There for a while I wanted to run a five minute mile, but five and a half was as close as I ever got to it. Your body can do, and will do, more than you believe it can or will, but as you get past thirty your body can and will do less. At forty that which was once done without effort becomes a task. The six minute mile left me when I was in my early forties and the seven minute mile left a couple of years later. I can still hit an eight minute mile but it is becoming harder and it is getting harder and harder to get more than one or two of them at the best. At fifty my body is pretty much done with speed as a habit, and this has nothing to do with drugs. The change can be, and will be, fought, and fought hard, but each day finds seconds ticking away in more ways than one. Yet things are vastly different from the way things were. Exercise has evolved so that we might stay more fit for longer lives. No longer are those over forty seen as those headed for old age, and no longer are those over fifty considered too young to run and play. My father is approaching eighty and he still runs 5K races and there have been a few times he didn’t finish first in his age group. How we view the health of our bodies as a function of aging has changed.
We have been told for generations “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and that speaks to the inability of those aging to learn. True enough, some people as they age become less agreeable to new ideas, but this is a product of their own personal culture, not the inability of the mind to be trained. Like the body, the mind needs exercise and play, and there is as little reason to stop either as we age as there is to stop running and swimming and playing physically. The mind will be only as good and sharp as the owner of that brain allows it to be. Those who keep using it may very well never lose it.
Oddly, the same culture that realizes the importance of exercising both the body and mind has made it easier and more entertaining to spend most of the time exercising nothing at all. Video games, on demand movies, smart phone with angry bird apps, the never ending quest for more face book time in Farmville and the all important issue of who got kicked off dancing with the housewives of reality island turns what spare time most people have into a dull flatline existence where the mind and body are parked in front of a screen, larger and larger and smaller and smaller. We run the very serious risk of entertaining ourselves into sloth, and nonexistence.
Of course this is the same sky that has been falling for years and no one has seen the moon crash into the sea yet, unless they were doing much more with their minds than just exercising. Yet I cannot help but think those who use their minds more will age less, just as those who use their bodies more will age more slowly. Brain Games and all sort of electronic devices have been marketed for just such a theory. I think these sorts of toys are useful but I also think they are very much like the other toys that are suppose to help to exercise your body; what you put into them will be what you get back out of them, and in the end, that goes for almost everything you do.
I know some people who are much older than me but at the same time they are also much sharper than I. Writers, poets, painters, and the occasional misfit stray dog rescuer, most of the people I know are using their brains on a regular basis in ways that I suspect the general population is not. I do not have a favorite television show, I have never heard a Justine Barbra song sung, I have no idea who Snookie is or why I should care, and the last time I had a favorite song in the Top 40 they had just invented a number larger than thirty-nine. I think popular culture is a waste of brain space, and it is dangerous to try to sort it out.
I won’t name any names, but I have several online friends who seem to have reached what I once considered old age without much damage. One of my facebook friends who is at least a decade older than I, and maybe more, comes up with the most incredible music. A friend of mine on Gather is twenty years older than I but his writing, and this is just in the comments, is tremendously good. I know a poet who is at an age my grandmother was when I was ten, yet she is as insightful as anyone I know.
So what is to come? There are young people right now cranking out good writing, good poems, good music, and they are already on the cutting edge of what art will become tomorrow. You Tube is filled with their work, and you just have to look past the ten million videos of other young people crashing face first into the ground.
Is there a certain amount of soul sucking time devouring waste of life to be found in social networking? Certainly, but like any other human endeavor, how you spend your time on these sites will determine what you get in return from them. If you look for people to share news with about the latest person to get kicked off Dancing Island you’ll look back at that hour of your life as wasted. Yet of you connect with someone whose poetry moves you so deeply it inspires you to make an attempt at writing poems yourself, I think you’ll look back at that time for many years to come.