Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What age do you act?

I've seen links to this little quiz on several blogs today, so I decided to take it myself. I wasn't very happy with some of the questions, where (1) none of the answers provided seemed really suitable for my situation or my preferences, and (2) in many cases it seemed rather obvious which of the answers would be related by the quiz software to which approximate age group. I think that my overall pessimism and substandard zest for life made me answer some questions in a way that suggested I was older than I really am, but on the other hand this was probably partly balanced out by the fact that I like pigging out on sweets, so I ticked that my idea of a good party is lots of ice cream and cake. :-) Maybe I'm overanalyzing this whole thing anyway. After all, it's just a quiz. It is nonetheless true that it correctly guessed my age of 25. I wonder if I do act 25, however. I'm sure that I don't want to. Surely a person may be expected to have sobered up a little by 25 (Doyle recommends 27, however; The Sign of Four, ch. 2); am I not too immature and irresponsible, and my opinions too radical, for 25? I certainly wouldn't like to change from what I am now. I like to think I don't change very much anyway; I like to think that my opinions and inclinations are largely still such as they were ten years ago, and althought some might think such a thing regrettable I find it rather comforting. I wonder if it's true, though; if I could go back in time and meet myself such as I was ten years ago, would we get along? Or would I be a stranger to myself?

By Jove, I never thought I would feel this decrepit at 25. What's the point of even being alive anymore at this age? Perhaps the problem is that I haven't quite grown up in all the ways that a person should by this age, so I still retained some of that feeling, common among some younger people, that life ends, for all practical purposes, at age n where n is some suitable number but usually somewhere around 20 or 25. I initially thought of this age as 20, but later increased it to 22 as I was nearing twenty, and a bit later increased it further to 25. But now that I have reached 25 and am in fact getting dangerously close to 26, I haven't increased that threshold again; no, I stay firm in the opinion that 25 is the onset of decrepitude, the time when life becomes not only utterly pointless (as if it had ever had a point before) but also utterly worthless. Sure, people are alive past this age, and some even imagine that they are happy; but would any younger person really want to swap places with them? Surely this obsession with youth and age is an unhealthy and pathological peculiarity of my character (but then isn't the whole of our present culture youth-obsessed anyway?). I blame Oscar Wilde for it. I had to know The Picture of Dorian Gray really well for an exam at the end of secondary school, and I must have read it some six or so times during that final year. But only on the last of those readings did that melodious and hypnotic paragraph of Lord Henry's in the second chapter fully catch my attention:

For there is such a little time that your youth will last--such a little time. The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!

The sad thing here, of course, is that one shouldn't take anything said by Lord Henry too seriously; the man is after all a poseur and a manipulator and when he says something it is not at all necessary that he (or Wilde for that matter) really means it. But then maybe I shouldn't be blaming the above passage anyway; if I hadn't found the principle stated there I might have encountered it somewhere else, or came up with an equivalent of my own.

P.S. "Laburnum"? "Clematis"? Why must all the flowers have such dreadful, terrifying Latin names? Surely when, in the dim mists of time, the illiterate, uneducated peasantry of this, that or the other nation first encountered a particular plant, they didn't rush to their botany textbooks to look up its name, but gave it a name of its own, out of their own language. Why then do so many flowers seem to have Latin names only? And the curious thing is that people actually use them -- even elderly housewives who speak absolutely no foreign languages and who aren't even familiar with foreign loanwords in their own language will happily go on and on about geraniums, pelargonias and who knows what other big words that sound like they would fit a mythological monster better than some harmless little flower. And these same people are absolutely paralyzed if they encounter a foreign word in most other spheres of life.

I guess it's not really difficult to get people to accept scary Latin words as long as the words refer to something non-threatening that is easy to relate to, such as flowers.

P.P.S. Now I googled around a bit to find out what exactly clematis is. Funny enough, it turns out that the only representative of that genus with which I have so far been familiar is a nasty weed, a creeping parasite whose praises one certainly wouldn't expect Lord Henry to sing in the above-quoted paragraph. Well, apparently some of the other species of that genus are actually used as decorative plants. Oh well, one learns something new every day. :-)


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