It is customary for me to write something on my birthday each year. Usually I wax on about philosophical changes, physical changes, the music getting too loud, needing more makeup to get the ‘I’m not wearing any makeup’ look etc. And then I like to have a party or some kind of social gathering where I wear too much makeup, drink in excess, and briefly forget about the fact that I am getting older. The hangover the following day serving as a reminder that I am indeed 'getting too old for this shit.'
This year I feel a bit differently about things. I don’t want a fuss, I don’t feel the need for a big party to celebrate. I’m letting this one unfurl in a quietish manner. I’m acknowledging it, I’m not particularly bothered by it. Dare I say it, I am enjoying that it’s my day and the number of years I have been on this planet is kind of irrelevant.
But what is most figural for me, is that I enter into the other side of my 40s with a sense of gratitude. Thankful that I am alive, and that I have my health. That I have a beautiful family; both the one that I came from and the one that I created with my husband. That I have these fantastic kids that are smart, funny, empathetic and these cool little people that I enjoy talking to and hanging out with. That I have a partner in my life that loves me, all the good, bad and crazy that is me. And that he lifts me up and supports me and believes in me more than I believe in myself. And that after 13 years together I still find him incredibly sexy. That I live in a democracy. That I get to choose what I am going to eat every day. That I have the luxury of having enough food that I have clothes in my cupboard that I am too fat to wear. I am thankful for my friendships - this wonderful assortment of people that enrich me and teach me and challenge me. That I get to paint. My god, that I get to paint. How lucky I am to have discovered something that gives me such meaning, such joy, such frustration, such a challenge? That I get to travel and have incredible experiences. That I have a home to live in. That I have heat, and running water. That I, more or less, have my sanity.
My evolution as a person up until this point and being on the other side of 40 brings me to some of the following observations:
You need to embrace all aspects of yourself in order to live an authentic existence. That includes the bits that you don’t like, or that you (or the societal landscape) deems as unacceptable. Integration is key. When things are embraced and you stop seeing them as being ‘bad’ but a part of you, they loose their power and hold over you, and a new, not necessarily tidy (but who needs tidy right?) ‘you’ emerges. Certainly a more interesting you. And then go on and surround yourself with people who accept this integrated person you are - rather than people who only want a version of you that suits them and their own unintegrated selves.
There is always someone crazier than you and likewise someone from a more dysfunctional family than yours was, and that person, like you, is getting on with life because that’s what we are designed to do. It’s weird, but this always makes me feel better. I talk to someone and they say: ‘You think that’s bad, well let me tell you … .” And then we laugh, sometimes through tears.
If you care about someone and things are not good between you, take the time to find out what is going on. It may surprise you what that person is experiencing and chances are although you are effected by it, it may not be about you. In fact, most things are not about you - they are about each and every person’s individual journey and the day to day stuff they are dealing with. Some of it far larger than you might imagine.
Likewise if things bother you, do something about it. Bitching and complaining or passive aggressive stuff doesn’t do anyone any good. Be an active participant in your life rather than the person that stuff happens to. And by virtue of this, take responsibility and ownership for your part in things. Look at how you might be contributing, and sometimes this might even be through inaction, to negative stuff and relationships in your life.
Surround yourself with people who enrich you, challenge you, and make your laugh rather than those that are toxic and draining. Remember, this is your life, and no one but you is going to have the same degree of vested interest in making it a good one. And as for your partner - they have their own stuff to deal with, so don’t depend on them too much.
Trust yourself. As for trusting others, well, it's a very relative thing given the complexity of people. Basically, you can never truly know another person. Scary thought at first, and then pretty liberating once you get the hang of it.
Find joy in your life. I cannot emphasise this enough. So many people continue to live lives of pure obligation which leads to resentment, hopelessness and damaged relationships. Whether it’s a weekend football game with your friends in the park, a small patch of flowers you tend to in your garden, having a regular friends night out, a weekly cookery or painting class, going somewhere by yourself and having tea and cake once a week with a favourite book. Something that is uniquely about you, and what gives you a sense of pleasure and even fun. Something to look forward to and remind you that you have a choice, that you are an individual in and amongst all the other roles you have as say partner, parent, child, boss, employee etc. And most importantly, that you are, even in a small way, free. This is essential. I also recommend reading Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker for inspiration.
As for the physical, as in our looks, I think as you get older you begin to realise that it’s not really a priority in the grander scheme of things. Although judging by the success of the botox and filler industry, or the amount of marriages that end over a younger version of you, evidently there are plenty of people who disagree with me. But looking back I have certainly had periods in my life where I have been much younger, much thinner and had great hair, and I was miserable because of other stuff. Which tells me that this is not where it’s at. But certainly you need to make healthy choices, especially as you enter into middle age, and there is some literature about how regular exercise and certain foods can affect your physical and even mental health. So again we come back to the integration of self - move and eat good stuff because it’s good for all of you, rather than just worrying about the size of your backside.
I’m sounding sanctimonious, when in fact all of this really serves as a reminder for me. Because although I ‘know’ this stuff, I also get stuck in the rut like everyone else - and the past and even day to day shitty things that happen to us have ways of throwing a spanner in the rational works. I suppose I’m sharing this with you and I’m sharing this with myself - it’s a reminder, a meditation, a prayer.
Thank you to everyone for my birthday wishes. And to everyone that supports and continues to take an interest in my artistic journey. I send you my very best with your own journey and that you find some kind of peace and meaning. Take care and as John Irving wrote in The Hotel New Hampshire: ‘Keep passing the open windows.’
Picture: Self portrait, 2016. Oil on board.