I’m forty years old. While not exactly news, this is new, in that my birthday was the day before I’m writing this. I’ve been surprised by the number of people who’ve asked how I feel about this. There’s a lot to unpack around why peple ask that question, but that’s not what I’m writing about. Let me answer the question instead.
How do I feel about turning forty? I feel fucking awesome about it, let’s fucking go.
I think my forties are going to be amazing, and even if they’re not, I think they’ll still be better than my thirties. Which is why I’m actually so enthusiastic about this milestone. A decade is a bit too long of a timespan to be uniformly good or bad, but my thirties were, as they say, Not Great Bob. Forgive the bummer-ness of this, but here, have a depressing catalogue.
My mother died less than two months after I turned thirty. My father died four years later. My grandfather, aunt, and two cousins also died over the next few years. That’s a lot of family deaths.
I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis a few years back. The diagnosis wasn’t the problem, the fact that it took literal years of various misdiagnoses, during which joint damage was accumulating, was the problem. I only got on really effective treatment last year, and prior to that lost some significant mobility (which thankfully I’ve been able to gain back, but it was a pretty bleak and scary thing for awhile, not to mention physically painful).
I had a dream come true in actually selling a few novels! That’s good! Those novels then absolutely tanked. I don’t talk about that a lot — few writers do when things fail so hard — but oh boy, that was painful and it definitely fucked up my relationship to writing for a good long time. I’m in a better place now, but it certainly lingers. I haven’t sold anything since, and though I haven’t talked about this publicly either, my literary agent and I parted ways last year, so it really feels like I’m starting from scratch again in a lot of ways.
Then there’s the whole political….everything. Trump, and rising fascism, and wealth inequality somehow getting even worse, and global warming, and– I’m cutting this paragraph off before I doom spiral, but yeahhhh, it’s been pretty bad. Top that off with a global pandemic and welcome to my anxiety disorder!
So yeah. My thirties? Sucked.
Which isn’t to say nothing good happened! I did sell those novels, I remain incredibly proud of them, and even their terrible sales can’t take that away from me. The arthritis is awful and for a long time was very painful; as a result I learned to swim, the only exercise I could do that wasn’t painful, and swimming turns out to be great and definitely helps keep me sane. I took some truly awesome trips with people I love: my sister and I did a tour of Greece, my best friend and I went to a writing retreat in Venice. Those were phenomenal. I dipped my toe into local political volunteering, ultimately realized it’s not for me, but am proud of the work I did and the community that came from it. My sister and I bought an apartment, which was a huge life upgrade in every way possible. I figured out some Gender Stuff, which should probably be its own newsletter someday, but definitely makes me feel a lot more in touch with myself.
Like I said, a decade is too long to be entirely one thing or the other. Those good things are genuinely good. But even with them, turning forty feels like an escape, or at least an excuse to leave the a lot of pain behind.
Thinking back to the question of “how do you feel about turning forty?”, my impression is that the answer is expected to be negative. Aging is scary in a lot of ways, and as someone whose body has already started to fall apart, I know that better than most. We live in a youth-focused culture, and forty is well out of the years that people think matter, especially for women and other AFAB folks like me.
I don‘t feel negative, though, to the mild surprise of people who ask. I’m excited. I’m more experienced and thoughtful than I was ten years ago. I have a lot more clarity around who I am and what I want. I think I’m ready to embrace that.
I’m typing this the day after my birthday, which is two days before I take a big exciting birthday trip. I’ve always wanted to learn to surf, but in a passing way where it didn’t feel like it was really possible. Well, guess what. I’ve been taking swim classes for a couple years now, so … why not? I somehow convinced a bunch of friends who are far-flung across the country to come rent a house with me. None of them want to surf, so I’m doing it on my own, but with love and support from people who care. I think I’m going to be terrible at it, and I think I’m going to have a great time. I know I’m going to love hanging out on a beach with my best friends. I hope that sets the tone for my next decade.
I don’t expect that my forties will be uniformly great, like my thirties weren’t uniformly terrible, but I think they will be better and I’m excited to see where I’ll be at fifty.