Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Very Self-Indulgent Fortieth Birthday Post

(this started out as a response to a comment and grew to become its own blog entry; please forgive the self-indulgence of this piece)

Hi, Leigh!

Thanks much for the birthday wishes.

I wish I could say I am taking the whole "40" thing in stride, that I am proudly ready to enter some wonderful wise-woman stage of life, that I'm excited to become an "old woman who wears purple," join the red hat club, and all of that (dear god, I just realized, I really AM now eligible to have lunch with my aunt's red hat club!).

I'm now remembering how, years ago, I asked my grandmother if she felt "wiser" as she was getting older. She laughed heartily and said, "No, honey, I still don't know a damn thing." My mother too has said for years that she is still waiting to "feel like a grownup, let alone a middle aged woman."

That pretty much sums up how I'm feeling. I don't feel much wiser, really. Maybe a bit, in some ways, but definitely still so lost in others, you know? I get it that growth continues until one reaches the grave, so I am not SUPPOSED to feel like I'm THERE yet (because one is never THERE), but I guess I thought that by age forty, I would feel more sure of things, more settled, that old wounds would have healed and been forgotten by now - but I find they are still there and they still require my attention sometimes. One might think that by 40, I would have by now made peace with a childhood that included domestic violence and a kidnapping at age 7 that included promises from my father to me that if my mother found us, he would kill her; put sexual assault well behind me and become confident and sure about my own sexuality, with both boundaries against what I don't want and confidence about what I do want; overcome depression permanently (what Hurricane Katrina and my negligent government did to my beloved New Orleans certainly hasn't helped); have figured out what I really want next as far as my twenty-two year marriage to a dear friend who has also been an unfaithful and therefore hurtful husband; have gotten my legal career launched and settled (when post-Katrina depression has delayed my finishing law school); have gone beyond the volunteer work I've done and really somehow changed the world (so I've worked at women's shelters and done other stuff like that, and yet every day the violence against us continues; I've attended every peace rally around, gotten myself and friends a government file as confirmed by the ACLU, and even slept outside George Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, with Cindy Sheehan, yet still the war goes on and on); have some money in savings (especially money of my OWN).

Forty has snuck up on me. I remember when I was a teenager older folks told me that the older you get, the faster time flies. But you still just don't get it until you get older.

I can't believe how quickly these last few years have flown by.

How is it possible I've really been here for forty years? And I'm still not anybody really and I still don't know all that much....

Sigh...maybe that is the point of getting older. If I remember correctly, when I was a teenager and young adult, I thought I knew a hell of a lot. Maybe part of the work of growing older is learning how much you don't know. Well, if that's the agenda, then maybe I AM where I'm supposed to be.

I guess part of the angst about this birthday is that I'm worried it means the ride is closer to the end than the beginning - and I really fucking love the ride. I look over my many, many genealogy charts, the names of all those Cajun and Irish women, most of whom had at least a dozen children and almost all of whom buried at least a few of them, who lived and loved and now exist only in my genealogy charts and in my daughter's DNA, and I think how their lives were as real to them as mine is now to me.

Well, the joke goes, you know why genealogists die with smiles on their faces? Because they know they've filled in another square on the family chart.

At least I still look young, which (pardon my vanity here) suddenly matters to me this birthday for some weird reason. Last week, I told the stepmother of my daughter's friend about my upcoming birthday and she said, "Forty? I never would have guessed! I thought you were my age, and I'm twenty seven" (and I said, "Uh, I've been married for twenty two years, so to be your age, I would have to have gotten married at age five - and I didn't, although that's how it feels sometimes). My husband agreed that I could pass for twenty seven. It makes sense. At sixty, my grandmother hardly looked forty. At eighty, she hardly looked sixty. Now, at ninety, she has only JUST started to look like an old lady.

Grandma at ninety years old:

my blog entry on Grandma as an example of "real beauty"

And my mother got carded well into her forties. When I was in my mid-teens and she was in her mid-thirties, we'd go shopping and store clerks would say to my mother, "Oh, how sweet, you took your little sister out for the day." Even now, she doesn't look sixty. When her students learn she has three children - one as old as forty - as well as nine grandchildren - one as old as eighteen - they are shocked. Word spreads quickly among that year's crop of freshmen - "Can you believe it? You know the English teacher, Ms. K, you know who I mean, the flower child one - man, she has grandkids older than we are!"

