We have found ourselves here again. Another new year of our lord. Do you ever think about how absolutely wild it is that our entire calendar is based around Jesus? Like, OUR ENTIRE CONCEPT OF YEARS AND TIME‽ It’s fucking wild.
I remember when the arrival of the new year would be, almost, surprising–I knew it was coming because I’m a quick wit and I understand both counting and our Christian calendar, but some part of me didn’t believe it would really come, because I was too young to understand the actual passing of time–and I’d be thrilled when it arrived. I would say things like “I can’t believe it’s 1999!” Now I just age with the years of our lord and wait for death without a trace of wonder.
That isn’t true of course, because I have nothing if not a sense of wonder. I’m just not thrilled by it anymore. My focus has changed. Lately, for example, I’ve been thinking a lot about the last 12 months rather than looking ahead with misguided hope toward all I will accomplish and the number of ways I will become a better and more healthy person more worthy of love because apparently only healthy people deserve love. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, all because the last number we write on the dates of things changes.
This year, and I’m talking about 2018 here because it ain’t quite over yet, could in general terms be described as any of the following:
-a shit show.
-a dumpster fire.
-a blazing hellscape of naked cruelty, bigotry and misery that just keeps burning and may indeed open up a portal to the underworld and swallow us whole.
I could write A LOT about the awfulness of this year (and have). The things that have happened in our country and at the hands of our government are violent and horrific and the horror really cannot be overstated. And on a personal level I’ve been walking through my own fire, as my depression and anxiety have made just existing so painful for the last couple years (which, of course, is connected to the state of the world). But this particular post isn’t about those things.
I tend to forget that among the pain and struggle have been incredible moments of beauty and humor that have carried me through, with my family and friends and especially with my children. They are remarkable little people. I am so proud of who they are.
I turned 40 this year. This has felt more significant than any other age, and that has little to do with what everyone thinks it means to be 40 and everything to do with what it has turned out to mean for me. Have you ever noticed how people always seem shocked when they or literally anyone else ages? Like they’ve forgotten how time works? He’s 50?? How is that possible?? What happened?? How did we get so old?? Well, Brenda, each year the earth travels around the sun, and every time it does that the numbers that define us change. They go up by one usually. (I’ve actually never heard of a year being subtracted except for Benjamin Button and that was a very rare case.) The thing is Brenda, that we’ve gotten this “old” because we just, haven’t died. We just keep living through each day and after a while we’ve lived through a bunch of days. And I guess Jesus and/or science decided that there are a specific number of those days that, when added together, equal a year and we like counting so we count our years. We collect them. Usually collectors want to collect as many of a thing as they can. I, for example, collected Archie comics when I was a kid and gleefully added to my collection whenever possible. But years are strange. When your numbers are small you are supposed to be very happy and excited to add one to your collection, and when the numbers get bigger you are supposed to be very sad and realize that you are irrelevant and your life sucks now. This is why, instead of proudly exclaiming “I’ve collected 40 years! Can you believe I’ve lived this long?” people make the same tired joke about being 29 again.
I of course have participated in these questions of how and why and what happened to us, because we are all Brenda. Not this particular Brenda because this one’s an asshole, but the royal Brenda.
I have all the same fears and insecurities that I’ve been taught to have based on the combination of my age and gender. The messaging worked on me. I often feel this desperate need to fix the “ugly” parts of myself, and I feel the pull to keep my age hidden away like a shameful secret.
But then I think about wrinkles, and when I think about wrinkles I think about people’s smile lines (or crows’ feet if you prefer) at the corners of their eyes. I have always loved them. I admire them. And I don’t have as many as I’d like. In spite of all the laughter in my life, my deepest and most pronounced lines are the ones between my eyes, the ones that form from sorrow, confusion, frustration, pain. These lines show that I am still alive in spite of those things. I love my partner’s smile lines because they make him look joyful but also because when I look at them it’s like I am seeing all of his smiles. All of the times he has laughed. I have been granted entry to a hallowed place. I see my old friends the same way. I feel honored to be allowed to see their collections of smiles and laughter and I know I’ve been there for the forming of many of those lines. And yet, we live in a world that says we should do everything we can erase them, minimize them. Why do we want to erase the history of our laughter?
