Saturday, September 25, 2010

thirty-seven today



Yep, it’s my birthday, and I find I’m all caught up in self-reflection. I miss writing for myself so much that it is my gift to myself today to make time to write just for me and put aside for a few the cleaning, the school work, the organizing, the cooking, the rest of life that seems to always supersede this craft that I cherish so much.

Last night I had a lovely date with a lovely friend to see Aimee Mann, and on my way into the show I joked how I must truly be middle-aged now, as I was turning thirty-seven accompanied by my friend, already in her forties, and we made our way into the show to take in the emotional, female, singer/song-writer, clearly also middle-aged herself. Doesn’t it sound just like a damn episode of Thirtysomething?

Except, I defy that half my life has gone by. I am working on the theory that perhaps I may live to be 111, a wonderful number by my estimation. If that is the case, then I have lived precisely one-third of my life, which feels remarkably magical to my odd proclivity toward prime numbers, multiples of three, and repeating digit numbers. Thus, I might be middle-aged in the sense that today I begin the second thirty-seven year era of my life, which will make up my middle years. I’m at the very, very beginning of the middle. I hope. (Thank you for indulging that number weirdness. My brain works in mysterious ways.)

Ms. Mann, fine musician that she is, put on a thoroughly enjoyable show. One moment felt particularly poignant. She introduced her song, “31 Today,” and spoke of how when we are young many of us expect that we may die before reaching our thirties, as that age seems impossibly old and far away. However, she believes that if we do reach our thirties that we may be quite surprised by how much we don’t have our shit together by then, as evidenced by the sad song that laments that point. I wanted to resonate with the sentiment of the song, it being the closest thing to a birthday song about someone in their thirties that I was likely to see performed live on the eve of my birthday, but honestly, it was all wrong for me.

You see, I could never ever have guessed, not even for a single moment, how much more I would enjoy my adulthood than I did my childhood. I was so doom and gloom as a youngster, stricken with the infirmities of a broken family in a broken town in a woefully broken culture, that I couldn’t have begun to guess what grandeur my life might hold in my late thirties. Then, I started weird number games in my head again, because that is what I do, and I started to think about what my life was like and how I would have imagined my future exactly half my life ago, which was the very pivotal age of eighteen and a half.

At eighteen and a half I was just finishing my first year of college. I hated college then. I have no idea why I went to college at that point other than it was what everyone else in my private, all girls, college prep school were doing, as well as my two closest friends, Sarah and Allison. I loathed high school, and junior high school before it, with a foaming passion, and I cannot believe anyone fooled me into thinking I was ready to undertake more academia. I wasn’t ready. And yet, I had high academic goals for myself. My Aunt Lindsey, what with her prestigious PhD and all, my only immediate family member who completed undergrad work let alone post-graduate studies, definitely led by example. I wanted what she had, even though half my life ago the thought of these many years of school was nauseating. As I sit amidst the last semester of my graduate program, I realize that it’s not terribly surprising that I made it this far, though the girl of eighteen and a half would have been quite surprised to know how incredibly much she would love and become enriched by her collegiate and university experiences. I am blessed to have attended fine schools and to study under remarkable teachers, and today I give great thanks for that.

How would she have pictured herself, that girl? I can tell you that she would not have been surprised at the news that at twice her age she would be covered in tattoos and piercings and would still be dying her hair colors out of the rainbow spectrum. She was ripe for that. Babies? Considering I got pregnant the first time at precisely nineteen and a half, and had already become utterly fixated on women’s bodies and the cycles of the moon and craving to get in touch with my archetypal goddess self well before that, I assure you that girl knew that motherhood was looming on the horizon. The bigger shock to her, I suppose, would be that all these years later she would only have had two children, and would still be longing for more. The unexpected sensation that I am dealing with now is that after desperately longing for more babies during all these years of unbridled fertility, that for the first time since those heady days of womanhood’s early blush, I am finally beginning to feel like it might be enough to never conceive and never give birth again. I am not convinced of it yet, but not breeding again no longer feels like a tragedy. I might yet adopt, though…

