Tag Archives: 49

The Key

In less than two weeks, I’ll cross the threshold from 49 to 50. This year, and this blog, have flown by. I haven’t written much of late because I’ve been fervently and joyfully working night and day on the things I intended to do to make myself ready for this new decade!

To approach my fiftieth birthday with intention and attention has been a great gift to myself. I’ve shed both the limiting habit of self-doubt, and fifteen unwanted pounds. It’s been no secret to anyone but me that I’m exceptionally smart, but for the first time *I* am fully confident that my tremendous intellect, imperfect creativity and bold curiosity have an important place in this world.

In reflection, a few things have been key to this “training up” for turning toward my decade of power.

One has been recognizing the things that drive me, and putting them to work on my own behalf. I have always been someone who carefully calculates, then takes, profitable risks. Once I recognized this, I intentionally cultivated that risk-taking into entrepreneurial savvy, creating both a successful small business and a growing social history project, right in the middle of this economic recession.

Another  key has been learning to treat my self – especially my embodied self — with kindness. This has led to greater patience with pain, and more energy. It’s also had the unusual side-effect of putting my most serious illness, a fatal tendency to take myself too seriously, into remission.

But the key that matters most isn’t metaphorical; it’s a literal key. It’s the door key to a place called The Writer’s Mill, a co-working space for serious writers. It’s a place full of people who are, in the words of Mary Heaton Vorse, “applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair” every day to write  articles, and blogs, stories and books. It’s a place for people who say without mumbling “writer” when asked who they are in the world. It’s the place I’ve been too afraid to say that I belong. Until now.

I plan to unlock my fiftieth year with the key to that front door.

Right Where You Are Now

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a trillionaire, and you are going to be right where you are now!” said an angry Zach to his dad.

How easily a seven-year-old kid can chill a grown man’s soul.

Zach’s taunt goes straight to the heart of unspeakable fear of middle age: This is it. The best you are ever going to be is right where you are now. And right where you are right now,  quickly approaching fifty, is not where you ever dreamed you’d be. Not even close.

I spent my youth cultivating dreams. What kid didn’t fantasize that she would grow up to be a millionaire (back before the wealth gap made mere billionaires irrelevant) or a famous writer, or simply well-known and better-liked than she’d been in high school? As we got older, those dreams became more modest and concrete in their intentions.  After a few glasses of wine, one friend confesses a long-held secret plan to live in Paris, at least for a little while. A peripatetic artist tells me that he dreams of coming home to a house instead of an apartment, and seeing a light on at the window because someone inside is waiting for him.

Our forties mark the last, best, chance to make those dreams come true. They are latest reasonable years for white weddings and fat babies; the last chance for promotions that say we’re still somehow climbing the corporate ladder. Our late forties are the last time we’ll get to start over in a new place with the idea that someday, here, we will have old friends.

This is sobering news. It leaves me breathless to think that my life is now composed of middles and endings, not beginnings.Forty-nine is a map of reckoning, marked with a big, red arrow that says “You Are Here.” It’s not where I imagined I would be.

And I am terrified of a life in which I might remain here, fixed but still aspiring; trapped, in Zach’s words, right where I am now.

Now, this is going to hurt a little bit

I’ve never been very good at this part. I have no tolerance for pain, little sufferance for suffering . I was the child who needed the lollipop before I got the shot. Anaesthetic is my favorite Triple Word Score move in Scrabble.  Raised on ibuprofen and OxyContin, discomfort has always been optional in this life. Mostly, it’s an option I’ve not taken.

But for two weeks, I have been sick with the flu. The real influenza, not some 24-hour bug.  As it turns out, the real flu is a debilitating and painful viral infection. What’s worse, it’s one of these $%^&*  Character Building Learning Experiences.

When you are in your latest-possible-forties and have the flu, you get limited sympathy for your troubles. Friends are sorry and offer advice, but they generally expect you to have grown accustomed to a few physical aches and twinges by now.  For a discomfort as temporary as the flu, they expect you to buck up and carry on.

Learning to bear suffering with grace is so … grownup. So dignified. So beyond my ken. Apparently, learning this discipline is part of my transition to this new place in life. Full womanhood includes accepting discomfort and bearing pain while staying focused on my intentions to be  awake and alive.

It seems that to be grown up is to know the difference between analgesia and anesthesia. It’s fine to slug down NyQuil for the flu, but there are no Band-Aids for the boo-boo of discovering a parent is losing his ability to communicate. There are no fizzy tablets that will ease the pain of a sibling’s sudden, but not unexpected, death. It’s undeniably mature to wake up to that old, familiar ache in the ankle or a hip and realize that this morning’s need for pain relief isn’t  a temporary situation, it’s the way you’ll wake up for the rest of your life . Difficulty  becomes an old friend we can count on to show up every day.

Pain is part of the way life is. Its presence does not diminish joy, unless I let it. We’ll never be friends, pain and I, but I’m resigned to learn to walk alongside it. Ignore me if I limp and whine for a little while. I’m only beginning  to learn how to take this in stride.

Groundhog Day

This Groundhog Day, sleet covers the eight foot drifts of snow. There’s not a chance in the world that any woodchuck can get out of its burrow today, much less catch a glimpse of sun.  There’s a joke in this, of course. The lore says that if a groundhog sees his shadow on the second of February, he’s come out to gather food for six more weeks of winter to come.  But, if the weather is overcast and the groundhog sees no shadow, spring will soon arrive — in just a month and a half!

