Consider This: Joys of the grown-up life

Self-indulgence isn’t a crime, except when it is all-consuming and leaves nothing in your mind and heart that can connect with others.

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September 19, 2013 07:01
Woman smokes a cigarette

Smoking cigarette 370. (photo credit: Daniel Munoz/Reuters)

 
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The other night, quite belatedly I admit, I watched the 2001 movie Prozac Nation, based on the 1994 bestseller by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that a pointless tale about a mean-spirited, completely self-absorbed brat with an excuse note from her parents (yes, yes, they are both certifiable and poor little Lizzy had to excel to please her crazy mother, resulting in a scholarship to Harvard...real child abuse. Discuss it with the Tiger Mother.) Elizabeth feels she has a right to be co-dependently crazy.

Afterward, I wondered what had become of her since her ride into bestsellerdom.

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To my surprise, I found that pill-popping, suicidally-challenged Elizabeth is not only still writing, but mentoring, using her own life as an example.

In I Refuse to be a Grown-Up: Secrets to Looking young at 45, published on April 11 in The Atlantic monthly, Wurtzel tells us she was at a party in Williamsburg with much younger people and a man was astonished when she told him her age. Yes, she has found the fountain of youth and is kind enough to share her secret with us: Never marry.

Never have children you will have to nurture, or (God forbid!) breast - feed.

Be promiscuous.

Do drugs. Scream and yell about what bothers you, apologize when you’re wrong. Be “vicious when necessary, sometimes just for fun.”



If one follows her advice, one can hope – using her own life as an example – to live alone with a dog and cat and “die screaming.”

While I am relieved Elizabeth is still alive and kicking, and obviously still writing, the article gave me pause.

While years ago such advice would not have been taken seriously, let alone published, today it seems to represent the thinking of a good many young people.

One need only pay attention to the lyrics of the latest pop hit: “I crashed my car into the bridge/I watched, I let it burn/I threw your s--- into a bag and pushed it down the stairs/I crashed my car into the bridge/I don’t care, I love it/I don’t care.”

It is no secret that marriage (at least that between a man and a woman) is in deep trouble. Need I cite statistics on divorce and one-parent families?

It did get me thinking during the forced introspection of the recent Days of Awe. I am 64, and no one looking at me would doubt it. Still, I prefer my own life. And for those who are looking for lives to emulate, might I suggest another model than Elizabeth Wurtzel’s?

 I married my first boyfriend, who is still the love of my life, at 21, and had four children. But my wrinkles, except for the laugh lines, don’t come from them. To give birth, nurse a child, raise him or her is to feel yourself connected to the deepest mysteries of the universe: life, love, creation. It brings a joy that no one can convey to you, that you simply must experience.

To find a partner in life, to take care of them, put up with them, become one with them during a long, eventful marriage in which both of you are tested to the limits of your being, is to be shown the true mirror of your own character.

You can never, ever know yourself as deeply in any other way. It is one of the great experiences of being human and being alive.

And whether that bond lasts forever, or for a time, you are a more whole human being because of it. And while I admit this means I have forgone the sexual adventures of my century, I can say I am glad I never shared my body or my bed with anyone who knew me less well, and cared for me less deeply, than the man I married.

Except for rallying for the presidency of Barack Obama, the young in America seem to have lost all interest in politics.

Unlike Wurtzel, who basically says politics is all a fraud that gives you wrinkles, I care deeply about whom I vote for, because I care deeply about the world I am leaving behind.

While I share her loathing for politically correct pundits and those who mindlessly repeat conventional wisdom, that doesn’t mean one can forgo the struggle of fighting the forces of evil that exploit the poor, damage the weak, hurt the defenseless.

I have exchanged many a non-physical but wounding blow with those who hate me for the stands I’ve taken.

Admittedly, my life would have been much less complicated and stressful if I’d switched on the television and had a beer instead, but the urge to make the world a better place before we leave is a grown-up goal, and one that is worth the battle scars.

Perhaps if I had a cat and a dog like Elizabeth instead of 12 grandchildren, I might care less.

Let me tell you, Elizabeth and your followers, about grandchildren. They come along just when the end of your life looms into view, closer than you ever imagined.

Their young bodies and young minds, their innocent beginnings in the world give you a second chance to help nurture and contribute. Just when you begin to feel old and useless, you have little hands to hold, curious minds to fill with hardearned wisdom, and a place to put all the love you have to give while you are still alive. It gives you a new goal. To live to be at their birthdays, soccer games, plays and graduations, and to dance at their weddings.

Unlike Elizabeth, sometimes I do what other people want me to do, because other people are important to me.

Sometimes I invite people over whom I don’t like because they are lonely. Sometimes I make dinner for family members who have hurt me because there is a chance for reconciliation and life is so short.

I am also, like Elizabeth, interested in everything, even some things that on the surface don’t appear very interesting.

Like a child’s drawing, or an old man’s tale of youth.

Yes, Elizabeth, people are self-involved.

Sometimes, they have good reason, because no one is given anything in this world. But the fact that you are alive at this time and in this place is enough for me to care about you, to connect me to you wherever you are in the world. Self-indulgence isn’t a crime, except when it is all-consuming and leaves nothing in your mind and heart that can connect with others. When that happens, it’s not a lifestyle; it’s a tragedy.

I too care about how I look. I vainly dye the gray out of my hair. I put on face cream, although I’m pretty sure it’s useless. But at family gatherings in which photos are taken, I find that when surrounded by the large group of people that are my blood relatives, my husband, my children and their spouses, and my grandchildren, even though I don’t have botox or nice teeth, I have a very beautiful smile.

And when I die (hopefully in peace and silence), I hope it will be on my face as I survey what I have left behind during my brief sojourn to this complicated planet.

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