I’m old. Here is one thing I have learned: My action time gets slower, but my reaction time gets faster.
It’s hard for me to take action, but it’s very, very easy for me to see the patterns in what is happening in the world. I suss things out very quickly, because while I haven’t seen it all, I’ve seen pretty much all I am going to see, and I not only remember a whole lot of it, I can also make damn good guesses about what is going to happen next.
My guesses aren’t always right, of course, but at my age, experience and smarts, I have learned that they are pretty damn accurate. People who have known me for a while acknowledge this fact, saying that I read situations quickly and usually pretty well.
Some people want to challenge my knowledge, dismissing it by saying things like “You have an answer for everything!” That’s an exaggeration, of course, but yes, I have spent a lot of time working to ask hard questions and figure out useful answers. \
I remember offering a friend a therapist style transcript I wrote a decade ago. “Other people may use a counsellor voice as a straw man, setting up pat answers, but the voice in your piece asks strong questions that a therapist would actually ask,” she told me.
I love questions. I love theory. I have learned to transform problems to art quickly, so fast that I have surprised other artists with my speed of creation.
“How do you stop having feelings of loneliness, despair and self-pity?” someone asked me.
“Wrong question,” I replied. You never ever stop having those and other feelings. The only thing you can do is stop letting those feelings control your choices, instead using your wisdom, energy and smarts to make considered responses rather than knee-jerk reactions.
It’s hard to learn how to do this, to build up the insight and discipline to not just be a slave to emotions. It is also baffling to other people when you can do this, as they often can’t imagine how you can transcend emotions that would floor them, emotions that seem at the centre of human life.
When you can do that considered response incredibly fast, though, based on years of rehearsal and work, it becomes almost magical and inhuman to many observers. They assume you don’t have feelings, not that you have just busted everything to not be enslaved by them.
I’m very fast at understanding.
That also means I am slow at acting, because I understand clearly the probable outcome of any of my choices. It takes me just a very small whiff to know the situation, to understand the limits. Usually, those limits are the limits of attention that other people have, their need to stay stable where they are and not be transformed by smart questions, and I have learned to respect those limits.
People, you see, they have twists, emotions, unhealed parts that drive them. They have unfulfilled needs, errant desires, defensive moves, wilful blindness that leaves them triggered and acting out. People grow and heal in their own time, not on my schedule, nor even on their own. I see those places quickly, which makes me fabulous if you are working to grow and a real pain in the ass if you just want to get on with what you want right now.
I have been clear in the past that just because I have the ability to rise above my feelings, to write about them in context quickly and with grace, does not mean that I do not have feelings.
Those feelings are what inhibit my action. I know the cost of conflict to my nerves, know the tiny amount of resilience and recuperative power that I have left. I am quickly and brutally aware of the potential costs of another attempt, quickly and sadly aware of the projected odds of success.
Those feelings are also what empower my art, being able to be clear eyed and explicit about the experience of life rather than falling into the pit of sadness.
My own support network is scant because my personal narrative is so deep. Simple ain’t simple to me anymore, because everything unfolds so fast in front of my brain. That rapid unfolding works the other way, too, because it becomes impossible to unfold what I see as the arc and nuance of my story in a way that others can follow and comprehend.
This trade-off between width of connection and depth of connection is one that I had little choice in making, as my quick brain always goes deep quickly, even as those around me usually go wide and shallow. That depth isn’t just intellectual, it is also emotional, which makes it even harder to find people to dive with me and avoid getting the bends.
My fast brain makes it easy for me to enter other people’s experiences while making it difficult for other people to enter mine It means my quick jokes often sail over the heads of other people, just so much noise and lost meaning. Most people have fast limbic systems and slow cerebral, fast habits and slow thoughts, but that isn’t me. My filters are just too strong, and my old brain too withered and attenuated, leaving great documentation but extremely limited motion.
My slow action time, though, my husbanding of scarce tolerance, makes it hard for me to enter the world of people, to show myself and be discovered. I may know I have much to give, but I have also learned that my gifts are hard for others to see, acknowledge, value and respect, as bound up as they are in my own queer and transcendent nature. Je suis un porc-épic.
My body slows down, starved and withered, but my brain stays sharp. That is a challenging mix, as what is left of my vitality moves from my lifeless audacity to my sensitive spirit.
But it is the way I experience the world.
Maybe this is just what being old feels like.