Sticks and stones


I am about to turn forty. Not for six weeks or so but it's looming, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it. Forty. Me. But I'm just a baby – I still don't know who I want to be when I grow up! I've been trying to unravel what it is that scares me about this one. I've never been too concerned about age and in truth, I've never looked my age – or acted it.

I remember turning thirty and feeling liberated somehow. I loved being thirty. There was something in the discarding of the two and claiming the three... something about being able to feel comfortable in your own skin – while it's still relatively smooth and unwrinkled. Something about looking at where you are and where you've been and maybe even allowing yourself to feel proud of who you have become. A gentle evaluation. Particularly considering that at twenty-eight I hit a metaphorical wall head on at great speed and spent two years edge-walking a fine line between sleep-deprived, drug-exacerbated madness and complete shellshock.

A little hello to everyone who knew me when.... and still loves me today. Don't think I don't know it was difficult.

In the relative calm that followed, I was able to put myself back together with glue and sticky tape, small sticks and pieces of string and to come out the other end with some semblance of balance on the highwire. I could see myself as a woman who had something to give that might even be worth something. But that was nine years ago. Almost ten. God, where did it go? 

Forty carries with it a somewhat harsher feeling of appraisal. It seems more frank, less generous. It politely declines a biscuit and gets straight down to business. It asks, what have you got to show for it?  And I'm turning and looking for someone's legs to hide behind. Because that's not a question I can easily answer and it's not asking in a nice way. And if I'm completely honest with you (read: myself), it's even hinting at mortality and asking me what I will have built/created/achieved that I can leave behind.

I'm a bit of a square peg in the proverbial round hole and I always have been. I'm the classic example of the "has potential, needs to focus, is disruptive in class, could do better" girl. Who went on to be always in between jobs, didn't settle down with anyone monogamously, needed a little help to get on her feet. A good friend of mine once comforted me with the prediction that she would end up behind a white picket fence reading postcards that I, her bohemian friend, sent from around the world. And while I'm writing this from the other side of the world, and while I wouldn't be anywhere else at this moment, something niggles inside. 

Could it be that there has been a distinct lack of (conventional) milestones..?

mile·stone / ˈmīlˌstōn/
• n. a stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place.
∎ fig. an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development

And I'm only now starting to realise that the stones I haven't set down by the roadside actually weigh a fair bit. Only now, with forty just up ahead. Stones like career or artistic achievements. Stones like the children I didn't have. The weight of the things I said no to. The chances I was too afraid to take. Forty needn't suggest the end of everything – in so many ways I feel right at the beginning of everything – but I think my friends who are happily enjoying their forties and fifties, even sixties and seventies would concede that it does augur a time to accept certain truths and embrace certain changes. 

Which is my fluffy and overly careful way of trying to say that it is finally starting to feel too late for a whole bunch of things I thought I would always have time for – all the while trying not to frighten my younger friends or offend my older ones. But if I can be blunt and if I can be totally self indulgent for a minute, (it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to), it scares the hell out of me. I worry that the report I give myself will be less than kind. It will say "Had potential, needed to focus, could have done better, (starting to look a bit frumpy)".

Are we too tough on ourselves? Or not tough enough..

I will probably edit this before you get to read it.
Or maybe I'll leave it as is and be in the kitchen eating chocolate and drinking wine.


Lin said...

I will copy and paste it in case you change it before I had a chance to digest it and come up with a remotely sensible (or not) comment!

the river said...

Ha - I hope it's not sensible..!

Rob said...

G,as a 56 yo who is also still trying to figure out what i'll be when i grow up (i know you see me differently, but trust me on this one), i understand the your sense of time. but, from experience, i know that it is not too late until they tip you into that bio-degradable hole in the ground. Like Lin, i'll also cut and paste and keep until i can give your piece the respect it deserves. But, one thought leapt up immediately, and that is about what you will have achieved/left behind. Well, I think that you'll leave behind a large number of folk who are very grateful that they knew/know you, and whose lives have been enriched by that knowing. Well, it's true for me anyway.
Talk soon.

the river said...

Just reading that made me feel a bit teary and a lot lucky. Thanks Rob xx

janine said...

I love your words Greer. I have no advice but i believe in you as an artist and as a person. You have left your mark in more ways than you will ever know, j xxx

Crina said...

I love your words. Your photos. Your "girly" insecurities of sorts - yes you are bohemian, and that has no age, no pinning down.
Keep shooting, and enjoying life!

