Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Different Stages

In the time we’ve been together, my wife and I have taken some of our greatest pleasures from live concerts:  all kinds of acts at all manner of venues—from Aerosmith at MSG, to Chris Cornell at the Beacon, to the Black Crowes at Radio City, to Cher at Jones Beach, to Prince at the Staples Center, to Ray LaMontagne at the Greek, to Pink at the Wiltern, to Billy Joel at Dodger Stadium.

We share a love for U2, and have pretty much seen the band on every tour since we started dating.  So when they came around this past summer to play the Rose Bowl for their thirtieth-anniversary Joshua Tree show, we didn’t so much as hesitate the moment tickets went on sale.

The Joshua Tree Tour 2017

The Rose Bowl, if you don’t know, is an enormous pain in the ass to get to.  (We’ve seen U2 there before, on the U2360° show they recorded for home-video release.)  It’s an outdoor football stadium in Pasadena, tucked away in a morass of winding residential roads where the streets have no name, and like damn near everything else in Los Angeles (Downtown, for instance), you can’t really fathom why this particular location was selected over, say, any other.  And once you’re down there, you’re there to stay for the duration, as the ways in and out are limited whether you’ve come by car, bus, or shoe leather.

This past May 20, the day of the concert, we arrived early, having taken an Uber to the stadium.  It was hot as blazes as we waited on three long lines:  first for T-shirts, which were all several sizes smaller than advertised, then for printed tickets at will call (the concert was “credit-card entry,” but the card I’d used to purchase our admittance months earlier had since been replaced due to fraudulent activity), then finally to wend our way into the sprawling venue itself.

By the time we made it inside, we were fatigued from the adventure, sticky with sweat.  Guzzling our Guinness Blondes—what else?—it was pretty clear we both wished we’d stayed home, and the question on our minds at that moment practically voiced itself:  “Have we finally gotten too old for this shit?”



That’s a question, I’m discovering, that seems to apply to more and more things these days.  I was even talking recently to my “hetero lifemate” Chip about a movie series we’d loved as kids:  Lethal Weapon (Buddy Love—“Professional Love”).  Back in those halcyon VHS days, we saw what was inevitably a future version of ourselves in Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs, the reckless young cop with a knack for martial arts and snappy wordplay (not to mention what can only be described as an awesome eighties “mullet cape”).

Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in the original “Lethal Weapon” (1987)

These days, though, when I rewatch those films, it’s Danny Glover’s middle-aged, risk-averse Roger Murtaugh with whom I empathize.  (Is it any wonder, being that Murtaugh’s memorable catchphrase was—say it with me—I’m too old for this shit?)  Riggs, on the other hand, now just seems so… young.  So careless.  I don’t find myself fantasizing about kicking ass alongside him then going for drinks so much as gently sitting him down, like Murtaugh would’ve, to say, “C’mon, pal—get your shit together.”

In an entirely different conversation in this same timeframe, my childhood friend Matt and I were texting about Major League (Golden Fleece—“Sports Fleece”); he was watching it one night on cable, recalling the time we snuck into a theatrical showing of it when we were twelve.  The star of that movie, when we first saw it in 1989, was unequivocally Charlie Sheen’s Wild Thing, with his unbridled energy and hair-trigger temper.

Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen in David S. Ward’s “Major League” (1989)

Nowadays, though?  I identify so strongly—even uncomfortably—with Tom Berenger’s Jake Taylor, the forty-year-old catcher whose career never quite fulfilled its initial promise, who knows only too well the opportunities to grab the Golden Ring are rapidly receding—if not already behind him forever.  For me, Major League has almost become too affecting—too close to the bone—to revisit; it’s not the laugh-out-loud comedy it was all those years ago.  But the thing is, Major League hasn’t actually changed in the intervening years.  Neither has Lethal Weapon, for that matter.

I have.



We do age out of things, don’t we?  There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens—and then that time passes.  There’s a time to be impulsive and kinetic—like Gibson and Sheen’s characters—and a time to be conservative and introspective—like Glover and Berenger.  The latter isn’t a repudiation of the former, merely a subsequent landing on the staircase of maturity.  And like it or not, we have to keep climbing.

It’s part of the reason I get so incensed at grown men who still obsess over superhero fiction:  We were never meant to cling to those fantasies forever.  They were there at a particular stage of our development to inspire our receptive imaginations, and maybe teach us a moral or two, and then they were supposed to go back in the toy box for the next wave of children.  Comic-book superheroes may themselves remain forever young, but they are imprinted with a generational expiration date.

It’s also the reason I’m always so taken aback—though I suppose I shouldn’t be—whenever I learn a contemporary still smokes pot.  Really? I think to myself.  Still?  Disclaimer:  I don’t oppose the recreational usage or full federal legalization of marijuana, I just can’t imagine anyone over, say, thirty years old (on the outside) still cares to partake.  When Bill Maher, a bright man and important political commentator, comedic or otherwise, gleefully offers himself up on a near-weekly basis as the poster boy for cannabis—at 61 years old, no less—all I can think is, “Dude, grow the fuck up.  Pot is for sixteen-year-olds.”

That sounds judgmental.  (Because, admittedly, it is.)  Apologies.  I simply offer up superheroes and pot as suggestions of pastimes that I consider fine—at a certain point in our life… and then we grow out of them.  This is natural.  Accepting that—hell, embracing it—is for me the very definition of aging gracefully, a term I’ve been struggling to define and to put into practice here in my forties.  Just because we’ve always done something—read comic books, smoked pot, played videogames, attended Coachella—doesn’t mean we always have to.  More to the point:  It doesn’t mean we’ll always want to.  It’s okay to listen to that little voice inside when it says Enough’s enough.  That isn’t a renunciation of activities we’ve enjoyed in the past, merely an acknowledgment that their time is over.



