Growing old gracefully

Learning is important: Every day for me is a school day, and I’ve always enjoyed the learning process because I have a relentlessly enquiring mind. That might surprise some of my teachers from my schooldays, who might have preferred to describe me as a dreamer and disinterested, but that was more the fault of the methods employed and boredom, rather than a desire not to learn.

In later years, I’ve pursued a wide range of learning opportunities and qualifications, both vocational and academic, not necessarily for the reward at the end, but primarily because I thoroughly enjoy learning, and that’s something that underpins a lot of what I do in everyday life, and also in SL too.

There are some however, who would say that academic knowledge, without application, is of limited use. I don’t necesarily agree with that view, because I think that even blue-skies, purely academic pursuits serve a purpose in broadening understanding, developing capability and provoking enquiry, all of which can lead to capability and application far beyond those initial limited constraints. Even so, we are occasionally blessed with research of such breath-taking weirdness, we can’t help but wonder how on earth the funding for such things could ever have been countenanced. A wealth of examples can be found at The Annals of Improbable Research, and of course the greatest of these are celebrated with the prestigious Ig Nobel Prize.

Usually, no matter how weird or way out, I can see some justification for such unusual topics for enquiry, but this week I came across a paper that caused even my eyebrows to raise in surprise, and I found it in no less august a publication than the British Medical Journal. Yes, this stalwart of medical research, more usually associated with research into drugs, medicine and surgery, appears to have branched out into the absurd with the publication of ‘Anticipating the ageing trajectories of superheroes in the Marvel cinematic universe’ (Hubbard et al, BMJ 2021;375:e068001, doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-068001)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to the Marvel universe, I am a complete numpty. Much to the frustration of all the comic book geeks I’ve ever met in SL, (and there have been a great many), whenever the discussion turns to superheroes and their ilk, my expression glazes over and I begin to wonder how grown-up people can be so obsessed with such things. I have learned – thanks to unwilling exposure to such discussions, and from snippets gleaned from The Big Bang Theory – that there are apparently two universes, Marvel and DC, but don’t ask me what that even means, let alone who might be part of it. I do know that Superman can’t handle kryptonite, but apart from that, I have absolutely no idea about any of those other characters, other than the babes are, without exception, super cool and sassy. One fact about which I am certain, however, without a shadow of a doubt, is that superheroes from any made-up universe are, quite definitely, fictional characters, and therefore the aforementioned paper squarely sits within the realms of ‘completely bonkers’. Clearly though, if you’re a comic book nerd and PhD candidate/post-doctoral professor, with too much time on your hands during lockdown given the opportunity to watch 50 hours of fantasy movies, you’re not going to want to turn it down!

It does make a somewhat interesting read though. And, it got me thinking…

Ageing is unavoidable, despite all humanity’s efforts over the centuries and our own personal endevours, whether we like it or not, the longer we live the more decrepit and wonky we become. No matter how youthful we may feel inside, our bodies conspire against us to keep us mindful that we’re no longer as young as we’d like to be. We begin to accept that aches and pains are part of everyday life and that bit-by-bit, parts of our body are going to misbehave and start to do their own thing, whether we like it or not. There’s that horrible moment we realise that we just don’t look good naked any more, and even fully-clothed, there’s an unpleasant degree of sagginess and softness where once there was firm, toned flesh. Suddenly we’re spending more time at the doctor’s than seems strictly necessary, we’re up all night for all the wrong reasons, and the exfolients, fragrances and beauty products in the bathroom cabinet now jostle for space with the ever-increasing dispensary of medicines, pills and potions that are apparently necessary for us to get through the day, without grinding to a halt, or popping our clogs.

Getting old sucks. Seriously.

Which is almost certainly why the overwhelming majority of SL residents choose to style their avatars as fresh-faced, twenty or thirty-somethings, in the prime of life and with all their faculties and charms, unspoiled by the ravages of time.

This does, of course, lead to some unrealistic traits… Cookie-cutter, shiny plastic skin; perfect hair; perky breasts; unblemished bottoms and not a muffin-top, love handle, bat flap or hint of sagging in sight. The men are tanned, lean, muscle-bound hunks, with broad shoulders, pert butts and a distinct lack of beer-bellies, middle-age spread or male-pattern baldness. Even those of us who choose realistic over romanticised and try to replicate the authentic real-life self, will choose a younger, fitter, better depiction of ourselves than the reality. And, who cane blame us?

Whilst there are those who choose to wander around as virtual pensioners, they are few and far between, and – based on avatar alone – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the bulk of SL users are relatively young. Experience though, tells another story, and I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve found myself surprised to learn that the mental picture I’ve built up of an acquaintance has been based on a completely wrong assumption that they’re much younger than the reality; indeed, many have turned out to be quite advanced in years, yet inworld they look – and more importantly act – as somebody much younger… As young, in fact, as they feel inside!

It’s another of the great benefits of being part of a virtual world like SL: We can be ourselves, but crucially, ourselves in what we would consider to be our prime. We don’t have to be constantly reminded that we’re not getting any younger by having to be popping virtual pills, and avoiding the mirror because we’d rather not see ourselves slipping into decrepitude. Instead, we can look as young as we feel, we can dance to the music of our youth, act irresponsibly and mess about in ways that, as adults, we might pretend to frown upon. And it’s so liberating and joyous that it does us good back in the real world too!

Welcome to the SL universe, a place where we all have a remarkable and wonderful super-power… The power to re-capture our youth!

s. x

You can tell by the way
She talks she woos the world
You can see in her eyes
That no one is her change
She’s my girl
My supergirl

Reamonn – Supergirl

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