45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

Happy About Nothing

Personal
45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

45 || creative commons photo by Seth Tisue

I have long since given up on the idea of posting regular updates here, on my personal blog. I’m busy enough with client work and keeping up with Italy Explained, and – let’s be honest, here – I’m not good enough at time management to get all my work done quickly and use that leftover time to write something on this blog.

(Lately, I’m using that time for knitting.)

And yet? Every year, on my birthday, it’s a thing that I do. And, before I sit down to write said birthday blog post, I review the past few years’ worth of birthday blog posts to see what I said back then. It has become one of my favorite parts of my birthday which, if you know me at all, is basically my favorite holiday after Thanksgiving.

(A whole day dedicated to wishing me well? Oh, yeah, I’m in.)

This year – 45! – seems momentous. Any multiple of five seems momentous, for reasons maybe only mathemeticians could explain, and I certainly don’t expect to live past 90, which means my mid-life was probably a few years ago. Still, 45? It feels like it should be a big deal.

And yet? I banished the word “should” from my vocabulary years ago, encouraged by my mother, who sagely warned it’s a bad word that only serves to make us feel bad.

Which is why I’m telling myself – and you, since you’re here, I mean, and can I get you something to drink? – that if 45 continues on basically like 44 then I’m good. That’s fine. I don’t need momentous. I’m not really sure I want momentous. I had momentous a few years ago, and that might just be enough for me for one lifetime, thankyouverymuch.

I liked 44. I mean, 43 was a big deal – it felt like a big deal, back then, to be honestly, genuinely, optimistically happy – and then 44 was a sort of stasis. Which was… Fine, really. Desirable, in fact.

When you get to a place you like, doesn’t it make sense to just, I don’t know, stay there?

I am in an exceptionally sweet and comfortable relationship with a man I love deeply. I feel like I’ve been in this cozy spot my whole life, rather than just the past few years, but it helps that we’ve known one another for more than two decades.

I have settled into the role of being a step-parent to an incredible kid, a kid who loves food (even the weird stuff) as much as I do, which makes her a pretty kick-ass travel companion, especially for someone who’s only 11.

I’m still never going to get rich doing what I do, and – one of the hazards of being a freelancer – I lost a big client just last month. And overall I’m still doing just fine, loving my day-to-day work and not missing a full-time office job in the least.

I’m saying “yes” to more suggested outings, when before I might have stayed in because I didn’t feel like showering or putting on outside pants. (It’s a thing, ask anyone who works at home.)

I have started reaching out more in my community (thanks, agonizingly depressing 2016 election!) so as to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of being too isolationist, and it feels way more energizing than I expected it to. (Bring an apple pie to your neighbors, you guys, it does your heart a world of good.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if nothing much changes in my life this year, I’m really okay with that. One could say that’s a bit boring as far as mid-life crises go, but it turns out “boring” might have been my ambition the whole time.

Back in 2014, when my pal Casey and I were in Pittsburgh, we spent a couple hours in the fabulous Andy Warhol Museum. I left with two souvenirs that, it occurs to me only now – some two-plus years later – not only beautifully capture the same concept, but that also speak to this place I am currently in. It is not where I was in 2014 when I chose a mug and a photo (both with Warhol quotes) from the gift shop, but evidently a part of me knew that this was my aspirational goal. I present the quotes to you now, without further comment.

warhol happy about nothing

warhol little things

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Forty-four. Fancy, that.

Personal

Every year for the past few I have written a blog post for my birthday. A few of those years were pretty grim, so last year’s was a welcome change.

On the eve of my 44th birthday, I’m wanting very much to put together one of my annual blog posts while simultaneously feeling extremely guilty that – sitting in front of my computer – I am not working. See, I leave for Italy in less than two weeks, I’ll be gone for a month, and I’m doing as little work as possible during that time… Which means I’m cramming undergrad-style right now.

