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Guess I’m forty now.

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Honestly, I thought I would have transitioned into stand-up comedy. No, seriously, that was my bucket list item for this year. I was going to do an open mic night. I wasn’t going to tell anyone I know, I was just going to drive to a whole different city, do an open mic night, and cross it off my list of things I’ve always wanted to do but never did. Some of my jokes were about turning forty and how people start assuming you can’t learn or do or be anything new at that age.

And it’s true. All through my thirties, my friends and I were telling people that it’s never too late to go back and get your doctorate or your real estate license or learn how to be in roller derby. After all, Alan Rickman didn’t start acting until he was forty!

Well, now I’m forty. At the end of the world.

I’m fired up to do new things, take different directions, reinvent myself as a person. How the hell do I do that now? I can’t go out and start a weird, midlife crisis grasp at my stand-up dreams that never panned out. I can’t go to improv classes or form an experimental theater group. I can’t up and run off to New York to chase the dead hope of the Broadway career that didn’t happen then and will never happen, now.

I’ve lived my life fantasizing about the stuff I’ve always wanted to do. I saw turning forty as a golden opportunity and I was going to Rickman the hell out of it. Maybe I would move to L.A. and try writing for television! Maybe I could try my hand at acting in small films in Chicago! What if I decided to ride my bicycle around Lake Michigan? I could do it all.

Instead, I’m seriously considering starting a YouTube channel that’s just me riding my bike around town with a GoPro looking for the flock of cranes.

I guess the thing I’m struggling the most with right now is the idea that I’m not the only thing holding me back. Somehow, my lack of courage to pursue everything life has to offer was totally acceptable but forces I can’t control are completely devastating. Maybe I was expecting to suddenly shake loose the bonds of self-consciousness and soar to the heights I’d imagined when I was a kid acting out Yentl in my living room. The point was that I had a choice.

Now, I don’t have any of those choices. So, make a cautionary tale out of that as you will.

I’m usually miserable on my birthdays. Largely because I struggle daily with this idea that the circumstances of my birth made me a problem, that I started all this trouble by being born. I try to be happy but there’s always a weird thing in the back of my head saying, this is the day you ruined your mom’s life. This is the day you burst, in all your larval obnoxiousness, into a world you still don’t understand well enough to navigate without inconveniencing someone. But the milestone birthdays always seem to be about a transition between now and next.

So, here I sit, having just become forty, trying to remember the upsides and downsides of every milestone birthday. Not including my seventeenth, which isn’t a traditional birthday milestone but was a new frontier in making out because my boyfriend put his hand up my shirt and I touched it through his jeans.

For the sake of symmetry, though, I’m thinking specifically about decade milestones.

Ten years ago, I turned thirty not knowing that I was about to have some of the most painful transitions, transformations, and losses of my life. I’m still processing those. They can’t be left behind easily or summed up in hindsight. It’s all still too close. I didn’t know I’d have to give up my name. But I also didn’t know that I was about to become a much cooler person in that new identity.

Twenty years ago, a boy who would become one of my most painful heartbreaks leaned over during a late-night showing of the first X-Men movie to whisper happy birthday in my ear. I didn’t know then that only a year later, I’d find my soulmate and have two children before my next decade started. I had no idea how much the world was going to change, and how much my world was going to change. And I’d never even considered writing a book.

Thirty years ago, I was trying so, so hard to be a human correctly. To make people love me. To not annoy anyone too much. To take my pills and go to my therapy and not allow my erratic emotions to become a burden on my grieving family. To not be selfish and make a traumatic loss all about myself. To not sin, to pay attention in church, to perform the deeply ingrained and complicated rituals of two incredibly strict religions. But I also had a sweet-ass scrunchy and only four years to go before I’d meet some of the best friends of my life.

