(This article was originally posted on my blog PNW Author. The essay is now 3 years old.) When I find myself starting a conversation with, “Back when we used typewriters…” I feel old. I come from a generation who started out playing with Lincoln logs, Easy-Bake ovens and whose mothers made Shake & Bake chicken for dinner, that is, if we weren’t stuck with Hamburger Helper (yuck) or tuna casserole.
We watched reruns of “Bewitch” and then later graduated to “Charlie’s Angels” as preteens. But turning 50 goes beyond pop culture icons or midlife crisis myths. I don’t know many men my age wearing toupees or racing around in red sports cars. The word out on the street is “50 is the new 30” and with the help of supplements, natural hair tints and a healthy vegan or raw foods diet, it’s possible to look 35 at 50. The old cliche goes, if I had a dime for every time someone exclaimed, “You don’t look 49 or 50,” I could retire and live comfortably on the money by age 55.
You won’t find me wearing spinster’s black or lamenting that I wasted the first 50 years of my life. People might ask, “Where’s the husband or how old are your children?” and I can only respond with a shrug. I had other things to do and other worlds to conquer, including dealing with a myriad of inner gremlins and a long bout with depression, in which the only way to emerge was to develop self-love. My greatest accomplishment isn’t ten years as a professional musician, producing a compilation of Seattle bands that receives acclaim two decades later, or the completion of four novels and 4 screenplays. No, my greatest accomplishment thus far is to love myself.
When we glance back at the origins of that journey we either cringe or experience goosebumps. I recall two episodes of self-loathing at this time. The first incident involved an art professor who took slides of each student and asked us to draw a self-portrait. Easy enough, right? I experienced trauma doing this and I cried while I stared at my face enlarged. I focused on faults and chastised myself for not resembling the super models in magazines or the movie stars on the big screen. What a painful experience! I despised the art professor during those moments and also when he showed the slide to the other art students, who thankfully were too busy critiquing their own faces, to critique mine.
Another incident happened in therapy. A psychoanalyst told me to talk to an empty chair with my jacket draped around it, a conversation with myself. I cried and resisted this exercise. I felt so horrified having a dialogue with the part of me that constantly hurt. After all, if I had landed in therapy then there was definitely something wrong with me and wonder if I couldn’t fix it. This happened in my late 20s. And during my late 20s, I spent my nights exorcising my inner gremlins on stage as a musical performer or a poet. Sylvia Plath was my idol during those years, if you can imagine.
I didn’t breeze through my 30s, but I grew in wisdom as I read every popular self-help book, enrolled in self-development workshops and wondered why the Dark Night of the Soul wouldn’t just disappear. In my imagination I walked El Camino with Paul Coelho, went on medicine women journeys with Lynn V. Andrews, and learned to talk with animal spirits. I discovered shamanic journey work, but none of this work led me to developing self-love which goes along with self-empowerment.
I celebrated my 40th birthday in a public venue by hosting a poetry and music event dedicated to compassion and kindness. Gathering with other artists gave me a boost and set me forth on the next part of my journey. In my 40s, I relocated twice, returned to college at the age of 45 to learn new computer technology, I landed a contract job with a newspaper and then lost the job 14 months later. But most important in the past five years, I confronted the frightened woman inside me and learned how to love her back to health. And I’m not alone in this. I hear women my age saying the same thing when they phone into spiritual radio shows or join live streams. Our crisis doesn’t involve dumping the husband in favor of the college co-ed (no Mrs, Robinson here), but our crisis does involve questioning our liberation in a world that wishes to brainwash and enslave us.
Things I learned in the past year include, drinking an unsweetened smoothie is healthier than drinking fruit juice, that yoga, breathing and meditation takes years off, and that we don’t require to go gray like our baby boomer elders and can use natural hair tints that won’t give us brain tumors. If we choose, we can unplug, and engage on a journey to self-discovery. We can dress anyway we choose, even buying clothes in the young adult section or wearing natural fibers. We can opt out of fake patriotism and stop playing games to fit in with a mad society. With new supplements on the market to build collagen, we can avoid Botox or face lifts. Finally, we have worldwide access to women our age so we can compare notes and share wisdom.
Why do we focus so heavily on physical appearance? Is this part of self-love or self-loathing? I know that kindness to ourselves means that we stop finding fault with our bodies as they age. I know that it’s frightening to watch people age around me. I know that I feel tempted to turn back the clock one or two decades, and if only I could bring the ones I lost back into the fold.
I’m fortunate to sit here typing this post on my 50th birthday. I know at least two friends who never experienced this milestone. The first friend died before her 18th birthday when she was injured in a car accident, two weeks prior to high school graduation. The second friend died at 34 from heart failure, 2 weeks before her 35th birthday. So on this rainy Sunday, I won’t lament the passing of years. I’m darn lucky to have survived and I give myself permission to thrive this second half of my life. And for all of you turning 50 this year, many happy returns.
Did you know that life actually begins at 50?