(Okay, not quite undergrad-style. I’m actually sleeping. Or trying to, at any rate.)

So, in brief…

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

44 || creative commons photo by Jesus Solana

Work is going very well, I got to travel quite a bit last year, and I’m looking forward to even more stateside jaunts after the Italy trip (which I am crazy excited about). I now have two ebooks published in conjunction with my Italy travel guide, and more in the works.

I remain happy, and even a little more settled than I was last year. I’m no longer in my transitional apartment. I am building a home and future with a wonderful man and his fabulous daughter. We aren’t a normal family, but it’s a sort of family. I never pictured myself as a family person, but now that I’m here there’s much about it that I genuinely love.

Fancy that.

A little anecdote from the other night demonstrates a bit of how much my life has changed, I think.

At dinner, the boyfriend was talking to the 10-year-old about impending adolescence, and how it’s almost her job to be surly due to body and brain changes, but that he hopes she’ll buck the trend and still be nice to her parents.

“And me,” I chimed in, as a joke.

“You’re a parent,” she said, not as a joke.

Years ago, that comment might have given me hives. The other night, it made my heart swell.

Once upon a time I lived in a town surrounded by wealthy families, and thought the only way I’d be happy was to have an entire Esprit or Benetton wardrobe like my classmates did. Once upon a time I sang in a struggling rock band, and thought the only thing that would make me happy was to be signed to a record deal. Once upon a time I was thisclose to living in Italy, and the achievement of that goal seemed the only thing that would make me happy.

Turns out there are many roads to happiness, and some of them might start out looking like that weird back alley your mother told you never to take even though they may open up onto a glorious field of flowers just around that corner.

Life takes us in funny directions sometimes, you guys. And I’m finally learning to not only follow that weird back alley, but listen more closely when life is practically yelling directions in my ear.

(44 and still learning. They say learning new things is good for the brain. That’s my excuse this year, anyway.)

43 || creative commons photo by Andy Maguire

No Birthday Surprise Required

Personal

A few years ago, I wrote some birthday resolutions just before I turned 40. I was, I realize now, extremely unhappy in a lot of ways, though at the time I just figured that was my lot in life. As I stared down the gauntlet of 41, I was reflecting on a mostly terrible year, completely unaware that 41 would bring both the most difficult thing I had ever done and, subsequently, the beginning of a new lease on life.

In short, looking back over my birthday blog posts over the last few years, I simultaneously feel that I should have seen shit coming before it hit the proverbial fan (I did write about it awhile ago, after all), and also that I am so relieved to have something other than sadness on which to reflect on my birthday.

And so, at the risk of jinxing it, a review of the past year on this, my 43rd birthday.

43 || creative commons photo by Andy Maguire

43 || creative commons photo by Andy Maguire

Personally

I need to start here because it feels as if everything good in my world now stems from the fact that I am, for the first time in longer than I can remember, happy – genuinely, truly happy. I had many, many happy moments over the years, don’t get me wrong – but this, this is different. This is unadulterated, optimistic-about-life, excited-to-make-plans-for-the-future happiness on a completely new level for me.

When I was at my lowest point a few years ago, I wrote about my therapist giving me a depression test on my first visit (I never ended up publishing the post, as it seemed too depressing – oh, the irony – but I still have the draft). I was off-the-charts depressed – I scored 29 on a scale of 36, indicating “severe” depression – and she immediately prescribed anti-depressants. That medication, plus therapy, allowed me to see through the fog long enough to realize there was something less foggy beyond it. I had no idea what it might be, but the fact that there was anything beyond the clouds was a revelation at the time.

In 2013, I finally had the courage to make the hardest decision I’ve ever made and ended my marriage. I leapt without knowing where the ground was, or whether I’d land on my feet. Today I can report that I did land on my feet, and the ground wasn’t as far out of sight as it seemed.