So much has changed in forty years. I can’t assume it’s all going to be for the worst. Or, I can. I just shouldn’t. But I’m so afraid that forty is going to be this weird-ass decade where I start drinking smoothies and pretending avocado doesn’t taste like butter someone dropped in the grass and also one of the children I birthed is going to be an adult in six months and I’m sitting in bed at 1:30 in the morning on my birthday drinking 64 oz. of Tang out of a big plastic pineapple because that’s how we party when time and mortality are making themselves so, so damn present.

Speaking of presents, this year, in lieu of diamonds, sacred objects, or the gift of song, I just really want someone to write me a Community fanfic where I’m friends with Troy and Abed.

 

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19 Comments

  1. Tez Miller
    Tez Miller

    Bike riding + GoPro + birds = shenanigans! There might be some comedy material in that. Birds are weird. And they can be arseholes – and if you film that, it could make for fun viewing 😉

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  2. Gloria
    Gloria

    Happy birthday! I turned forty in april, and… it will get better.
    I mean I guess, eventually.
    It has to, right?

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  3. Kristine
    Kristine

    There are plenty of people on my roller derby team who are in their 40s! Heck, my mom started derby at 54! Just because you can’t do any of those things now doesn’t mean you can’t do them in a few years. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that time is an illusion. Although it has also caused a global shortage of roller skates (not kidding) since so many people are taking up skating. Look for used pairs on Kijiji starting in a few months, lol.

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  4. Happy birthday!

    And – achieving your goals is never fully under our control. We like to pretend it is, so we won’t lose the courage to at least try.

    Keep trying. I am sure you’ll be a marvelous stand-up gran at some point.

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  5. Sam Beringer
    Sam Beringer

    Happy Birthday!

    It’s actually my birthday, too. I’m 28, but still feel like I’m a teenager stuck in an adult woman’s body. Even though I know that there’s no set age where you have to have stuff like starting a career, getting your license, or finishing college, I still feel like I’m behind on things.

    So yeah, I can kinda relate to what you mean about not accomplishing anything grand at forty.

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
    • Julie
      Julie

      Hell I’m 48 and I’m sitting at my desk with my pointe shoes on (teaching myself ballet) while singing to Slipknot with my hair in Wednesday Addams braids because some time around 40 you just stop having enough rats’ asses to give about what anyone thinks you’re supposed to do at your age. It is the best thing about aging.

      As to Jenny’s thoughts about not accomplishing what she expected to at 40, don’t sweat it. Practice your standup routine in your room, study other comics, maybe even join a stand up group online, hell, you could do a routine and put it on youtube.

      Most importantly, don’t live your life by anyone else’s timeline. When the time is right it will happen. In the meantime, use 2020 as a time to put down the building blocks to your dreams, or to find new dreams.

      July 17, 2020
      |Reply
  6. Pansy Petal
    Pansy Petal

    Happy Birthday! Welcome to . . .

    Sometime ago, I decided I wanted to be you when I grew up. In spite of your issues, you write awesome books, boldly speak your mind about anything, and do what you need to do to be you. Just how awesome is that? Bucket list items? At least you have one. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. Complete work in progress here. How does one set goals, let alone attain them anyway? More kudos to you for even trying, or wanting to try. I gave up and just stay home in my safe place.

    BTW – The milestone birthday for me this year is sixty-five. So take my word for it. Your are doing very well! Happy Birthday.

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  7. Kylie
    Kylie

    I turned 40 last year. I had always hoped that would be a big, life changing year for me. I want a new career as I am not totally happy in the one I am in now. But I am at a loss as to how to make that change happen because the circumstances of my life now prohibit it. I am so sick of all the uber positive, you can have whatever life you want if you just set goals and work hard enough nonsense. No, not all of us can just quit our current job and embark on a four year degree program or start a wildly successful business or switch careers. Sometimes it is just not possible. I am frustrated and I hear where you are coming from. That being said, my 40’s haven’t been too awful so far. I am able to work from home now, which allows me to better tolerate my job. And I moved out of the city to a farm so that was a good change. I guess now I am just trying to take life as it comes, with fewer ideals or expectations. Sorry, I doubt my comment was helpful

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  8. Emily Barnard
    Emily Barnard

    Dude. I just turned 50. Many of the same feelings.

