Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today, I am 43.  A hundred years ago, when I was a kid, I would have said, "Wow.  You're old."  But that was before I realized that for me, getting old doesn't feel like getting old, or whatever it was I thought feeling old might be. 

Sure, my body feels tired and achy sometimes, and the computer made me get contacts, and my skin looks a little different, especially because I spend time in the sun when I can, but I've always had some kind of condition or another, which is a blessing in an odd way because now that I am 43, I don't feel these conditions are signs of aging.  They are just different manifestations of my body.

And certainly, my mind doesn't feel much older.  When you have disabilities, as a kid, I often thought in ways that aren't considered childlike.  Conversely, like most kids, I giggled a lot over stupid things.  That hasn't changed a lot for me, either. I still ponder and wonder at the world, the same way I used to, but the things I ponder and giggle about have changed--sort of.  Bloom County, old Muppets clips and MASH still amuse me. I'm still half in love with Harrison Ford.  Agatha Christie never lost her appeal, and neither has Victorian culture.

Over the years, I've increased the scope of my interests in animated areas, though.  Spongebob, Jimmy Neutron and The Fairly Odd Parents make me laugh out loud. Movies?  Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite crack me up, and the more times I watch Monty Python movies, the more hilarious and outrageous they become.  I've added Morgan Freeman to my short list of beloved actors (he will always be the epitome of the wise, spiritual black man for me), Nicolas Cage has turned into a cutie pie, Jeff Goldblum is adorably funny, and Robert Downy Junior has become more attractive and less sad to me (if you recall Less than Zero, you'll know what I mean).

Since childhood, I've read and written a lot, listened to a variety of music, loved to look at and attempt to make art, explored new places and ideas whenever I could, was curious about various religions, and thrived on a bit of intrigue and risk.  Ghosts fascinated me.  Shiny things and colors still attract my attention.  And I've always loved diversity (at around age 9, I once danced around my bedroom, singing about various accents I'd heard and how beautiful they were), dreamed of peace (at age 12 or 13, I wanted to organize a nuclear arms protest), was in touch with the realities of war, violence and discord and got angry about injustice and discrimination.  Martin Luther King Jr. was always a hero. 

And ever since I can remember, people have told me I live in la-la land.  I guess it's because I'm an altruist and imaginative and that, yes, sometimes use imagination to escape pain.  I've often felt oppressed and depressed.     

Skiing and roller skating still make me nervous, and since I've traditionally felt kind of awkward, dancing in public makes me self conscious. But I still love to ride a bike.  I still love the ocean, even in the winter, cool or mild wind in my face, especially when the sun warms my skin, and reveling in the solitude and beauty of nature.  I still love the feel of swimming in warm water (though admittedly, I don't usually attempt to overcome cold water anymore because it's just not worth it) and walking barefoot in grass.  I like warm, spring rain, bursts of torrential rain and most thunder.  I love when butterflies and grasshoppers land on me and I am awed by large winged birds.  I'm still somewhat heat intolerant and prefer dressing warmly in cold weather.  Fall and spring are still my favorite seasons, though I love things about winter and summer, too. 

Tigers and lions are probably still my favorite zoo animals, along with monkeys of all types.  And elephants and giraffes.  I like yellow and pink and coral and burgendy and...I've never been one to limit my appreciation of things.  

When I hear particular songs, I go right back to the age and moments when I first heard them and a lot of times, I remember the words: soft 70's music in the back seat of my parents' car (station: WSSH, now defunct).  We didn't wear seatbelts for the most part.  Music launches me back to church, middle school dances, rebelling while driving my first car (1979 Ford LTD, mint green with a dark green vinyl top...bought it for $1500 from an elderly lady who probably wasn't that elderly), speeding to the beach (without being ticketed, either), getting lost while driving in Boston, skipping school...I am there.  I was recently shocked to discover that music from the 1990's is now being played on the classic rock stations.  How can that be when I haven't aged?

I smell things like old-fashioned, wall-mounted oil heaters in wooden-floored rooms, and I return to my Catholic middle school where that scent was always comforting.  I see the cloak room where we hung our jackets and hats and stowed our book bags.  

