A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog entitled: That Kid Inside You, which dealt with a fragile and highly vulnerable portion of ourselves…the kid, that little person inside you, who isn’t afraid to screw-up or make a fool of himself. If you read the article, you know that I went on to connect-the-dots between being a kid and being an artist.
This week, however, we strap-on on our armor-plated scuba gear, grab our spear-guns and high-voltage spotlights and plunge into the dark, pressurized depths of curmudgeondom, a topic so rare, that I have never used the word, curmudgeondom, in a sentence before. It’s a dank and serious place to swim into. You up for it? Can you stand the pressure? Okay, let’s dive in.
I believe the first thing you’ll find once you begin paddling downward is that curmudgeondom is a place which is occupied mostly by…men and older ones at that. There’s an excellent reason for this, which I’ll get to in a moment, though to be fair, there are female curmudgeons and even little kids who have befallen this fate, though they’re a lot rarer.
Hedonic Tread Mill: It all begins as we teach our children and our little boys in particular how to do things correctly, how to NOT make a mistake. At a very early age, say potty-training, this is probably a pretty good thing to do. But our desire to steer sends our children directly to the first baby step of the Hedonic Tread Mill. I’ve addressed this horrible machine before in a blog, appropriately entitled Happiness, but to oversimplify, this is the treadmill that tells the young man, “Do well, so you can afford to buy that 3-series BMW. ” Once you get it, however, you quickly discover that you ain’t there. You realize that to be truly happy and successfully compete with your peers, what you really need is a 5-series, and yeah, then there’s a 6, 7, and 8-series BMW, at which point, even then you don’t graduate, but switch over to Aston Martins. In short, on this “mill” you are more or less guaranteed to never get there, though you can kill yourself trying.
But…no one tells us that fact, and we have little wisdom to teach our children the nuances of “success”. We never really know whether we’ve succeeded or not…just that we haven’t done it yet. Along the way, however, men, and it’s mostly men, do get to a point where we have accomplished some things, made some money, have some people who either respect us or at least take our orders. This is the payment we receive from having worked our entire lives: Respect…Power… sometimes Fear. The only problem is as we age, there’s another invisible arc on the graph that’s catching up with us.
The Age Arc: There’s a sweet spot somewhere, though it’s terribly hard to pin down, where we are somewhat youthful and somewhat powerful. After just the blink of an eye, however, men see that there are younger generations already nipping at their asses, and they’re biting-down pretty hard. A younger man will say affectionately, “Here, I’ll do that for you. That’s the new OS”, (a new operating system that you couldn’t possibly understand). Soon, that becomes a reality and a handful of years later…you retire!!! If you’re younger than fifty and reading this, don’t chuckle too hard. It happens to every single generation…even yours. In that one regard, it is very fair.
A word of advice: Be very careful of what you wish for. Once you retire from whatever it is you were doing, your bargaining power drops to near zero and with that the “respect” that you thought you had. Without power, without that respect, pseudo or otherwise, you as a man, have been demoted way, way lower than you ever realized. This disillusionment and sense of having been snookered by life is where the fledgling curmudgeon is born.
A curmudgeon is a person who used to be in power, used to be “respected”, but now that’s over. In one way, it’s a sad joke that is played on a whole lot of men. That BMW, Jag, or Mercedes won’t cuddle up next to you when you get older and whisper that “you’re still a pretty neat person.” That requires people...and sometimes Boston terriers. (Having raised a number of breeds, including dachshunds, we are biased. Bostons are little people in dog costumes who can’t talk and whose complete raison d’etre is making you smile.) If I had to prescribe two guaranteed solutions to curmudgeondom, I’d say, get a dog…and start helping people out.
Jimmy: As recently as three hours ago, Pam and I went down to our old haunt, The Eagle Diner, run by a Greek gentleman, named Jimmy. Jimmy is special. I’ve written about him before. Jimmy has silver hair and a ready smile. He is in his 60s and can find the humor as well as the insanity in almost everything. Jimmy is the antithesis of a curmudgeon. This morning I asked him what he’s up to lately. He said. “I’m in heaven, Henry. I’m teaching Dimitri, my grandson to dance!” (Keep in mind, Dimitri is about five months old.) “And…I’m also teaching him to sing…in Greek!!!” Jimmy is usually pretty happy about everything, but now he has found HEAVEN in a 15 pound squirming mass of child. Neither Jimmy nor Dimitri care anything about saying something stupid, nor about the possibility of making a mistake, they’re just enjoying life. I suspect that Jimmy will never have to fight the depths of curmudgeondom. There’s a lesson to be learned here.
Good ways to spot a Curmudgeon: There aren’t a lot of things they confess to really, really liking. Oh, they’ll eat, finding some things less awful than others. They’ll also listen to music, though 97% of the music out there is atrocious. Sex… Curmudgeons don’t have a lot of sex. Sex involves fun and letting yourself be a little, sometimes naughty child. Books… They seem to like the doom and gloom, relishing in the fact that everything is going to hell in a handbag. It seems that misery really does like company.
Money: Curmudgeons tend to be dramatically, unabashedly, unceasingly…cheap. They worked damn hard for their money and they aren’t about to spend one unnecessary cent. Strangely, they also seem to make some of the most gigantic errors in the field of finances. Not sure why…
Who Do Curmudgeons tend to Hang Out With? Though it’s counter-intuitive, they tend to seek each other out. Though they try to hide this fact, curmudgeons truly despise cheery people who think positively. They find them, most annoying, and people to be tolerated for brief periods, the briefer the better.
Closing the Loop: Coming back around to my first paragraph, that little kid inside the curmudgeon… He probably didn’t die, but he got so disappointed he stopped trying. He stopped looking for things to change his mood and accepted the lower echelon of finding other people to hang with who are equally miserable.
The Summing Up: Answers always appear to be over-simplistic. “Yes, dear, you’re right. I really should…get a dog, or take up the banjo, or call my grand kid, or play wax the dolphin, or take up sculpting, writing, singing, salsa dancing, flying quadcopters, making obscene clay sculptures or learning to make chili so hot that it will actually kill small animals….BUT…” There are a million stupid things you can learn to do. Better than that…the real cure to curmudgeondom is helping someone out. It really works and…THERE’S STILL TIME!!!
Think of yourself as Ebenezer Scrooge and you’ve just been visited by the alive-and-kicking “ghost” of Henry Harvey. Part of stopping the circularity of being a curmudgeon is realizing that……………….no one else really gives a shit…please s’cuse my French. Just do whatever you’re going to do to enjoy the time you have on this planet.
P.S. Required reading if you really want to pull out of that downward spiral. Audaciously they’re all accounted for, right here on this website:Pursuit of Happiness vs. Stuff: http://henryharveybooks.com/uncategorized/1619/
That Kid Inside You: http://henryharveybooks.com/uncategorized/that-kid-inside-you/
P.P.S. By the way, here’s what happens to your dream machine after a few years… Your wife, your family, your friends, your dog. If they are truly on your side, they won’t care what you drive or whether or not you’ve made a mistake. The mistakes you make could be the most endearing thing left in you.