Transition

Tomorrow I turn 40.

There… I’ve said it!

For months, it’s been there, creeping up on me, peeking out from behind the corners of my consciousness, shimmering silver from beneath the receding black, etching a bit deeper into the smile lines. On the one hand, I’ve been dreading it, thinking, “Oh shit, here we go with this interminable passage of time thing. Twenty-two years since I left school? Seriously?” And on the other hand, I’m thinking, “Wahey! Hold on for the ride!”

Now, as I sit here in the final quiet hours, contemplating that today is the last day of my 30s before I tumble headlong into a new decade, the transition just feels arbitrary. Indeed, part of me rebels against the societal expectation that I should be feeling or doing something BIG. Counting the passing of days as meticulously as we do is so uniquely human. Yet, like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day, I do sometimes wonder if birthdays were constructed to encourage people to consume. But equally, I know that if I don’t acknowledge this in a way that feels meaningful to me, I’ll regret it. Arbitrary or not, tomorrow I turn 40 and I need to process that fact in a way that makes sense to me, even as a flotilla of memories travel like logs down the river of my mind.

And so I write. I write because that is the way my soul makes sense of life. I write as I’ve always written – throughout my childhood in my little red school notebook, with poem titles like “Rover” and “The Flaming Immortelle”; throughout my angst-ridden teenage years when I was desperately trying to define myself by the externals of good looks and good grades; throughout my 20s – the thrilling journalism years – when I did it for love and a living even as the panic and anxieties of life grabbed me by the neck, before the diamonds inside the anxiety finally started to reveal themselves; throughout my 30s as I settled down in a new country, started a new career and a new way of life, loved deeply and lost bitterly… each time being turned inside out by the transition.

In my heart I carry all those people I’ve been before. I’m all those versions of myself, four decades of transition.

And speaking of transitions, as I turn 40 I can also feel myself shedding parts of my personality that are no longer serving me. For example, I was recently chatting with a friend about how people – ourselves included – often put up walls around themselves. I later mulled this over well into the night, and by morning I felt a palpable shift. The part of me that tries so hard to connect with people that aren’t open to connecting – work colleagues, acquaintances, neighbours or supermarket cashiers – fell away. I realised with total certainty that it’s not me. If someone isn’t open to connecting when I approach them with a genuine smile and real interest, it’s not because I’ve said something offensive or done anything wrong, it’s just walls. And just like that, I stopped caring so much about what others thought of me.

It was like stepping a little further into my true self, a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger and calmer than I’ve ever felt, a little bit closer to my calling in life, whatever that may be. It was like I suddenly recognised the freedom I had all along to choose how I “do” life.

Tomorrow I turn 40.

There is a pang of grief as I let go of a familiar number; a twinge of trepidation as I wonder what lies ahead. But mostly, surprisingly, I feel joy, gratitude and excitement. I have much to be thankful for. I’ve survived the challenges of my twenties and thirties and now know how to stay true to myself and what I hold dear. And that’s something worth celebrating as I continue to experience, to feel, this glorious thing called LIFE.

So farewell dear Thirties. Now bring on the next adventure!

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Superiority Complex

For as much as everyone seems to complain about getting older, it’s amazing how often they seem so proud of themselves for it.

A friend called me the other day. He’s about my age, a little younger, successful, smart, hardly an ugly guy, but — and I speak as someone who’s been there — he’s absolutely helpless with women. In life, he’s a gifted schmoozer who knows all the right people and goes to all the right parties. But put him alone with a girl and he suddenly starts speaking in Klingon. He’s got this nasty habit of completely neutering himself within 30 seconds of meeting a woman he’s interested in. It’s an amusing, if sad, spectacle to observe. You can just watch women wipe him off their mental whiteboard before the ice in his drink has even started to melt.

That said, he’s a sweet guy, and if he ever figures out that, in the grownup world, women don’t think it’s cool that you own Depeche Mode CDs, he’ll make someone out there happy enough. Until then, though, it appears he’s going to get fucked over for a while.

There was this girl he was interested in, and mind you, I’m in no position to talk, but she is completely nuts. I won’t get into the sordid details, because it’s not my story, but let’s just say his courtship of her has been, um, rocky. In the span of one evening, she cancelled an evening with him — whom she considers, all together now, a friend — because (deep breath) she decided to have a brief flirtation with lesbianism at a famous London lady’s hotspot, then brought the girl with her to a party where she was supposed to meet him, made out with the girl in front of all his friends, told him she really wanted to be with him but needed to be with the girl tonight, left with the girl, called him from her mobile, said she was sorry, called him back 15 minutes later, said she put the girl in a cab and wanted to come by, met up with him, said he would do for the evening, then bolted early the next morning. (OK, maybe I did get into the sordid details.)

He hung in through all this chaos, presumably because sex is difficult to come by when you own Depeche Mode CDs, and, inexplicably, later asked her Where They Stood. (The boy will never learn.) Her response was classic: “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I’m almost 35 years old. If only you were a few years older…” This is akin to Danny DeVito leaving Rhea Perlman because she’s too short.