We collect our years. And with each year we add our joy and fear and sorrow to our collection, and each year these things become more visible to the world. And while I will always be affected by beauty standards, I can feel pride in my collection because after all, I’m not dead. Against all (actually only some) odds, I have continued to live.
During my 41st trip around the sun so far, I have done more to find myself and my path than on any previous trip, even though I have also done a lot of staying in bed. I have learned that it’s OK to let go of people who consistently hurt me and that some people just do not have space for me as I am. This is no small thing and I’d be lying if I said it was no big deal. It hurts deeply and I am still in the process of letting go, while looking at the mistakes I’ve made and the responsibility that belongs to me.
What I know though is that I get better with age. Getting better is difficult and painful because better does not necessarily mean more likable, and I have spent a lot of my life making sure that I’m likable. For me, getting better makes me less likable to a lot of folks. It means more people back away from me, people warn me about seeming angry, which usually means they don’t want to be challenged or confronted with things that make them uncomfortable, and people find new ways to say that I am over-reacting, over-thinking, over-feeling, or over-sharing, while my belief is that most people are under-reacting, under-thinking, and under-feeling (people should only share what they decide they are OK with sharing).
What makes me better is that I am living out loud anyway. I get braver with age. And for those who stick with me, I’m a fucking great friend. Luckily, there are those who do stick with me and I have really been humbled this year by how much love I have in my life. I spent my 40th birthday surrounded by some of my oldest and dearest friends, and I have found new people who have space for me. As I am. How incredible.
Also, for every person who has backed away from me there has been at least one person who has reached out to say that my sharing has made them feel less alone, to ask for advice, or to say that they’re glad to know I have their back. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, especially conditional friendships.
I have started two major things this year. One is a podcast I make with my partner. It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. We have been doing this for almost a full year! We have followed through. We are both creative people and creating something together is magical. And sometimes frustrating as hell. I don’t follow through on almost anything. I have creative ideas, but usually can’t figure out what to do with them, or I excitedly start things and then get bored or overwhelmed. I am so proud of this project. And an unexpected perk of podcasting has been the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and the support we’ve received in the podcasting community. I have never, in my collection of 40 years, experienced anything like it.
My age has caused me some anxiety in this community because everyone seems to be younger than me, but one of the most beautiful things I’ve learned as a result of continuing to not die is that age matters less and less to me and I have been lucky enough to connect with people whose collections of years and smile lines vary a lot.
I also started my MSW (master’s in social work) program this year. Again, I am surrounded mostly but not entirely by younger folks, and again, they are a beautiful group of people. I feel honored and inspired to be on this path with them. But more than that, this path finally feels like the right one. I had to collect 40 years to find it, but to feel like I’m doing something that I might actually be suited for is a giant weight lifted. It’s hard but I am relishing the difficulty even as I sometimes flail and fall apart. The struggle is a vital part of getting better as a human. And what else is this not dying thing for if not that?
I also came out as bisexual in a public way this year. No one who knows me very well was surprised, but it felt freeing to say it and to begin to own my brand of queerness. Isn’t that delightful? Yes! It is!
What I will not do is waste my collection of years. It is a collection of laughter and pain. It is a collection of wrinkles that show my history with both, and that collection too will grow. It’s been tough not dying for this long, and it should be celebrated. I’ve learned that the cliché about it never being too late is true. It is never too late.
If I have a resolution this year it is to add lines at the corners of my eyes. I plan to laugh a shit ton, and hopefully make others laugh too. But I will also keep talking about painful shit and I will keep fighting. I hope people stick with me but if they choose not to I know now that I’ll be OK.