Katy Bourne

The Big 5-0

POSTED ON July 07, 2012 | POSTED IN: My Blog | 4 Comments

 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



4 responses to “The Big 5-0”

  1. Cara Francis says:

    Dang, Katy. Life is indeed way harder than I thought it would be too. Who was the “I” that mentally measured just how hard was likely to be? Some smug ass twenty-something who used to be me. There is no point in revving up the theoretical time machine, she would not have listened. It’s all gravy when your muscles are springy and you don’t need reading glasses. Hard, damned hard. I think part of the shock is in the type of hard it turns out to be. You think about catastrophe… and certainly big sweeping anguish does come. There are those deaths, those losses, those taken-for-granteds that turn out not to be so granted. You bury your parents, you lose a job..or a career…or an opportunity. Those are relatively foreseeable, even by the smug 20 year olds amongst us. It’s the daily repetitive pounding that you never see coming. The moments when it is clear you are not a super hero to your kid. You are, in fact, the lamest disappointment ever, It’s the stupid things you were weak enough to do…the siren call of the easy way out. The times you were just too helplessly and pathetically tired to do a grand job on whatever the hell. The pebbles in your shoes you don’t notice for some time. Water on rocks, relentlessly, over time.
    You made me really think about the invisibility cloak of being a middle aged woman, I can see this one coming. I am somewhere on the fighting back continuum. I spend too much money on my hair and clothes. I may not to always have the money to do so…and that would call for a big gulp and a reality check for me. It won’t hold back the tide forever, either way. You know me well enough to know my story. You have seen me at my worst, at my most heartbroken, on the edge of self destruction..and you have been there on the other end of that text telling me to quit panicking and keep moving. Yeah, life is DAMNED HARD. Luckily, there is occasional balance. The days when the oranges stay in the fucking bag where they belong. And there are the souls you meet along the way. You are one of the heartening surprises in this life of mine. Love ya, girl.

  2. Vicky Rose says:

    Well again…Happy Birthday, Old Girl! The invisibility of which you speak is quite amazing. The ever-continuing evaluation by Society is that Beauty really is only skin deep, skinny and young. Add to that the harried life of a single mother, or even one with a mate, who doesn’t have the time, money or energy to “keep up appearances” and you have the formula for, forgive my language, the “Un-fuckabilty Factor.” This equates to an invisibility that was a hard adjustment and I believe special mostly to women. I was used to being pursued, perused, hassled and intruded upon. This ol’ feminist didn’t really know just how much that attention was enjoyed until it was gone; or even how much I relied upon it for my ego’s gratification and I am not sure which was harder to cop to!

    Regrets are those things you did NOT do. The introspection and retrospection are clearer with the lenses of age and experience. Predictions made by me about my future that were proclaimed in my twenties and thirties (especially those made pre-children)were seen through a haze of chemical overindulgence and that inaccuracy was compounded by no foundation in the reality that is Life. Life, that force that just keeps coming at ya, warts and all…and, yes, sometimes I get SO tired. That said, hard or not, it is Life, another day above the ground; and tho’ I haven’t always believed it, it’s better than the alternative

  3. Mary Klinger says:

    You know how you’re walking up to a door or line and see a very slow person just ahead? You know you can hurry and get past and ahead of that snail paced person if you just step it up. I’m that person they hurry to squeeze around and get ahead of. They look at you like you planned to get in their way and slow them down. It tickles me. I just smile, remembering myself doing the same. Your encounter with the eyeglass technician reminded me of choosing some myself last year.This eyeglass technician also gave me a revelation. This girl told me, I have a small face on a big head! Tracy Thomas was with me to give her opinion as I’ve never been able to see in the mirror anyway without lenses. The three of us laughed so hard, tears were brimming. This very young girls astute observation could not have been more true. I had to appreciate her candidness and the answer to why frames had been so hard to fit for the last 45 years. I love those frames you brashly took to. They look great on you. Life’s been a challenge for sure and shows no less a challenge growing older. Disability has allowed me many freedoms and a lot less stress, though. Second hand clothing stores, a severe grocery budget and staying at home a lot is fine with me. I am also a lot more resigned concerning personification. After taking the majority of 50 years to come to this… ease of manner plateau, I don’t so much mind the wrinkles along with the come and go aches. Thank you Katy for sharing with an open door to ponder this incremental stage of life. Hope your pace levels out to where you feel some extra freedom without an undesirable incident to get to receive it.

  4. […] recently marked my 50th year on this planet and have been experiencing a gnawing urgency to give something back. Moving forward, […]

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Katy Bourne is a Jazz Singer and Writer.