Tuesday, April 16, 2024

milestones and memory

  I was musing today about turning a half-century old in a little over a week and how these milestone birthdays continually feel like I should be having some sort of massive birthday crisis with each turn of the decade. But mostly I do not. 30 feels like I was still sort of a child, and 40 was actually a happy time.  Of course, the crises have come at various points along the way, but most were much less crisis and maybe just points of growth or change. I go back to a few years ago, pre-covid, when I was having sobbing breakdowns with a friend over how things were good, but that they only could get worse. Like I was settled in my life on so many counts and this felt fraught with danger and uncertainly, not familiar and comfortable like it should. Only that there would be more loss than gain. And of course, there has been a lot of loss certainly--the kind that everyone begins to feel this far enough along in life. But I was kind of wrong about gains and change, because that has come too. 

I usually say that I quit the library as part of The Great Resignation, or at least the tail end of it, but really those seeds were being sewn as early as 2019 I suppose. It just took covid and lockdowns to speed it along. It was the scariest and possibly the best decision I've made in a very long time and has bought a wealth of things my way, including more money and freedom and ways to stretch my skills. Even creatively, having cast off or changed the ways I think about publishing and audience have made a huge difference in my relationship to writing and art. With the freedom that freelancing brings in terms of time and flexibility, I've had more time to devote to creative things, as well as have something like a life outside these things, which I never suspected I would. And the creative work, it feels like it's in such a good place, even if that place feels a little lonely sometimes. 

I also didn't foresee the good things that would come even amidst the bad things. In the past decade, I managed to lose both parents, a couple of cats, saw the firey end of a couple bad relationships, but also the start of a new one that has stuck. I still get itchy thinking about the precariousness of happiness and luck, but try to enjoy the good and keep anxiety brain at bay. The brain that says it will all come tumbling down at some point even though you have no reason to believe it will. I've also learned to look for what feel like losses but actually are gains in disguise (moving out of the studio in the Fine Arts was a big one of these.)

I barely remember turning 20, though it must have happened. Somewhere, my handwritten journals are no doubt more specific, but I remember reading a lot and doing a lot of campus activities like leadership seminars (they obviously did not take.) I remember having a class on lit and psychology where we read Turn of the Screw and Heart of Darkness. I remember my first creative writing class devoted to short fiction, during which the teacher, a visiting writer, suggested my long sentences were far more suited to poetry. Otherwise, that spring is a blur of late-night Denny's coffee, sleeping on the floor of various dorm rooms on occasion, and rehearsing directing class scenes. 

When I turned 30, in many ways I felt on the cusp of something. I'd been back in the city almost four years at that point. I was still bright and shiny in the library and just thankful I had a job at all. I was still in my first year of my MFA program and working on my first book manuscript and looking in vain for a publisher. It would take another year, but I was doing a lot of cool creative things like local open-mic readings, placing poems in journals, and winning contests with tidy cash prizes and getting a fair bit of attention (well at least as much as poets ever get.)  I would also be releasing my very first dgp book later that fall and making my own chapbooks. I was just starting to make art and installations, all new for a girl devoted primarily to words. It all felt very much like a beginning to something like the career I hoped to make happen. The things I wanted to create. 

A decade later, at 40, I was certainly more comfortable in that skin, having published a couple more books and established the press. Having done many of the things poets do in the intervening decade in terms of publishing and sharing work. Of exploring new art mediums and crafty things like jewelry and soap making for a while when I had the etsy shop. Much happened in that decade on the personal front, mostly bad disguised as good, but that was all still shaking out in that next year or so.

As for 50, who knows? Even just this last year alone has brought some great things. New writing and art projects, new adventures in other genres. The freeing up of J's schedule that allows us to do so much more in the world besides work and sleep, as well as actually get to spend more time together since moving into the apartment.  My first tattoos (5 total and more on the way as I work on the patchwork sleeve.)  Other things that are coming down the pipeline that aren't yet nailed down in specifics to speak about.

My impending birthday plans include a visit to my sister and a trip out the drive-in again (especially exciting given that the last trip was snowed out.) In my head, I still feel like I'm 26 and just bobbing along, despite my more obvious signs of middle age (squinting when looking at receipt numbers, the body cracking like a glow stick when I stand up after sitting too long, not really wrinkles, but more noticeable shadows on my face in certain light. Surely more grey hairs under the dye I've been applying monthly for the past three decades,. (Though I swear to god even those have abated a little after leaving the library, along with my feelings of constant overwhelm and dread.)  

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