2014 wasn’t perfect – I’m still dealing with some lingering back issues, which migrated down one leg and became knee issues that required physical therapy; my thyroid regulation got out of whack, reminding me just how terrible I felt in 1998 before I started on thyroid replacement; I gained and lost two separate clients in the space of a few months – but it was pretty close. Even the work I knew I had to do was welcome.

There are two leftover resolutions from my 2012 birthday blog post that I’d honestly forgotten about, but I think my reaction to them now is telling about where my head is in 2015. One was about the need to lose weight, and the other was about learning to love the way I look no matter how I look. I started a regular walking routine in 2012 or 2013, I can’t remember, and I did lose a little bit of weight. But, more importantly, I am much, much happier about what I see when I look in the mirror now – and that has nothing to do with weight loss. I firmly believe that being happy makes me look better – at least to myself (which, let’s face it, is the important part) – and feel better.

And this year? I’m already scheming on a few things that could make my world even rosier. I’m not only excited to make plans, I’m a little impatient for the future – which is weird when I’m no longer ten years old wishing I could hurry up and be sixteen, already. I do not actually wish time would speed up. I have enough gray hairs as it is. So, I will work to enjoy my happiness in these moments, and keep laying the path to even more happiness around the corner.

Professionally

Let’s get one thing out in the open at the outset, especially if you’re not a freelance writer and think it is some sort of dream job: I am never, ever going to be a wealthy person in my line of work. There are still some months I struggle to pay all my bills. So when I say I’m having professional success, it’s all relative, I suppose. I am still able, most of the time, to pay my bills just from the money I make as a freelance writer – and to still have the flexibility to work on my own projects and to, well, live life the way I’d like to. And that last part is, the vast majority of the time, worth much more to me than wealth.

Sidebar over, back to the review.

Last year, I finally got my act together and launched my own Italy travel guide, Italy Explained, which had been sitting almost-done for way too long. I am often paralyzed by the fear that something I’m working on isn’t 100% perfect or done or whatever, which keeps me from actually finishing things. It’s dumb. And when it comes to anything on the web, that fear is exponentially more dumb, since I can fix anything or add stuff with a few clicks. (Typo? What typo?) So, yeah. I’m very glad to have that out in the world now, especially as it has caused something of a ripple effect:

  • I finally got over my aforementioned dumb fear and hit “publish” on my first ebook, Italy Explained: Italian Trains. I am not funding a lavish lifestyle with the sales yet, but people are buying it and liking it. I find that extremely gratifying, and I’m plotting the next book now.
  • I resurrected the monthly blogging group I’m in with a few other Italy bloggers, which gets me thinking outside my usual box once a month. Plus, I get to chat in our planning group with some truly kick-ass women. I adore them.
  • I felt motivated enough to say yes when my friend Sara wanted to get the Italy podcast I co-host, Eye on Italy, back up and running again after a more-than-three-year hiatus. We’ve only done two episodes so far, but it’s great fun to be collaborating again with one of the smartest people I know and to talk with fascinating folks about Italy.

I love having all this Italy-focus in my life again. I find that I spend hours working on Italy Explained and don’t realize hours have gone by. It is fun work. I’m not sure there’s anything better one could say about work, is there?

As for my client work – y’know, the stuff that actually pays my bills – I am feeling incredibly fortunate at the moment. I have one long-time client I adore – my editor is a dear friend, and I can’t tell you how much it means to have long-term satisfied clients who like what you do. I have, however, worried every now and then over the past couple years that all my work eggs were in one basket. I have worried, but I am lazy, and I did basically nothing to seek out new clients. I know. I scolded myself about this on a regular basis, and then continued to do nothing.

Well, new clients have come to me instead.

(I joked with friends last year that the universe is not teaching me very good lessons if it isn’t making me work for this stuff, but I’ll take it anyway.)

In truth, one new client came to me because the editor is yet another dear friend (lesson to aspiring freelance writers – have dear friends who become commissioning editors). That work is a new challenge for me; it’s unlike other writing I’ve done, which I think is a good thing. It’s keeping my writing skills sharper, that’s for sure.

