I know what you thought–that I’d ghosted you, as the youth say. An Irish Goodbye, if you will. One minute here, regaling you with tales of burrito selfies and de-sebumed pores, then–POOF! In the wind, on the lam, a dame with no regard for the heart of a sap like you.
It’s not that, though. It’s not you, and it’s not me. It’s This Modern Life. I’m Virginia Slim, come a long way, baby, but now I’m out of breath and de-passe. What I’m trying to squeeze through the 1980’s advertising slush pile that is moonlighting as my brain is that I am fucking tired. And I am also so, so grown-up, in all of the un-fun ways that word means.
But first, let me say that while I did not abandon my project of trying to do a new thing every day, I amended it to “try to do some new or special things sometimes.” Every day, even as part of a one-time countdown to Liver Spot Lane in lovely Oldsville, Cronesylvania, is just too much. So, what I did instead was, whenever something came up that I kind of wanted to do but usually say no to because it takes too much coordination and/or furtive soul exchanges on a dirt lane outside a German village, I said let me see if I can make that happen, and sometimes, I did. That has led to me enjoying or participating in the following:
- a manicure
- a haircut (I have what can be euphemistically described as “complicated” hair and should get these frequently, but see previous entries for why not)
- a Sunday run with Runners Borrachos, a gang of smart types who get together and do a 5K then drink beer. I never go because of child care issues, but this time I did, and while I enjoy neither running outside in weather or the spirit of athletic competition, I did like the beer and talking at the end.
- babysitting my niece for no damn reason other than I volunteered because I think I need to make a deposit in the Karma Bank. Also, I looooooooove her.
- making dinner for my mom on a weeknight like I just entertain or something
- wearing yoga pants out of the house as actual pants
- buying a cake mix my son picked out for his school cupcakes instead of making them from scratch as I usually do. This actually works out because 5-year-olds don’t give a shit about my ginger lemon buttercream. Children have the palate of Las Vegas manhole cover.
I feel like it should be more, but one thing I didn’t like about this project was how any failure to fulfill the dictates led me to feel guilty and shitty about my life. And I am already on top of that, project I made up.
Another issue possibly interfering with my whole-hearted embrace of the countdown to, well, you know, is that I am not at all excited about this. I tried to trick myself, tried to see the transition as a positive, largely out of a sort of guilty adherence to some perversion of feminism I must have glommed onto when I was young and felt totally comfortable making pronouncements about how I wouldn’t freak out about aging because women are worth more than our appearances and whatever happened to valuing the wisdom of older women and my self-worth isn’t centered on society’s estimation of my beauty blah blah blah. I thought I was so smart. I knew nothing.
It’s the physical deterioration, of course, that bums me out, but even more so it’s the feeling that I’ve simply transitioned beyond getting to have certain kinds of experiences. It’s being treated as irrelevant by people who are younger and invisible by most everyone. It’s being an “emerging” writer only now achieving some small success alongside people born in the late 1980’s while writers my age are firmly mid-career. It’s wishing I could have overcome a lack of both economic privilege and self-worth to try this all sooner. It’s aging out of eligibility for writing contests. It’s needing to take an author photo but finding the image of how I think I look crashing up against the reality of the older woman I’m becoming. Perfectly attractive in a firm 6.8 out of 10 kind of way (number subject to fluctuate depending on the city), but with a face that is lined and dulling and yet still at the beginning of so much.
To which you may say, no shit. What did you think was going to happen? That the ravages of aging wouldn’t apply to you? But that’s the crazy thing about this that you cannot know until you’re in it–you know it’s coming, and it’s still a fucking surprise. Maybe if I was somewhere more satisfying professionally and artistically, I’d greet 40 with a sense of triumph. I’ve had several women in their 60’s and 70’s tell me that their 40’s were the best decade of their lives, but to a person these women had children much, much younger than I did, so being in their 40’s meant they were free, free of kids at home and first husbands and the constant pull of others’ need. That won’t be the case for me at all, and that’s okay. Maybe it’s that this seems to be such a pivotal time in most women’s lives, and I just can’t figure out what it will look like for me. I fear I’ll exit it with things much in the same place, that I will have spent the time buying increasingly expensive dolphin sperm face creams and in a job I care about but which offers exactly zero opportunity for advancement or raises. (Bounty hunting is adventure-heavy but not for the upwardly mobile.)
I’m not alone, I know, in these fears, but what do we do with them? How do I talk about planning to for my parents while also shopping for kindergartens? Can I say that the specter of menopause freaks me out? Can I say that I’m sad I don’t have the chance to have another child, even though I don’t think I want one? There’s an inevitability that 40 connotes for women but not for men–a kind of ending. See what Gloria Steinem recently said about aging women–we lose power in so, so many ways, even if we didn’t have that much to begin with.
But as I’m posting this on the day my son turns five, the night before I turn 40, I want to end with, if not positivity, then appreciation. I have loved people who didn’t make it this far, who fell sick in the body or the head or just had shit luck and didn’t get to bemoan the sags and crags of aging. I don’t believe in sucking it up and shutting up (obviously), as it’s the unsaid which wields a shadow power in our lives. I think it’s okay to say this thing we’re doing is hard because then we can help each other out, help each other move on. And I am moving, in the immortal words of whoever sang the theme song to “The Jeffersons,” on up. To 40. I hope to see y’all there.