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I don’t think I need to say that it’s been anything but quiet around here. My little corner of here and the greater world of here have been loud and chaotic, demanding attention.
But you knew that.
And I said it anyway.
Because it helps me to process the noise if I first acknowledge that THERE IS NOISE.
“and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear…” ~Anne Lamott~
@ANNELAMOTT Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
A friend of mine – a fellow writer – has been gently nudging me to write about ‘women of a certain age’ for some time. And I want to, I do. The problem I have is that age is generally not a category I seem to think of when I think of life’s experiences.
That’s not to say that I NEVER think about age. I do.
I feel like a dinosaur when I go to our monthly writers’ dinners and see so many young writers at the beginning of their careers, their love lives and their campaigns of deliberate mistake-making. When I see these young people, I definitely know that I am ancient and old.
But I don’t really care because I don’t want to go back to my twenties or thirties. I might make a lot of jokes about being the geriatric at the table, but I don’t pine for those decades of my life even though I’m quite nostalgic about them and find myself wallowing in memories of those times way too often.
And of course I feel ancient around my very hyper – I mean energetic – youngest nieces, my curious and always-inspired college-aged niece, and my skateboarding teen boy neighbors.
But again, I don’t care about feeling ancient. If anything, I feel lucky since I’m at a point in life where I get to go back to my sofa at the end of the day and chill out, relaxing while the young people are busy running around finding themselves, feeling angst, feeling conflict, and rebelling against the restrictions imposed by others.
I must say that I genuinely love being an adult. I love being able to make choices every day about what my adult life will look like. Being an adult is really much cooler than I ever imagined.
But at the tender age of 52, I generally don’t go about my business feeling old or invisible or anything less than what I genuinely feel at any particular time. To be honest, my life has been largely defined by three things: feeling good, feeling fine and not feeling good.
Now, in my 50’s, with the right job (for me), the right medications (for me), the right diet (for me), and the right lifestyle (for me), I almost always feel either good or fine. I don’t often feel not good. And, when I do feel not good, it doesn’t overwhelm me the way it used to.
When I feel not good, I get through it. I don’t worry obsessively that feeling not good might last forever. History shows that feeling not good doesn’t last forever. History also shows that feeling not good lasts a shorter amount of time if I don’t add a layer of worried obsessive anxiety.
So I usually have days when I feel good or fine. Indeed there are some greats in the mix, but the greats are usually parts of days, not entire days.
It’s not because I don’t have great days. I do.
But my tendency is to not view days as great because I’m a compartmentalizer from way back. I never measure time in terms of an entire day. I break each day into eighths, sixteenths, thirty seconds and sixty fourths.
But not to worry.
I generally tend to have a few guaranteed greats per day. That’s probably because I write and draw every day. And I allow a very cute dog and a highly mischievous cat to live in my house. I consider these to be my four children. My four adorable children are writing, drawing, my dog and my cat. At any given time, one of my four children is being silly. Or naughty in a funny way. Or ironic. And all of those are great for me.
Writing about feeling good and feeling not good comes easy to me. Very easy.
But pondering – or writing about – the topic of ‘women of a certain age’ doesn’t come naturally for me.
Of course I could always talk about my own very specific personal issues with age. Because it’s SO TOTALLY FUN talking about the joys and constant surprises of peri-menopause.
But I consider peri-menopause just another phase that I can ignore to the greatest extent possible since everyone agrees it’s temporary. I’m not going to invest much time or energy into something temporary…even if temporary feels like forever sometimes.
So I’m left with just one thing – and that’s: ‘What defines me as a woman if it’s not my age?’
For lack of a better word, all I can come up with is sexy. To me, in a very personal way, as a woman person, my life comes down to feeling sexy or not sexy.
It’s probably because I grew up with a sexy mother.
Despite the problems, challenges, and issues our family had to deal with, my mother was always sexy. Even when I hated her and thought she was the worst mother on the face of the earth, she was still sexy.
It was infuriating at times.
My mother was sexy and she knew it. She knew it, she felt it, and we felt it.
And I learned to associate most of the things I value with sexy.
My mother was smart and decisive and confident. She was hard working. She would never ever consider doing something or not doing something because of her mood. She was reliable, consistent and responsible.
