1. Although you, my dear Click Opera readers, will never know the 50-year-old Momus "directly" (I'll have slung my blog hook by the time I turn that corner), this unlikely person is arriving, and imminently. I wonder what it will be like to be such a farcically old age? I read in today's Guardian, in an interview with Martin Amis, that there's a "thickening out" of life that comes after 50 – "there is now an enormous and unsuspected presence within your being," he says in The Pregnant Widow, "like an undiscovered continent." The exact nature of this "thickening out" and this "undiscovered continent" isn't made explicit; I suppose you have to buy The Pregnant Widow to find out, or turn 50 yourself.
2. Stephen Moss also says, in the same article: "Amis is fascinated by the way he has changed since what he admits was a midlife crisis in the early 90s. At its simplest, he has discovered the purity of love, love without ego... Women, trophies to the early Amis, have become redeemers." Which all sounds very nice, but we need more detail. Or something else: a ritual!
3. Yesterday I posted a photo to my Facebook page and captioned it "I've decided to enjoy my midlife crisis". Someone called Aki Tudor commented: "Just don't get a red Porsche:)". You could say that Aki's response -- to reach for the stereotype of the red Porsche or Ferrari as a recognised sign for substitute testosterone, a kind of symbolic Hormone Replacement Therapy -- is so conventional that it's almost ritualistic. Repeat this kind of formula enough and it becomes a reflex refrain, like shouting "Bless you!" when someone sneezes.
4. An Anon wrote yesterday on Click Opera: "A side note: it is funny that puberty seems to mean a lot on nature's terms but nothing in legality's terms." That made me think of how, just as we're always creating new taboos, we're also always creating new festivals. Sometimes it takes an artist to "design" them.
5. The artist Chad McCail created a new rite in a screenprint published by Edinburgh Printmakers. It's called Relationships Grow Stronger, and -- rather in the manner of my Book of Scotlands -- it imagines a parallel world where things are done differently.
6. Here's how Chad McCail explained the print for EdFest.tv: "This is part of some local event that the people round about have created to mark the fact that these children, who are all about the same age, are becoming adults. It's marking their passage from childhood to adulthood; they've become fertile, they now have serious responsibilities, they can create children. And they're not fudging it, they want everyone to acknowledge that this is happening. And of course we do fudge it. We don't talk about it, we don't mark it, we don't like to acknowledge that it's happening, really. And that's difficult for children, so I wanted to make a picture where maybe it was being acknowledged." McCail's picture shows a tree outside a suburban house, garlanded with model penises and vaginas, a sort of sexual Christmas tree.
7. I thought of McCail's print on the second Monday in January. We'd been late getting away from Onomichi, and I was tired after a couple of hours piloting the Daihatsu Naked up the expressway towards Kansai. Out on the freeway it's every man for himself; headlights, tunnels, passengers sleeping, sipping coffee from a pet bottle to stay alert. When we arrived in Kobe, I didn't notice them at first: girls in kimonos, brilliant as humming birds, swarming around the railway stations. Yoyo, waking and rising from the back seat, explained: today was a national holiday, Coming of Age Day, Seijin No Hi. It's a festival in which everybody who'll turn 20 this year dresses up and drinks at one of the big parties held to celebrate their ability to drink, and vote, and smoke.
8. Although Seijin No Hi doesn't feature penises and vaginas balanced on Sexual Christmas Trees, it is at least halfway towards Chad McCail's vision of a parallel world in which the "seasonal" changes in human life are socially recognised and pleasantly ritualised. For me, coming to a pleasant halt (it was impossible to drive through the crowds of excited young people, asserting their newfound power over passing motor traffic) in the centre of Kobe was a magical and mood-lifting experience. After the weary modern tension of the expressway, I felt the ritual celebration take me somewhere else: somewhere youthful yet timeless, thronging and joyful, dense and urban yet pre-modern. As if the energy of youth culture had been harnessed to some kind of primal-aristocratic court culture obsessed with the fragile beauty of transition. As if adults and children -- and individuals and society -- were looking at each other with shared knowledge.
9. Seijin No Hi reminded me of what a successful society Japan is. Japan succeeds, at moments like these, for the same reasons Chad McCail shows the West failing. We fail because we make important life-seasonal transitions secretive, leaving them for individuals to discover and cope with in solitude (perhaps with the aid of therapy or art or the occasional parental lecture) rather than providing something as joyful as a festival or ritual for it.
10. Watching BBC4 documentary The Waughs, Fathers and Sons last night, I noted a similar theme, again to do with coming of age. Part 3 begins with a letter Victorian patriarch Arthur Waugh wrote to Alec, his son, who'd been caught wanking in the chapel at Sherborne School. "Every time seed is lost from the body, the backbone is slightly affected," Arthur wrote. "If one feels weaker after a natural loss, it follows that a forced loss of seed, such as self-abuse entails, is much more mischievous. It is indeed a deadly danger, because it undermines the very seat of life. The result of self-abuse, if carried on persistently, is first weakness of body and mind, and finally paralysis and softening of the brain."
11. "But I suppose, in a way, it was rather wonderful of a father brought up in the Victorian age even to be writing to his son at all about this sort of thing," says Alexander Waugh, who agrees with his grandfather Evelyn that the worst thing is "being brought up in the dark". Perhaps... but a luminous ritual or a festival might have saved them all the embarrassment.
12. I'm off now to invent some "turning 50" rituals. Let's see, what did David Bowie do? Didn't he dress up like a Tibetan and ask younger singers to do his songs? The thing is, you can't just invent a single ritual, or even a single festival. You have to invent a whole surrounding culture to depersonalise, dignify and perpetuate your rite of spring, your welcome to autumn, your Whitsun Weddings. If it's not cultural, it's just a party.
