Saturday, October 19, 2013

Idling

In two weeks I will turn 46. I am in my mid-40s, and it's getting more and more difficult to remember how I got here. I have always been the sort to worry about tomorrow, or next week, and ignore the rest. This is not a particularly adult strategy, because while it gets me through the day, or week, it does nothing to address what it is that I want from the entirety of my life. Is there a legacy I'd like to leave behind? I don't know, because not only have I not thought about it, I have actively avoided thinking about it. I'm too busy craving the satisfaction of crossing out items on my to-do list, items that crop up again mere days later, items that have nothing to do with truth, or beauty, or art.

When I was a kid, teachers told me that I would be a star. They based their predictions on how easy school was for me. I took their words to heart and assumed that I would do something grand someday, certainly before the age of forty-six. A child's mental calculus doesn't even approach forty-six.

I've done nothing grand. And looking back I wonder whether those teachers were in fact fools, if well-intentioned fools. It takes more to shine than having a talent in a particular area. It takes will, and determination, and self-confidence. I have none of these.

I will not attend my 25th college reunion in the spring. I do not write snippets to be featured in my university's alumni magazine. I joke about this, as if I'm too cool to participate in so much self-congratulatory bullshit. But really, I have nothing to say. I could go on and on about my kids, and their successes, and I might even admit that I had some small thing to do with those successes. But their stories would be serving as a cover for mine, which might go something like this:

Still in same small town. Still writing, not much to show for it. Aging, expanding waistline, mother to teenagers who are now quite self-sufficient, thank you very much. Still not much of a cook. Still reading voraciously, an effective escape from day after ordinary day.

Still... waiting. For something to happen. For that thing or person to take me up and out of my stagnant life. Still haven't figured out how to be the agent of change.

Still frightened of risk, of airplane travel, of three am, of snakes, of being alone with my thoughts for too long, of saying or doing the wrong thing. Still cautious. Still half-expecting to be exposed as the fraud that I've always believed myself to be.

Forty-six years old. More than half my life gone, poof, insubstantial as smoke.

For my forty-sixth birthday I might just wish for a swift kick in my forty-six-year-old rear.

11 comments:

Blog Antagonist said...

I am in EXACTLY the same place.

Ms. Skywalker said...

Maybe it's where all of us are; always.

Who knows if even those that are successful feel as though they've accomplished something?

I do know that I sincerely believe that The A's will be able to say that they always knew the love of their mother....I know that you know what that means.

And that may mean more than anything, my love.

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

My life is very similar to yours and I was one of the ones with great promise too: marked as gifted, the class valedictorian, voted most likely to succeed, academic and service awards, scholarships, etc.

What I have accomplished in my life so far (and I am older than you) has little or nothing to do with all the hoops I jumped through and all the benchmarks I met earlier in life. My academic successes never translated to the kind of career success people were expecting. I consider myself a free spirit but I have followed a traditional path focused on marriage and family with work on the side. And the truth is that while I occasionally regret the roads not taken, I have to say the way I have chosen to live my life, rich in ordinary and invisible successes, has made me happy. That said, I deal with episodes of depression, but I know the depression is an illness, not a symptom of a life poorly lived.

Patois42 said...

But, still, you have made a difference in my life. Still.

Jennifer said...

I'll be 45 in two weeks and I feel exactly like this.

Good at some things, but terrible at steering them into view of people who might take notice (and pay me a living wage for them). Nothing I could toss into a box and carry to a high school reunion, that's fordamnsure.

There are pieces of happiness in the mix, but mostly a lot of gray areas over which I puzzle and wonder and fret. Except when I don't, and then more years pass right by.

Bon said...

i understand. i hear you. i don't think the teachers were fools, so much as reinforcers of a false equation between school success and what society counts as success, particularly for people whose paths are not paved by family businesses or family know-how. many of us drop off the path in the long middle between shining childhood and that societal notion of achievement, and end up thinking our shine has dropped off along the way somewhere.

it isn't true. it just wasn't a very real picture to start with.

and what Patois42 said? that. seconded.

Christine said...

Maybe the description should say: "Sarah has a loving heart and a smile that will light a room with its brightness. She is loyal and honest and kind to all those who know whether near and far. She is an outstanding writer who has inspired many, many people with her words. Those who know her are proud to call her a friend."

Liz said...

Just turned 44, and your reflections definitely resonated with me. My husband (whom I've been with since uni) and I left our home town 20 years ago and have lived in a range of places - we're now a continent away from where we grew up. Our brothers and their families have either stayed put or moved back after years away, which makes me very wistful, but I have this stupid feeling that there is still hope for me, interesting-life-wise, while I stay away. I sometimes wonder about the cost of this notion (which my brain, if not my heart, recognises as misguided - not to mention vain) on our children, ourselves and entire our extended families. But still I can't quite go back....

Alison said...

I feel like this too - and I have a couple of years on you.

At school, it was drummed into us that we were in 'the top 3% of the population'(I went to a high achieving, private all girls school) and I do feel that I haven't lived up to expectations - mine or theirs. Things are narrowing down. My entry in the alumni magazine would sound a lot like yours.

I went to a school reunion a few years ago and I came away feeling okay. Cliched I know, but everyone had had their own personal triumphs and tragedies - some weren't ever able to have children, some had been widowed.

I still remonstrate with myself over why I haven't achieved more though but my girlfriends, the ones who were with me at that school anyhow, feel the same.

Mary Gilmour said...

What VGrrrl said. In spades. And you know what? At 71 I figure I have done well -- successful kids, know how to handle the depression, know who I am and what I am.
You have a skill with words and friendship that is one in a million. Always was and always will be. Would being an alpha female improve this? I don't think so. And who will be at the reunion that you need to impress? No one.
I just decided to go to my 50th next year for the simple reason that it is the 25th for my daughter and her friends and they want me to go with them.
That is success, for me.

Magpie said...

word.
what you said, what your commenters said.
i kind of love your "update" for the college magazine. because really, that's pretty much all of us - the ones who run Time and Black Rock and who sell lots of books and climb high politically, they are the few and far between.