How Old are You in Your Dreams?

By Don Hall

Ask around.

When you dream, how old are you in that strange, dusky landscape called your subconscious? Do you know? Does anyone, really?

I don't remember a lot of my dreams. I sleep like a wood carving or a stone tablet. When I'm out, I am out. But when I do remember my dreams, I can't recall what age I may be. It always seems a bit like I'm physically all over the place but mentally the age I am now (which some might argue is about 13). How old should I be?

And then there is the moment you realize, for the first time, that you are in the older person category. I may have a malleable age in my dreams but in real life I'm in my fifties. Ted Cruz, that turd-breathing Texan who is running for a top spot on the FOX News line-up, is five years younger than I am. On the other hand, Robert Downey, Jr. and I are the same age. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know,  we are only as old as we feel. Age is just a number. Blah de blah fuckin' blah.

I understand our American fascination with youth and our discarding of those who, in the specific terms of a Survivor contestant, can't quite keep up with the kids. I'm young enough to be frustrated when old people—as in older than me, because that's pretty much how we always frame age in our self-identifying narcissistic pond mirrors—get in front of me in a line, but old enough to see the day when that younger guy behind me can go fuck himself with his hurry to get someplace.

You are never so old you can't learn new things
As I look around, the people I see getting old in the most pejorative way are those who stop finding ways to grow and improve themselves. Learn a new language, find a new hobby, refuse to go gently into that good night.

It's never too late to take care of things
Even if you spent your first 50 years drinking a lot, smoking, drugging it up and pretending that age won't make the joints stiff and the hair gray, it's always time to take care of things. Work out a little, walk more, build new habits while shedding the less productive ones. This isn't so much about extending your life but about making the days you have feel better.

Kindness to others makes you relevant
Teaching people things, engaging with others (especially those younger than yourself) and finding ways to "pay it forward" (a phrase I actually really hate but a practice I adore) puts you in a place of receiving gratitude and significance from the fish in the sea around you. Kindness is a reciprocal act, so do it and get some back.

Never stop until the last breath
The past is either a place of reflection or a cul-de-sac of nostalgic comparison you get trapped in. Choose to be like a shark—forward motion or death. We're all dead anyway, we just haven't arrived at the finish line. Run the race full tilt until then, yeah?

How old I am in my dreams is less important than how old I am when I am awake. At that crazy, lovely moment as I creep up on consciousness, that second is the one I get to choose: old and useless or older and still kicking. And that younger guy behind me muttering under his breath about how long I'm taking in the Walgreens line can stuff it up his ass because this age thing happens to everyone. He'll get his turn unless he gets tased to death by a cop before he hits his 30th birthday.