I thought I should probably write a post about turning 50 before I actually show up (uninvited) for a red-carpet event outfitted in black netting and a thong. I'm not Jennifer Lopez turning 40, so that would probably be an incredibly desperate and depraved act on my part--not to mention, so pitiful and sad.
So, I won't do that, at least not until I hit menopause and lose my mind. I'll write this post instead. Because, you see, if I haven't mentioned it already, I'm staring down the proverbial barrel of a 45, which happens, in this case, to be 50. October 15. Not yet. Not yet....
Oh, and I know the Baby-Boomers are all like, Fifty! Fifty is nothing! Fifty is so young!
Baby Boomers, that gigantic, navel-gazing bulge of a generation, have had that birthday already, and generated hundreds of best-sellers, movies, and cowboy songs all reflecting on the enormity of that particular personal journey. They've processed it to death, and now they're looking at 70 and thinking, Gee, fifty was so young...!
But I haven't turned 50 yet. And just because my cohort, though small, has exhausted everyone's sense of irony, that doesn't mean that our experience of turning 50 is of no interest to anyone. Obviously, it's of interest to us.
When you think about it, there have only been a few generations to have survived to 50 in sufficient numbers to warrant mass reflection. The business of getting old can't be getting old yet--it's still rather young, historically speaking.
But let's be honest. Let's take a candid look at ourselves. You know what we're doing, cohorts of mine. We who are turning 50--or have just turned 50--are becoming genuflectingly retrospective. We dig up old pictures of ourselves and of our parents, and of our parents' parents--photos of every one we ever knew (especially, if they got old and died), in the glorious bloom of youth.
Why are we suddenly interested in the bygone youth of our parents and grandparents? Because we ourselves are becoming them. All of a sudden, we realize, like, five minutes ago, that they were young once, too. Nooo! Yess!!!
Go! Find those pictures. They're somewhere in the closet or the basement, or under a bed in a big tupperware box. Look at those people! They were gorgeous! Youth itself is gorgeous. Even the truly sub-par youth had a vibrant glow about him/her that we can only now achieve at great expense: Tough Mudder, Iron Man, surgery, cosmetology... And even so, we're never going to be as bright and shiny as we once were....
I'll confess to an act of desperation. I took a picture of my arm--yes, my arm! I posted it on Facebook. You may have seen it there and pitied me. The caption only made it worse: This is not your granny's arm! HA HA HA
But dammit, my arms have never looked better in my life! And I look at my arms, and I think, FIFTY! FIFTY? FIFTY!!!!!!
Fifty is the new F-word.
It doesn't sink in, no matter how many times I say it. Am I deluded? Look at the arm! Not photo-shopped! It's a damn fine arm. Not the same color it used to be. Kinda splotchy with sunspots and yes, the hands. The hands are the circles in the trunk of the tree that let you know EXACTLY how old the tree is. (Some older hands are the soul of discretion, but not mine.)
In the last few years, I have gotten stronger and healthier; however, at the same time, I have lost three teeth. And I hardly had any cavities! I have broken two fingers on two occasions since 2011--prior to which I had never broken a bone. I have kept my weight down, but I've been diagnosed with the same auto-immune connective-tissue disorder as Venus Williams. (It has not improved my tennis.) I've got a little mitral valve thing going on. It's leaky. I have a little heartbreak. But of course I would!, having lived this long.
They say about women that if we survive our fifties, we're likely to live to a ripe old age. The fifties, in other words, are the gauntlet years. It makes me a little nervous that all these pesky medical conditions that no one's too terribly concerned about are cropping up just now, at the end of my forties, as I'm getting prepared to run that freakin' gauntlet.
My great-aunt used to say that when she got together with her friends they would have an organ recital. How's your heart? How's that kidney infection? Are you still on the list for a new liver?
I'm having those conversations now. We're having those conversations. It has started.
Ooh!, and as soon as I turn 50, I get to schedule a colonoscopy! YAAAY! That sounds even better than having my breasts crushed between cold glass plates.
I'm seriously not sure I'm willing to go through with the colonoscopy. I got deep psychological reservations. And anyway, in ten years, it'll be margarine. They'll say that colonoscopies stimulate polyp growth.
Just go about your life and try not to think about your ass too much. Eat the fake calamari. That's the best thing you can do for your colon.
But that's the least of my worries. Menopause lurks like the Milwaukee lion (there's currently a lion lurking in Milwaukee, in case you haven't heard). I know I announced on FB that it already happened, but I was wrong--I just forgot to write down a date. It happens. Not the part about announcing menopause on Facebook, but the part about forgetting to write down a date. That happens.
We know it's going to make me nuts. It may be happening already. I may be nuts, That's how it works, right? You keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Wait, that's not it. You insist you're sane when clearly you are not. Bingo!
Are you sane?
There is a bright side to this whole living forever thing and not being young anymore.
First of all, I am still pretty healthy and strong, so I have some of the benefits of youth while enjoying the breadth and scope of perspective that comes with the passage of time OR genius.
If you're Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Mozart, Joan of Arc, or Virginia Wolf, you can get a lot done in a short life.
But I, personally, could not have seen the arc of history bending in one direction or another without having lived this long.
That's why novelists are generally older. Time does tell a story. We may not like the story, but it unfolds nonetheless. In the fullness of time, we begin to see our own story with clarity. We sense the shape and weight of it, and maybe even glimpse its probable end.
I like my story okay, so far. It's still a work in progress. I expect there will be more surprises and high points yet to come.
I have one or two things to do before I rest.
But so far, when I look back I am grateful for every chapter, and all of the attendant characters. Some of them were hugely influential, and some probably gave me this leaky heart. It was frequently very interesting, and I don't feel unduly burdened by any of it. If it was humiliating then, it's funny now.
Everything that happens to a writer enriches the work somehow, no matter how painful or miserable it may have been.
Now that I'm old, I have seen history repeat itself. I have seen hard-won lessons lost from one generation to the next. Even in my own life, I have forgotten the lessons of my mistakes and made the same mistakes all over again.
It's the patterns of history that reveal the person, the story...the country...the human condition...the fate of all humanity...You see it in the patterns, over time, if you're paying attention.
So, for all my apprehension about turning 50, this is truly the most interesting time of my life so far, and the best time, I think, for a writer to bloom.