Even our beloved fictional characters—who now in our era of ongoing franchises enjoy longer lifespans than ever—have learned on occasion to change with the times.  When production on Escape from New York wrapped, actor Kurt Russell personally saved the Snake Plissken outfit on the assumption that it would one day be needed for a sequel.  And, as he explained at a screening of Escape a few years ago at the Egyptian Theatre, when he and director John Carpenter finally got around to the belated Escape from L.A., Russell not only still had the original costume, but was delighted to discover it fit like a glove.

Kurt Russell in “Escape from New York” (1981)

And yet, despite this, he and Carpenter opted to give Snake an all-new look.  They reasoned, per Russell’s account, that if we meet this guy again fifteen years later, and he’s still wearing the same clothes, then he’s a cartoon—he’s someone who never changes.

The Star Trek movie series—the initial six films that ran from 1979 through 1991—not only confronted the reality that those actors, and by extension their characters, were fifteen years older than they’d been on the television show, they often made it the thematic preoccupation of the story (notably, even poignantly, in The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country).  Kirk and Spock frequently wrestled with getting older, the nature of mortality, and the agonizing question of whether they’d outlived their usefulness.

Captain Kirk faces the indignities of age—in a futuristic century with laser guns but, alas, no LASIK

As egotistic as actor William Shatner is reputed to be, he didn’t pretend that Kirk in his fifties was the same man he’d been in his thirties; he wasn’t afraid, over the nearly three decades he essayed the role, to let the character change, to let him age, and, eventually, to let him die.  That’s more than Generation X has done for Kirk and company, which would prefer to keep them forever young—even if that means recasting them and rewinding the clock every decade or so.  That’s a shame.  What made those characters so real, and so relatable, was that they aged along with us, and imparted the hard-earned wisdom they extracted from their brushes with mortality to the audience.

Hell, even Mel Gibson’s Sergeant Riggs, by the time he was on his fourth adventure, was feeling more like a dull butter knife than a lethal weapon:

Bully for Russell and Shatner and Gibson.  We ought to let our fictional, serialized heroes change, and age, and die.  Keeping them mint-in-box on a shelf, just the way we remember them, isn’t a denial of their mortality; it’s a denial of ours.



On the subject of aging heroes who refuse to submit to the passage of time, the aforementioned U2 show was a blast—a back-to-basics presentation after the last few elaborate, even groundbreaking, stage productions.  It was maybe even a last hurrah—for me and my wife, that is—because come the next morning, we hadn’t changed our minds:  We’re kinda done with that shit.

I mean, we even had tickets to see Depeche Mode at the Hollywood Bowl this month (purchased prior to the U2 show), and we’d been trying all week—all summer, more accurately—to conjure the requisite enthusiasm for the event; when it failed to materialize, I sold the tickets the day before the show.  It felt good to be free of an obligation we weren’t relishing.  We wouldn’t have felt that way ten years ago, or five, or even last year, but it was undeniably how we were feeling this year.  And I’ve already passed on tickets for shows scheduled for next year.  You gotta listen to that little voice inside, you know?

I submit we do a lot of things sheerly out of habit—or out of misguided obligation, or nostalgic yearning, or obstinate refusal to acknowledge our own bygone youth—that we probably stopped enjoying a long time ago.  We’ve all found ourselves tuning into that weekly TV show that hasn’t entertained us for the past three seasons, or reading the latest book in a once-favorite ongoing series that ran out of steam six entries ago.  We’ve all gone to that annual family holiday party—the one we’ve attended since time immemorial—and been struck with the sinking feeling that the old magic just ain’t there no more (and probably hasn’t been for some years, if we’re being honest).

We’ve stayed at jobs that don’t inspire us, or in apartments we’ve outgrown, or in relationships that have long since run their course, because the alternative—initiating change—is a bigger commitment than we care to take on; it’s easier to just keep on doing what we’ve always done rather than upend our lives.  How much time do we spend doing things not because we enjoy them, and not even because they’re necessary (like laundry and exercise), but simply because we’ve been doing them since we can recall?

Circumstances change.  We change.  Sometimes that’s welcome and sometimes it isn’t, but it is inevitable—and, when it happens, undeniable.  Embrace it.  And when you can’t do that, then just accept it.  The late screenwriter and storytelling guru Blake Snyder once wisely observed that stasis equals death.  As we move from one phase of our lives to the next, sometimes we mourn the finality change brings about and sometimes we celebrate it, but all of it serves as a reminder that it isn’t just time that keeps marching onward—we do, too.  That sure as hell beats the alternative.


  1. Your timeliness is killing me, Sean! Your insight about the classics of our youth not being the elements that have changed, (no, it’s us who have. . .) has granted me the permission I need to give myself to skate on a few upcoming events. We do age out of things; I agree with you on that. The older I get, and I AM getting older, I come to believe that I am precisely where I’m meant to be. I don’t always see that until enough time has passed that I’ve gained the perspective time gifts us with, but yeah. I don’t want to be where I was or wear what I was wearing in my so-called glory days. It’s incredible to reminisce, but today is a pretty good time to be. Thanks, as always, for a fab post!

    • Hey, thanks, Wendy! All a writer ever wants to know when he posts something he’s written is that it’s resonated with someone. Your comment was the first thing I woke up to today. So, thank you for that. I’m delighted this post might serve as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card for you!

      I think you’re exactly right: Whatever the age or stage in which we find ourselves at a given moment, that’s where we’re meant to be. We should take comfort — strength, even — in that. We all miss certain advantages of youth, but would we really want to go back to those days? I don’t think I would; I think I’m quite content with where I am now.

      You know, I gave Bill Maher a little bit of a hard time above, so now let me say something nice about him. He made an observation somewhat recently on Real Time (within the last year) that really resonated with me: that as we age, we lose beauty, yes, but in return we gain wisdom. That’s a pretty good trade-off, methinks. The older I get, the closer I seem to come to the best version of myself. That being the case, why wouldn’t I care to keeping moving forward? Age seems a small price to pay for self-betterment.

