I don’t quite know how this crept up on me. But here I am, 40.
I’m not ashamed of the number. Nor uncomfortable about entering into a new age category on government forms and internet dating profiles. But this birthday feels poignant. Potent.
Forty is halfway. Up until this mid-point (Lord, I’m now middleaged!), my life approach was all “run-up”. Everything was ahead of me, as potential. I’d taken jobs that were a “good experience” that would prepare me for my real job… one day. I had relationships that were good practice for when I met my soul mate. I’d not worried about certain things – committing, settling down, um, buying a couch – because I was in preparation mode. Lining up my ducks.
The past four decades have been a dress rehearsal for the “real performance”.
But today I’ve arrived. This is it.
No more run ups. No more rehearsals. I have to get out there on the stage and bear myself to the audience.
This is who I am. No hiding behind the excuse that I’m in training and still testing the waters.
And, you know what, this feels good. Like, really good.
I think some people hit this mid-point with the heart-sinky impression that what goes up most now come down, that 40 is a pinnacle and it’s a downhill journey from here.
I don’t see it this way. I’ve reflected on it a bit and I’ve chosen to see to stay here at the summit for quite some time.
I’m going to cruise at altitude for as along as I feel good about it before descending into old age.
Which is to say, a long time.
I recently finished reading Helen Garner’s essay collection True Stories. Garner’s writing is so measured, honest and unapologetic. She writes about turning 50. “The grand thing about being fifty is how tough you can be. You don’t have to care about what people think. You can let things rip, in your work…you can stop wanting to be nice.” She uses the example where some bloke accuses her of not laughing at much any more. Her retort: “Yes, I do – but not at the same things; and I don’t feel obliged to crack jokes and kick up my heels just to keep a stranger comfortable.” Me neither.
This kind of freedom comes from feeling like you’ve arrived. You’re not having to prepare, impress, get run-up. Germaine Greer in The Change refers to “Calm, grave, quiet women”. She’s referring to women who’ve arrived. She adds that this kind of woman drives men to distraction. Which should never be an intentional consequence of reaching your pinnacle, but often it just is.
I’m happy with what I’ve achieved in my life so far. My run-ups were helpful; they led me on to this stage I now stand on. Arriving on the stage, finally, feels like a relief. I don’t have to be attention-grabbing or heel-kicking. I can enjoy the calm, grave, quiet view and own the stage. I can act out my own play for the next 40 years.
Hoo-bloody-rah to that.