I love birthdays. Celebrating another year has always seemed like an important ritual to me. I am always glad and grateful to have had the time. The thing is I am going to be fifty in a few days. Have any of you turned fifty? It seems important somehow. I mean, I know it isn’t really half of anything. How many people after all live to be 100? Not many. You can count them up all on those morning TV shows. So it is hardly a middle-aged marker. But then what would you celebrate as a halfway point? Forty-one and a half maybe, since 83 is the current average American lifespan? But, you know, somehow forty-one and a half just doesn’t ring.
So instead we have fifty. It sure sounds like half of something important, doesn’t it? This whole fifty business has gotten my attention.
The last time a birthday really got my attention I was 27. I know I know. Who has a crisis at 27? And it wasn’t exactly a crisis worthy of sirens either. It was rather more of an alert. See it was the year before I would have been out of high school for ten years and I was looking around at everyone else my age and feeling inferior. There was one woman, Lydia Kachigian, who had gone to law school after college and who was then in the process of getting a medical degree besides. (Actually I think it may have been her sister who was getting both but at the time I heard it I made it Lydia in my mind since she was the one I’d graduated with —- now Lydia it has been every since.) The day I learned about these big ambitious degrees I was reading an Anne Rice novel about a vampire called Lestat. I remember hanging up the phone after hearing the med-law phenom story and seeing that book lying on my old oak table. It looked out of place.
I stood staring at it. It was a cheap paperback that I had read in the tub the night before and it’s pages were now too thick and curling. I picked it up and read at random for a moment. I still remember what I read.
“None of us really changes over time. We only become more fully what we are.”
That actually seemed profound. Then in the next moment I realized I was considering a little life advice by way of a vampire.
My next thought was, “Really Ellen? Vampires? Really?” I turned and saw myself reflected in the mirror on the buffet. Out loud I said “ El I feel like we could be doing better here”
And so began a good year of trying to live up to my potential. There is always a lot of existential angst in one’s twenties and I was glad throughout my thirties and forties to have put all that away. But now, approaching fifty, I felt a wave of it floating back.
Still no law degree or medical degree either one. I have given up vampire books. So that is something anyway.
This time I also had a long well made marriage and three smart quirky kids with interesting valuable lives. I have a wonderful animal pack, three dogs and a cat along with a gaggle of chickens who bring me pleasure every single day. We have a few really wonderful friends who cook for us and listen to our tales and who tell us theirs. Plus I have had a pretty lucky entrepreneurial career. We live in one of the world’s most beautiful places and summer in another. But I kept thinking about how long it had been since I had really done anything much new that wasn’t about the business. Nine years ago we moved to a high sweet valley snuggled in the mountains of Vermont and that brought big and loud, unwieldy and exciting change. Homeschooling was another happy surprise of my middle years. The chickens were a fun new diversion. But it had been a while.
Then I did the math. Fifty. My mother lived to be eighty-four. Women generally live a few years longer than their mothers these days but the last three or four years never look like all that much fun. So maybe if everything went right, just maybe I would get to live well til about about eighty-five. (I have always been an optimist) So that was eighteen hundred and twenty weeks.
Not even two thousand left to go
I wasn’t fifty when I realized this so I figured I had five free months. Extra time. It was like a reprieve. I needed to hurry if I was going to get the benefit of those five months.
There was one thing I knew to do. I figured it was time to write that book I had been thinking about ever since I started this blog. I had promised myself I would get that done before I turned fifty. So in May I wrote it. Or most of it anyway. It had to do with need and impulse coming together to fill a space. Besides lots of the material was already written. This summer I edited it with Todd Porter, an old reliable friend whose book construction business was just what I needed. He brought order to the chaos and made the whole thing funnier and something close to coherent besides. And then I sent it off to an agent who represents other authors I like. She has Marlena de Blasi for one. She did those beautiful Italian travel lit books like 1000 Days in Tuscany etc. I loved her. I figured I would probably love her agent too. And I was right. I did.
The brilliant, funny, opinionated, Rosalie Siegel said yes that she would gladly help me sell my book and now in September we will give it a go. I am as excited about this as I think I have ever been. I will tell more as there is more to tell.
Meanwhile I hired the wonderfully creative Courtney Hebert over at Judith Shakes Designs to help me refurbish this place too. And hey, I still have eight days left in the countdown. I wonder what else I can get up to …