Looks aside though, I am beginning to feel like a car whose warranty expires and suddenly has a dozen little mechanical problems - constant neck pain, prolapsed uterus, diabetes, fatty liver, Barrett's esophagus and hietal hernia (which means acid reflux and quite an increased risk of getting cancer of the esophagus, for which I have to get a scope check yearly), fillings from childhood that the dentist wants to replace that I can't afford to have done...blah, blah, blah. No one told me I was going to have a bunch of little health problems already. What the hell? Although...well, I should remember to be glad that they are only small problems. It's just the range of them that is surprising me.

So, for this weekend, Mr.Me surprised me with reservations at a New Orleans hotel at which I have always dreamed of staying. We used to drive by it when I was a kid, and I was just in awe. When I was engaged, we booked our wedding reception in their ballroom - although we ended up just having a small wedding instead because we weren't able to save the money we needed for a big wedding. He was in the military, living in the barracks in California, and blowing through all of his salary going out drinking with the guys. On the other hand, I was still in high school, working part-time at K-Mart, and had built up $150 in my little Pelican Homestead savings account (Is Pelican even around anymore? I hate it that Hibernia is now Capitol One, dammit!). So, we ended up not getting married at that hotel, but I've still drooled every time I've passed it over the years. We'll be staying there for two nights - turns out it's a bit more expensive than our usual Motel 6 but really not nearly as expensive as I had always imagined - and going out in the French Quarter and Marigny.



I got crazy and bought an outfit for this weekend that is NOT the kind of thing I normally wear at all - a short plaid pleated skirt and a matching kind of corset looking top (good god, I was supposed to be shopping for the kid when I was in Hot Topic, not for myself!). I emailed friends and family asking if it was ridiculous to wear something really crazy for my fortieth birthday and sent them a link to the outfit online. Without exception, everyone told me to go for it. It is, after all, for wearing to the French Quarter. In that context, it's pretty darn modest.

Yes, this quite possibly makes me a bad radical feminist.

Ah, well, at least I haven't done anything crazier than buy a wild outfit to flirt with feeling ridiculously youthful looking. Some people - ahem - have mid-life crises and have affairs. I would never do anything that involved a third party or hurt anyone just for my ego.

Hopefully, after my birthday, I'll start the process of making peace with middle age. Hopefully, soon, I'll get closer to becoming a wise woman crone who doesn't look in the mirror for those (still nonexistent) wrinkles. And I'll be a better radical feminist for it.

This weekend though, I rebel.

And as for the new outfit, well, this is New Orleans, thank god, so I can always wear it for Mardi Gras and fit right in!

8 comments:

rmott62 said...

I hope you had a lovely birthday.
Everyone should have fun clothes, we are all have many sides to our personality.
It is very hard to get over traumas, it is more about coming to terms with the pain, confusion and grief.
I have found the more open I am about the events that cause me trauma, the more I can allow myself to be vulnerable - the more I feel in control of my past.
Thanks for your wonderful blog, Rebecca.

Foxessa said...

Happy Birthday!

The forties are excellent.

Love, C.

Leigh C. said...

Mazel tov!

Don't matter what you wear or what you look like, so long as you keep nurturing all the good stuff you have inside. And your uncertainty on aging and what it means to YOU will only keep that healthy curiosity of yours alive and well - and yourself as a side benefit.

As for the aches and pains of aging, watch out for fifty. My mother hit the big 5-0 and had a detached retina almost immediately afterwards, had some bizarre hand injury that was never fully explained, and some sort of sinus infection. Take care a' you at ANY age...

K. said...

First of all, I wouldn't mind being 40 again myself. Although actually it's more the old "I wish I knew then what I know now" lament.

You have a lot to put behind you. There's no timetable for that, and I'm not sure that's what it's all about anyway. Unfortunately, shit doesn't stop happening just because you are 40 or 50 or 53. To me, it's about how to carry on and make something of one's life even though we live heart-breaker of a world. Well, you give as much love as you're able, live and let live, forgive yourself your trespasses, and let the future take care of itself. That, and keep the Aleve and the Advil handy.

Nil illegitmus carborundum!

NOLA radfem said...

Thanks, Rebecca, especially about the clothes - LOL! Yes, it is a matter of coming to terms with that stuff. It takes work. I am in therapy, which is helping - slowly, but it's helping. Thanks for your blog too. You've written stuff that really gets people's attention about what sexual exploitation does to people. It can't be easy to put that stuff into words - but I really think it IS making a difference.

