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I turned thirty-nine on Monday. Really thirty-nine, as in next year I will, in fact, turn forty. I've spent the last couple of days in some cursory stock-taking. It would have been more in-depth stock-taking, but my husband's been in Tokyo for two weeks and we're in baseball playoffs, so instead of stock-taking I've been mostly not sleeping, stumbling through the day with Eve, weeping over grade three math homework in French, making dinner for four o'clock and rushing off to rookie baseball or minor baseball or baseball practice every. freaking. night.

Anyway. I'm pretty sure there are things I thought I would have done by the time I was thirty-nine. At one point I thought I would have finished my first novel by the time I was thirty. I know what it's supposed to be about, I can see certain scenes in my mind, I've made a few starts, but I'm lazy and easily distractable and prone to fits of despair, and therefore I have a few stranded chunks of text floating around in the ether and a few short stories. I have plucked up enough courage to send away a story a couple of times. Mostly it resulted in a nice letter saying thanks for coming out, but our journal has folded for lack of funding in the time it took you to mail us your submission. Once I sent a story to Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Gordon Van Gelder said my prose style was interesting, but the subject matter just didn't capture his attention ('alas', he said. I don't think I've ever used the word 'alas' in a letter. Nice touch, I thought). So I tried. A few times, twelve years ago, and never again.
I have a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature. I honestly can't say for sure whether I ever thought I would really use it. The dry-heaves and palpitations every time I had to walk into a new seminar room, never mind when I actually had to deliver a paper -- did I really think I could ever walk into a room of students and pretend I was going to teach them? Comparative Literature has a language requirement -- you need to be able to speak and write in two languages, plus demonstrate reading knowledge of a third. Well, we all know how confident and comfortable I am just in English -- imagine my delight at going head to head with the mean lesbian French professor every Tuesday.
So I don't know if I really believed I would be teaching in a university, but I know I thought I would have more years of full-time work under my belt by this point. As it is, I'm pushing forty and I've merely dabbled. Some special needs work... some audio publisher editing under fairly bizarre conditions (office full of people who were even crazier than me)... some bookselling... then I got pregnant. And my husband didn't exactly say 'you should probably just concentrate on not being the looniest mother on the block for a while', but it was definitely implied. I don't feel as bad about this as I thought I might. Up until a couple of years ago, it was freaking hard work. It's much easier at this point, but I still feel like I'm earning my keep. Next year Eve is in school full days, and then I'll have to figure something out. A few years ago I would have found this terrifying. Now I find it kind of exhilarating.
I would give full marks for the husband and kids category -- not that I think any of the credit is mine. What kind of kids you get may not be solely a matter of luck, but I have to think that luck is involved, because I know some great people that have some really challenging kids. You can say that you chose your husband for good qualities and because you were in love, but I think what kind of marriage you have relies in some part on luck as well. My husband is great -- thoughtful, hard-working, great father, funny, finally remembers that I don't like iced tea after fifteen years of living with me -- but it's down to luck that we haven't had to face anything horrible enough to really test our marriage. Other than the fact that he still leaves chewed gum stuck to tables and chair-arms -- we may be looking at counselling (or an assault charge) on that one.
I still have some basic personality flaws that I hoped I would have ironed out by now. It's one of life's great unfairnesses, I think, that sometimes you can see what's wrong with you so clearly, and yet be unable to fix it. Some things I have worked on and improved in, although it's still a struggle. I think that's good, in a way. Sometimes it's nice to be aware that you're doing something against your nature, that the wise little voice in your head has actually spoken up soon enough and loudly enough for you to be able to hear, and act accordingly.
I think I would have to say, on the whole, that I am happy. Joyful, even. There are things in the world that are horrible beyond horror, and things that are merely dreadful, and things that are just a real pain in the ass. Some of these things I doubt I can change, some I do tiny little ant-sized things towards, and some I am trying to learn to bear. I know that I'm my own worst enemy sometimes, and I'm working to loathe myself less. Because some really great people think that I don't suck. I think this is the first year I was on Facebook for my birthday. Facebook is really great for not making you feel like everybody you know forgot your birthday. For sure this is the first year I was blogging on my birthday. So there's that, too -- I'm writing more, and I'm sharing it with more people (twos of them!)
photo credit
creative commons license
So given my advantages and circumstances, it probably is true that I should have accomplished more by this point. But what's the point in lamenting that? All I can do is keep trying to be braver, more patient, more grateful, and more awake (on so many levels). But first, I'm going to make pear and parsnip soup for a bunch of friends and drink a lot of wine.



Anonymous said…
Happy belated birthday!

This post was amazing. I think it hit just the right note. For what it's worth, I love your writing style and I would TOTALLY buy your book. :)
Anonymous said…
Wow!! That was a gorgeous piece. What a gift for the rest of us on your birthday.

You and my brother should form a club - the talented self doubters. He's a wonderful artist, who won't display and/or try to sell what he does because (a) he only produces one or two pieces a year (and "real artists" are driven to produce more) and (b) his work isn't as good as Rembrandt's. Ack, drives me crazy. I'm holding out for you to be one of those cool women who publishes once the kids are grown and actually has something to write about - as opposed to the wunderkids, we hear about with distressing regularity. Love you, Zed
Rosemary said…
I can't explain to you what a difference some of the words you've written to me have made to my perspective. You've given me smalls words of wisdom to hold on to and go forward with. I wish people could find a way to measure the positive difference they've made on other's lives - because for 39 I'm sure you're way ahead of the pack. Just think of what you'll be able to do when that book of yours is ready. I'll be camping out to get my first copy :)
alison said…
Um, by my count there are at least 4 of us. :-)

Happy Belated Birthday! I don't think any of us is where we thought we'd be on a certain milestone birthday. I never pictured myself divorced and raising kids by myself at 45, but there you go. It's a good life, just not the one I pictured. I think you're seeing that same thing too.

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