"To celebrate my fiftieth birthday," Hemingway wrote Charles Scribner in 1949, "I fucked three times, shot ten straight at pigeons (very fast ones) at the club, drank with five friends a case of Piper Heidsick Brut and looked the ocean for big fish all afternoon."
Momus, do you find yourself thinking more about death as the half-century hoves into view? In some ways 40 doesn't seem that different from 50, after all they're both solidly middle-aged type ages to be. But then the next milestone is decidedly different, 60 is the beginning of the end.
Think you're being too generous to fifty. If my fifties are anything to go by they mark the time when you become parent to your parents (illness, mortality), the kids are starting familes of their own, friends start dying, illnesses once acquired are hard to shake off, the body starts cracking up...
Momus, as you creep into late middle age, do you fear impotence at all? After all, erectile dysfunction can be a significant problem for men in their fifties. Erections can take longer to occur. Even then, they often require direct manual stimulation, and may be not quite as firm as they used to be. Also, the urge to ejaculate may be not as insistent as in your thirties and forties. Nor is the force of ejaculation as strong. Desire for and frequency of masturbation may lessen as well. The testicles often shrink too, and the scrotal sack drops. And the sack doesn't bunch up so much during arousal for fifty year old men. Just wondering if any of this worries you at all, Momus? Or are you Zen-like in your insouciance, faced with these bodily changes?
"We fail because we make important life-seasonal transitions secretive, leaving them for individuals to discover and cope with in solitude (perhaps with the aid of therapy or art or the occasional parental lecture) rather than providing something as joyful as a festival or ritual for it."
Absolutely. I'd love to live in a world where the sexual Xmas trees happened and were cute and fun, and not scary/pervy/shocking. In my family, which is all girls, we had a 'first bra' ritual that involved a fancy tea in town as well as bra-choosing, and it's now happening with the second generation, which is also all girls. I don't know what we'd have done for boys. The historical option of first sword and pair of breeches might not go down too well these days.
thats great you agreed to this one... becuase I am going to disagree. but I have to say, I think we are both right... and I also really enjoy the Japanese highlighted roles and rituals... but...
I dont thik 'we've' failed. I think 'we' have internalized our rituals.. and also left the door open to these arcitypal passages and situations to relate to us, in and at our very own time... no longer harness to a large culture's rigid timeline, we are allowed experiences in a much more personal way... for those that are 'lucky' (and by lucky I mean in touch with themselves and there own process).
For the lost masses... well... we are a culture without... just a big pile of mush.
While reading something online last year I saw a phrase, "undiscovered festival", which stuck with me out of context... This essay almost arrives there by accident, but sidesteps it by talking about "uncreated festivals" instead. But I read with extreme anticipation, to see if you would recreate that foundling textual nugget!
My parents, Wiccans, had an "initiation into manhood" for me when I hit puberty. I spent a night alone in the woods; members of my dad's men's group, who I had never met before, chanted over me and gave me gifts; and my family and closest friends (plus the men's group) sat in a circle and told me what they thought about me and what they appreciated about me. I was allowed to get a tattoo, which wasn't legal in California at my age, and my dad got the same one.
The participation of the men's group still seems ridiculous to me, but several people said things to me in the circle that still shape my relationships with them, and I value the tattoo a lot. It brought me a lot closer to my dad and at 15 gave me, insecure and fat, mostly interested in science fiction and with more friends online than in real life, a little more confidence. My little sisters were offered the same sort of ritual, and one took it, but the youngest turned it down, not wanting her first period announced to everyone (everyone being our family and old friends), which was a shame I think. Anyway I think it's a good idea to celebrate puberty somehow.
Of all the things that Click Opera has turned me on to over the years, I must say that you, my dear Whimsy, are by far the greatest. If I could possess but half of your wit, your charm and your erudition, I would be a rich man indeed.
If there is ever anything I can do for you, remember, all you have to do is whistle, and I'll come running.
Wow. That's too bad. I was rather happy and bouncy-anticipatory about turning 30. I can't think of anyone I know who has dreaded 30, so I admit to some surprise to see this comment. Especially thinking that 30 is worse for women than for men. We don't age *that* fast.
Maybe I had some outstanding friends who were already over 30 as I was approaching it, so I was fortunate to be well aware in advance that it's a great age. I honestly can't think of a single example of someone falling apart at or around 30 due to age-related reasons. But even without that, looking solely at my own position and development, as far as I could see there was little to fear about 30.
By 45-50 you've got a different situation.
But 30? Naw. 30 is fun! I hope you find a way to enjoy it!
Start reading everything -- beginning with ancient Egypt, then over to the Indian Vedas and Upanishads, then move on to the pre-Socratics, then to Plato/Aristotle, all the way through the history of the Western world up to Zizek.
momus, i am turning 20 in two months. i am terrified. do you have any advice???
Don't believe what careers advisors tell you, you can have a perfectly good life outside all those scary structures (career, mortgage, marriage) if you want. But if you opt out of those things, you have to learn how to "find your own problem", structure your own time and get your own work done.
Yes, Hisae told me about this yesterday. In return I told her about the Queen in Britain sending you a telegram when you turn 100. "These days, maybe it's an email, I don't know. She'll have to send herself one soon."
I only realized today that I started the das kleine field fecordings festival a few weeks before I turned 50. Since then with every episode I hear other people telling the stories I had forgotten or didn't know yet. Of course together it is a tiny documentary part. What Amis calls the undiscovered continent you have to discover in the same day that repeats itself over and over again, yes making things visible and more profound, even in their pleasurable superficial way.
You can have your own online festival if you don't turn of the comment section hereon your blog.
Oh. I hope the cats name in tomorrows entry is Mr.Motto