Anonymous said...

What will you be when you grow up !!! but YOU ARE !!!
This is the important thing isn'it?, it is not the destination that counts but the road that leads to it..
I am asking questions about my meaning on this earth on a daily basis nearly and we all are... But the important, the meaningful is to appreciate each moment of beauty and contentment that comes your way... and you mention children, they are fantastic but frankly they do leave and you still have to face yourself and your own presence (it is so brief indeed) on this planet.. I truly believe that beauty, whatever one may think of it transcends our mere existence, and you know that too, you create or try to find it everyday... your emotions are tangible, and I and many other people are greatly touched by it... Knowing you has enriched my life.... and that is also important the way you reach others...Well of course if stardom could come along the way it wouldn'e too bad either..!!! you are nearly there.... 40 is a good time to reflect and a good time to continue... Rosalie Gascoyne was over 70 when she became known and famous in Australia.......xx danielle

Anonyme said...

Hanging on being yourself, not selling your soul for a plasma TV.. most people do it before turning 25... i think we, humans, are a bit too concern about "what is my time worth?"...

"you are always loosing your time, except when you get a good fuck, create a piece of art or imagine you live the perfect love story" (or something like that)
-Charles Bukowski

"Some people never go crazy, What truly horrible lives they must live."
-Charles Bukowski

Brittany H. said...

I'm 32, and will be turning 33 in May. Half of me fear aging, the other half embraces it. I think it's just normal. The most important thing is to keep yourself healthy. Without our health, we don't have anything!

Happy 40 girl. You look great.


MANDY said...

You are the most amazing writer ... so great !!!
Well 40, for a start I thought you might be late 20's so that's gotta make a girl feel good.
And to come through what you came through .... amazing.
And I have to agree, we are too hard on ourselves, I've been very guilty of it but as I get older (43 in March) I'm learning to be less so.
I think you are amazing XXX

Hsien-ku said...

oh honey - we go through our whole lives without knowing what we're worth. Not at 20 or 30 and particularly not at 40 (because we grow up knowing that 40 is a serious birthday). But you can wrestle 40 to the ground and demand some respect from the rude cow. You can point out that you never promised to unfold your life like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. And you can remind her that life is not only linear, not just a getting-somewhere-swanky-before-death journey. Life is also a tapestry, a beautifully coloured work of art. And we need the colours of every single age if our tapestry is going to become what it should be. You, my sylvan friend, live your life like a work of art - and that's exactly how it should be.

I'll be drinking a glass of something German and potent to celebrate your birthday!


the river said...

I've been so moved reading these messages - and a bit lost for words after having spilled so many the other night... it's a strange thing - being very personal to a point but then not really knowing who's reading, so holding back as well.

Rob & Lin - we've emailed since but I still send you both hugs should you peek back in here.

Janine - this really touched me and I appreciate it so much! Right back at you too.xx

Thanks Crina - I will!

Anonymous - aka the wonderful Danielle - I miss our chats and movie nights. You're so right and know I have learnt a lot from you and been very inspired by your appreciation for, love of, search for beauty and art. You're also right of course that we all have to face ourselves regardless of the path we've taken and whether or not we've had kids or achieved whatever goals we've had. I believe wholeheartedly that regret is not a productive past-time but I think it's only natural to fall prey to it every now and then. It's good to be pulled back out quicksmart :) And Rosalie Gascoyne is a perfect example isn't she? I'm a big admirer! xx

Anonyme - I don't know who you are but I love the second Bukowski quote! Please be assured that I'm not a plasma tv kind of girl... I was thinking of a different sort of legacy. Thanks for your comment..

Brittany :) You're a sweetheart and both you and Traci have been big inspirations to me with how fit and healthy and gorgeous you both are. Not to mention the baking............! I hope Austin is healing up... xx

Mandy we too have sent emails but again, thanks for your message and of course for thinking I was such a spring chicken!! And yes you're right - a fellow pisces, six days after you. I think you're a bit amazing too. xx

And Jude - who always gets there 6 months before me... I absolutely love the tapestry analogy. I'm determined to keep weaving colour into mine at every step/age/rung/station/scary landmark birthday. And you had bloody well better celebrate with something German and potent because I have celebrated all of your ridiculously swanky career achievements and your gorgeous daughters too. I also try to read your blog even though it hurts my brain. Cheers love.

Consider yourselves all hugged ok?