      Thanks, Wendy. Happy Halloween to you and yours!

  2. What a great post, Sean, and of course, getting close to the big 6-0, I can relate. I think the important thing, for me, is to notice that for every thing I grow out of, there’s something new I’m growing into. That’s the upside of this aging process – new interests, new leisure, new hobbies, new vocations, new perspectives, friendships, and places to explore (as well many old things enhanced by a wealth of experience). All we have to do is open our eyes and look around. My grandmother used to say, “Why squeeze your feet into old shoes when they no longer fit?” 🙂

    • Without fail, someone always manages to raise a point in the comments section of my posts that makes me go, “Damn, I wish I’d included that in the essay”! Congratulations, Diana — you’re this month’s winner!

      You’re exactly right: For everything we grow out of, we grow into something else. In some respects, it is a matter of bandwidth — that is, we only have so much time in our lives to devote to things. And less of it, alas, the older we get. Perhaps as time depreciates, our sense of prioritization intensifies: We spare less time for the bullshit, and direct those finite resources instead toward things that are truly productive and/or fulfilling. So, I guess you could say we have less time, but we spend it more wisely. Your grandmother’s pithy aphorism really perfectly summarizes what I needed 2,000 words to say!

      I’ve loved all the different stages of my life, and I feel blessed to have had as much time as I’ve already had — to have had all the varied experiences and interests I’ve thus far enjoyed. And it makes me realize there’s so much more I haven’t experienced, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Yours is the absolutely right way to look at the circumstances I explore above: We’re not growing out of something so much as we are growing into something else. It’s an evolution — an act of forward motion. I don’t pretend to know the secret of life, but isn’t forward motion the very reason we’re here?

      Thanks, Diana. Happy Halloween to you, my friend!

      • Yay! I won. You summed it up nicely too: “We spare less time for the bullshit, and direct those finite resources instead toward things that are truly productive and/or fulfilling.” I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

  3. I’ve actually never seen the Lethal Weapons movies! I know, terrible. It’s on my list for the near-future. I’ll be sure to give you my thoughts.

    I notice my age more than anything in my taste for movies. In college, I acquired quite the DVD collection of “art” films and “classics,” ie. the films that Academy and everyone else tells you are timeless. However, as I’ve watched those films again over the years, more and more have failed to connect and are excised from the collection. Taste changes with age, for better or worse.

    My favorite Christmas movie used to be “A Christmas Story.” Now don’t get me wrong, I still watch it every Christmas Eve (it will always have a place in the collection), but it’s not the film I most connect with anymore. Now, it’s “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and I don’t even have kids!

    Hell, I knew when I started to truly care about the state of my lawn that something was changing…

    • The 1980s were the era of the buddy-cop action franchise. The trouble most of them ran into eventually was that they were predicated on a high-concept premise that started to suffer diminishing credibility with each successive movie: How many times can John McClane realistically be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time? How many times can Detroit detective Axel Foley get called to solve a crime in Beverly Hills — one with personal stakes, no less? They were, ultimately, concept-driven movies, and those concepts eventually got a little long in the tooth.

      Lethal Weapon is built differently, which is why I think it sustained creative credibility with each sequel in a way Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop (among others) didn’t; it works a series, and not just a one-off movie, the way the others simply don’t. (Hence the reason LW has been adapted into a successful television drama.) LW is Buddy Love: It’s about the relationship between those two very different men; the crime subplot in each installment is strictly incidental. And each movie did a wonderful job of advancing that love story, and deepening the relationship between Riggs and Murtaugh. The end of the fourth movie is actually quite emotional, because it brings things full circle, in a way. (Though Deadline reported last week that Lethal Weapon 5 may in fact be in development.)

      I’ll say this: The first two movies in the series are just about flawless. The third and fourth movies have some plot issues. (LW4 suffers from an almost incomprehensible plot. LW3, oddly, has the opposite problem: It’s a supremely well-structured screenplay; however, there is a fatal flaw in the logic of that story, and once you spot it, the entire plot unravels like a ball of yarn.) But I think you’ll agree that the story issues in 3 and 4 are mostly irrelevant, because those movies, unlike Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop, were never about the plots — they were about the central relationship. To that end, all four movies deliver, and the chemistry of that cast is not to be believed: Their energy is so infectious, and the sense of fun they were having so palpable, you’ll forgive the latter two sequels for their storytelling sins. Curious to hear what you think of them.

      I also do periodic “refreshers” of my home-video collection to reflect my changing tastes. Case in point: I recently sold all my Buffy and Angel DVD sets. I loved those series twenty years ago (as I know you did, too, Jeff), but I realized that I never revisit them, and at this point, I don’t want to — for two reasons. First, I think it would be too emotionally disquieting for me to delve back into that particular era of my life — the waning days of college — and Buffy is a kind of photo album of that time for me. Second, I sometimes suspect that Buffy may not be as good as I remember it, so why tarnish the magic? I take more enjoyment from replaying the show in my mind’s eye, where it remains in a state of perfection forever, than I do on my DVD player, which can only expose all the imperfections I never noticed at the time.

      And I agree: The kinds of stories that resonate with us are markers, in a way, of our own changing tastes and sensibilities. I submit that’s why Stephen King’s It has remained meaningful to grown adults who first experienced it thirty years ago: We empathized with the preteen characters when we read it initially in the 1980s, and today we can see ourselves in their middle-aged counterparts. That’s the genius of what King accomplished with that novel: He created a generational narrative that you could relate to in different ways at different stages of your own life.

      Thanks for weighing in, bud. Now that it’s officially November, we’ll both be pulling Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation off the high shelf pretty soon…

  4. Wow. My head’s full of thoughts here, Sean, and they don’t all mesh. So I’ll make no promises as to the cohesion of what follows.