Thanks, Foxessa and K, who have already done the fortieth birthday thing and obviously have a hell of a lot of knowledge - about history and other things too. Yes, K, I definitely agree about continuing to give all the love you're able to give and keeping the Aleve or Advil handy. I don't really know any other way to be.

Leigh, thank you so much for the sweet things you've said. I am considering attending the blogger's conference in New Orleans later this month. Maybe we will get to meet. I would enjoy that.

womensspace said...

Happy belated birthday, ceejay!

The older I get, the better I like it, the happier I am, I'm not completely sure why, but I know it's partly due to having so admired women older than me who came into my life at various times, looking up to them.

Yeah, re whatever clothes you want to wear. :) I'm already planning my clothes for Michfest next year, 12 months away, HA. I wish every woman could go to Michfest. You never feel the same way about your body, your appearance, your clothes again, very life changing.

Well, again, happy birthday!

NOLA radfem said...

Hi, Heart.

Thanks to everyone for the supportive and insightful comments.

You know, Heart, I too have been happy with getting older! I always wanted to be older, always, so it was interesting to me - and really shocking - that I felt this panic for about two weeks before my fortieth birthday (did you at all?). But that's what I honestly felt (much better now though - as I said in my post, I intended to indulge it for the weekend, and then let it go - and I have; it was a number, and today I'm just me again).

Hi, Heart.

Thanks to everyone for the supportive and insightful comments.

You know, Heart, I too have been happy with getting older! It was interesting to me - and really surprising - that I felt this panic for about two weeks before my fortieth birthday (did you at all?). But that's what I honestly felt (much better now though - as I said in my post, I intended to indulge it for the weekend, and then let it go - and I have; it was a number, and today I'm just me again).

YatMama said...

Hiya! Finally found your other (non-MySpace) blog, couldn't find the address for awhile.

Forgive me for jumping over the more recent political stuff, this one just caught my eye. I am heading for 42 myself so the "40" thing is relatively recent for me too.

Just a few responses to a few select sections:
<(dear god, I just realized, I really AM now eligible to have lunch with my aunt's red hat club!)> Yeah, but so what? I vote we form our very own "Red FMP" club, I think it would be a lot more fun.

"Yes, this quite possibly makes me a bad radical feminist." Nah -- not unless being a "good" radical feminist means completely denying yourself self-expression or refusing to enjoy your sexuality (not to mention jettisoning your sense of humor). See above.

"Hopefully, after my birthday, I'll start the process of making peace with middle age." I hope so! My 40th kind of blew right past me -- I was too busy adjusting to first-time motherhood to really notice it much. Now I'm headed for 42, and quite conscious of being 40+, but I guess it doesn't bother me much. (I always figured it would.) I don't feel like a grownup either particularly, but I finally feel like *ME* (with all the quirky unexplainable shit that entails), and that kind of rocks. I've reached the Popeye stage: I yam what I yam and that's all's I yam. And I'm cool with that, whether anybody else especially likes it or not.

"At least I still look young" -- Medically I'm still holding together just fine, but as you know I am in NO danger of being mistaken for a 27-year-old. LOL I looked pretty young until mid-30s and then suddenly I didn't anymore. I think it kind of bothered me at first but now it doesn't. I am for sure not the hot 20-year-old I used to be -- a good bit wider, skin is not the smooth flawless olive it used to be, and I'm sportin' some new wrinkles around the eyes and varicose veins behind the knees. But that's cool with me -- now I look in the mirror and see ME, versus at age 20 when I looked in the mirror and thought -- I have no idea what I'm doing/who I am. I may not be able to rock the short skirts/big hair/braless stuff down to there like I did 20 years ago -- but I can be striking as hell when I want to (mostly a matter of attitude), and I can still rock the FMPs with the best of them. When I *feel like it* -- but unlike 20 years ago, I don't feel like I *have* to. I know I have other bigger better stuff to offer.

I guess I thought that by age forty, I would feel more sure of things, more settled . . . I guess part of the angst about this birthday is that I'm worried it means the ride is closer to the end than the beginning - and I really fucking love the ride." Fuckin'right. Life is like a bad boyfriend that you just can't get enough of (having had several of these, and being married to one of them now, I speak from experience, LOL). It's also a whole lot like our beloved and totally dysfunctional hometown, NOLA. Sometimes it's a pain in the ass, sometime it disappoints the hell out of you, sometimes it takes you forever to get over some of its crappy/outrageous aspects -- but dammit, bring it on, 'cause when things are good it's a hell of a ride.

Love,
L.