At eighteen and a half the most remarkable, spiritual moments I had had were all at Unitarian-Universalist youth conferences, and maybe at a Grateful Dead show or three. Since I was too old for youth cons and the Dead were someday going to die, I would have thought it safe to assume that the ecstatic period of my life would be all downhill from that point. There were not going to be holy existential pinnacles, over and over again, in the forms of child-bearing and rearing, lovemaking, dancing, music worshipping, festival going, traveling, and deep, late, late night conversations with the most loving of friends. I did not see that coming. I had no idea it would keep getting better and better and better, with no end in sight. I mean, Burning Man, you guys. Seriously. But, as a young woman, I revered youth, believed that we had it all. I thought, how could a bunch of old fogies have more fun than teenagers? This, I truly believed. I assure you that there hasn’t yet been a trance dance floor all-nighter in which I did not think, at least at one point in time, that I could never have guessed as a youth that this much fun was possible. That eighteen and a half year old girl applauds this thirty-seven year old lady for her ingenuity in coming up with more and more delightful and radical ways to have a good time. Good show!

Now then, do you remember that ripe, smooth skin of our youth? Can you picture how we once glowed? It is easy to see now in our children and their young friends, that golden, fleeting gorgeousness of youth. One of the most astonishing phenomena of entering my middle years is that despite the loss of the idyllic body of my youth, is that today I feel more beautiful than I did eighteen and a half years ago. My young woman’s mind was so much more clouded by the insulting messages of patriarchal media and the hurtful things perpetrated upon my body by those who used me recklessly that I was never able to enjoy my beauty then. I am profoundly grateful that I learned to live comfortably in my body, unlearned the lies that misinformed me of my inadequacy, and have come to see my image in the mirror with clarity; I am beautiful, and so are you. But it is a source of great regret that I was unable to revel in myself during my brief days blessed by youthful, Aphrodite inspiring radiance. To the young ones that I know, I implore you not to make this same mistake. Learn to love yourself now before you lose parts of yourself you shall never regain. To the parents and teachers that I know, strive to help the youth recognize their own beauty! It is a tragedy for them not to know it.

And I must say, thank you, thirty-seven year old body, for chugging along as well as you have. Thank you, thirty-seven year old face, for braving the elements and the years of laughter and tears with such grace. You are exquisite.

And then there is the whole not married thing. At eighteen and a half I was SOOO in love with my children’s father. I wanted to be partnered with him forever and ever. I thought we had been lovers in previous lifetimes, that we had a timeless, ageless love hardly conceivable by mere mortals. But…… we all think that when we are in love at eighteen and a half, right? Mmhmm, we do. But yes, I did authentically believe that Alan and I would have a successful partnership, and unlike our parents, we would learn to make it work through many years. Obviously, I was quite wrong. And even if I could have known at that age that my relationship with Alan would evolve out of partnership, I feel sure that I would have thought that by the ripe old age of thirty-seven I would surely have succeeded in some other long-term pairing. Furthermore, I think my young self would be saddened and scared at the prospect that she would be an old lady alone. Hmmph. Guess what, missy? It’s not so bad! I have so much fun! I am loved by so many giving, adoring friends, and I have explored such a variety of interesting, if not always functional, pairings and love relationships that I feel enriched. I feel sated. I feel like my life is enough. I have art, poetry, education, music, the high harvest moon and the scent of spring on the air. I have dogs. Cats. Snakes. Rats. I have the most comfortable bed and deeply restful nights of sleep. I have the future.

That is not to say that I don’t desire to go deep with someone, to spend long years in reflection with another intelligent, striving, uplifted human being to discover what hidden potential that we might unlock in each other. I do. But I do not fear living without it. I do not doubt that the other opportunities that life will bring me and that I will create for myself can be just as fulfilling and may bring me to unimagined shores. I am at peace with my singularity, while being open to connecting with lovers and perhaps a partner or more.

