Nurture the future

I am trying to figure out who I am. In 2012, I was a badass midlife mama. Now, I don’t feel badass. I am feeling distinctly past my prime.

One way to look at a woman’s life stages is by identifying her as pre-fertile, fertile and post-fertile. They don’t say it like that, though. They say maid, mother, and crone, which sounds all magical and shit; what they mean, though, is fertility. 

Men aren’t defined like that, though I guess men are simply left undefined: they are boys and then they are men, and even when they’re boys, they’re pushed to be men. At some point, they’re called old men, but I think that’s when they're really super old. 

Men feel it, though, at some point when their waists spread or their hair thins or they just aren’t as interested in getting into fights the way they used to. Their knees hurt and they give up playing basketball and life doesn’t feel quite as fun. They get a midlife crisis but no other transition or name. They’re just supposed to tough it  out. 

The best name for an older man is the adjective “distinguished.” He is singular, set apart, and special. 

Here are some synonyms for crone: Medusa. Hag. Battle-ax. Witch. Biddy. Fury. Ugly. Gorgon. Harpy. Shrew.

Thanks, I feel so much better now. 

I want to be distinguished. I want to be important. That’s probably not going to happen. I’m going to be ordinary. Nothing wrong with that but it’s taking some getting used to. I have love and a good job (several!) and family and a great home and I’m in good health. That totally is the jackpot. It is extraordinary even as it is ordinary. I never particularly wanted to be someone or something special. It’s just that I’m getting older and, ooops, I forgot to be special. 

I also don’t know what goals to hit next. In 2012, I was running and adding speed and miles and I started thinking about how great it would be to spend the next few decades running. I loved the idea of running half marathons and traveling to fun cities to run and race. Now I’m not even sure I can eke out a 10 mile week let alone a 10 mile run. 

And I’m alternately bummed and pissed. I was plenty busy in my 30s and 40s. It’s not like I could have done the training necessary. Instead I was learning and dancing Nia, which took a lot of time and energy and was a great way to invest time and energy. I have no regrets there. 

I just want to have a mid40s body for another decade or so. I’m not even asking for mid30s or mid20s, though, ummm, I’d take it if they’re handing those out. I just want that tiny bit more energy. I want that juicy fertile vital energy and that slightly younger body -- the tendons, the muscles. I have a bit more time now and apparently I need that time to rest. I was kind of hoping to play more.

It’s ego, too, big time. I wanted to be badass some more, and in particular I wanted to be physically badass.  I want to feel energetic and vibrant, and I don’t feel that way. I’m still hoping that it’s waiting for me on the other side of this year. I’m hoping 51 marks the point so that I’m less in transition and more in the new place. This year is all transition. I’m not what I was, and I’m not that new place yet either. 

Supposedly Carl Jung called this the “afternoon of life.” Well, I’m tired every afternoon. 

Yes, I’m more patient by a bit. Yes, I appreciate little things more and I’ve slowed down and that’s great. It’s not enough.

In my 20s, I didn’t care what others thought of me. I was really kind of intense. I was totally willing to say “fuck you” to anyone who didn’t think as I did. I was harsh at times and hard-edged. 

For some women, turning 50 is permission to be themselves. They don’t care what others think of them and they’re learning to say no or even “fuck you.” Sigh. I have been there and done that. I’d rather be kind. My 50s don’t feel like empowerment or wisdom or freedom or that I’m coming into my own. Being 50 -- at least so far -- feels like a big invitation to slow down. That makes me crabby. 

I am experiencing the realization that, hey, I’m getting closer to the end of this ride. Even if I have another 3 decades or maybe 4 decades to play (and 40 years is a very long time), I’m going to be less healthy and robust. I am going to have limits on what I can do not because I don’t have the time but because I don’t have the energy. 

Here are some key words for Baby Boomers hitting midlife. Loss. Regret. Self-absorption. Sense of entitlement. Need for control.

Thanks,, for the encouragement. 

I like who I am for the most part. I don’t have a ton of regrets. I don’t see that I missed opportunities. I took care of business, too, and I’m deeply happy that I earned my masters, settled into a decent job, married, and raised a family. I can’t imagine that there is anything better I could have been doing the past two decades. The problem is that I don’t know what to do for the next two decades. 

I don’t have a bucket list. I don’t wish I could do X, Y, and Z. It's possible, too, that I haven't quite figured out how I will be of service. I feel a bit world-weary, as if there's nothing I can do to effect positive change in the world, and I'm hoping that's a phase I'm going through. Nothing right now feels possible. 

And I’m afraid of dying. Not afraid of dying one day, some day, but this weird creepy moan, as if, oh, man, I’m not gonna make it through this year. I tell myself there is a certain death, the death of who I’ve been, the death of myself as a fertile woman. I am still in that transition, still feeling the flush of warm waves (rather than the more terrible hot flash or the misnamed power surge). I’m not quite post-fertile. I’m not yet done mothering, though I suspect that never ends, just shifts in responsibility and intensity. 

I got pulled over by the cops again this morning. I apparently rolled through a stop sign instead of coming to a full stop. Whatever. Last week, I turned right on red, which isn’t allowed at this particular light, which I know, and apparently I wasn’t paying attention and turned anyway. 

Clearly, the universe would like me to slow down and pay attention. Slow down and be attentive to what I’m doing. Slow down, be patient, and pay attention. Stop thinking about where I’m going next and what is my final destination. Just drive. While I’m driving, focus on driving, and pay attention, patiently. 

The universe is telling me I really need to be someone who I simply am not. I am not a patient person paying attention. Going too fast and too hard and focusing too far in the future, though, is starting to hurt in all sorts of ways. 

Would it really be so bad if I was a little less like I used to be? I just need to see that person. I need to be able to see me, at the end of the decade, and know where I’m going, so I can pull my gaze back to the present and be patient. 

Over the phone last week, I told my daughter that I’d met the author Audre Lorde when I was in college. When I heard her speak, I knew that she was who I wanted to be when I grew up. She was so self-possessed. She had a great sense of humor. She radiated an energy that felt powerful, calm, clear, and joyful, one that felt wholly herself and confident. 

Lorde has described herself as black, lesbian, a mother, a warrior, a poet.  Below I have copied what she wrote about speaking out. But before that, I want to leave you (no, really, me) with this other line she wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

There may be nothing more radical or important that I do in this year of being 50 than nurture myself, at whatever pace I need, and stop worrying about whether I still appear to be a badass. Who I am becoming is still emerging. My possibilities and limitations are still undefined. 

from Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals

“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language."

I began to ask each time: "What's the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?" Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, "disappeared" or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”