Inspiration seeks you out in the strangest of places.
In January 2012 I ventured with a group of friends from our then-home of Burlington, Vermont to Portland, Maine. My excellent friend Craig Winslow grew up in nearby Falmouth, and his parents were gracious enough to host six of us at their home for a long weekend. I remember the weekend as carefree and refreshing, in the midst of close friends and inspirited by that special magic of being in a new place.
A highlight that weekend was our presence at the annual Portland Harbor Hotel Ice Bar, a locally beloved winter tradition of dancing and cold cocktails, the latter being prepared outside in the hotel’s courtyard. Bundled up against the chill and squeezing our way through the crowd, we bumped to the soft house music swirling about the four surrounding walls and watched bartenders pour drinks into ice sculptures outfitted with funnels and tubes. Blue lights shone through the ethereal, glassy statues, and the crystalline solution that poured out the bottom to be served as a drink tasted like icy raspberries, nary a hint of alcohol.
Inside we ate hors d’oeuvres and danced. The DJs played a considerate mix of classics and modern dance tunes, ranging from Journey to disco to Avicii. Our small collection of friends was joined that night not only by Craig’s parents but by two of his grandparents, all four of whom joined us on the dance floor. In a moment of memorable clarity, I grinned, amused by the unlikely scenario of dancing to club music with three generations of Winslows, an experience I’d never had, nor ever will, with my own family.
As one song ended and the first notes to The Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” bounced forth from the speakers, I turned to Craig’s grandmother.
“Tell me—and please be honest—what do you think of my generation’s music?”
In that moment I was recalling conversations with relatives who had confidently proclaimed that “all the stuff coming out these days is bullshit”, *convinced that good music ended when tapes became more popular than vinyls. And as harsh as such a statement is, there are times I might partially agree. The age of easily obtained, cheap electronics and free, immediate internet distribution has, wonderfully, opened the world of making music to nearly anybody and subsequently introduced the world at large to more music each year than one could have fathomed when record labels first began. More music and easier ways to discover it means, inevitably, more outright *bad music.
Hearing my question, this wise woman gazed off wistfully, just for a moment. With the above in mind, I braced myself for a polite but slighting response. Instead, she changed my life.
“I think that music is about where you are and who you’re with when you hear it. So yes, I like this music.”
I could have wept with admiration even in this moment, yet somehow time has instilled an even greater sense of profundity in her simple response. It is a sentiment that sticks with me still, one that I hope guides me for the rest of my time living. Because sitting silently among those words is a much deeper meaning, a philosophical belief about how to approach aging.
“It’s said that the biggest determinant of our lives is whether we see the world as welcoming or hostile. Each becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Gloria Steinem, in My Life on the Road
To extend this metaphor—that of embracing or discrediting new music as an indicator of how you approach life—I see the act of mistrusting all things new and different, like assuming that all new music is inherently inferior, is a subtle form of viewing the world through a hostile lens. Admittedly, it’s shockingly easy to fall prey to the negative aspects of nostalgia, the so-named Golden Age Syndrome that pushes you down the road of “things were better back then”. A way of welcoming such change, a practice that Gloria Steinem suggests is a self-fulfilling prophecy, would be to embrace new types of music, and indeed all new experiences, for their ability to teach you new things, to teach you more about yourself, and to inspire, regardless of whether the song (or experience) is to your liking or not.
To this end, I’ve thought for a long while about writing a sort of manifesto on aging. When I originally sat down to write this piece, a few weeks ago, I idly searched the internet for this term. To my surprise, not only did I quickly locate writing of a similar nature, but a TEDx talk by with that exact name. It was given by Jon Katz in 2013.
You can find the talk in written form on Katz’s website, but I will finish by reproducing certain pieces of it here, as I echo his sentiments in full and his words are far more elegant than mine. The written version linked above is titled “How to Get Older in America”.
“I will never downsize my mind or my life, I will never cease to be open to life. A closed mind is the first and saddest death, the death of the mind.”
“I will never complain about the young and talk about how they are not as hard-working, thoughtful or responsible as I was at their age, I will never talk about the good old days, they were never really all that good, I am not here to turn back the clock.”
“I embrace and accept new technologies, new realities, not as unwanted intrusions, but as the parade of change that defines a fulfilled life at any age. Nostalgia is a trap, our lives are what we make of them each day.”
“I approach growing older with acceptance, not denial, with grace, not avoidance, with the embrace of the new, not withdrawal and retreat.”
To Jon and his sagacious manifesto, and Craig’s wise grandmother: you are models by which I aim to live. I owe you, and others like you, way more than thanks.