My home and land. Wow. Who knew? I hoped. I think I knew. I was determined to have a sacred plot of land upon which my family could live and cherish as our bastion of heathen dirt worship. I knew I needed a place where kids and dogs and friends and plants could all thrive, away from the threats of traffic and bright lights. It is not perfect. It is a struggle to pay for it, to maintain it. I have not been able to do anything quite near what I have hoped with it. But we have it. And I love it. I love every sunrise, moonrise, lightning storm, starry night, blizzard, bloom, and breeze that I experience here. You did it, Jus. You manifested land and got out of Shaler Township, which you so needed to do. It has been an unexpected journey, arriving at this home, and required the generosity and support of many along the way: my AMAZING little sister, my brother and mother, the deep love of my former partner, and all of you who have ever dug a hole, driven my kids around, watched my dogs, and supported me emotionally so that I could keep it up to keep our home. We did it together, and there is no end to the thanks and praise I offer you for helping me make my girlhood dream come true.

And today I make a dedication to Zelda. She was a beloved pup of mine, with a long, silky, black coat. She was killed by a car on Mount Royal Boulevard, the busy road where we lived, on the eve of my twentieth birthday, seventeen years ago yesterday. Only moments before she ran into the road I was crooning to my brood of three dogs, promising them that someday I would have land for them to roam. The painful irony that her life ended on the busy road just past my front yard almost instantly as I made that promise was bitter, bitter, bitter for my heavily pregnant, emotional self on the very last day of my teenagehood. But I think that perhaps Zelda’s life was a sacrifice to propel me to make that promise come true. Zelda is an angel, and was designated as Lennon’s guardian, and she has watched over us well. Thank you, precious girl.

Yes, I am entering my middle years with nostalgia and delight, some regrets but much gratitude, and full of zest for the years to come. Thank you, those of you who have shared this journey with me, those who chose me and those who got stuck with me through life’s random assignment or karma or whatever has brought us together. I live my life for all of you. You make it worthwhile. Your love has propelled me to places that eighteen and a half year old woman could not have dreamed possible. I am spellbound by the magic of your love and the ever-building crescendo of my blessed life. Thirty-seven today, and it is the prime of my life.

7 comments:

Garrett J. Cummins said...

I have found the same thoughts and feelings reflecting in me in my mid-thirties. Great post.

GJC

natty said...

thank you for sharing. You are a libra-lady, goddess, earth mother, mama, and friend to me. I am also blessed to have crossed-paths with you and forever have you as a part of my journey. Thank you. Bless you. love,el

Holly Rose said...

Happy Birthday, Goddess Justina! Thank you for sharing your post. I have a few comments.
First of all, I always thought you were drop-dead Gorgeous. In fact, I probably never told you, because I was in awe of you, overall--and it's funny to think now that we're only two years apart, but in UU days, I thought you were exponentially out of my league so why would you care if some kid told you she thought you were beautiful? Well, I'm over it. I'm telling you now. :)
Also, I'm happy to read and find myself agreeing with your thoughts. Heading towards 36 and having had a cataclysmic year, I'm constantly surprised by now-me and then-me and the things that change. I used to think I knew everything and had it all figured out. All I know as I get older is that I know less than I thought. We are so lucky to be alive and learning! Also, it's also the birthday of my fiancee (with whom I split last Thanksgiving, so we're approaching our one year apart). So yeah, lots of what you wrote hit me right in the heart.
I love you, Justina! And you are even more gorgeous now than you were then, and you're rich in so many ways! Sending much love to you, and my gift is a humble reader advisory--if you haven't read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From The Sea, now is the perfect time.
xox
Holly

Anonymous said...

Here's to 37 more!!!!!! I LOVE YOU! thank you for sharing your wisdom. what a gift. love, melmac

kate said...

I've been waiting for a new post from you. And this is an incredible one. And oh so pertinent for me. I turn 40 on 10-10-10, and it seems my life is not what I thought it would be a year ago. And now I get the splendid, magnificent, terrifying, glorious job of reinventing myself as a woman. Thank you for being an inspiration.
Kate

Anonymous said...

just-a-beautiful life. i read this with tears, how we live such parallel lives in the same city, probably knowing the same people, im guessing passing each other in these same streets every day. im happy to see your doing well. more than well. phenomenal.and phenomenally happy for you. woman. ~J

Jessica said...

Happy Birthday! I am thirty seven myself and found great wisdom and insight in your words. Positivity and self respect so eloquently stated. Blessed be, weaver of words.