Pen Pal Project
Birthday Angst: A Personal History
February 9, 2015
I love that photo of you in Jamaica. It looks like a Vanity Fair shoot of a Hollywood star at home. How do you manage to look so glamorous all the time?
Thanks, by the way, for the temporary tattoo. I still haven’t tried it. It is sitting, believe it or not, in my ‘to do’ file. The file is large. The tattoo keeps falling to the bottom, both figuratively and literally. Perhaps I need to move it as an action item onto my ‘to do’ list (that’s a promotion from the file). It could be #9 today, after going to the dentist, writing this letter, paying my Visa bill, learning how to use my new website, arranging for snow removal, finding an electrician to fix the light in C’s room, registering the kids for summer camp, and going to the post office. But I should probably find some time to write my book.
There, you see? This is why the tattoo lies neglected in the file. I wonder what else is in there. Hmm. I should probably check.
So…birthdays. The big decade markers have always thrown me, though I tend to freak out a year early, on the nines. At 19, for example, which came at the mid-point of Grade 13 (we had that in Ontario back in the dark ages), I despaired at my lack of accomplishment. Of course, I had been miserable for several years – there is nothing you could offer me in exchange for reliving high school, nothing – but my general misery was exacerbated by the sense that I had not accomplished enough before turning 20. I mentioned my high-achieving, perfectionistic tendencies, right?
At 29, I was agonizing over my career and my biological clock. I’d quit law and gone to work at the University of Toronto, but I was junior and uncertain about my professional choices, and was beginning to think about having a baby. I didn’t think I should change jobs again unless I committed to putting off pregnancy (I stayed at U of T and had a baby).
Thirty-nine, though … that was a doozy. I had two kids, and a very senior job, and a bunch of volunteer commitments. And I was entertaining at least once a week, and working on my marriage, and doing, I must say, an A+ job of all of it. And I was exhausted and burnt-out and beating back a nagging suspicion that I was living someone else’s life, except for the three hours on Sunday afternoons when I was writing the novel that eventually became The Hole in the Middle.
And as for 40 and 41, they were, I think, aftershocks of the trauma of 39, which didn’t resolve right away. It took a couple of years to quit my job after realizing that I hated it, and to muster enough confidence to call myself a writer. And, given how things turned out, I guess it’s fair to say that there were some marital issues brewing.
I love your idea that we should celebrate our achievements more often. I think you are absolutely right that high-performing women are usually ‘future thinkers’, which is to say that they are always focused on the next thing. I have a marvelous therapist who is trying to cure me of my future-thinking ways. I think I am incurable. Recently, as she shook her head in frustration, I said, “I’ll get there.” And she sighed and said, “Not there, Kate. Here. I want you to get here.” It makes me laugh every time I think of it.
Link to Reva’s last letter: http://www.revaseth.com/penpalproject/think-need-celebrate/
Reva’s response to this letter: http://www.revaseth.com/penpalproject/reality-bites/