New Year's caused me a great deal of anxiety. When I was young, and interested in noise and glamour, or rather, interested in attractive and fashionable people thinking that I was interested in noise and glamour. Now that I have accepted that I am not glamorous and have seen that many of those same people are aging badly, I am more reconciled to that formerly much-dreaded eve. Now I see good friends and eat cheese until my enjoyment of those good friends and good cheeses renders me unconscious. 

The other reason I no longer dread New Year's Eve in particular is that I have accepted that as every day brings us closer to death and offers the opportunity for promises that will never be fulfilled, there's nothing all that special about December 31st. Why feel let down by yourself and by this life that so soon will be over only once a year when there are 364 other days to play with?


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
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We are the first generation of Facebook users. Even if you refuse to use Facebook because you have, unaccountably, no interest in discovering whether your grade-six crush got fat, you know people who do use it (which means you can just use their accounts to check up on that girl who told you your one-act play sucked in grade twelve without appearing to compromise your anti-Facebook stand). 

Some of you even have to suffer through drawing-room-farce-like internet antics because your parents have gotten themselves Facebook accounts. They start friending all of your friends and then asking why you look like such a slut in all those photographs.

That's all very well, but what's going to happen as we age (which we will, alas, insist on doing)? Facebook will undoubtedly prove to be a great comfort to many older people because it will allow them to remain in casual contact with friends once they're no longer able to go out because they're so completely infirm. It will mean, however, that it will be impossible to keep using that one flattering photograph from your 20s because you'll be undeniably in your 80s and it would just be embarrassing.  

And if you're morbid, which is the way all right-thinking people should be, you'll already have considered things like which of the people you know will die first. Everyone you know, every single person you know, will die eventually, but in what order will they do so? Because we're the first generation of Facebook users, the people who receive memorials on the site tend to be ones who've died tragically and prematurely. But as they years pass, all those with Facebook profiles will die. 

What will happen to the Facebook profiles of people who've died? For the first while, they'll probably be makeshift memorials. People they knew will post on their walls and express sadness. But after the initial shock? After the mourning period has passed? Will Facebook keep those profiles up or will they be made to disappear? If they remain visible to others, we will find ourselves with a virtual graveyard. Instead of gravestones, we'll have profile pics and an archive of posts about parties and obscure political movements. Our children and grandchildren, instead of just searching Facebook for lost flames, will use it as a genealogical resource, combing it for insight into their forebears. 

And then when whatever's better than the internet is invented and all the kids are accessing it through cyborg-like attachments implanted in their flesh, a few nerdy types will use computers to look up Facebook to find photos of their great-great-grandmothers much as researchers today use microfiche to scan old newspapers for items about ancestors. 

I, for one, am going to start being even more careful about looking svelte in the photos I post to my profile. After all, it's possible that profile will one day be the property of posterity.




Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
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As anyone who's ever read this site (or run into me casually at a dinner party) knows, I'm terrified of dying. It doesn't matter how much I try to imagine it's like sleep, or like the time before I was born - it scares the crap out of me (as do aging, penury, the limitless expanse of space, any limited expanse of space, and Lloyd Robertson).

However, because I don't like to play favourites, not dying scares the crap out of me as well. It would be kind of like not ever having to sleep. There would be no end. There would be rampant overpopulation. There would probably be no really meaningful vows of marriage. 

Besides, immortality might not mean no death; it might just mean no natural death. If science devised a way to prevent aging and inevitable death, one would not be guaranteed an endless life. Imagine living in society that has banished death by natural causes and then one day getting hit by a car. Well, you say, maybe medicine can now regrow human beings from tiny strands of DNA (my knowledge of science, admittedly, is shaky). Emergency personnel could drag you from a fiery wreck and reconstitute you. Undoubtedly, though, there would be some unfortunate people who would be murdered and then buried. Or otherwise hidden. Really mean or really crazy people would find some way to make sure that dead people never came back. And if you were in a position to live forever, your chances of meeting someone who'd want to kill and bury you would certainly increase exponentially.

It's like any vampire movie. In any vampire movie, a vampire dies. Often many vampires die. Some lucky and now soulless individual thinks "well, it's immortality for me now" and then before two hours have elapsed, he or she has been staked. From immortality to dust. Imagine being immortal and then getting staked by some smart-talking upstart four-foot-tall high-school student who used to cheerlead.

But maybe knowing you were immortal, even if you could be killed by decapitation, would at least make you less afraid because there'd be a chance, at least a chance, that you'd sidestep death. Or maybe it would make you more afraid, because there'd seem to be so much more to lose.

And if death is ever vanquished, there will be a number of poor bastards who expire the day before. I frequently think about the young men who were killed on the last days of the First or Second World Wars. So close. And I fully expect that I will pop off moments before the eternal life serum is unveiled.
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.


