Tue 25 Oct 2011
where i’m from, the most beautiful days of the year are fall afternoons.
bright-gold and sunshot, they make glitter out of the crimson of dying leaves and children out of grownups.
i dare you to not scuff your feet along the sidewalks of October here on this sandy red mud rock, wearing clouds of fallen leaves like fluffy slippers. i dare you to stare down a leafpile and – six or sixty – NOT know that your legs are made to leap, to leave the earth behind, however briefly.
i spent a lot of years trying to be somewhere other than here.
but afternoons like this one i can’t remember Paris, or Bangkok, or San Diego. i remember these narrow sidewalks under my sneakers all the fall afternoon walks of my childhood and i am glad i came home.
three months from today i turn forty.
this occurred to me as i made my way across a field this afternoon, by a park where my children play. where i played a thousand years ago in a cabinet of my memory where the light is always an October afternoon, crisp and tart and fleeting like an apple just bitten.
the brown will come, says the beauty. it’s juiciest that way.
i walked a few paces with the thought of my own browning, letting it settle into my skin.
my skin has been feeling forty for awhile now. most of my friends have already turned the corner. i realized, as i kicked at a red leaf skittering across the grass ahead of me, that i can live with forty, and not just because it beats the hell out of the alternative. i think i can own forty. i think i may actually be a far better forty-year-old than i was a twenty-year-old. even if i haven’t entirely grown up. maybe because i know better now what grown up means, to me. what i care about. what i don’t.
i understand, now, that forty has exactly no mathematical relationship to whether you leap in the leaves.
the three months left of my thirties, though? they weigh BIG.
endings come heavy for me. last chances perch on my shoulders, armed with riding crops. i am motivated by a deep and abiding fear of regret, of longing for that which will never come again. so the idea that i have three months left to become the person i will be at forty is, for me, a powerful thing.
Schmutzie was asking today about life lists.
i don’t have one. i did a lot of stuff when i was younger, largely motivated by that abiding fear of regret and longing. a lot of it was reckless and excessive and beautiful. occasionally it was all three at once.
it doesn’t mean there isn’t lots left undone: it’s just not out there, for the most part. (except that marrying David Bowie bit. save the date. i’ll get back to you.)
it’s in ME. and i feel like i’m on the verge.
i didn’t really get it when we moved back here nearly seven years ago. i’d been gone fifteen years, nearly half my life. i came back because i gave up on the perfect elsewhere, but i didn’t know i’d stumble upon all these ghosts of my younger self here, at every corner.
we took the kids to a playground on Saturday, at my elementary schoolyard. an accidental stop, a space i’ve barely thought of in a quarter century or more. i stood there in the expanse of green with my children racing around me and marveled at time and memory, at what survives. i ran my bare hands over metal rungs i once swung from, looked off to the fence where my friends and i huddled over our first cigarettes, all swaggers and coughs. i marvelled how small the equipment had grown. i wrapped my thirty-nine-year-old body around a bar and flipped upside down, to show Oscar – or myself – it could be done.
and all around me, ghosts, of children grown for twenty years. here, i am more tied to who i’ve been than anywhere in the world.
not all umbilica give life. some are simply tethers, ties to station and subject positions that one no longer even sees as choice.
i am from a small place. a good place, but a small place. i left, and travelled, but mostly where the wind blew, and where the jobs were. i grew up simply and completely NOT knowing you could just move to New York, visas and muggers be damned. i was nearly thirty before i met someone with intentions to move there, and i remember gaping at her like she’d just discovered electricity. she was seven years younger than i. we were in a hostel in Amsterdam. we had just left a sex shop. but it was the idea of New York as a viable address that left me agog, fired all the neurons in my brain.
oh, i said to her, nodding like i met New York-bound people all the time. and then i understood that try as i might and go where i would, i’d never outrun myself or where i came from.
i am from a family in which fatalism is a positive coping mechanism. one should not let one’s aims get too high above one’s means, and one should make the most of what one has. i believe the latter to my core. i have only just begun to see the trap in the former.
i grew up waiting to be tapped on the shoulder. to be sprung from the limitations of means and capacity to imagine bigger aims: that is acceptable. that is not getting above your station. that is properly demure, not arrogant or boastful or silly or laughable. i grew up believing the world was mostly meritocracy.
i grew up not knowing how to set goals, or plan longterm, or strategize to understand and utilize the systems by which choices are constrained in our culture.
i grew up thinking if i were good enough, a fairy godmother would come along. probably take me to New York or London or Kathmandu. make me a writer. or a thinker. or something.
and i grew up thinking if the fairy godmother didn’t come, that was that. it wasn’t in me.
i seem to have grown old and foolish enough to believe i was wrong. i have three months left until i am forty, and i am done waiting.
not for New York, or London, or Kathmandu, so much. not right now. their fall afternoons can’t be better than here.
but i’m writing, and sending stuff out, for the first time in my life. academic stuff. semi-literary stuff. still not the brand book idea i had an agent for a year ago and choked because i was too shy to push. that will have to come after my dissertation, so go the rules of my funding. but still. i somehow, simply, didn’t think i could. i clicked ‘send’ this afternoon and i laughed and thought, shit, that wasn’t so hard.
there will be rejection. that used to terrify me. i don’t think it does so much, anymore. i have three months to get used to it. and i will eat up all advice – unless you’re suggesting The Secret – with gratitude.
my thirties have been the hardest and best decade of my life. they brought me birth and death, took me further from home than i’d ever imagined and brought me back. i want to end them able to look the little ghost of myself at the playground in the eye and say, i did okay by you, kid. i grew up into somebody not afraid to try, and fail.
that’s who i want to be when i’m forty. i have three months.