Another new client – I just signed the contract, so I haven’t done any work for them yet – came on the referral of one of the aforementioned editor friends (see aforementioned lesson for aspiring freelance writers).

I cannot overstate how fortunate this makes me feel. Yes, I’ve laid the groundwork by being a reliable contractor for coming up on three years now. Yes, I’m benefitting from a solid reputation I built in the travel writing world starting in 2006. I get that this isn’t dumb luck, and I still feel very lucky.

And so, 43?

I have always loved my birthday. I honestly don’t care about getting older – I mean, I care about my knee giving me problems and the fact that it’s harder to get up out of a chair than it used to be, but I don’t care about my age as a number. I will happily tell you how old I am. Even on those birthdays when I was looking back on an unhappy year, I was still looking forward to a birthday that might – who knows? – turn everything around.

Of course, the birthdays didn’t turn anything around. They don’t have that power. I do have the power, though, and I am everso glad I exercised it. Because now I can say that not only am I looking back on a 42 that filled my heart and gave me so much joy, I am looking forward to a 43 even more because of what I can already see on the road ahead.

I will not rely on some birthday surprise to drop into my path and fix a trajectory I don’t like. I will embrace 42 because I made it what it was, and I will welcome 43 because I am in the process of creating what I want it to be.

Happy Birthday to me, indeed.

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

The Answer to Life, the Universe, & Everything

Personal
by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

On my 42nd birthday, an announcement.

Some of you already know this, although I’ve kept it relatively quiet in a more public sense. I moved out of my house early last June, and Chris and I are in the midst of wrapping up all the paperwork involved in our divorce. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave – perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but I don’t regret it. I purposely kept the news out of public spaces until the mediation was done, but I did want to let people know what had happened, as there are many of you who still don’t know. I apologize for the format of this, if this is how you’re finding out, and I hope you understand.

For at least the forseeable future I am in a bit of limbo. I am in an apartment I don’t like (though in a location I love in SE Portland), and I’m not sure what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be living six months or a year from now. I’ve never been good with changes (I have sprouted more gray hairs in the past eight months than I can count), and this is by no means easy, though I’m trying to remind myself that it’s temporary. I have posted signs in my apartment reading, “This, too, shall pass” – and I’m reminded of a favorite André Gide quote:

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

There are plenty of clichés about change, but when you’re in the midst of upheaval they all sound so trite as to undermine what it feels like you’re actually going through. Since losing my job in 2012, I feel a bit like every time I was getting close to being on my feet again, something else would pull the rug out from underneath me. In this case, I pulled the rug out myself. So, I am at sea, yes. And somewhere out there lies my next port. I can’t see it yet. But I know it’s there.

So, bring it on, 42. Let’s see what you’ve got. I’m ready.

Dear Forty

Personal

Dear Forty:

Let’s face it. You’re pretty widely thought of as an asshole. Still, despite all evidence to the contrary, I thought we’d get along. It’s only now that I see the folly of that thinking.

Shall we review?

photo by elitatt

photo by elitatt

To celebrate your entry into my life, I went to France. I finally got to see a place I’ve been wanting to see for more than two decades, and I spent what turned out to be a lovely week in Paris. That doesn’t sound bad, I’ll grant you that. What I’ve left out of that brief overview, however, is the fact that on my actual birthday I caught a nasty cold that left me with a fever for a few days and a horrendous hacking cough for far longer. That was, I suppose, your gift to me. Your bonus gift was the muscle spasms in my back that started a few days into the trip and continued for the next month.

Really, you shouldn’t have.

Fast-forward to May, when I was unceremoniously let go from a job I loved, a job I’d had for more than six years. We can drag that into June, too, when I found out the site into which I’d poured myself for those six-plus years would no longer be mine, and the community I’d built up around it would need to be rebuilt from scratch.

