Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Contemplations on turning 40

I started thinking about turning 30 when I was 27. Mainly, I thought about what I wanted my 30s to look like, and how to get there. I was alarmed by what I had not yet accomplished or experienced, so I set about achieving a few goals. I rented an art studio, started putting my work out into galleries and shops and doing informal shows. I traveled to Europe and Mexico. And I switched gears on my career, moved from Seattle back to Olympia, got involved with my good friend Mike, got married, bought this property, got pregnant and had a baby, all within three years. I started my business and have been working steadily at being an artist and living sustainably for the duration of my 30s.

This year, I had a similar experience, realizing I'm swiftly approaching a new decade and wondering "what now?" What do I want my 40s to look like? Forty is hard. The physical changes are more tangible: my weight had redistributed so my clothes don't fit right anymore, my eyes can't focus on anything within about 16" of my face, I've lost stamina and motivation to work out, my back is vulnerable, and I've experienced (too soon, too soon!) perimenopausal symptoms.

As a woman, I think 40 is a significant age. The bloom is officially off your rose. My mental image of a woman at age 40 is subdued. I put on my black leather, knee-high, lace-up Fleuvogs and wonder, "Am I too old to wear these?" I think I am supposed to stick to high-waisted jeans, plain knit tops and practical brown shoes. (Though jeans now cut into my thicker waist and squeeze my thighs like sausages.)

I think of all of the things I will no longer do. I don't think I'll ever go club dancing again. I can't stand being drunk nowadays, though I sometimes crave the silly abandon that comes with it. I'll never experience that exhilaration of falling in love, first kiss, the exploration of a new romantic partner. No more road trips where I get in my car with my dog and just go, camping spontaneously on logging roads or sleeping in parking lots. No more uncontrollable laughter late into the night with a good girl friend.

And there are the things I never did. Things I meant to do. I never went off traveling without a partner along. I was never in a Yaz cover band called "Strangler Fig." I never got a graduate degree or learn to play an instrument or ride my bike down the coast or learn aerial rope dancing.

But then, I never planned on having a child. And I never believed I could actually work as an artist. I have no regrets, not really.

Still, as I prepare to enter the next decade of my life ("Your last juicy decade" to quote a friend of mine) I feel like I'm doing some kind of housecleaning of my identity. I want to become more organized at home, more focused with my work, to earn a fair wage that actually contributes to our household income, to live more simply, to find time for fitness, to find time for self-care (baths, meditation, visiting friends, reading BOOKS, writing, playing), and to get back in touch with my humor and imagination. And Mike bought me an accordion for as an early birthday present, which I am determined to learn to play.

I've gone through a lot of processing during the past year, thinking about all of this. There has been a lot of letting go of old, worn out expectations. Now, I am feeling excited about the potential for growth and achievement. I'm ready to welcome 40 and to celebrate.

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