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.