It’s all in how you look at it.

I’ve been looking at my positive intentions as I hurtle toward fifty: learning about magic and mercy, making community and closet space.  But this forty-ninth year is not simply about choosing how I will look forward.  it also involves looking back and taking stock. I can only set realistic intentions for going forward if I understand where I am now and how I got here.

And where I am today is stranded indoors, thinking about opportunities unseized and chances missed. This is a well-worn track in my life, I fear.  I’m the sort of person who mostly sees opportunities in hindsight – the missed connection, the offer of help ignored – and then feels bad about it.

I dwell on things I lacked the courage or know-how to pursue: why, I have friends who could have helped me become a famous poet or a fashion writer! I had the opportunity to remain an American ex-pat or become a great organizational leader! I could have been someone who played tennis, who spoke French flawlessly, who wrote important works from a snug little cottage deep in the Canadian woods! If only I’d had the discipline, or the vision, or the nerve. If only I had understood the opportunity that was there. If only,  if only.

If only life was like the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray gets a “do over” of a single awful day. He slowly comes to appreciate the opportunity present in every moment,  until he finally learns the secret : it’s all in how you look at it.

Some days I want to believe George Eliot : “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” But facing fifty with integrity is about looking missed chances dead in the eye.  I can still learn to publish poems, but my youthful dreams of fame are unlikely. These knees may get better, but they will never, ever play tennis.

Facing fifty means facing the fact that some trains have left the station: I am too old to mortgage myself into a house, and will likely spend my life in this tacky little condo surrounded by noisy American neighbors and riparian woods and scrub. Now that I’ve hit my Latest Possible Forties,  potential employers  take a look at me and  pass — they say if ever I was going to be a great organizational leader, I’d have become one by now.  My bookshelf indicts me with 23 dusty French novels.

Getting to fifty with clear intentions requires me to look at who I’ve become with a flinty eye. I have to accept who  I am—and mourn my lost dreams – before I can set a path for who I want to become.

If the lesson of Groundhog Day is that it’s all in how you look at it , then the first requirement  is to bear being able to look.  Because an unflinching look at the past is the only Groundhog Day do-over we get.

The Year of Reckoning

Forty-nine  makes me feel anxious because I know that  fifty is  a time of endings. Every magazine article and blog that declares “50 is the new 40” denies this, but it is true. Life is finite. I am more than half-way done. There are things that I am unlikely ever to do if I do not begin them before I turn 50.

Which makes forty-nine the year of reckoning. I no longer have the childish luxury of believing that what I put off until tomorrow really will wait until another day. Every day this year, I must choose to live with the aches that follow biking and Pilates, or choose to live forever with a ponderous, cranky , ever-weakening body.  I am daunted by the knowledge that there are people I will never be, selves I will never know or explore if I don’t finally get around to it this year;  so  this is the year I must  finally publish my research, my rants,  my sonnets and epitaphs instead of just writing great letters to my friends.

Some systems believe seven is the number of discipline and perfection: this seven-squared year demands that I make a habit of offering the fullness of my every talent, skill, and gift, whether or not I am afraid.  And I am afraid.

Which leaves me , dear readers, in need your stories and company. What helps you to be bold, instead of wondering “If Only Things Had Been Different”?   What have you learned to love so well that even fear cannot hold you back?

(Even if  you got here through my Facebook page, please leave your comment here. Just click on the “Post A Comment” link. )

Go Big. Be You.

The note above my desk says :

Go Big. Be You.

Step It Up.

Being Small:  Game Over.

It’s a birthday card to myself.  It helps me to remember where I am on this journey of self-knowing.

It’s there to remind me that I promised to answer The Birthday Question in public this year.  I turned 49 almost a month ago, and I promised on my birthday that I would tell you the most significant thing I’ve learned in the past year.

And then, I suddenly stopped blogging.  Funny, that.

You see, the most important thing I learned this past year is that it is time for me to renounce timidity in my life. Forty-nine is my last chance to let go of a lifelong habit of living small. I have lived a Pretty Good Life, but not nearly as bold a strong a life as there is in me. This is the year that I am called to let go of smallness of my own making; it is time to choose a big, fat, juicy life. While I still can.

There’s something about this that I find terrifying.

The Birthday Question

Thursday was my 49th birthday: my  initiation for turning Intentionally Fifty has formally begun! I have spent much of the last week reflecting on how I want to spend this year. In particular, I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish before I turn fifty, what experiences and accomplishments I want to have under my belt before I finish my forties.

But first, I need to party. One can’t properly celebrate a birthday in the middle of a busy work week, so I plan to spend this weekend celebrating. Won’t you please celebrate with me?

A Birthday Tradition: A circle of dear women in Ohio taught me celebrate with this special birthday tradition, one that I invite you to share:

  • We make a semi-circle, in birth order. Those younger than the celebrant tell the group one thing they look forward to about achieving the age of the celebrant.  Those older than the celebrant tell the one thing they remember most about being the age of the celebrant. Then, the birthday celebrant answers The Birthday Question: What is the most significant thing you have learned during the last year of your life?

So, Dear Reader, please join the circle and tell me:

  • To what do you aspire  before you turn fifty?
  • What do you remember most about your forty-ninth year?

I promise to answer The Birthday Question in return!

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