I have some thoughts about turning 60 today. You can possibly guess what they are.
Obvious fact #1: The age one looks is different from the way one feels.
Obvious fact #2: As longevity increases in a society, an individual’s age means something different than it did when people didn’t live as long.
Obvious fact #3: To children, the category “old person” is very broad, and describes anybody from 25 – 120 years of age.
In my childhood, there was a pretty distinct line between young and old. There was in those days a thing called “retirement” that made a clear dividing line, neatly demarcated by the age 65.
That line was either erased some time ago, or placed so far into advanced age that one can’t read it without cheaters, or, more rarely, achieved by those lucky few well-off enough to quit working before hitting the magic number 65. I know a few.
Back in my day, people in their sixties or higher were officially and demonstrably “OLD”. They were “on their way out”, “on the final lap”, to be eventually “circling the drain”.
But people of my childhood had been through rather a lot by the time they hit sixty. A major World War, the Depression, social upheavals of one kind or another. They were tired, spent, effete.
If they weren’t actively staying busy and healthy, they could really seem quite ancient.
When I was 18 and shared an office at Hanna-Barbera with the cartoonist Chuck Couch, he was probably in his sixties, and had been sitting at a drawing table most of his life, smoking non-filter Camel cigarettes and drinking endless Cokes; he looked like something you’d request be taken off the meat department shelf at Ralph’s for spoilage.
On the other hand, another old cartoonist we shared that office with, the dashing Don Rico, was 66 at the time, and was a slim, healthy and pretty sexy guy.
I learned early on that you got what you put your attention on, body-wise. And I learned that being pro-active was an important aspect of keeping active. Maybe the most important.
My mom, who will be ninety one in October, is a great example of someone who simply never agreed to be old. She’s also very engaged, by which I mean observant, interested, and willing to communicate her thoughts and feelings. And these days, her stories.
A ninety year old person, if they are still firing on all chambers, has a LOT of stories. Marion’s are delicious.
In my case, retirement has always been something in “the other guy’s future.” I like to work so much, I create my own work. I pay myself slave wages if anything, but I still keep coming round for more.
To me, the best thing about being an artist is that there is no retirement, no moment when your services aren’t needed.
Who was going to tell Henri Matisse, “Thanks for all the paintings, we’re good.”
There are probably times when an actor, anyway, should practice some rigorous self-awareness, and pull themselves out of the limelight. But that time is probably a lot farther off than most would think.
And it should be the artist’s decision, based on what he or she wants to accomplish, as well as what the market will bear. His or her own self-determined decision, not some faceless board or committee trying to establish some kind of benchmark.
Obvious fact #4: Birthdays are fairly unimportant, but they become important when we consider them as a starting line to something, not an offramp to some big finish.
Today I’m celebrating my sixtieth by going out and doing my job; by making some fun video content with my daughter, by doing an audition for a TV show, by going to acting class to try and figure out how to become a better actor. (Postscript: I booked the job.)
60 feels like a beginning of something, just like it did when I turned fifty, about fifteen minutes ago.
I have a really wonderful life, for which I am very, very grateful. There are many things I still want to try to do to make life as wonderful as possible for the people I care for.
Which includes you, believe it or not.