 
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Dear Catastrophizer -
A concerned query: is it possible that pessimism could be seen as merelyapotropaic --i.e., unconsciously intended to ward off evil by imagining the worst (whereas optimism could be seen to be hubristic--i.e., asking for it...)?

It's absolutely and entirely possible. In fact, I think it might be unavoidable, especially now that I know it has such an impressive name. All the kids will be doing it ("Johnny, come down from your room right now and stop being so merelyapotropaic!").


It's also something that must be guarded against. Catastrophizers must sincerely and unremittingly expect the worst. They must not go unconsciously doing anything in a doomed attempt to safeguard themselves. No amount of negative thinking can protect you from all the terrible things that will undoubtedly happen to you.

If you wish to remind yourself that the worst really is bound to happen, just follow the following simple steps:

1) Watch any movie by Bergman.
2) Drink a pot of coffee.
3) Go to bed and cuddle up with Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych.
4) Remind yourself repeatedly that while optimists and pessimists may disagree over the likelihood you'll be killed in a plane crash or struck by lightning while falling from the 23rd story of a high-rise and suffering from small pox, no one, no one can argue that you're not going to die. Nope. Even if you miss every car crash and disease, you'll be dying at some point. You will no longer BE. Of course, it's also possible that your self-awareness will be compromised by senility before you die, so that might take the edge off.
5) Sweet dreams.

It's in fact imperative you do this, even if you are a devoted and dutiful Catastrophizer. As any PBS special or old person will tell you, our culture tries desperately to deny the fact that we're all going to die. We try to hide our wrinkles and our old people as best we can. We obsess over life-prolonging treatments and diets as though a acai-berry smoothie will cancel out mortality altogether. We avoid confronting other people's deaths by natural causes by, as I said before, shuffling off our elderly to old-person ghettos (unless they're wealthy, in which case they may be lonely and un-visited, but they at least get to play golf on a Wii). 

Our popular culture provides us with no memento mori art. We have Beckett's Pozzo saying, "We give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more" in Waiting for Godot, but who reads that past college? Who actually reads that in college? 

It's possible there will be more open discussion about everyone dying when the Baby Boomers get even closer to it. If they haven't already, they will soon be realizing that their generation is going to be dying en masse in the very near future. 

And unless or until you have a human skull to stare at, keep this idea in mind: you won't be far behind. 

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
 
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Dear Catastrophizer:
I am 62 years old and retired. I keep adding up the numbers of my budget to see if I am likely to outlive my money. Until yesterday it seemed safe to assume I would make it through my dotage without having to eat cat food, even once. But yesterday when I added up the same numbers I discovered an error in logic that I'd been making all along. Can you tell me where I can buy discount cat food? Would pellets for rodents deliver the same nutritional punch at a lower cost? 

Thanks, in advance, for your advice. 

Yours truly, Aging woman. 

P.S. I know you're too young to be worrying about this kind of stuff

I've said it before and I'll say it again: you're never too young to worry about penury, infirmity, and death. That said, those fortunate enough to have lived for a while in consecutive years might be in a better position to appreciate how nice money, "firmity" and life are, and to suspect that they are probably not now or ever going to be discovered on Johnny Carson.

Allow me to answer this while also getting to talk about something else that's been thrilling me and to do so by discussing a scene from The Golden Girls. In a scene more bizarre than any shakily-filmed drug-using sequence from a motion picture, the girls host a talent show at which Bob Hope makes repeated jokes about Ronald Reagan. I was, of course, appalled, because no one is permitted to make light of Ronald anymore. He is a conservative icon, even though it turns out that the very conservatives who venerate him today would probably colour him red for commie if he were still around. He was in favour of reducing the number of nuclear weapons kicking about, after all. Hippie.

But let's get to the whether-to-eat-pellets portion of this entry. I mention The Golden Girls because their example could well prove to be instructive. Why did these golden girls ends up rooming together? Not because they wanted to giggle girlishly and pretend they were undergraduates. It was made clear intermittently on the show that Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, and Rose lived together because they could not afford to live on their own. They were forced into cohabitation by the reality of an empty wallet. One of the earlier episodes features Rose desperately trying to find a job and finding it difficult to do so because she's old and has no work experience. 

A side note: when Rue McClanahan started on the show, she was 51. When Kim Cattrall starred in the last Sex and the City movie, she was 54. I know that only because I checked imdb.com and not because I saw the film. Even though the idea of three lovely white ladies going to Abu Dhabi and acting like great big sluts is HILARIOUS.

So here's my advice: find a woman who's sex-loving, a woman who's dizzy-headed, a woman who's sharp-tongued, and another woman who's sharp-tongued AND extraordinarily tall and move in with them. With all of you splitting costs, it should be possible to survive not by eating pellets of any kind, but by sharing beans from cans.


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HEREI will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.