And she always put her children first, even if she wasn’t always pleasant or selfless about it in tone.
To me, that was all incredibly sexy.
On top of that, my mother looked good every single day.
Every day, my mother fixed her hair, put on enough makeup to look like she gave a crap, and wore clothes she enjoyed wearing. Every day, my mother looked like she wasn’t just phoning in her performance as a mother, a wife and a woman.
I don’t wear makeup everyday because I like to give my skin a break when I can. But I love makeup. I really love makeup. Makeup quickly transforms me into an ‘awake and ready to go’ version of me.
Even though I don’t get dressed up everyday, I wear something I love every day. I’ll spare you the nauseating details, but I never wear something that means nothing to me. I always wear articles of clothing that feel really good and that I feel really good in.
It’s a habit.
And it’s a helpful habit. For me.
And generally, I feel sexy.
At the age of 52, I don’t feel more sexy than ever or less sexy than ever or any particular variation on sexy. I just feel sexy. Like I’ve always felt sexy.
And I don’t necessarily mean sexy in terms of sex. Although I’m a fan of sex-related sexy.
I mean sexy in terms of inspired and passionate and turned on by the day. To me, sexy is strong and deliberate. Focused and determined. Earnest and honest and hard working. Capable and confident. To me, that’s what sexy is.
I’m sure everyone has a different definition of sexy. And I’m sure sexy isn’t a necessary element of life for a lot of people. Or that other people call my idea of ‘sexy’ by another name.
But when I think about my life as a woman, for now at least, age isn’t a defining issue.
I’ll let you know if that changes, but I hope it doesn’t.
I sincerely hope that when I’m in my 80’s, I’m still a sexy babe, making the men and women who are already drooling drool just a little bit more.
A few years ago, a journalist asked me if I wanted to be interviewed for a website about women. The topic was second careers and all that kind of stuff.
I said sure.
So we began talking.
I explained how I had always wanted to be a writer and how I had, in fact, been writing every day of my life. I explained how, in 2006, I hit a wall of writer frustration and decided to take a formal and official creative break from writing. I regaled the journalist with anecdotes about my attempts at improv and stand up and how a love for writing punch lines ultimately led to my accidentally creating a comic strip.
The journalist was excited by the details of the years from 2006 until 2010 when I got a syndication deal. She listened to the numbers – six four-panel strips a week plus an eight-panel strip for Sunday. Fifty two weeks a year. No break. Those were the first year numbers.
By the second year of syndication, I had enough material for a second property, a single-panel cartoon. And I usually created two of those a day since I was trying pretty hard to build a loyal and interested following of readers.
The second year numbers were six four-panel strips a week, one eight-panel Sunday, and fourteen single panels.
She said “wow” and I remember feeling quite proud of my numbers.
I told her about my loyal followers and how they sent me really engaging emails and notes on the internet. I told her I was really pleased to have found a following of many women and some men who appreciated my observations about life. I told her I was working on a book. And licensing opportunities.
The journalist was impressed.
Then she asked about my day job. I explained that I was a lawyer and that I was pretty passionate about my work and that I had thus far managed to continue working full-time as a lawyer. I explained that I needed my lawyer job for a variety of reasons, including the salary, the health insurance, the routine, the social aspect, the perspective, the balance, the challenge, and, of course, the material.
I could hear the whistle of the happy air leaving the journalist’s happy balloon.
Oh, she said, I was really looking to interview women who gave up something to do something new.
I said, well, that’s great, but it’s hard for normal people to give up their life to do something new. I think I’m a really good role model for someone who wants to maintain their financial independence and still pursue their dreams. Financial independence is a really big deal, especially for women.
I may have been a bit aggressive when I added the part about financial independence being especially important for women.
She wasn’t buying it.
She didn’t like it.
It wasn’t sexy or inspiring, in her view.
I was shocked, to be honest. I was particularly shocked since the founder of the website the journalist was writing for had been one of my earliest and most important role models. I wondered if my role model felt the same – that pursuing your passion is only sexy and inspiring if you give up everything to live in a car or travel to India to live with monkettes.
The journalist told me to call her when I quit my lawyering job.
I politely said thank you.
Then I hung up and said a lot of things that don’t sound even remotely like thank you.