Once in awhile, I hear the pings of metal, baseboard radiators running on forced hot water, and I'm back in my childhood bedroom with the pale yellow, cut-out paper doll wallpaper and mirror panels covering up a window that was knocked out when we put an addition on our house.  There are mobiles of birds hanging from my ceiling and a huge rainbow in strange primary colors running across one of my walls.

And those 1970's fru-fru, puffy dressed, big eyed, tight-tucked hair dolls mounted on stands--I even had one as a lamp.  I've kept some of my dolls--the fake Holly Hobbie and the miniature I called her baby, the nun doll that was my my mother's (I think given to her by an aunt in the 1940's) and a porcelain faced doll my brother gave to me as a birthday gift.  There's a chip in the face and the hat is missing, but the antique, calico dress and porcelain legs are intact.

My best friends are the ones I made in college, the readings that have stuck with me the most are those I read in high school and in my undergrad program, and I still love messing with my hair, cosmetic treatments and make-up.  I still volunteer for educational and charitable organizations, though those have had to change, obviously.

I've always been kind of a sleepy head, worked hard but never thought I worked hard enough, felt guilty and anxious about stupid things, wanted to look "better" than I do (though conversely, I've rebelled against the pop-cultural image of beauty), wanted to lose weight (which I've done, off and on, making me accustomed to the irritating challenge), had scars, worn things that are a little out of the norm, recognized I was definitely not mainstream, and knew I should be nicer to myself and that I deserved to be treated better by others.

I acknowledge I have learned a little more about the world and politics (more than I want to know sometimes), am starting to understand men a bit better (a seemingly impossible task), am trying to take better care of myself and love myself more and realize how much I really do for others.  I'm more educated (whatever that means), type faster, write more mature poetry (sometimes), keep up with technology for the most part and don't have to live with my parents.  I've got debt in my own name (let's not go too far down that road though.  It's my birthday, after all.).  I have a house and my own pets.  I've made a beautiful family.  I have the best husband anyone could hope for and people who support us.

So I guess to the rest of the world, I'm older, maybe even middle aged.  I tell my students I'm old and married, but mostly, it's because I want them to understand there is a distinction between teacher and student.  Without making that statement, sometimes necessary boundaries dissolve because I often don't feel much different than they seem to do. 

In my other roles, too, I have to play grown up, but I admit, it feels like some kind of dress rehearsal half the time because adults have built these social structures that strike me as fake and dishonest.  I've been told more than a few times I've got to learn to "play the game," but thus far, I've not been so successful, and I am ambivalent about wanting to succeed anyway.  I am practical (as in, I need to make a living and do right by my family), but my inner bullshit alarm goes off a lot, leaving me in a socio-economic conundrum.  I've got a lifetime history of blurting things out and spouting off, which I've tried to control.  I'd like to think I'm doing a little better.

Where was I going with this?  (That's not a new thing either, by the way.  I've got busy brain, now diagnosed as ADHD.)  Oh yes.  I don't feel old.  When I look at pictures, it's obvious I am older, and I'm not opposed to trying to align my inner image with my outer image (to a point) because I've always messed with my appearance.  It's fun.  It's part of my rebellious nature.  Botox is out of the question (I've no desire to paralyze any portion of my body), but I'm open minded to cheap, cosmetic technology.

I've got goals to accomplish over the next 40+ years of my life as a human woman.  I want to ride on the back of a motorcycle. I want to travel to India, El Salvador, some safe place in Africa, Vatican City, and some other places, some chosen by my family.  I want to ride horses more (slow horses on relaxing, wooded trails).  I want a floppy eared goat (probably two, because one would be lonely).  I'd like a bigger yard for my dogs to romp in or a place where I could just let them run (or trot, as in the case of Shiba, the 16 year old).  I want to take better care of my body and accept myself more than I have in the past.  I want to win a lawsuit and bring down some rotten institutions that deserve it.  I want to fight more for justice, help those who need it and chill out more.  I don't think having goals makes someone old or not living in the present, though, even if the goals have changed over the years. 

So here I am, arrived, good 'ole me on my 43rd birthday.  I am definitely going for a bike ride later.  It's a gorgeous, early-autumn day and even writing should not get in the way of enjoying that.
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