Mid-life neuroplasticity

Mon 06 October 2014

Eyebrows. They need trimming? Why did the hair dresser ask me that, and why never before? I was told the answer at the Troon real ale festival about a week later. The following morning I'm fixing an amplifier that has increased the sounds levels of music for me for over thirty years. It has blown a slow-blow fuse - that's one very slow blow. The amp is older than the people I was drinking with the evening before. When I open it up it I discover I have become part of it - a thick layer of dust coats its circuit board, fat capacitors and the impressive heat sink. The volume control causes a crackle when I use it because my skin has got under its contacts.

They were a lovely bunch of people - bouncy, lively, intelligent, well-educated and irreverent. I ended up in their company thanks to a good friend; he is older than them but younger than me and described hanging out with them as liberating. It certainly is. It didn't make me feel old, just different. I didn't mind when one of them mentioned a swimmer who was competitionally "past it" at 13 years my junior. To a student-days' story about a pub whose name I couldn't recall, one laughed and said "Dunno, I was six then." I was surprised to be told the eyebrows thing was age-related, but was comfortable accepting it. I doth protest too little you think. Yes, but genuinely so. If anything I felt pleasantly surprised to see my reflection in these people.

I feel a little like I did as a teenager. My mind feels like it's opening up, and certain things are unsettling me and getting under my skin, but at the same time the world evokes more visceral feelings in me, and music punches deeper into my heart than it has in a good while. In short, I feel more alive.

I've recently moved to a new home. But has that caused this change in feelings? Or perhaps it was a symptom of it? Neither feels right. The referendum on Scottish independence certainly unsettled me, but it was not the sole cause of how I now feel; my reaction to it highlighted the symptoms of a change in the receptive state of my mind. The most I can say is that something has left me feeling more affected by, and more open to, external influences. The shake in society caused by the referendum would not have affected me so much if I was the person I was five or ten years ago. I feel sure that something has changed in me. Not necessarily for the worse. Feeling more alive is always better, isn't it?

Perhaps I'm having a mid-life crisis, but I prefer to think of it as an experience in mid-life neuroplasticity? I feel a stronger urge to express myself and make some impact, however small (though preferably large), on society around me. Being passive isn't an option. I want to do something for others, and give them the chance to do better, and be better than me. Making myself heard is important now - it wasn't before.

There's a tiny bit of me that wants the simplicity of life in a rut. A regular job, with regular hours, with a boss who gets paid more than me, but who shoulders responsibility that I don't want, and who I can rail against when excess work or blame gets loaded on to me. I could be more like others and play (or just talk about) football or golf, or be interested in cars. I could declare for a particular political party. Supporting the Yes vote for independence seemed like great fun, so much so that the SNP and Green parties have had a surge in membership. Or I could sign up for the Labour party - they're less fun, but seem to understand the economy better, even if they feel unable to stand up for what they're supposed to believe in.

But I'm as likely to join the Conservative party as to do anything of those things. Or, in other words, there's no chance of any of that happening. It all seems repellent and ridiculous to me. All reeking of lazy crowd-think. I'm conscious I may have insulted a number of people there. To them I say that's not my intention (but nevertheless, go fuck yourself). I'm not saying anyone is wrong, just saying what makes sense to me.

The path ahead of me doesn't seem easy, lacks any obvious destination, with few tangible rewards along the way. But it will be a path I beat out for myself, largely invisible to others, with many compromised twists and turns to accommodate close family and friends who barely comprehend what I'm trying to say. I don't feel I have much option but to express my free will so as to ensure the inevitable will happen.