We hate the aging process. Our waistlines are already beginning to expand, our breasts are starting to sag, our hairlines are making rapidly for the backs of our necks. Our lives aren’t so carefree anymore, and trying to pick up partners at a bar segues from cool to pathetic and sad. We panic when we see old friends getting married when we can’t even score a second date. Our careers are not where they thought they’d be, and we carefully store our dreams in the back of our underwear drawer while we worry about paying rent, checking every couple of months or so to make sure the rats haven’t ran off with them. We’re depressed that even though we’re growing more ancient each second, we don’t appear to be becoming much smarter. We can all agree that it sucks.

But we have a recourse. We have a way that makes it a little bit better, easier to deal with. There comes a point when we take advantage of getting older, which, after all, is one of the few things we improve at every day.

We look down on everyone else. Anyone fortunate enough to have been born after us is suddenly less world-wise, less intelligent, less… experienced.

We do it on every level. If you’ve just graduated from uni, undergrads don’t know shit. If you’re a few years removed, those recent grads, jeez, they have no idea how The Real World works. As we creep closer to 30 than 20, we mock those who are younger. Shit, you kids can’t even rent a car yet. You have no idea how the world works. Millennials! A friend in his 20s was whingeing to another about how difficult his life was going recently. She told him to buck up. “I went through the same thing when I was your age.” She is exactly 21 months, 10 days older than he is. Whatever happened to her in that period must have been significant.

(Funny story. I was flipping through Reader’s Digest the other day — um, I, er, couldn’t find my copy of New Scientist, you see — and I came across one of those pithy little “This Life” sections. It told the story of a 24-year-old woman justifying her age to her grandfather. “I mean, I’m closer to 20 than I am to 30. I still have six years until I turn 30.” The grandfather presumably flashed the smug grin of the about-to-die and asked her, “And how many years is it, again, until you turn 20?” That’s right, people; this blog has resorted to quoting Reader’s Digest.)

Even though we miss all the fun stuff those younger than us are doing, we pretend we don’t. We devalue the whole experience. Don’t you get it, kids? We’ve been there. We were doing all that before it was cool to do it. Shit, we remember when Maggie Thatcher was prime minister and MTV actually played videos. We’ve seen things you’ll never comprehend.

These kids today, they don’t know how good they got it. If we were their age, we’d appreciate it. We wouldn’t piss away our time like they do. Somehow, to make ourselves feel better, we’ve become the geezers on the porch, threatening to grab our shotgun if those hooligans don’t get off our property.

It’s bollocks, of course. As my Uncle Richard put it in a recent e-mail to me, “you think your sister is a kid, your mom thinks you’re a kid, we think she’s a kid, your grandmother thinks your mom’s a kid, and on, and on, and on.” The fact is, we are just as stupid right now as we were when we were younger; we’ve just been stupid more often now. Maturity is maturity, and just because you had your graduation ball in the 80s doesn’t suddenly mean you have any better idea how life is lived than you ever did. But we say it anyway. ’Cos, shit, what else can we do?

Some time ago, I accompanied a friend to see a band fronted by the younger brother of one of her old college mates. The venue was a bar — easily recognisable as a students’ bar by its total lack of personality. Same game machines, dartboards, dirty bathrooms and free-spirited clientele. We did a few meet-and-greets, then headed to the bar. We scoffed, marvelled at the unsophisticated taste buds of the proletariat and ordered a double whiskey on the rocks and a Kopparberg.

The band came on. They were one of those knockoff types, with keyboards and extended “jams” and occasional covers. Not bad, nothing special. But the crowd… it was a hot crowd. While we sat in the corner, nursing our drinks and checking our watches, lest we stay out too late and sleep through Later with Jools Holland, the kids were rolling. It was joyous. Before we knew it, hordes of kids, so happy to be anywhere but home this summer, were doing incredible dances of rapture. They hopped and cavorted and smiled and beamed and were happy happy happy, finding something wonderful that the music couldn’t provide on its own, no way; they saw some kind of wonderful, something reckless, careless, without worry, just prancing around, bopping to the rhythm, not a moment of apprehension even daring to peek its head over the horizon. They damned near floated above the floor. Their heads lolled everywhere, eyes focusing on nothing and everything, dancing, dancing, dancing, dance dance dance motherfucker dance. You watched them let themselves go, forget who they were, and just be. It was something glorious to behold. We saw a couple kiss in the corner, then look at each other, smile, then hit the floor again.

We watched this while nursing our drinks. We took it all in. We enjoyed it. Then, 30 minutes passed, without a single change in the vibe the jig the dope the scene the feel, man, and we, capturing the pure joy of the moment, decided we were tired and needed to go home. We cast one last look at the kids, who wouldn’t have noticed us if we’d been dressed like Screaming Lord Sutch, and said our goodbyes.

On the journey home, I spoke: “Those kids… cute, eh?”

“Yes they are.”

“They have no idea how life’s going to kick them in the arse, do they?”

“Nope.”

I’m right. I know I’m right. But I don’t have to like it. Because whatever it is I might have lost… I want it back.