My guiding principle in creating this blog is authenticity and I always write from a place of openness and honesty. But every now and then, I wrestle with the conundrum of vulnerability and the simple question of whether or not to post about some of the more tender aspects of my humanity. Such is the case with this post. In the process of chewing this over, I reread a few older posts that I’d written, in particular, one on inspiration. I’m reminded that the artists who inspire me the most are the ones who go all-in emotionally and who have the courage to show the world who they are. As such, I summon up their fiery spirits and humbly hit “publish.”
A few weeks ago, I turned 50. As milestones tend to do, this has evoked a measure of introspection. Like everybody else, I have moved through an assortment of life experiences: I’ve run naked in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. I’ve also totaled a car. I’ve known the crazy rush of a fantastic review and I’ve spent the night in jail. I’ve buried one of my children. I’ve also been blessed with 25 years of sobriety. I have beautiful sons, a mighty tribe of extraordinary friends and the most incredible sister that anyone could imagine. I’ve known enormous love and I’ve endured deep pain. I’ve danced on pinnacles of bliss and I’ve also fought my way back from the abyss on more than one occasion. Given all of these, one would think that with 50, there would be great wisdom and insight as to how it all works. But the truth of the matter is that the longer I live, the less I know. If there’s one nugget to share at this point, it’s this:
Life is harder than I thought it would be.
Although I can’t say that I had a clear vision of what life would look like at 50, I can say that some things did not turn out as I’d planned. I guess in the back of my mind, I figured that by this time of life, there would be a settled quality and a sense of foundation in the world. I certainly didn’t expect that I would be navigating life –from the day-to-day minutia to the big scary stuff– alone. I thought there would be more certainty and perhaps a little more comfort. But at 50 years old, life is more ambiguous than ever. Alas, from the Buddhist perspective, this is an excellent place to start!
Getting a divorce in the middle of a recession is a really bad idea. While I’ll skip the grisly details, I will say that the fiscal recovery has been a motherfucker. I work my ass off all the time and I’m constantly on the hustle. There’s a line from an old Todd Rundgren tune (Or maybe Utopia?) that goes: “If you do not hunt, you do not eat.” That’s my mantra. I absolutely love what I do but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tired. The good news is that my muse is never too far away. Creativity always has and always will be my saving grace and lifeline to survival.
Physically speaking, I am relatively comfortable in my own skin and, for the most part, everything seems to still be functional. Up until a few years ago, I never felt any sense of aging in my body and age was just a vague number that had been assigned to my person. Ironically, all of those activities that I’ve done over the years that were suppose to promote wellness– running, dance, aerobics classes–are the very things that have taken a toll on my body. My knees are particularly beaten up. As my doctor used to say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” But in recent years, I’ve rediscovered the fluent joy of yoga. The Vinyasa tradition has given me newfound access to the power and wisdom of my body and my return to the mat has been nothing short of life changing. Even though my down dog may one day include dentures and Depends, I will do yoga until the day I die.
One of the more curious things that I’ve experienced in the past few years is a sense of invisibility. I’ve felt this both professionally and personally. I believe that a lot of middle-aged women encounter this. There’s a kind of cultural dismissal that happens. It becomes increasingly difficult to be heard or even seen. It’s as if our value is based on the functionality of our uteruses or the buoyancy of our breasts. In many situations, our life experience and any wisdom gained therein are paltry offerings. I had an experience a few months ago that seemed to illustrate this phenomenon. I made a quick trip to the grocery store on my way home one afternoon. It was around 5pm or so and the store was very busy. I was only getting a few items, one of which was a bag of oranges. Right as I was approaching the checkout, the mesh bag holding the oranges broke and my oranges rolled all over the place. It was an awkward moment; I was sort of half in the line and half not. There were people standing behind me. I was juggling my other grocery items and my billfold, while also trying to corral the unruly oranges. It was a clear fiasco and I could have used some help. Nobody stopped to help or even seemed to notice that I was fumbling. Finally, the store manager headed my way and I thought I might get a hand. Instead, he stepped around me and proceeded past. It was a stupid moment but a profoundly telling one for me. I sometimes wonder if I am merely a middle-aged fly on the wall of life. Although there’s a sadness to that, I’m not sure that it’s altogether bad. Great things have come from great observation.
Of course, there are slaphappy positives to being 50-years-old. For one, I don’t concern myself too much with other people’s approval. If I want to wear cowboy boots with yoga pants and eat ice cream for dinner, then dammit, I wear cowboy boots with yoga pants and eat ice cream for dinner. About a year ago, I was at the optometrist’s office, picking out some new glasses. I was looking at one fun and clunky set of frames when the sales clerk “suggested” that I might want to “stay away” from those particular frames because they “clash with my brow line.” I looked at her and said, “I’m almost 50 years old. What do I give a shit if my glasses clash with my brow line?” I bought those suckers. I’ve lived too long to not do what I want. Anyway, while I don’t care about other people’s opinion of me, I honestly don’t believe that most people are that judgmental. They’re too concerned with their own stuff. Another positive about this stage of the game is that I think I’ve finally hit my groove as a mom. I’m not perfect but I know I’ve improved. Parenting has completely kicked my ass over the years but I’ve learned a ton from my boys. I think that I’ve finally picked up a few skills. The other day, Enzo was bemoaning over some transgression I’d committed (I’d said something stupid or sang too loudly in the car). My reply was, “Yeah? Well, I’m still a good parent.” I stand by that.
My oldest son Emmett’s best friend died on my 50th birthday. He was just short of 19-years-old. Venus was also passing over the sun that day. Needless to say, we did not celebrate my birthday. The plans for a rowdy dinner party and an evening of jazz at the New Orleans were canceled. Instead, it was a day of deep and quiet reflection. If there was some profound meaning in the odd convergence of events that day, it’s not clear to me. I do know that Nap’s death shook us all and that it strengthened my resolve to cultivate more compassion in my heart and to live accordingly.
I guess the big question at 50-years-old is, “Why am I here?” Unfortunately, I don’t really have a big answer for that. Most days, it’s a little unclear. However, I think it’s possible to be cynical but also to have an open heart and a true enthusiasm for life. Unless I live to be 100, I figure my gig here is more than halfway up. I still have a lot of shit to figure out. But my heart is pulling me forward and I have a very strong sense that the rest of my life needs to be about giving something back and making other people’s lives better somehow. Maybe it will be helping to empower underdogs or making the world a safer and kinder place for LGBT youth. Or maybe it will be as small as helping a woman pick up oranges in the grocery store. I don’t know. But I’m here now. And I have a pulse.
Here’s to better days, great work and lives overflowing with compassion and grace.
Vulnerability is telling the truth about what you really think and fear.
– Susan Cain
This perfect moment is brought to you by the imaginary lightning bolts you can fling from your fingers any time you want.
– Rob Brezsney