    I think the current situations has all of us messed up re: live stages and time and value and everything.

    Still, take time to stop and enjoy the fact that you’ve accomplished so much in 40 years, Jenny. That’s no small thing.

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  9. I turned fifty last month. Still getting used to it. I have decided that fuck the right moment, I’m starting a freelance writing career. Right now I’m still in the information gathering stage of things but I’ve hooked into some very good resources, I have a website that is just about ready for prime time (and it took a lot to get it up to where it is now) and I mocked up some writing samples that I’m really happy with. I’ve adjusted my schedule at The Big Green Grocery Store so I have my mornings to learn and, eventually, to write for cash.

    tl;dr: Turning fifty gave me a chronic case of the fuckits.

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  10. Anon
    Anon

    I don’t know what else to say, except happy birthday and I hope it turned out better than you expected.

    This pandemic things sucks.

    July 15, 2020
    |Reply
  11. Maile
    Maile

    Happy Birthday. I turned 45 in April and I wish I had some words of wisdom for you. All I can offer is an internet hug.

    July 16, 2020
    |Reply
  12. Jenny Fan
    Jenny Fan

    Happy Birthday! Just think how much more awesome you will be when you out-Rickman Alan Rickman. He started acting at 40? Bully for him! Jenny Trout started _____ (you fill that one in) when she was 42! Take that! (I love Alan Rickman – this is nothing against him). And I mean it by how much MORE awesome. Because you’re already awesome. Even if you never wrote another book or attempted any of those goals you mentioned. You’re awesome. 100% awesome. Stay well, stay safe, and enjoy your birthday as much as you can. <3

    July 16, 2020
    |Reply
  13. Lorax Borax
    Lorax Borax

    Young Jenni, please accept my belated happy birthday wishes. I hope the year ahead kicks ass in ways you never even thought it would. SO much fun is lying ahead for you. I’ll be 57 in ten days, and I can tell you, life really does get more fun, the older you get. 2020 is a weird year for us all, but things will change, or we’ll change, or something… Life will go on. And you are amazing already: recall, you have worn a bikini in public, looked awesome doing it, and posted it on a blog for the world to see. You are oozing with chutzpah and talent, and you’re cute as heck. You, young Jenni, are going to be just fine. I have all the faith in the world in you. You’re awesome.

    July 16, 2020
    |Reply
  14. First of all, happy birthday!!

    Secondly, Jenny, I’m 38 and if I made it to 40 having accomplished all the things you have – incredible backlist, wildly successful blog, professional writing career – I’d consider that an amazing feat.

    I spent the last 15 years working through two chronic illnesses (one physical, one mental) and honing my writing skills privately. Right now I’m a balanced individual but with none of the professional writing career I’ve been dreaming of all this time. At 38 I still have to start all that. Does that mean I wasted my time? Not at all. Point is we all have different paths in life and the things you consider ‘what I happened to do while not living my dreams’, are the things others dream of. I truly hope you can feel a sense of pride in all that you have accomplished, because it’s quite a bit.

    And lastly – I’d like a slice of that fanfic, please.

    July 17, 2020
    |Reply
  15. Lorax Borax
    Lorax Borax

    YES!!

    July 17, 2020
    |Reply
  16. Happy Birthday! I’m not so far off from 40 myself. It’s a strange feeling. I hope you are able to make some of your dreams a reality!

    July 23, 2020
    |Reply
  17. Biev
    Biev

    I turned forty a couple days after you did. Unfortunately it didn’t come with any sort of great epiphany. I still have that feeling of being a child who poses as an adult, and not really well enough to fool anyone. My mom says that never goes away, so either this is a common thing, or I’ve got Peter Pan syndrome genes.

    August 8, 2020
    |Reply

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