Thoughts on Turning 49

by Jane Devin on 03/30/2011

There’s a cup of coffee in the cup holder and my MacBook is on my lap. I’m working on Part 3, the final part, of Elephant Girl and I waver between feelings of accomplishment and doom. So many people have lent their support for this effort that I feel guilty on those days when the sentences just don’t look right or I take time out to write a blog post. My guilt is, of course, self-imposed.

Today, I turned 49. That’s old for someone writing their first book, but I try not to think about that. Instead, I just keep writing with one mantra running through my head — be true, be true — and it has nothing to do with perfect timelines or precisely remembered words, but everything to do with continuity of feeling.

Near the parking lot, there’s a pile of rocks leftover from construction. A crow landed there this morning, calling out for something that didn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon. She cawed loudly and continuously—it sounded like a desperate cry. I have felt like that crow so many times in my life that I was compelled to leave the truck and throw the remainder of my lunch at her feet. She eyed me suspiciously before flying off. I’m not sure if she will return.

There’s an ache in my chest today. It’s heavy and sweet, bright and mourning. It’s the ache of time passed, muted dreams, and a soaring imagination.

What I wouldn’t give for just one blank slate sometimes. A do-over or a never did. I have too many memories, it seems, and not enough memorable present moments. While delving into the past, I dream of things like hiking boots, backpacks, and tiny cabins in the woods. I also dream of balconies in the West End of New York, margaritas and roosters in Key West, and watching fireworks from a Chicago rooftop. All of which reminds me that I have really never belonged anywhere except wherever I was at the moment.

I can belong to a lover only as long as she loves me; to a family only as long as I am welcomed; and to a place only as long as it will have me. I have always belonged to myself, though. Independent, stubborn, tough—yes—because everything else is fleeting and may or may not be there tomorrow. Kind, bitter, gentle, afraid, anxious, compassionate, probing, hurt, laughing, curious, loving—yes—all parts of my nature are intact. At 49, that which is broken or has been broken has become part of the whole. I am my own child-woman-daughter-sister-lover-wife-worker-writer-mother. I chase after butterflies and remind myself when it’s time to go home. I hold out my hands to those who might need them and take the hands that are offered. I nurture, care for, love, and reprimand myself at turns.

This is what age has brought me. Not a new number, and not even new lessons learned, but integration. The ability to be with myself, by myself, and know that I am not half of something else—but a whole human being of my own accord. That I am not lessened because others may have things I lack because, in the end, when you take away all those things there is only the self—and my self is no more or less than anyone else’s. In a sense, we all live and die alone, even when surrounded by the calm or chaos of others. Our selves do not exist solely in-between the sheets, or at holiday gatherings, or in cubicles. The biggest, most vulnerable part of our selves are what we think, dream, imagine, and create when there’s no one watching—no one to please, or argue with, or hope for understanding from—and no stimulation outside of that which we provide ourselves.

I used to have a love-hate relationship with my interior self, which, for many reasons (childhood abuse, spectral disorder, love of possibility), was very dominant in my life. Many times, I dreaded my imagination, which has always sought to turn even the barest rags into gold-spun tapestries. Too often the cold cement of reality would pour down, burying rags and tapestries alike, daring me to dream myself, once again, out from under the weight of harsh practicalities.

For a long time, I wanted to be someone other than who I was—like one of those roll-off-the-back, salt-of-the-earth, it doesn’t matter unless it’s right in front of me people who are more likely to see things as they actually are and not as they might wish them to be. There’s something to be said for people who feel content with whatever reality is at hand, and who don’t feel called upon to find the elusive pie-in-the-sky, or the pots of gold at the end of an imaginary rainbow.

I’m not one of those people. I’m curious and restless and sparked by ideals. My feelings about every single thing I see or know—from the sagebrush that rolls across the desert to the secrets locked inside of graying years—are present and strong. Ask me who I am now and I can tell you. I couldn’t have promised the same at 25, 35, or even 45.

At 49, though, I am becoming less and less like the crow. My interior world no longer fights against realities or practicalities. I scream less and contemplate more. When my dreams get buried, I know I am capable of creating new ones. When I cry out and no one answers, I am able to comfort myself. When I receive a gift, I don’t run in fear; I accept it in gratitude. When all there is to wear are rags, I will wear them well and without remorse, knowing that tomorrow may be a different day altogether.

My dreams have become my self, and while they’re often impractical, they’re also strong and beautiful and full of hope.

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