Today I turn 37 years old. Thirty seven. I was born today in 1978 in Las Vegas, NV to a casino bartender and a casino cage cashier. I eventually grew up with seven siblings in adventurously shady and scorching hot East Las Vegas and after a childhood of creativity, writing, sports, video games and frequent dabbling in theatre and comedy I got to college and realized shortly thereafter that I was kidding myself if I didn’t pursue the performing arts except after dropping out in 1999 I kidded myself for about a decade, during which I moved to Seattle… and I’m getting off track
I’ve always had the blessed dilemma of looking younger than I actually am. From 18 until some point in my mid 20’s I’d get the dreaded “Is this a fucking fake ID you little shit” stare after a bouncer or bartender would check my driver’s license. As I passed through my 30’s the only sign of my aging is a little extra weight, the need to pace myself more, and two points on my front hairline that if you look at past photos of me you can tell have receded a bit. My face is maybe a touch weathered, but again not that much. As of now, I have no bald spot. Every now and then (and I mean once or twice a year) I get a weird crinkly gray hair that I pluck out (I actually found one yesterday!), but otherwise my hair is as dark brown as it was when I was a kid.
I practice and study improv with a bunch of twentysomethings, and I can run all over the stage, so everyone just assumes I’m their age. Most people are quite surprised when they find out my actual age. The title of this post comes from what they subsequently tell me.
Yeah, that’s a compliment. Yes, for the most part it does feel good knowing I look and act way younger than I actually am. Still, it’s a compliment I have as hard a time taking as a very attractive woman has taking, “You’re beautiful.” Yes, I appreciate the compliments as well as the benefits, but (as bad as this sounds) not only am I a bit tired of hearing it, but there’s some problematic side effects that do concern me and affect my quality of life.
– When you look young, older directors and performers look down upon and disrespect you more easily, figuring you’re a kid who has a lot to learn. This is more of a problem at work than in performance, partially because I create my own opportunities, so my artistic career isn’t at the mercy of casting directors. But it is an ongoing problem being in the performing arts as someone who has already burned through a lot of his youth. As a Chicago newcomer, curators, directors and such figure I’m in my 20’s, that “I’m not ready” for opportunities, and that I’ll “be ready” in 5-10 years, e.g. once I’m in my 30’s. Except not only am I already in my 30’s… I’m getting close to my 40’s. By the time someone might “be ready” to “take me seriously”, I may be “too old to keep doing this all the time”.
– (I realize the above, absent of a lack of ability or other accordant fit for a group or show, are just director excuses, that if someone’s looking for reasons to exclude you rather than reasons to include you, then they don’t really want to work with you anyway and maybe those pursuits aren’t worth your time. That said, there’s admittedly a lot of stuff I’d like to do and objectively would otherwise get to do but I may never get to do because I slip through the cracks of being too “young” for consideration yet too old to have the time to eventually get there.)
– I would love to perform forever but realize it’s possible I won’t be able to. In fact, several improvisers and comedians have dropped dead around this age and older (e.g. local comedian Horacio Ramirez recently did, and everyone knows that Jason Chin passed in January). You don’t see many improv performers practice regularly into their 40’s and 50’s; if they haven’t quit by that age, they mostly teach or direct. Fortysomething is usually the back wall on most players’ improv and comedy careers. I could try and be like baseball’s Julio Franco or Jamie Moyer, guys who played well after the age most players retired. But even they got to a point where the toll on their bodies wouldn’t allow them to do it anymore. The time I put into the performing arts now is valuable time not to be wasted, a challenge when people feel you’re young enough that wasting your time is okay.
– Dating is a problem. Women my age either settle down or want to settle down, get married, land a lucrative career, buy a house, get a dog and 2-3 children, and live the domestic life. That never minds singles my age either thinking I’m too young for them, or making the unfortunate mistake of finding me immature due to what I do with my life at this age. Their loss, sure, but it’s a hurdle. A bigger issue is that a lot of single women attracted to me are those same early/mid twentysomethings, who discover my age and (even if they don’t see those same issues I noted above) determine I am way too old for them. The challenge of meeting someone well adjusted and not-flaky that you’re attracted to, who is also clearly attracted to you, is compounded with a dilemma like this.
– While I take semi-reasonable care of myself, my body does feel every bit of those 37 years. Spoiler alert for the kids: Everything older people tell you about random things hurting, about getting used to feeling generally tired all the time, having to be more measured with your exertion and drinking, about valuing sleep and naps more, is all true.
I realize a birthday is merely a calendar benchmark, there’s a lot to be grateful for, and there isn’t anything I mentioned that wasn’t true yesterday at 36 years 364 days of age.
And none of this is to say I look at today’s birthday with worry or anxiety. Overall, I feel pretty good about life, and I enjoy getting older way more than I loathe or fear it. I hope I can still do at 40 or 50 or 60 and beyond most of what I can do today.
My birthday is a welcome chance to bring all this up, since it changes the number in the age column and it turns out we all still take that number very seriously as a culture. It still significantly affects how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.