    This sentence is struck me, both in its intended and extended meanings: “Keeping them mint-in-box on a shelf, just the way we remember them, isn’t a denial of their mortality; it’s a denial of ours.”

    I’m also in a period of letting go of certain things. I admit that I’m a memory pack rat, and that sometimes evidences itself in keeping physical mementos. I’ve still got a cardboard box containing every letter, card and locker note I got from a certain girl in high school, for instance. I’m not in any way pining after her. I don’t miss her. I don’t even read the notes. But I know they’re there. Similarly, I have no wish to return to grade school, but I’ve got boxes containing essays and homework assignments and drawings from as far back as first grade.

    Why? Well, I have this weird “thing” with time. It’s not something that developed as I’ve gotten older; it was equally strong when I was a kid. On the last day of every summer vacation to Cape Cod, I’d lock myself into whatever room had been “mine” for that time and cry as I relived memories, making sure they were indelibly painted in my mind. Then I’d go into the dark part of a closet and chip away a piece of wood from the inside of the door frame or put a few carpet fibers, put them into a baggie along with the address and the dates I’d been there, and seal it away.

    It’s more than nostalgia. I guess I’ve always been keenly aware that time can never be revisited. You might be able to revisit a place, even with the same people, but “that time” will always be that time — unable to be reproduced, relived. Tantalus’ bane. The keepsakes are almost mystical. They were written or touched or created by a then-me who, if not for those artifacts, will be erased with no proof he ever existed.

    If you came to my house you’d see none of it. And my home isn’t large. Everything I have out is now stuff, and sparse at that. So I’m definitely not a “thing hoarder.” From the youngest of ages, however, part of me has known that the only proof I’d have that I was ever in any moment would be to keep a part of it, however, small. Again, I may not even look through them (and don’t really). But I know they are there. And that feels like the line of my life is connected, contiguous, instead of dotted.

    Still, in each of the past couple of moves, I’ve thrown things away. Hard things. That little voice inside just said, “It’s time.” Among those have been literally close to a thousand cassette tapes I kept in double-sided carrying cases under my bed. It felt like opening a vein to let them go. Another voice kept saying, “You’ll never find this in digital, so once you get rid of them, you’ll never hear that song again.” But the countering voice of reason said, “So? You haven’t listened to “that song” in over 25 years!” Again, it’s not so much my wanting to look or listen … it’s knowing that the choice to do so will be gone forever once I throw it out.

    And this post reminds me again … that that’s OK.

    One thing I’d add is that, as we get older, for all the ways we may have changed, we have to remember that we were young once. I mentor teens and young adults. And I see older adults who seem to continually be saying to teens in word, action and attitude: “Hurry up and mature! Be the adult version of you.” But none of us were the now-us then. I wish more people would allow the exuberance of youth to be … well, exuberant. Appreciate their movie choices, and music and clothes and trends, without casting too much judgement or hurrying them along through that stage. We all had our heydays, none better or worst than someone else’s.

    • Erik,

      This is an amazing, beautiful, thoughtful response you’ve left — an essay unto itself — and I apologize for taking so long to respond to it. (I seriously think it could be the first draft of a post on The Best Advice So Far, and you’ve already got the title for it: “Tantalus’ bane.”)

      I know exactly what you mean — and I’ve never heard it expressed so eloquently — when you say the mementoes you’ve collected “were written or touched or created by a then-me who, if not for those artifacts, will be erased with no proof he ever existed.” And I know precisely what you mean because… I am exactly the same way: I’ve held onto many a “worthless” scrap myself — archaeological evidence, as it were, of a cherished time in my life that no longer exists outside the nebula of my memory.

      There’s a particularly fond period of my youth — age nine through thirteen — from which I have almost no keepsakes, not even many photos. (I do still have the comics I collected with my best friend Matt at that time, and the skateboard I used to ride down to his house at the bottom of the hill; somehow those survived.) And I sometimes think, “Oh, I wish I still had my G.I. Joes.” Or: “If only I still had my He-Man figures…” I guess I assume those toys would somehow transport me back in time, in a very tactile way, because they would at least be evidence those days existed at one point in the rapids of the spacetime continuum.

      Hell, on the infrequent occasions I’ve returned to the Toys “R” Us in Yonkers where we used to get all our birthday and Christmas presents, I still fully expected — if only for a moment — the shelves to be lined with all the G.I. Joes and Star Wars and He-Man figures from the 1980s! And when I go back to the local candy shop in my Bronx hometown, as I step through the door, I scan the racks for the very comics I bought there thirty years ago. I so desperately want that moment in time to still exist somewhere, like a Star Trek-ian temporal anomaly just waiting to be stumbled upon.

      But I don’t have those mementoes any longer, and they’re not still there at the store, either. And I guess the thing I’ve come to realize is that a totemic reminder of a person or place or time is just that — a representation. It isn’t the entity unto itself, and it only carries the emotional weight we ascribe to it. So, to that end, I myself have been in a years-long process — over nearly the past decade — of weeding out the artifacts of the bygone eras of my life, which include high school, college, post-college, what have you. These include term papers, cassette tapes, greeting cards, movie stubs, you name it. I have — had — boxes of that shit squirreled away in closets, never to be taken out and looked at, simply a source of comfort because I knew they were in there. Like you said: They provide a sort of comforting continuity in a life strung together by such distinct and fleeting eras.

