This morning, after dropping my daughter off for a playdate and beginning the walk home, I found myself thinking about something that has popped up in my mind during random moments of cerebral downtime more and more often of late: aging. Don’t roll your eyes yet. This isn’t the kind of “oh my god, I’m aging!” fretfulness our culture inundates us with – particularly women. No, my thoughts have been more of the “huh, I’m aging!” type, a feeling more reflective of earlier this morning when picking blueberries with my daughter. How I thrust my face into the bush to root out any hidden berries and right into the web of a spider. Seconds later, a little blurry brown spot scurried across the lens of my glasses and I took them off, exclaiming, “huh, a spider!” – mostly delighted, with just the slightest peppering of alarm. So too is how I’ve always confronted the fact of the passing of years, and the chuckle I get (occasionally) when someone asks (did I mention occasionally?) for my ID when I purchase liquor.
Even more specifically, I’m thinking about aging and creativity, a link that has, until recently, felt more like an opposition than a partnership.
I stand at 35, which feels like an important marker in one’s life. I’m half-way between 20 and 50, which are themselves important markers in everyone’s life, one the transition to adulthood (18 and 21 have always been rather stupid and arbitrary benchmarks in my opinion considering I was nothing of an adult at 18 and had already been drinking well before 21), while 50 marks what I expect will be the exact middle point of middle age. At 20, I likely would have said that 50 was old, and at 50, I imagine I’ll be chuckling at the naivety of what I’m writing right now. But it feels like if I were to look for that next horizon, that next event of import, when something in my life will shift or bend or perhaps settle comfortably in, my guess is it’s around 50, exactly as far away from me now, as my age now is from when I was 20.
Standing here mid-stream, I remember my 20s as an early toe-dipping into the oft-frigid, but mostly lukewarm waters of adulthood. I remember how stupid I was then, how naïve. How I vacillated between the hyperactive optimism of childhood and the unearned cynicism I imagined adulthood required. On my 30th birthday, a day some decry as the end of “youth,” I threw a party for my friends where we played guitars, banjos, and steel drums at the beginning of the night, slowly transitioning to wii Rockband in our cramped attic TV room by the ending. I can’t imagine anything more youthful than that evening. But what I also remember was just how glad I was to not be in my 20s anymore. It felt like I could finally take myself seriously.
I set a goal that evening: to be published and working in higher education by the time I was 33. For whatever reason, 33 felt like the age when people should have it together. Again, if you’d asked me at age 20, I probably would have said that 27 was the age to get it together, a date far enough in the distance that my pompous aspirations would have time to achieve some kind of lift, but I had blown straight through that birthday still fumbling around like a child in the dark, desperately needing to go potty, lost in the familiar terrain of one’s own room, suddenly foreign territory without the light. I managed to meet both goals by the skin of my teeth at age 33, but neither in exactly the form I’d hoped. My work had been published, but in somewhat obscure online journals. And I was an adjunct faculty member – but for an online, for-profit university which I have – until lately – felt the need to explain with as much apology as actual information as to exactly what I do.
At 35, I’m still striving toward the goals I set at that 30th blowout, watching the days, weeks, months, and years tick by as the achievement of my dreams hover somewhere just beyond the reach of my vision. (They’re there – I know it. Just unrealized, as yet). I imagined myself further along in my career by now, and only recently have I managed some modicum of control over the insane, unaccountable jealousy toward pretty much anyone who’s publishing anywhere better than me – which is just about everyone. A few years ago, this envy grew to the point of preventing my creativity from bubbling to the surface, a little green monster jabbing an angry stick into the bubble of every idea before it had a chance to gestate in my creative primordial soup. I endured months on end of writer’s block, often compounded by the voice that flows through every creative person’s brain – this work is shit, your writing is shit, you should give up, no one will ever publish this, etc.
After much hand-wringing and middle-of-the night jolts awake, I gained perspective on this whole process and took back my writing life, as well as a healthy and sincere admiration and appreciation for all the accomplishments of my creative compatriots. If I were someone given to regret (which I’m not as I consider it a waste of emotional energy), I would probably lose even more creative time bemoaning those lost years when I wallowed in my own obscurity rather than doing something about it, thus further pushing up against the inane timelines I impose on myself, which, if I chose to think of it this way (some days I do, and some I don’t – depends), leave me feeling like I’ve just been trampled under the feet of crazed department store consumers the day after Thanksgiving.
And I suppose it’s this thing that I’m contemplating this sunny summer day as I sit on my porch in a beautiful neighborhood of Portland, my life, frankly, a dream achieved already. And here’s where I arrived: That life is, after all, a series of negotiations with the brighter-eyed, younger versions of ourselves, the ones who have absolutely no idea what they’re getting themselves into just by living – the minor family dramas; the inexorable, delicious suck into the lives of our children and spouses; the surrender to the demands of being a halfway decent person in this world. I could see myself as a victim of the crazed mob, my body and soul crushed under the weight of my own and others’ expectations, or I can choose to see myself as a runner in a marathon, just another person striving to beat my own best time, being slapped on the back when I make it across the finish line, turning round to cheer for those crossing next.