Chasing Down the Muse: The question without a decent answer

The circle of young faces turned toward me more for a reaction than for an answer. The air in the room was taut with anticipation as they waited.

My hands lifted to my face as I thought about my answer. Could it be that I had never really before considered this?

The time was several years ago, when I was counseling high-risk teens at a nearby high school. We met once a week, and one of the routine activities was that they could ask any question they wanted.

If none of us knew the answer, we would do our best to research and find out. Often, the questions turned in some manner to sex and/or drugs. Seldom rock 'n' roll. That's just the way it is.

We skirted no issues and often ended in lively discussions of risk factors and consequences, lifestyles and choices.

This question had been different. There were gasps heard and one voice said, "Jessica!" as if the young lady had just released an offensive odor into the room.

They waited.

I thought.

By now, you must be asking what was this mysterious question? It was not such a big deal, really. In so many ways innocuous, innocent, even inane, it still held some shock value if for no other reason than that people don't usually ask this.

While I pondered my answer, Jessica defended herself.

"I just want to know? Don't you?" she asked her peers, turning toward them.

My mind divided as I thought about my answer while admiring her gumption for asking the question and then defending herself.

Oh, yes, the question. What was it?

As usual, when we had started, hands went up in the air even as voices shouted out, but I called on Jessica and attention went to her and her question: "What does it feel like to have wrinkles?"

I know. I know. What? Where did this question come from?

But that was not the point. I had made a solemn promise to answer honestly any question. If I knew the answer. What did it feel like? I found I had never considered the answer and did not know. Hence, taking this in a very literal way, the immediate response was of hands to face, I suppose.

The answer, when it came, was a thoughtful, "I don't think I know."

This felt like a complete cop-out, but I truly did not know, had never thought about wrinkles in that way, and in some odd way, I suspect, was even unaware that I had them. This may have been some 15 or so years ago, but believe me, I'm sure I had wrinkles then just as I do now.

I was surprised that a lively conversation resulted for it seemed that would be the end. One of the reasons I have always enjoyed about working with youth is their refreshing ability to explore everything.

I try to emulate that, for, like Satchel Paige said, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"

Even now, occasionally I wonder how else I could have answered Jessica.

It was not an unreasonable question and yet I could not seem to come up with a reasonable answer. I still have no answer about how it feels to have wrinkles and it still doesn't seem to matter. But if it matters to you, I know the name of a good plastic surgeon who worked on my leg recently.

"To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent — that is to triumph over old age."

—Thomas Bailey Aldrich

CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer, counselor, and manager of the Sawdust Studio Art Classes in Laguna Beach. Always fascinated, inspired, and titillated by the beauty and the myriad mysteries of life, she can be reached at or by phone at (714) 745-9973.

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