      But, for reasons usually more practical than sentimental, I have had occasion over the past few years to take that stuff out of the closet, and holding in my hand again things I thought I’d never get rid of — under any circumstances — has served as an emotional exorcism of sorts. When I look at the relic, and run my fingers over it, I realize it doesn’t have the power to bridge that gulf between now and then. It has no power at all, in fact. Keepsakes, like nostalgia — hell, like everything — should be indulged in moderation. And the thing I’ve discovered in my incremental purge is that oftentimes making the permanent, irreversible choice to rid ourselves of those one-of-a-kind tokens, as hard and sometimes painful as that can admittedly be, is an act of emotional emancipation. Far from longing from those objects — none of which I’ve ever missed post-disposal — I’m liberated from ever thinking about them again. Once evicted, so is the sway they held over me.

      As it happens, Sylvester Stallone said something relevant to this conversation in a recent episode of This Is Us:

      “It’s a funny thing when you think about it — time. Your sister sings a couple of bars of Rocky and for a split second I could smell the ring again, and then she tells me that when you were little kids you watched a lot of my movies and I’m thinking for a moment about my kids, when they were little, messy hair and matching pajamas and all that stuff, and I swear to you, I can see it all so very clearly. I could just reach out and touch it. In my experience, Kevin, there’s no such thing as ‘a long time ago.’ There’s only memories that mean something and memories that don’t.”

      We take comfort in having stuff because it’s real — it exists in the physical world in a way our memories simply don’t. But the thing is, the stuff doesn’t validate our memories; if anything, it’s our memories that validate the objects themselves. When my mother-in-law passed almost a decade ago, my wife didn’t want boxes of her things to remember her by; she kept one truly meaningful item, which she cherishes to this day, and that was enough for her. And she doesn’t need it to remind her of her mother, or to serve as a magical talisman that might somehow turn back time; it’s just something she can hold in her hand, and know that her mother held it at one time, too.

      So, I guess my advice would be to save select items that have actual meaning — true emotional value — rather than stockpiling ephemera. And, to be sure, I’ve been very guilty of the latter in my lifetime. But I’ve come to recognize that there are far better repositories of my experiences — like, for instance, my work. My writings — which includes my fiction, my essays, and even my private letters to loved ones — have replaced physical vestiges as the container of my sensibilities, my worldview, my morals, my values, my personality, my knowledge, my feelings, my experiences, and my soul. They are now the instrument through which I connect the dots in the scattershot narrative that is my life, and from which I make meaning out of it all. So thank you, Erik, for participating in that. Talking about — and writing about — these matters with thoughtful folks like yourself is the process by which I yield new insight, and new insight is what keeps life interesting.

      To speak to your closing point: I absolutely concur. I even sort of addressed that topic in the comments section of my “Goodbye, Mr. Bott” post back in August: that if you control or restrict the space kids need to be, well, kids — to develop in due time their taste in movies and music and fashion, among other rites of adolescence — then you deprive them of adolescence itself. The curtain falls on the different stages of our lives before we know it; the trick is to enjoy each one as it’s happening — ’cause it’ll never come again — and to recognize that everyone else is entitled to the same consideration. We can certainly benefit from the wisdom of one another’s experiences — that’s what good mentors are for, after all — but that shouldn’t absolve or outright rob us of experiencing those rites ourselves. Innocence is the currency we trade for experience, and adults should in no way attempt to shortchange that exchange by devaluing a young person’s sense of innocence, which is one of the few universal birthrights, and should be cherished as such — especially by those old enough to appreciate it for the limited-time gift that it is.

      Thanks for a great conversation, pal.


      • Our experiences with throwing things away would seem to be similar. For instance, throwing away those 1000+ cassettes was a hard decision. I got nostalgic. I listened to them again, for the first time in decades … and then threw them in the box to get rid of. And once I closed the door on them, I, like you, never thought about them again.

        The same has been true of clothing, even those articles that had true sentimental value because of who gave them to me or the surrounding events and not only because they were part of some bygone heyday. Once I’ve donated them or thrown them away, they held no allure or sway.

        I recently had my wallet stolen. Inside were items I’d kept in that wallet for 25+ years: my best friend’s address, scribbled onto a torn piece of paper, given to me the day we met in 1994; photographs of people who’ve since passed away, with no digital copies in existence. The usual contents (e.g., license, bank card, health insurance cards, loyalty cards, etc.) were a pain in the neck to have lost; but it was those irreplaceable items them really hurt. Once I knew they’d never be coming back, I did have to mourn the loss of them, accept it. But once I did, by the next day in fact, I was totally fine. “People lose everything in floods, fires, hurricanes and the like; this is a small thing by comparison,” I told myself. And then I moved on.

        I’m a sentimental guy. I love having a lifetime hodgepodge of ornaments on my tree each year, including hand-made gifts from friends, commemorative items, scratched bulbs from childhood — even what remain of the candy canes I put on my first college tree, the twirled stripes having separated to pink goo long ago. I think of every person and memory attached as I place them on — and later take them off — the tree. I text or call or email or FaceTime the people involved as “their item” goes on. It’s fun. It’s nostalgic. And it keeps me connected, in the now, to friends and family. So things like that with what I’d call “connective purpose” would be much harder to say goodbye to.

        And yet I’ve had to. Kids over the years have mistakenly eaten a gooey candy cane from my true (scrunching their face and exclaiming, “These taste weird…”). Some ornaments have cracked in moves, etc. I “take a moment” when that happens to have a mini funeral. But I truly do subscribe to the belief that “the glass is already broken,” as opposed to half full or half empty. I live knowing that every thing, every relationship, every shared “time” … has an end. An end that exists some time in the future. It’s there, I just can’t see it yet. So when the day comes for each — whether by my choice or not — what I can choose in each instance is to say, “Ahh, so today was that day.”

        I’ve always referred to myself as a balance of extremes. So for all the little “keepers” still tucked away, I’m also not someone who holds too tightly to “stuff.” As you say, the people, the memories — and of course, the now — are of real value.

        • Once again, my friend: beautifully expressed. I second every word of it. I think your reflections on this would make for a wonderful post on Best Advice So Far next month, in time for the holidays, when we’re all feeling a bit sentimental about days gone by!