December delivered the biggest single blow to my world when my tiny, non-descript hometown became front-page news for all the wrong reasons, and I cried for weeks.

As I write this, I’m closing in on your sibling, Forty-One, and I’m sitting here with another bout of serious back pain that’s been bothering me since mid-January. In the last several weeks, my record for consecutive pain-free days is three. Oh, we can’t forget the chronic insomnia you seem to have unexpectedly brought along in your suitcase. Surprise!

Sure, Forty, you gave me some great moments this year, too. After I lost my job, there were all those friends and colleagues who rallied around me, giving me much-needed confidence and even actual paying work. I watched one of my best friends in the world get married. I’ve started singing again with my former bandmates, and I’m surprised at how much fun I’m having. When I feel the urge to speak my mind, you’ve made me care much less about “what people think.” I’m grateful for that, I really am. You’ve given me more gray hairs and additional inches around the middle, yes, but overall I have to thank you for remaining in the background enough that some people still don’t believe me when I tell them how many years I’ve been on the planet.

There were so many years leading up to when I knew I would meet you that I thought, “Y’know, I think I’m going to like Forty.” I really wanted to like you. I wanted this to be my Jubilee Year, like Miss E talked about. I wanted to embrace you, defy all the widely-held beliefs about you, and show the world that you could be really fucking fantastic. But you had other plans. You had a reputation to protect – and you did a fine job of that.

I’m hoping at some point I can look back on you and think, “Forty made me who I am today, and I’m so thankful for that.” At the moment, however, all that comes to mind is, “Forty, I’m glad to see the end of you.”

Now I’m bracing for the arrival of Forty-One. I wonder what she’s got in her suitcase?

Love,
Me

Birthday Resolutions

Personal

In less than a week, I’ll turn 40.

I’m leaving for France on Wednesday, and I’m as excited about this trip as I’ve been for any in my whole life. Still, I know when I get home, I’ve got a bit of hard work ahead of me.

This whole “aging” thing is doing a fair job of catching up with me – it has for years, really, so the fact that I’m turning an age that ends in a zero doesn’t mean I’m going to feel any different than I do right now. And yet? It seems like a good time to have a come-to-jesus talk with myself.

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions, as they seem like they’re destined to make me feel like a failure, but I think I might be making some birthday resolutions this year. There’s some stuff on the “keep the body in good working order” list that’s been neglected for, well, awhile. It’s time for that to stop.

  1. I need to go back to the dentist regularly. I haven’t been for a couple years now, for no reason other than I keep forgetting to make an appointment. That’s stupid. Done!
  2. I’ve got to schedule not just an annual exam this year, but – hello, 40! – my first mammogram. I’m dreading this something fierce, and yet I know it needs to be done. Sooner rather than later, methinks, so there’s not much time for the dread to continue building. Done!
  3. I need to lose weight. I hate the gym. Hate. It. So I need to figure out something else that works for me. This will not be as easy as making dental or mammogram appointments.
  4. I need to learn to love how I look, no matter how I look. This feels a bit like it’s my fall-back position for item #3, and I suppose in some ways it is, but the bottom line is that I’m extremely self-conscious about how I look, to the point where I desperately hate being photographed or filmed, and I’m annoyed with myself every time I dodge a camera and need to explain why I’m doing so. “I just hate being photographed” is a lame excuse, but “I hate the way I look” would bring out comments I’d probably take as pitying, which would be worse. I just need to get over this. And yes, I realize this will be the hardest thing on this list to accomplish. I don’t expect to be able to check this one off this year. But I’d like to say I tried.

There are other things I’d like to do, too, but they’re smaller. And, really, far less important.

So, for a couple more weeks, I’ll enjoy my birthday celebrations, and give myself more reasons to not let body maintenance slip so far in the future. After all, I’d like to be able to take momentous birthday trips for many more years to come.

photo by sahlgoode

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