I've been really preoccupied with aging recently. I get the impression this is pretty common for women marching toward 50, but knowing that doesn't really make it easier. I know I should attempt to face it with humor and grace, making little self-deprecating jokes and appreciating all my blessings. Really, I know that. It's just this little voice inside me that doesn't -- the one hysterically screaming and scrabbling frantically for anything solid to hold on to so that I can't be dragged there. I'd like to say that it's yelling, "Hell no, I won't go," but even that overstates my composure. A primal scream is more like it.
Age smacks me around every single day. If it's not a young co-worker completely missing my pop-culture references to 1980's TV shows, it's getting a backache from -- well -- just living. I have reached that point I used to hear old people complain about, where young professionals look like smart-ass kids to me. (I've also fallen into my grandmother's old habit of coming out with a string of first names before I hit on the person I'm actually talking too. Boy, that creeps me out!) Last Christmas I was at a party where another guest was a plastic surgeon. She was flocked with women my age, seemingly normal Midwestern, middle class, noticeably non-movie star women, inundating her with questions like, "What would it cost to get rid of the bags under my eyes/turkey wattle under my neck/droopy eyelids/jowls/etc.?"
Though this has been on my mind for a while, the straw that provoked me to write about this today was something from today's New York Times Book Review. In her review of Nora Ephron's new book, Liesl Schillinger wrote, "But lately Ephron has learned that there is one betrayer upon whom no woman (with the possible exception of Cher) can exact vengeance or impose a fairy-tale finish: the body, with its dazzling flurry of early gifts, and its misleading air of permanence. Just as you begin to count on it, off it goes, hooking up with its smirking henchman, the aging process." I loved that passage on so many levels. First of all, it was beautifully written, and I had to admire that. But oh, how Ephron's sentiment resonated with me! I am definitely going to go track down her new book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, and wallow in her pain.
Another whole component of depression about approaching this age milestone is that it makes me feel like a failure. I find myself way too focused on all the things I haven't done in life -- whether those are career accomplishments unattained, travel destinations not visited, adventures not experienced, or legacies not left. (Don't worry, readers, I'm actually in pretty good mental health so I know how to go through the whole exercise of reminding myself how blessed I am, what a good life I have, blah, blah, blah. This is not a return to the self-pity I found I was indulging in during my 2003 blog experiment.) But today, at least, as I look at the big picture, it kind of ticks me off! How can it be that at 40 I felt like a success and at 48 I feel like a failure, and no cataclysmic events occurred in between? OK, there was a job loss in there, but it was 5 years ago, for Pete's sake! No, this creeping sense of failure isn't about anything that happened to me externally. It is definitely coming from the inside out, and that worries me. Worse still, it is definitely a key motivator of the primal scream inside my head.
So I sit here asking myself, "What am I going to do about it?" And so far, the best answer I can think of is distraction. I can't help but feel that the busier I am, the less energy I will have to devote to this. Except it can't be just busy-ness for its own sake -- it has to be something purposeful. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I can find something I perceive as meaningful with which to fill my time, I will feel less like a failure and a lot of the other preoccupations with age will fade or diminish.
Oh my God, I've just realized what I'm saying. I think I just said that I'm 48 years old and I have to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Like that's gone really well for the previous 40 years.
Well, now that I've solved that problem (yeah, right!) I think I'm going to go immerse myself in the mundane. To be specific, I am taking my 12-year old out back-to-school shopping. If that doesn't take my mind off myself, I don't know what will!