          I’m an extremely sentimental person myself, so I relate to everything you say. About a dozen years ago, I went home for Christmas and discovered that the cardboard box in which we’d kept our ornaments since the seventies had been replaced by my mother with one of those plastic storage organizers. Just the fucking box, mind you, not the ornaments themselves — those were all still accounted for. And I’m telling you this with no small degree of embarrassment: I mourned the loss of that box.

          It was worthless! Seriously: It was a flimsy cardboard box that I’m sure my father fished out of the incinerator room on a lark. But that was exactly why I mourned it: Because it had been touched by his hand (he’d even inscribed it in red Sharpie with “Christmas Decorations”), and represented Christmases we’d spent together, in an apartment we no longer lived in, and I sort of loved the fact that though he was gone — and though we were long gone from that beloved apartment — somehow that goddamn box had survived. It had that “connective purpose” you speak of. (Probably the reason my mother tossed it! Haha!)

          But what of it? That box didn’t have the power to bring him — or those bygone days — back from the dead. And as you said: People lose everything in floods and fires all the time — such tragedies were featured on the nightly news practically every evening this past summer — yet their spirits and their memories persist regardless. These days, when we’re all together at Christmas, someone invariably brings up a John Carlin story that sends the entire room into gales of laughter, and that, I’ve discovered, is a much better way to remember my father at Christmastime. Fuck that box.

          It’s crazy — I’ve never told that story to anyone before. I guess it’s one of those things that lies “too close to wherever your secret heart is buried,” as Stephen King wrote in The Body — a secret that “stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” So, thanks for being that understanding ear.

  5. Eventually, you don’t care anymore. I’ve reached that point.

    • That was the great gift of turning forty: For the first time in my life, I felt free to be me, unapologetically. That’s certainly made me a happier person, and I think a better writer, too: I no longer worry about who’s going to agree with my opinions or like my work; I simply express myself as honestly and artfully as I can. It’s a cliché to say it, but fulfillment comes from within.

      Thanks for popping by to read and comment, Jacqui!

  6. In all honesty, I see that looming requirement to move past my youthful fancies to the inevitable maturity I should embrace. There’s a part of me that does not wish to accept it (still going clean-shaved, boyish haircuts etc) because accepting it means everything that I know must change. All that I currently enjoy has to be aside. Superheroes and comic books and video games. So may argue that growing old is inevitable but growing up is a choice. I’ve lived with that motto for so long (even as young as I am still in my late twenties) it has become a mantra to keep myself from seeing that eventually it must all move forward.
    Yet I keep fighting it because in all honesty, no one really wants to grow old or grow up.

    • Nthato, there’s a big difference between being childlike and being childish. I’m highly in favor of remaining the former at any age. You can be mature and still enjoy the things you enjoyed as a kid; you just enjoy them in different ways.

      Sean won’t mind my sharing a short series of posts from a while back, devoted to this very topic. (If you decide to read, you can just start with the first one below and then hop the links to parts 2, 3 and 4 from there:

      big kids: part 1

    • Thank you, Nthato, for reading the piece and sharing your own feelings on the matter; I appreciate your contribution to the conversation tremendously. I wish I had a response as pithy and wise as Erik’s, but that really says it all, doesn’t it? Thanks, Erik!

      Erik is absolutely right: There’s being childish, and then there’s being childlike. (And you should 100% read Erik’s delightful posts on the subject. Consider reading his book, too, which I recently reviewed on Goodreads.) The thing is, we all have to decide on our own benchmarks for personal maturation. Just because I deem a preoccupation with superheroes and videogames past the age of, say, sixteen “childish” doesn’t make that a universal truth. It’s true for me, but it may not be true for you. I don’t sit in judgment of anyone, despite how I may come off in my writing, which tends to take a very forcible position on its subjects.

      To be sure: “Different Stages” was in no way intended to be a checklist of Things You’re Too Old For. Rather, the essay (hopefully) serves as a call to try to consciously recognize when we’ve outgrown something — whatever it may be — and to free ourselves from the ongoing obligation of it when that happens. For me — in this particular instance — it was attending stadium concerts. That’s an experience I’ve cherished my entire life, and I was genuinely surprised to discover this past year I was “over” it (as was, coincidentally, my wife). It’s not so much that we were forcing ourselves to “grow up,” so to speak; we were simply acknowledging the arc of our own personal maturity, which often acts independently of our habits and/or wishes! Maturity isn’t a “requirement” that looms over us as a series of prescribed deadlines; it’s a process — a deeply personal evolution — that unfolds at its own pace for each of us. We can’t spend our lives dreading the inevitability of change, but we are advised to concede its occurrence, and embrace it when it’s welcome or simply accept it when it isn’t.

      Growing up is a process, but, yes, it is a choice, too — I’ve long railed against a generation of self-infantilized middle-aged men who deny the passing of both their own youth and the analog world in which they came of age — but that isn’t a matter of accepting societal precepts for what constitutes “adulthood.” For instance, I’m 41, and yet still wear my hair long and only shave once a week, same as I did in my teens and twenties. But that’s not the standard by which I happen to measure maturity. I’m not “fighting change” by maintaining a scruffy visage — that’s simply how I’m comfortable! Knowing when it’s time to change (c’mon, any Brady Bunch fans out there?) is a matter of gauging your feelings on a case-by-case basis. There’s no social handbook for it; rather, it’s an issue of self-awareness and self-honesty, and that makes it tricky business, because we can’t set an iCal reminder for it. But being childlike should make you feel good; being childish, on the other hand, tends to trigger a little nagging feeling inside, no matter how hard we try to suppress it. And when you feel that, listen to it — it’s probably your subconscious trying to tell you something.

      Thanks so much, Nthato, for joining in. I hope I haven’t made you feel like you need to sell off all your comic books and videogames! Don’t listen to me; listen to yourself. Nobody knows you better than you.


