On the occasion of my 39th birthday, allow me to wax philosophical. Really, how are you going to stop me?
I’ve made it around the sun one more time. This is apparently an accomplishment that warrants cake. Go, me. Just keep breathing, breathing, breathing. Don’t get me wrong; I love cake. But it is an odd choice, this celebratory marking of the inexorable march of time… or the sliding along the path… or the hop-skip-jump towards entropy. I just feel like maybe I ought to earn my cake. It’s probably something deep-seated in my psyche that makes me think that way, eh?
29. That was the one that got me. 30 was anticlimactic, because I had already been anticipating it for 18 months.
When I was 28, I was heavily overweight and out of shape. I was going to school part time, working a ridiculous number of hours, and commuting still more. Balance? Ha! I didn’t even pretend. I thought more of my life as being a juggling act on a high wire over dangerous rocks, with failure a potential at every second. And staring down the barrel of 30 (at 28) I started to make the major changes that have resulted in everything being different. It started with exercise, but it could have been anything. My weight was creeping slowly upwards, and I considered it a sign of imbalance. It was a sign that I wasn’t giving my body its due. (In case you are likely to interpret this as fat-hatred, please read my other article, “Maura Kelly is Wrong” first.)
If you’ve been following my story for a while, it probably won’t surprise you that I threw myself into it with great dedication. Not one to do things by halves (because I knew already from experience that half-measures result in whole-excuses), I signed up for a 36-hour adventure race and started training. Running (well run/walking), biking, hiking, orienteering, rock-climbing. I was training 3 – 5 hours a day, 3 – 5 times a week. It was either that or Weight Watchers, and I wasn’t willing to count what I ate. (Just to be clear, I will never be willing to count what I eat. Don’t bother to tell me how wrong I am. It’s not my thing.)
I did NOT blow out my knees, I did NOT get shin splints, and I did NOT lose very much weight for several months. All that exercise made me extremely hungry, and I thought I might listen to my body, in case it knew something that the magazine articles didn’t. Eventually 30 pounds dropped off in a matter of 6 weeks, and then I settled in at the lower (but still heavy) weight. Over the following couple of years, I moved on to other things, got a new job, got another degree, still worked too many hours, still did too much commuting, and burned out slowly but surely after several years of high-wire juggling over active volcanoes. I also became desperately ill and lost another 60 pounds. I looked fabulous (so everybody told me), but I was going to die young if things didn’t change. (There are many more stories in there, but this is not the time.)
I had to stop.
Now, I am 39. It is 40 that comes next, but I do not have that nagging feeling of dread that I had at 29/30. I’ve had all those things I was supposed to want: the job, the suits, the meetings-with-PowerPoint, the colleagues, the office-with-a-door (that was the peak of my career accomplishments). IT SUCKED: “One day, one of my colleagues told me that her therapist had told her that she needed to take 15 minutes for herself, and I looked at her, incredulous. “15 minutes?” I asked. She nodded. “He means in a week, right?” Here’s the thing: She didn’t laugh at me, because she considered it every bit as unfathomable as I did.”
Right now, right this minute, life looks like a mysterious vista stretching in front of me. I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know how long I get, and I don’t know how the story ends. It’s exactly like everybody else’s life that way. I have traded in my life of conventional success for one of intentional uncertainty, however bizarre that choice looks to the outside observer. I get to read and think A LOT. I have the time to spend on developing all kinds of practical skills. I hear that I’m getting a table saw for my birthday. I’ve traded in my juggling-high-wire act for one that feels a lot more like walking on a log on the ground. Phew.
Sometimes I would like to have more money, if only to keep the cars on the road. And sometimes I would just like the external validation of a paycheque. But most of the time I’m pretty happy in my moments, in my mundane world, in my intellectual life. Even though I occasionally decry the loss of the tangible outcomes of employment, I’m writing a lot more than I did when it was my Job, as opposed to my Work. For that matter, this blog (no matter how small and passionate) gets read more than anything I ever wrote for money or grades.
Come to think of it, on taking stock, I have earned that cake. There will be celebration of this trip around the sun, and a looking forward to many more. I’ll just keep breathing, and time will take care of the rest.