I have a white hair. I had a white hair. In the early morning light of November 9, 2010, that fucking one white lock was glaring at me, daring me not to pull it out. I yanked it out. I want to believe that it is a fluke of vegetarian vitamin deficiency, but I’m afraid that it is really the start of an ambush of aging cells.
In fact, I had a foreboding of this getting old thing just the week before that fateful morning. My buddy Trace and I were putzing around downtown Boston. It was a Saturday, the day before Halloween, and at the Marc by Marc Jacobs store on Newbury Street, cute tweenies were planning a costume party:
“Yeah, totally dress up and come over tonight. We’re having a party and the theme is 90s grunge. It should be so fun!!”
As we walked out of the store, I nudged Trace: “Did you hear what those shopkids were saying?” She hadn’t, so I repeated it, and then got a bit hysterical: “Can you believe this. ‘90s grunge' is a costume for them! But it’s not a costume for me; ‘90s grunge’ is MY LIFE!!”
Which is true. It’s not just about operating my brain to the rhythm of Hole’s “Miss World” and Liz Phair’s “Glory.” It’s putting myself together in a way that grunge music pours of me like a too heavy perfume. This personal aesthetic is dictated by the epic slogan of a Nirvana t-shirt:
OK of course not literally. But I take the nihilist spirit of the text and turn it into a styling structure of feminine dissonance: stiff jeans, simpering t-shirts, limpid flannel; careful jewelry and sloppy make-up; big fat hair, small posture; clean skin, filthy mind. I used to think all of these things represented me. But the layers of the years, nay, layers of decades, have fused these things to my skin and I, me myself and I, have become a representation of those things. In other words, I used to think I wore these things on my body to carry with me the ideas they symbolized. But when twenty-year olds see me as an extra in a costume drama about the 1990s, I myself have become the symbol, I myself have become the costume. Bag me up, price me up ($6.66) and staple a cardboard fold-over tag on top: 90S GRUNGE COSTUME.
But unlike how the white hair makes me feel, I like this feeling of being a prepackaged costume for children ages 15 to 25. Like my insides (Born in Korea, moved to Iowa, had bad acne, was gothically gay, went to University of Virginia, blah blah blah ofpersonal history) have been scooped out clean and replaced with a jittery expectation of being filled by a younger body who wants to embody an idea that my body has become.
So growing old means: I’m becoming hollow. Hollow like a costume waiting for October 31st, hollow like...a handbag. As you may or may not be able to tell on my most current masthead, I have been feeling fused to my newest and most favorite handbag: a Proenza Schouler PS1 in black leather. The intense level of attachment I have to this thing has been something over which I’ve been wrangling with my words, but is captured nicely in the publicity video for the PS1 in patent:
Skin-sheathed body becomes reduced to handbag. When the cute tweenies unknowingly labeled me so old as to become costume, they also turned me into a handbag. And this is not a bad way to learn to grow old: you become not a role model for youth, but a role, as in, a shell to put on over complex flesh.
Being a role, being a shell: If I am an empty handbag, who is going to carry me around? I ask that, rather than: who is going to fill me and with what is that person going to fill me? This is a totally different self-pedagogy of growing old than the tired one of waiting for that one (that man) who will make my soul feel like a blood-enriched vaginal cavity. But what does it mean to think about the sugar walls of my brain as the jacquard lining of a luxury leather good? Rather than mark the passing years by the dread of not finding the man who will fill me thus complete me, I will instead imagine how the children who grow older with me will, in their brain, skin me and pull me around them to have youth adventures in the world. I might not know who or how many have done this to me. But I’ll know that it has been done: my skin has become leather and is having fun, out there, everywhere.