  7. I agree with you about so much written in this post. I, too, am a big fan of concerts. I still enjoying going, but the conditions in which I go have changed from the concerts of my earlier years. I don’t love a concert on a weeknight any longer, but for the right group I’ll go. Unfortunately, the right groups come along less and less. Or maybe that’s a good thing. There was a time I was glad to sit near the ceiling of the arena just to be a part of the experience, but now I prefer to see the sweat dripping into the wrinkled faces of the band members.

    I no longer wish to go out at ten p.m. unless it’s to the emergency room. My evenings out have to begin no later than seven or you’ve pretty much lost me. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the same interest in what begins at ten that I once had. I’d prefer to go to dinner with friends where I can hear the people on the other side of the table. My social life is far more limited than it once was. I want to be able to catch up and connect with the people I spend my time with. And as I age, that list grows smaller each year. I’m good with that.

    But let me add, in addition to shifting the connection with characters in movies, songs have changed for me as well. One example would be John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane. When that song hit the airwaves I was a teenager. I related to Diane wanting to sit on the lap of her boyfriend, but instead of the backseat of a car, it was a pickup truck. But I’ve outgrown Diane over the years. Now I relate to the part of the song where Mellencamp says “Hold onto 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men.” Those words today hold far more meaning for me than the first time around with that song. I understand what Mellencamp was saying in a way I could not back then.

    I struggle with the aging process on so many levels, but when I listen to my teens talk about school or their worries about things that to them seem monumental, but truly aren’t (not that I would ever say that to them) I’m glad I have the wisdom of experience to lean into like a comfy chair. We’d all go back in time but only if we could take our knowledge with us.

    And being older affords me those better concert seats, so I’ll take old age over tight skin and more energy any day.

    • I concur with all of that, Stacey! There’s just certain shit you’re simply not willing to subject yourself to any longer as you get older. No way I’m going out after ten on a weekend — or after seven on a weeknight! — to fight over the ambient noise at a crowded bar in some vain attempt to conduct a conversation. No, no, NO! I’d so much rather sit in a quiet lounge or living room and share a drink and a meaningful dialogue with a minimal number of participants. (Because, like you, my social circle seems to be shrinking appreciably with each passing year, and I’ve discovered I am more thank okay with that.)

      And as for concerts: Yes, if I were to get suite seats for Staples Center (which we sometimes do through my wife’s work), that’s one thing. Or if it was an intimate little club venue, sure. (I’ve got tickets for a show at the House of Blues in January.) But the days of bulling through crowds at those arena concerts are over. It was fun while it lasted, but I just don’t have the drive for it any longer. Rather than letting this make me feel old, however, I simply celebrate it as a signifier of my own ever-sharpening sense of self-awareness.

      Ditto your observation about music in general, Mellencamp in particular. In a way, “Jack and Diane” is a kind of pop-music narrative — no different than Lethal Weapon or Major League, in its way — and it stands to reason that you respond differently to its themes at different stages of your life. Where I grew up in the Bronx, Carly Simon is something of a local hero, because she grew up there, too, so we all knew about her and listened to her music all the time; I was familiar with it even if it didn’t necessarily resonate with me. But, I don’t know, maybe a decade ago, I heard “Anticipation” on the radio on a lark, and man that song spoke to me in a way it never had previously! And the closing lyric has kind of become a personal mantra I use to keep me grounded in the present, not longing for the comfort of the past or the gold-plated fantasies of the future: “These are the good old days,” she sings. And when you realize that this, right now, is the best time of your life, you stop pining over the youth you’ve lost or the dreams you’ve yet to fulfill, and you wonder why you’d want to exist in any other moment but this one. That’s a pretty nice feeling, and a heartening affirmation of who you are, not who you were or might be. The concepts of younger and older are really just abstractions we measure against the here and now. We needn’t bother; the here and now is the real thing — the only thing that matters.

      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Stacey. On the subject of the here and now, I hope you have yourself a nice weekend!

  8. I’ve recently outgrown rock concerts myself, and your comments on watching movies and realizing that the movie’s changed because you’ve grown struck an answering chord as well. I’ve been reading (and rereading) Tolkien for forty years now. I have to give it a couple years between reads, but what I’ve noticed is that LOTR grew with me. New vistas in his work opened up only when I was able to appreciate them.

    It’s one of the reasons I still enjoy reading it. 🙂

    • A few month ago, Cathleen, I was invited to be a guest on a podcast to discuss the 1984 comedy classic This Is Spinal Tap. One of the (many) points I raised in the conversation is that Spinal Tap remains one of the few recreational interests that’s stayed with me throughout my life; I’m as much a fan of the band (and the movie in which it originated) now as I was at thirteen. And I love Tap for that, because most interests are ephemeral: As I said to Jeff Ritchie in a comment above this one, I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer at one time — like, obsessively — but recently sold my DVD sets when I realized I hadn’t revisited the show in years, and simply had no desire to. It was of a time, and that time has passed, to echo the theme of this post.

      Wendy Weir and I were recently discussing our shared love of Rush, which is another act that continues to speak to me in new ways the older I get. I find greater depth and meaning in their work as my own experiences and knowledge base have broadened with age. (And, thankfully, Rush is still producing new material over forty years after their first album, so we are evolving together!) That you have that with The Lord of the Rings is a rare gift to which I can happily relate. A work of art that means something at one point in our lives, then means something else — or something deeper — at a later stage becomes a marker of personal growth, of sorts. Very few literary/cinematic/musical experiences, enjoyable as they may be at a given time, blossom into lifelong relationships that grow more complex and meaningful with age. Like true friends, those are to be nurtured and cherished. They’re a rare find!

