My birthday month is coming to an end. I enjoy my birthday, but there is also a certain melancholy with growing older. I really celebrated my birthday this year. I wrote cards, drank chai tea, went to the planetarium, went for a run, visited family, had a fun birthday party with friends, and enjoyed art. The finale was a snowshoe hike/star gazing session with UMD’s RSOP. It was fun to enjoy the woods at night and awkwardly clamber up a snowy hill to view a clear night sky at Harley Nature Center. I was the only community member in the group, so I felt like an old weirdo among the young college kids! I have a great deal to be thankful for: health, energy, youthfulness, friends, relatives, curiosity, and fun.
(The giant cupcake that Jenny made for my b-day)
Despite the many things I am thankful for, I’ve been in a state of existential crisis since about age 23. How does one live? How does one live well? What is the right path to take in life? I think about these questions almost everyday, making lists and inventing myths about the person I want to be. Living is hard. There are a smorgasbord of possible experiences. Even if a person was not limited by class, gender, sexuality, race, age, ability, etc. we are limited by a finite amount of time. We live… then we die, and its over. What makes for a good life?
Birthdays are a reminder of mortality. My time is short and I have exhausted so much of it. Have I wasted it? Could I have done something differently? Am I on the right trajectory? Maybe the formula is quite simple. For many people, life consists of getting married, having kids, owning a house, saving for retirement, and the many good memories with friends and families. For others, this formula may be flavored by a career or perhaps the career is an end unto itself. There are a few people who are adventurers, who never settle, moving from place to place for new adventures and a carefree life. I am none of these people. I have never wanted a house. I don’t want a nice car. I don’t want children, nor could I afford them if I did want them. I don’t want to be married. A career might be nice, but I happy to have a job that I find meaningful. My mundane life of work and school is sometimes punctuated by adventures, but these are an oasis and not the norm. Is there something else? Something more to do?
(What more could I ask for? Friends, cake, balloons, flowers, a fake squirrel…)
So, here I am. I never had a realistic vision for my future. With the same realism as a preschooler who envisions that they will grow up to be a donut with sprinkles, as I was growing up, I figured that I would be a super villain, riding on the shoulder of a giant mulch monster that I created with my advanced botanical powers/knowledge. I am not sure why I was a villain. I definitely have not obtained my Ph.d in evil plant science. Maybe we can all be glad that I didn’t turn out to be a villain, crushing buildings and all that oppose me. And, there is always time for the botany. And, it’s never too late for the green hair. Or the Ph.D. That’s something. Whatever I am, I am not a villain.
Getting older is bittersweet. When I was younger, I would celebrate with large birthday parties, but many of my friends have moved. I stand still. Of course, I still have friends, but I do feel that the world moves around me. I have seen many people move many directions, towards careers and towards families. Getting older is also a little bittersweet because of the emphasis on youthfulness. I am not a glowing, thin, young person. I am still young-ish, but there are markers of a new era in life. I don’t feel as pretty as I did at 25. It shouldn’t matter, but I have internalized to some degree the expectation that women shouldn’t age.
I guess, I am always left feeling that I should be MORE. Maybe it is a cultural mentality that more is better. Even the magazine for older women is called More. (Oddly enough, this magazine will be no more in April). What more should I be? More accomplished, more fit, more dynamic…more successful. Successful how? Perhaps published…working on grand things like books and papers. Working on a Ph.D.? A professor? Multilingual? More talented. More of an activist. More of a leader. More responsible. More future oriented. An expert at something. A polymath at several things. More admirable and interesting. Is it to much to ask that I could just suddenly become a vibrant, creative, revolutionary socialist feminist leader…scholar…activist…world traveler…confident…multifaceted…scientist…environmentalist…fantasy author…artist…runner…bicyclist…riding on the shoulder of a giant mulch monster…crushing patriarchy and capitalism with her awesomeness …an awesomeness that nothing MORE can be added to?
In the end, I have a good life. I am not always sure that my choices were the right ones or that I am living as one should, but I am generally happy. Although some people might deem it excessive and wasteful, I am thankful for my travels. This year, I will reach 50 countries that I have visited. I find this important, even if numbers don’t matter that much. I always wanted to see the world. I can’t wait to see more of it. Although it is also excessive and could easily be critiqued as irresponsible, wasteful, and pointless, I am proud that I will finish my 4th degree this year, even if it isn’t a Ph.D. and I always attended local colleges (for the most part). And, I am thankful for the activism, few good friends, my garden, my job, my health, my hobbies, my books, and some of the interesting experiences I’ve had. This all seems pretty small! It seems that everyone accomplishes so much…MORE. (Yes, I have a stilted perception of the world that everyone is somehow a super star doing everything awesomely, while I just muck around in the mud. Working with people who struggle to finish high school or find even a job unfortunately does not mitigate this distortion.) Anyway, as I grow older, I certainly feel a strong sense of mediocrity, but most people don’t live and die as superstars or super heroes. Some die as obscure weirdos.