This is for those of you who have reached your advanced years and are now flirting with the attractions of solitude. Sometimes, it seems, this can be more than a flirtation.
Here are the symptoms: a penchant for eating at home; fewer visits with friends; a preference for books over TV; souring on politics and current affairs; pique with the common culture; suffering fools gladly; and so on. Covid, of course, made things worse.
You go to a party where most of the folks there are your friends. The conversation is the usual chit-chat about local happenings, friends who are ill, movies you’ve never seen, restaurants you never visited, travel plans you’re not concerned about, political opinions you don’t agree with. You drink too much and leave early.
It’s about feeling “out of tune,” as Wordsworth said in his poem “The world is too much with us.” When the vibes are bad it’s like you’ve come from a different world, captive to “a creed outworn.” You are out of tune with the common culture (or so it feels), with its emphasis on escape, schlock or shock in pop art, films, and more. To confirm this, take a jaundiced look at New York Magazine’s stories in The Cut and Vulture.
The urge to withdraw from it all, I think, is not just limited to us elders. People everywhere seem to be getting a bellyful of all the institutions of state, the customs and the verities we grew up with and trusted. Why else would so many swallow Trump’s patent medicines and hokum? What is MAGA if not an escape into a surreal fantasy? How did the craziness of Brexit take hold of so many Brits? All of this represents a kind of withdrawal.
We oldsters turn sour on so many things because we’ve lived long enough to lose most of our innocence. Yeats said it best in “The Second Coming.” You seniors may remember these lines.
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
So many sages have told us that aging is simply a loss of innocence. I don’t entirely buy that. I still remain innocent to many things, open to ideas, good books and conversation, thoughtful people, art and music. There’s just a whole lot less to be open to now. And that, my friends, requires regret but no apology.