I then called my mother, a woman who has bravely suffered through the pain of having a daughter who constantly wants more in life.
“Mom,” I said, “the journalist for XYZ website said I haven’t given up enough for my writing and the comic strip.”
My mother wanted to call the journalist or email the journalist or otherwise set the record straight. I didn’t give her the journalist’s information. We’re still recovering from the time my mother called the local paper to complain that she’d have to move to another city if she wanted to read her daughter’s comic strip in print. It’s a sore subject for her.
My mother proceeded to list everything I had given up for my passion. It was depressing hearing my life summed up by my mother.
If you’re a writer, an artist or a person who has relentlessly pursued a passion, your list probably looks similar to mine.
Let’s just say it’s a long effing list.
As much as I’d love to eat, love and pray my way to happiness, I’m a real person with a real life. I have real bills and real medical issues. I have real family and real friends and real neighbors. I can’t just give up everything. And I can’t just pick up and leave my responsibilities. And I need my health insurance.
But I still pursued – and continue to pursue – my passion.
I hope somebody taught that journalist what sexy and inspiring looks like. I think she got it wrong.
I am happy to report that I am a normal human being when it comes to sex and sexuality.
I know, you were worried, right?
No, really. I’m normal.
When I hear people talking about sex or when I hear jokes about sex, I get it.
When I see sex in the movies, I get it.
I don’t get every kind of sex, but I mostly get sex.
I would say that when it comes to down to it, sex – and the topic of sex – just isn’t an issue in my life.
Again, I know you’re relieved to know this.
Being normal about sex is the reason I know I’m not normal about happiness.
It’s not that I can’t be happy, I can.
I can be happy. And I have been happy. And I’m often happy.
I know what happiness feels like.
But the thing is that happiness isn’t a normal and natural part of me. It’s not my default status.
I never really would have thought about happiness, to tell you the truth. I’ve been pretty busy in my life being other things and thinking about other things.
But happiness is in my face pretty regularly.
There’s always a study about happiness or an article about happiness or a catchy song about being happy, happy, happy.
I never really would have thought about happiness, but it feels to me like happiness is something people really like to think about.
I end up thinking about happiness a lot because I wonder if other people just take happiness for granted. Mostly I think about happiness when I’m feeling really happy.
When I’m feeling really happy, I notice how happy I am. And I wonder if this is what other people feel like on such a regular basis that they don’t even really notice it. Kind of the way I don’t notice I feel sexual.
And the truth is, I don’t know the answer.
It’s not that I’m an unhappy person. It’s just that I’m a person with faulty wiring. I was born with chemistry that doesn’t make sense a lot of time. And my chemistry doesn’t appear to be related to life’s circumstance.
I could win the lottery on a day when my chemistry is off. And I would know that I was technically happy about winning the lottery but that I might have to wait a few days to actually feel the happiness.
This week I read something that made me feel significantly better about happiness.
Vanity Fair interviewed David Byrne, asking him about happiness.
Luckily for me, David Byrne – who is one of my creative gods – didn’t say that happiness is all you need. I really would have been screwed if that were true.
David Byrne said the following, which I “love, love, love” to quote Teresa Guidice.
Happiness, as I’ve experienced it and observed it in others, seems to be random—some of us are happy fairly regularly (I am, mostly), and some of us not as much—but there seems to be no clear explanation as to why. It comes and goes at unexpected moments, too. The graph of happiness doesn’t even seem to match what is going on in our lives. Or maybe it does and we don’t know it. Money—is there a connection between money and happiness? It takes away a world of worries and anxieties, but are rich folks all happy? Are you kidding? Donald Trump is ALWAYS scowling. That said, it’s hard to be happy if you don’t know where you’ll sleep or where your next meal is coming from. The pursuit of happiness? Where are we supposed to look? Are there clues hidden somewhere? The very act of searching and striving for it can lead to frustration and unhappiness. I suspect that happiness finds you—I’m not sure you can find a road that leads to it.
So today I need to send a thank you note – or perhaps some thank you art – to David Byrne.
Because my understanding of happiness can’t come from my own messed up head.
So I need really smart, creative, talented, amazing people like him to tell me what a normal approach to happiness is. And what he told me makes me very happy.