      Thanks for sharing your insights on this subject, Cathleen! It’s been encouraging to see all the different ways readers have related to this month’s particular thesis, and I’m grateful to each of you for taking the time to express that.

      • Rush is one of those bands who definitely grow with you. Other bands I still listen to: Styx, Led Zeppelin, Tesla, and Green Day, as well as Golden Bough (Celtic), and the classics–you know: Beethoven, Bach, Mussorgsky, and Brahms.

        Movies that I watch repeatedly over time: Ladyhawk, Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney), Mulan, Jerry Maguire, Sense and Sensibility, A Few Good Men, Groundhog Day, Last of the Mohicans, and of course, LOTR. And okay, Shrek–but just the first one.

        I may be outgrowing the Harry Potters, which I find interesting. Probably means the series is a little long on world building and short on theme–at least for my taste.

        I actually think about this sort of thing quite a bit, since I want my books to be ones that can become lifetime favorites. But then, don’t we all? 🙂

        • The wonderful music they’ve produced over the past forty-odd years notwithstanding, I take great comfort — as an artist — in studying the arc of Rush’s career: They’ve experimented (to varying degrees of success and/or popularity); they’ve improved musically; they’ve both developed a signature sound (something that didn’t happen out of the gate for them) and compiled a body of work with more stylistic variations than most contemporary rock-music acts (with the possible exception of the Who). And I’m encouraged by that, because it illustrates that the evolution of an artist, as well as his repertoire, is something that happens over the course of his career, rather than being the catalyst that initiates that career. Rush gives us all license to experiment, to develop a voice over time, and to keep challenging ourselves creatively for the lifespan of our careers.

          As for your cinematic perennials, those are some good choices! (The Last of the Mohicans heavily influenced that revisionist fairy tale I’m working on — the one we were discussing in the comments of your latest blog post.) Some of the movies I revisit annually are The ‘Burbs, the Back to the Future trilogy, Indiana Jones, Jaws, The Lost Boys, Sleepy Hollow, Stand by Me. This coming weekend, I’ll naturally be pulling Planes, Trains and Automobiles out of mothballs!

          I’ve read all the Harry Potters, and I saw all eight movies in theaters, but I don’t have the same nostalgic affection for them as folks ten and fifteen years younger than I am; I was old enough to appreciate how good they were, but too old to be influenced by them. I agree with your assessment, though: the Potter franchise — certainly now with the Fantastic Beasts prequel series — seems to be putting a premium on world-building (I wrote an entire article earlier this year about how that has replaced value extraction as the entire purpose of narrative these days) over thematics; like Star Wars, they are great examples of modern-day mythopoeia, but they don’t really have a lot of sociocultural underpinnings they way, say, The Matrix did. Both Harry Potter and Star Wars are just classic hero’s journeys that don’t have much to say about modern existence.

          And because that’s a trend I’m observing more and more — stories that aren’t about anything — I’ve gone out of my way to infuse my own forthcoming novel, Escape from Rikers Island, with a social conscience. It’s a story that comments on the sociopolitics of its day. Yes, it’s an adventure and a horror yarn, influenced by the likes of Lucas and King and Carpenter, of course, but it also (I hope) reflects the things happening in the news, and on the streets. Because I want my art to be about something. As writers, we all hope to achieve timelessness in our fiction, but A) that’s not something we can control, and B) it’s more important we fulfill our cultural responsibility to speak to our times. Sometimes that dates a work of art (Player Piano) and sometimes it makes it timeless (A Christmas Carol), but the best fiction tries to speak to its era as honestly and insightfully as possible, and if that happens to resonate for generations to come, well, that’s a bonus, isn’t it?

          Thanks, Cathleen, for contributing! Very much looking forward to reading Stolen Legacy!

  9. I’m now closer to 50 than I am to 40 and that sometimes catches me and slaps me around a bit. It’s no wonder my joints are sore and my knees sound like Rice Krispies when I get up in the morning, especially after a particularly kick-intensive Kenpo class. While I’ve tossed aside some things that I used to love, other things have stuck with me. Concerts seem like more of a hassle than they used to, but the music is still there. Maybe it’s just a desperate grab to hold onto my misbegotten youth or maybe it’s just that Iron Maiden really did put out some good music back in the day, but I still love a lot of the same music I used to, even if the idea of hanging out with 8,000 of my best buds to listen to Vince Neil forget the lyrics to songs he’s been singing for decades has lost some of its luster. Either way, I’ve finally hit a point of not caring too much what anyone else thinks about what I like. That’s definitely a plus-side to getting older. The pity is just that it took this long to get there.

    • Eric! Thanks for weighing in, pal! And that bit about Vince Neil is priceless!

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with still liking things — be them movies, bands, activities, whatever — that you enjoyed way back when. As I was saying to Cathleen in the comment above, I still love Rush and Spinal Tap all these years later. And when the state of the world gets me down, nothing picks me up like an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard! (I own them all on DVD! I know they’re stupid and childish, and that’s exactly what I love about them: that they’re simplistic and undemanding.) Nothing wrong with any of it.

      For me, the trick has become recognizing when I’ve stopped enjoying things — because sometimes we persist with something strictly out of unevaluated habit — and also to moderate my nostalgic indulgences: For instance, if I’ve been listening to too much Classic Rewind, occasionally I’ll flip over to Hits 1 just to remind myself that I live in 2017, not 1987.

      But to echo your closing comment, the great gift of turning forty was that — overnight! — I no longer gave a fuck about what other people (save my wife) think about me or my opinions. I was free to be me, unapologetically, for the first time in my life. That gave me the courage — along with a little helpful advice from master of horror John Carpenter — to (at long last) fire my representation and pursue the kinds of creative projects I wanted to do. Consequently, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my adult life — both personally and professionally. Life’s pretty good when you know who you are, no? Better we get to that point late than never at all.

      Thanks, bud. Take it easy in Kempo class!

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