What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Look at me I’m a big girl now, said I’m gone do sunt’n. -- Beyonce, “Grown Woman”
I do not wake up like dis. Sure, once I get going (and get some green tea in me), there are several imaginary and metaphorical hair flips by the close of a business day.
But I do not wake up like dis. There is no stilettoed, Beyonce Pope, popular-girl glamour here.
“You wake up…flawless. Post up…flawless.”
I wake up like at 35 I am unemployed and think wistfully about the days when I fancied myself a version of a bright, young, shiny thing, hope disguised as defiant, jagged edges jutting toward the sun. I am 35 and I wrongly assumed a good amount of any “dues-paying” would be behind me by now, that I would have moved off this conveyor belt and emerged newly dipped and freshly coated in grown-woman dopeness:
A functioning self-care plan. 30 fewer pounds. Slightly closer to the completeness and totality of full chill-threaded self-acceptance that so many older women I know have. Some money saved, with enough that I wouldn’t miss any given or lent, which I would of course earn from daily career badassery. A couple of weekends a month at the beach. Bi-weekly standing dinner and movie date with my godmother. Health insurance. Working internet and cable.
I post up at my computer (these days, my phone) prepared to revise and rewrite my resume in no less than 10 protean attempts to make myself attractive to employers at jobs that I swore I’d never go back to.
Thing is, I ran screaming out of my 20s. I do not miss them. I looked forward to the gifts I would force my no-excuses 30s to give me: real confidence and a couple notches closer to apex eff-it-ness.
Instead, it has been -- with some lovely moments squished seemingly haphazard in between -- a Sisyphean quest for forward momentum, traction, and progress. Because that’s just it -- I’m not expecting miracles. Or ease. Just momentum. Real “here to there” progress, particularly job-wise.
Age 35 was supposed to start on a high Jupiter-in-Leo note, that “dopeness anew” thing I mentioned earlier. The return of Technicolor. For a minute it was. I moved into my own place after moving back to my hometown a little over a year ago. I survived my first year of teaching middle school English. I attended a downright transcendent Maxwell concert. I traipsed off on my first solo cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate my 35th birthday. I even wacked off my hair for a new look.
And now I swear millennia have crawled by since I saw that Bahamian sunset.
I’m supposed to say something clever and writerly and wise here, I know. But, simply, 35 has been a symphony of shrinking.
Daily. Reminders. Of. Smallness. Daily reminders of the gradual erosion of dreams. The friction of daily realities rubbing against glittery, metallic hunger. It’s all quite rude, really, limits seeming so eager to flaunt themselves.
"Happiness" used to be a kick-ass job in a film office. Or a publishing company. Or a communications firm. Or a magazine. It used to be working around other creatives on a daily basis. It used to be travel. It used to be sensually prepared dinner every night.
Now, specificity -- precious and faceted -- has been pounded down mercilessly into something as scarily nebulous as “happiness”:
Survival. Staving off eviction. A car that functions in the most basic way if for no other reason than to get me to yet another “dues paying” job. The tenuous cat’s cradle of bill extensions and no income. Oh, and electricity.
The very best thing? The burden of optimism. Having to smile through and “think positive” to keep people comfortable because “it could be worse” and “something better is coming.”
Appreciated perspectives, but challenging to give credence to amid the glare of leasing office impatience. So, I reflexively wield a humor steeped in exhaustion and numbness. Because, yeah, not religious. I am also not prayerless, but I’ve had quite enough lessons in humility and patience, thank you.
I was looking forward to 35. Really. Even despite the vague anxiety stemming from the fact that my mother didn’t live past this age. Still, I found the nerve to hope. To hunger. To make the effort to make a life -- MY life. An attempt at some version of having myself together.
I am entitled to that. It’s all I’m entitled to: the very best version of me and my life.
But instead, there’s a hyperawareness of the passage of time -- and shame: the embarrassment of a fair amount of schooling not yielding nearly the advertised returns and the foolishness of assumed specialness.
I am still erroneously referred to as “a smart girl.” I have been all my life. But I’ve never felt especially smart. Instead, I often feel feral. Bumbling. Mired in lack. Like a fraud. Inappropriately aggressive and feverishly having to tamp it down. Sick of doing so. Having to endlessly contemplate, dismantle and rebuild what “stability” and “dreams” mean to me.
I’ve been taught over the years that dreams are not built of tiny things. I know, for Oprah tells me so. (Generally, in an aggressively faux-enlightened way, ordinariness is kind of shamed these days, isn’t it?)
Dreams are built gloriously and oversized, sometimes with a joyful clumsiness -- and part of you has to be charmingly, willfully oblivious to move toward them. Too much awareness and the tiny cracks can begin to intimidate.
And now I have been dropped indelicately on my butt at the “awareness” point with my hands losing their grip around the throat of the singular thing I’ve always felt fiercely protective of: my independence. At 35, that thought is disorienting at best, unbearable at the very worst.
But when I reach all the way down to the bottom of all this, I unearth one realization with a quiet, disbelieving triumph. It is something I’m told signals real confidence: I still don’t want to be anyone else. I don’t want anyone else’s life. I want MY life. The Beyonce playlist edition of my life.
“Gotdamn, gotdamn!” The AUDACITY.
Despite the staggering terror of regression I’d feared from moving back home after a decade, I still don’t want anyone else’s life. I am worse off than I was 11 years ago when I moved away. My ambitions may never recover. I may still be pounded flat for a while -- and I can’t go back to freshly unwrapped newness.
But I am determined to crawl back toward some semblance of normalcy, even if it is burnished with resentment:
- Re-establishing a work rhythm
- Re-evaluating what self-care and wellness mean for me
- A modicum of financial comfort
- Daily acknowledgment of tiny sensualities
- New, formless visions
- Jettisoning. Molting. Integrating.
- A rich fantasy life and imagination that emerge fiercely when reality closes in
- Working internet and cable
It’s a start. An Adidas shell-toed step in the right direction.
Tiny victories along the way: Through all of this, I still have the nerve to not even look 35 and fed-up. I’m exhausted and racked, but have still blessedly maintained a girlish, chubby-cheeked attractiveness accompanied by an easy, too-wide smile, what I’m told is an honest, raucous laugh, and the illusion of robust health. Go figure.
I know nothing about bravery. I just know about showing up. And I will survive this, battered and hopefully not too bitter. Playlists, tea, Scandal, and Supernatural will get me through it.
“I know the world and I know who I am, it’s ‘bout time I show it.”
Hey, there’s still 40. And I can’t wait.