With the inability to do simple mathematics becoming almost epidemic in contemporary society, I suppose I could start lying about my age: should someone claim to need to know, I can whip out my driver's license, and there's at least a measurable possibility that said someone's need will go unfulfilled. It's been a while since I was carded for anything; if I remember correctly, it was due to some badly-written anti-graffiti ordinance out in the 'burbs that demanded ID on everyone, even long-past-grey types like me, who had the temerity to purchase spray paint. And in fact, carding has been long since been simplified: each year the state issues to convenience stores a new decal which shows the year no later than which you must have been born to purchase anything more complicated than a Slim Jim; the clerk need only compare a couple of digits before sending you away emptyhanded.

But then there's the little matter of this Web site, which has detailed my recent history in disturbing detail, and anyone who really wants to know will find out quickly enough that in five weeks or so I will turn fifty-four, a number which comes with a small packet of trepidation attached: no longer can I persuasively stake a claim to "early fifties." What's more, barring catastrophe, fifty-four is inexorably followed by fifty-five, a point at which several Senior Discounts start kicking in.

I actually hadn't been thinking about this much, but Saturday I was shuffling through some CDs and put on a set by harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, a favorite around these parts. Regular readers may remember that I reviewed her Invention & Alchemy DVD in 2006, and somewhere therein I mentioned something about her being "implausibly and agelessly beautiful." Which she was, and which she is. Having picked up on her recordings for the better part of two decades, I assumed she was somewhere in her middle forties, a good age to be beautiful. And I would have gone on assuming that had I not dialed over to Wikipedia, which revealed that she would be fifty-four two weeks before I will.

For some reason, this perturbed me. She's not supposed to be this old. And being the self-critical type that I am, I quickly transmogrified this into "I'm not supposed to be this old." Certainly I've never been this old before. And certainly being fiftysomething doesn't preclude attractiveness, even if you don't have easy access to Max Factor and/or Photoshop. But the mere presence of this low-level homily plunged my heart into the nearest equivalent of the Slough of Despair, because I hadn't ever been attractive, in my fifties, my forties, my thirties, or even my twenties.

I suppose this is a Guy Thing: we're allegedly driven by visuals, and the best of us are suspected of being, at best, deeply superficial. Moreover, someone once asked the pitiful-adolescent me if, had I been a girl, I would date someone like me, and I was forced to admit that no, I would not, if only because of the old rule about never dating anyone crazier than yourself. I'm guessing that some modern-day manifestation of this memory may be why I've slowly been withdrawing from some of the social-networking sites I've been frequenting: I just don't feel up to the task these days.

Writer and old friend (and yet another hottie — it is surely one of God's little jokes that I've gotten to meet some seriously-wondrous women over the years) Dawn Eden has an idea of what's going on here:

My mistake was in doing what I was told to do — believing in myself.

"Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay," wrote G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy. "It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness."

This sounds, on the face of it, like Newspeak: Strength is Weakness. Black is White. Up is Down. Abercrombie is Fitch. But maybe my [insert term somewhere between "diffidence" and "sheer fear"] might have saved me from something far worse. At least, I'm going to start telling myself that.

The Vent

  15 October 2007

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 Copyright © 2007 by Charles G. Hill