Monday, June 2, 2008


If you read my rerun of Steve's obituary downthread, you know that he died on my 49th birthday.

Which means that today is, yes, Sara's Big Five-O.

I've been trying to figure out for months how I feel about this. Forty made me a little nuts -- though those were crazy years anyway, coming as they did during the dot-com boom and smack in the middle of that agonizing run where Evan and I lost three parents to cancer in six years. Forty was exhilerating, rich, wild, and hard. It was big and busy and fraught, even in its greatest moments of joy.

Fifty, I'm happy to say, is a lot easier; though I do admit a certain astonishment at the physical losses of the last decade. My blogfather, Dave Neiwert, who got here about a year and a half ahead of me, muses often about the body betrayals that start to mount up at the half-century mark: the complaining (and too often, simply unwilling) joints, the endurance that gives out with an audible crash just when you're having the most fun, the thickening of the waist that doesn't respond to sit-ups any more, the face that looks less like you and more like your grandparents with every passing day.

Living here in my little autoimmune hell, most of the betrayals are nothing new: my body's been finding new and absurdly devious ways to betray me a few times a year for about half a lifetime now. (I didn't "let myself go." I was dragged out, kicking and screaming the whole way.) But I get Dave's larger point, which is that after 50, you don't get to pretend to be one of the kids anymore, ever.

I first noticed this about three years ago, when I realized that the only men flirting with me on the street anymore are in their sixties. I noticed that I could still be funny and sassy and even a bit flirtatious with younger men; but "Mrs. Robinson" handle aside, there's a fine line around what's acceptable for a woman of a certain age, and it's much too strange for everyone if I cross it. The world will take all the mother-love I can dish out -- and promiscuous mother-love is one of the few good things that only seems to get bigger and deeper with age -- but it doesn't look kindly on older women who express any kind of serious sexual interest. In short: I'm out of the game. And, for most pretty women who spent decades trading on their faces and figures, that final graceful bow is not always an entirely voluntary gesture.

Still, there's an upside to the losses, which is: More and more, you don't give a damn about most of that stuff anymore anyway. By fifty, life is what it is, and most of us (if we've been at all lucky -- and often, providentially, even if we haven't) seem to have come to a point where it's pretty damned sweet. By now, my quality of a life isn't determined by what I can cram into it, but instead, what I can manage to edit out of it. Fussy clothes, elaborate gatherings, and annoying people are, increasingly, a waste of time I'm no longer willing to tolerate. Give me simple, straightforward, easy, and beautiful. Increasingly, joy is not in the getting, but in the giving way and letting go, and in the paring down of everything to its essentials. If it's not going to add to the net number of transcendently happy, reverent, memorable moments I'm likely to have in the decades remaining to me, I'm not interested.

That said: birthday gifts always make days like this one go down sweeter. Evan and I spent last week in Manhattan, on a trip that was at least partly a celebration of this turning point. My big birthday gift was a necklace and earrings we bought at the Guggenheim Museum, which is also turning 50 this year. (I had no idea we were the same age; she's kept her svelte beehive figure marvelously well.) But she is getting a facelift (hmm: there's an idea, Sara murmurs, scrutinizing her lumpy jawline) which involved chipping off chunks of the concrete facade. They turned some of these chunks into jewelry, mounted in silver. It's simple and solid and lovely, a piece from the aggregated life of a timeless American icon -- in short, symbolic of every aspiration I have for myself at 50.

I'd planned a couple of other gifts. When I started work on my MS a couple years ago, the original plan had me finishing it this month, so I could enter my 50s with a fresh degree. That didn't happen (blogging success, among other things, slowed it down). But there's another event that does make this passage sweeter: my eldest daughter graduates from high school on Friday, and turns 18 next month. We're going through that miraculous transition where prickly teenagers finally soften and turn into adult friends; just talking to this amazing and insightful new grownup girlfriend in my life gives me a gratifying feeling of a job well done. I hope my fifties are full of such moments, the rich harvest of seeds planted in the rocky soil of far more difficult years.

Another thing that comes with fifty is an open membership option in the Geezer's Club, if you want it. And sometimes, surprisingly, I find I do. One of the rewards of the back half of life is being able to tell the younger ones stories that start with, "Back in my day..." Fortunately (for me) and less fortunately (for my beleaguered regular readers) being a blogging geezer mama means I get to inflict these stories on tens of thousands of people a week, if I've got a mind to. And, as you know, I usually have a mind to.

Thanks for hanging around to listen, and for being my audience. Adding up the gains and losses, I can't help but reflect on how many of the gains -- the stuff that makes fifty not only tolerable, but easy and welcome -- came to me through the friends, met and unmet, that I've made through the Internet, and especially the communities around GNB, Orcinus, and (more recently) The Big Con.

Over dinner at Sylvia's in Harlem last Friday night with LM and Jen, it occurred to me that the community that sustained us all through Steve's passing a year ago will also likely sustain me through this proud and wistful day. Ours has been a strange season of history, but I've been privileged to live through it with some amazing people. Even as we mourn Steve, life asks that we mark the celebrations, too, and keep moving forward toward the future that he and we are committed to creating. Let the wake -- and the birthday party -- begin.