It’s my birthday this weekend. A big birthday, which I will leave to your imagination, which will clearly tell you that it is my 25th, which was the age I was when I became confused and spent two weeks telling people at my new job that I was 27 before I realized I wasn’t. That must have been last month then. Huh. It feels so long ago.
It’s difficult to take stock of your life effectively when you have someone who is not yet one asking for pancakes (with her eyes, of course) and learning to walk. The former is distracting and the latter is a very big deal and not something I can compete with, frankly. When was the last time you learned a brand new major motor skill? I did, like five years ago, and I ended up with a permanently dislocated rib, so not a big long-term win.
Which raises the question, “What counts in your assessment of your Life So Far?” If we’re talking about Life So Far going all the way back, well then I can put learning to walk on my list too, as well as learning to talk, put on socks and not drool in public (except when I’m brushing my teeth, which I don’t understand how everyone else avoids, but they seem to – send instructions please). I’m not sure I have the kind of time that list would require, although I’m sure it would be a very satisfying list.
If Life So Far is the last decade since my last Life So Far moment, I should note that that birthday was fun but pretty messed up and didn’t involve a lot of self-reflection because my boyfriend at the time was such an asshole that introspection was not in my best interest until a few months later when I moved out and he became a drug-addled conspiracy theorist. (You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not.)
But R. was at that birthday party, so it was, in a way, the beginning of the rest of my life, so go me, I guess, in the end, right?
Bringing the measure in closer, if we’re looking at the last year only, I’ve got some sizable checkmarks. Had a baby. Bought a house. Big deals, both. Milestones. Life-changing. Etc.
There’s an odd thing about my brain, though, maybe yours too: I’m of two minds.
Looking at my life, where I started from, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved So Far. I’m grateful for what I’ve been able to achieve, the chances I’ve seen to take that have brought me a list of accomplishments and gifts that exceeded what I was able to imagine even a few years ago.
But there is still that elusive Pulitzer. And my Olympic gold medal. And my Academy Award for my Nobel Prize. And massive wealth without the annoyance of fame. And that Israeli self-defense class I was going to take so I would be a bona fide asskicker. And all the imagined but unrealized achievements that lie in the delta between my actual life (impressive, happy) and that unlikely construct of what my life would be (impressive, likely painful) if I weren’t actually me. That castle is built by little over-anxious elves (well, chemicals and environment, but whatever) bent on keeping me desperate, unsatisfied, and always on the move towards That Big Thing That Will Make Everything Perfect and Then I Can Calm Down.
Of course, That Thing will not, in fact, make me calm down. We all know that. Me and the elves and you and anyone who’s ever won the Super Bowl and woken up the next morning.* The point of that part of your brain is to keep the goalposts moving, to keep the anxiety and the drive going. In the end, as all the books say, it’s the journey, not the endpoint that matters. And that part of the mind is on a panicky path: the elves are craning to see ten years in the future rather than driving the road as it lies.
In addition to my stellar R. and my adorable A. and the opportunity to write and that azalea that I finally got to #$*&^%!ing bloom, yes, I would also like to have a Pulitzer. But it would be for the cupcake pleasure of being recognized and having a party, not because it could compete with having improbably found the love of my life or the good fortune of having an engaging, healthy baby girl (who I think is wonderful and not a burden and how lucky is that?) or the chance to write what I like. I’m not sure, looking back, that I ever thought I would have any of those things – not really, anyway – and those are what make my days interesting and lovely. No disrespect to the Academy, but making my days interesting and lovely might be a tall order for a small statue.
We’re on an unimagined road these days, the elves and I. I won’t lie, it’s been pretty stressful lately, but it’s a good road, a road like the ones we drove in New Zealand: well-maintained, not a lot of traffic and leading who knows where, but the landscape is beautiful, the company is entertaining and the cops, when they pull you over for speeding, are chatty and helpful. So pipe down, elves. Have some cake. Everything is coming together just fine. Let’s enjoy the birthday and settle into today and tomorrow and see what comes along after that.
*All this talk of awards and milestones reminds me of Bill Nighy, who said this when he won a Golden Globe in 2007 for Gideon’s Daughter (which you should see if you have the chance and aren’t in the mood for something fast-paced): “I used to think that prizes were damaging and divisive until I got one. And now they seem sort of meaningful and real.”