“Our youth is the very oldest part of us”

When you have a moment, check out this fantastic article about creating theatre for young people: Theater of the Young, For the Young by Steven Dietz. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it. In particular, the quotes below captured my imagination in a big way.

Age is not a horizontal marker, but a vertical one. Our youth is never behind us, it is beneath us; it is never surrendered, only sublimated or surmounted.

All of our ages conspire within us and continue to underscore our days. We are all the young.

And what’s more: our youth is the very oldest part of us. We have carried it longer, had the chance to know it more fully, than any self we have concocted in the interim.

Yes! “We are all the young!” Ok, so this appeals to my vanity — I like the idea of being young — but it also speaks to something that I’ve always felt but could never quite articulate. That is, the idea that we carry our youth along with everything else that we accumulate in this life. There it is, packed in all of our little life-suitcases available for taking out and putting on whenever we need it. There’s our youth as a resource, a tool, a fuzzy old sweater that somehow still fits, something familiar, something neglected at the bottom of the suitcase, something that’s still shiny and fragile and resilient and prickly and fun and portable and us. Rather than being replaced, the young us lives alongside (underneath? in front of?) the old us.

Now that I think about it, in my experience leading workshops with adults it’s that sublimated youth that I’m aiming for. Sometimes subtle and sometimes direct, my questions are variations on “Will you play? Can you play? What’s in your imagination?” I know that youth is in there somewhere, right? “Our youth is never behind us…it is never surrendered.”

Some people seem to carry their youth with them in their pockets — easy to access, they know right where it is. And some people have shoved it to the bottom of a big steamer trunk underneath a lot of other baggage — inaccessible, lost — and then they have to dig deep to find it. Happily, even the deep excavations seem to be worth it. Seeing youth play is a beautiful thing, especially when the youth are not young.

Like my glasses and my keys, I lose track of my youth on a fairly regular basis, and then wander around frustrated and confused. But unlike my glasses and keys, which I consider to be necessities, I’m often willing to give up seeking out my youth when I can’t locate it immediately.

Does having a young child make it easiest to locate my youth? Sure, sometimes having a little one gives easy access to stereotypical features of the young — the wonder, openness to experience, easy love, raw emotion, quickness, creativity….and um, selfishness, rash impulsiveness, tantrums, etc. Sometimes parenting a child makes me feel old in the best ways (wise, knowledgeable, compassionate, calm) and the worst ways (exhausted, crotchety, pained, jaded). I’ve noticed that when I feel particularly crappy it’s because I’m acting out some toxic cocktail of the worst features of young and old. Then I don’t know who I am. I feel not only like I’ve misplaced my youth, I feel like I’ve misplaced my self.

Anyhoo, as a person prone to tangents and free-association-rabbit-holes-of ideas, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with bubbling up images of ‘concocting our selves,’ ‘our ages conspiring within us,’ ‘age as vertical or horizontal,’ ‘youth being the oldest part of us’….etc. Can’t you see this stuff unfolding and wrapping around a short story or a play or a painting? Quick, someone make some art about this and let me know!

Or perhaps, just think along with me about these questions…So, where is your youth? Can you find it when you need to? Do you want to? What makes you feel young?

Also, if you are a theatre-type, I highly recommend signing up for a daily email from the website Howl Round: A Journal of the Theater Commons. Consistently great content.

4 thoughts on ““Our youth is the very oldest part of us”

  1. I recently floated the idea that we don’t really mature much beyond kindergarten. As we age, we just get better filters. On a related note, there are studies that point to how our personalities don’t change much after early childhood. On such study suggests that “personality traits observed in children as young as first graders are a strong predictor of adult behavior.”

    • It’s funny to think of us as little first graders — makes me laugh to think about little you. Thanks for the comment. I think you are right (and smart)!

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