The look of 40

Last June, I turned forty.  A dubious milestone no woman strives to achieve but like most unpleasant things in life, aging is completely unavoidable.  I took it on the chin.  I didn’t take to my bed in a blubbering fit of self-pity, or trade in my 4 door sedan for a zippy Maserati, or wake up with a tequila hangover and a mystery tattoo.   Being the boring mature adult that I am, I opted to celebrate with a quiet dinner, a glass of wine, and a Daniel Silva novel.

The first time my age came up in casual conversation, I was honest and straightforward.  There’s no shame in forty.   Anyway, I don’t really feel any different from when I was 39, even if the elliptical at the gym insists that I somehow burn fewer calories for every forty-five minute workout since my birthday.   The evil work of some abstract algorithm, I’m sure.

“You’re forty?” said the young optician measuring my pupillary distance for my new “no-line” bifocals.  “You don’t look forty.”

“That’s very generous of you,” I said.

“No, seriously.  You look good.  I hope I have such good complexion when I’m your age.”

Hm.

I assured her there was no mistake.  I’d seen my birth certificate – born 1972.  It had an official seal and everything.  At the time, I accepted her declaration as a compliment, vowed to continue using the overpriced anti-aging cream from that high-end department store I loathe, and went on my merry way with a little extra spring in my step.  Yes, vanity is a sin; and yes, I’ve been guilty of it on more than one occasion.  Sue me.  In the seven or eight months since, others have echoed her disbelief, but the initial boost to my ego has waned.  I should probably feel jubilant, over the moon even, that I appear to look so young and vibrant – especially, for someone of my advancing years.

I’m not.

I’ve said it before – I am a personality fraught with flaws.  The list is endless.  Near the top, just beneath chronically phobic is:  tends to over-analyze life, often prone to bouts of irrational suspicion in others, and is perpetually awaiting the other shoe to drop.  A dangerous trio that makes it impossible for me to let these benign bits of frivolous flattery roll by without further examination.

What does it mean when people say I don’t look forty?

What is forty supposed to look like?

Is there some predetermined criteria?

Am I somehow deficient?

Like most women of any age, I look at myself in the mirror every morning and cringe.  I am no great beauty – perhaps passably pretty, if we’re feeling generous.  I run on the wrong side of average, with thick thighs and flabby arms.  I have to sweat a lot to maintain a consistent weight in the mid-120’s, and I’m not known for my overt fashion sense.  My mouth is flanked by laugh lines, the delicate skin around my eyes crinkle ever so slightly when I smile, and every six weeks the silvery-grey hair I work hard to hide winks at me from beneath the glare of the bathroom lights.

It’s an image I’m quite familiar with, and it is an image that has gone virtually unchanged over the last few years.   I find it strange that no one commented on how good I might look for my age when I was 37, or 38, or even 39.  It’s only after I have reached the pivotal age of forty that I am suddenly an oddity in the eyes of my peers.

This inconsistency makes me wonder by what standard forty is judged.  From my own experiences, there seems to be some preconceived notion of one’s physical appearance once a certain age threshold has been crossed.  It’s as if at forty, one abruptly reaches the apex of physicality and is then expected to begin a rapid downward spiral into the dark abyss of crippling old age.  I am, after all, now traditionally considered “over the hill.”  Or so, I’ve been told.  But am I really?

A quick internet search told me that in ancient Rome, a woman’s average life expectancy was between 20 and 30 years depending on her social status, the age she married, and the number of children she bore.   According to Sarah Woodbury, women living in the Middle Ages fared slightly better reaching an average age of 40.  This was, of course, provided she survived infancy, avoided contracting some sort of plague, and didn’t perish giving birth to her own offspring.  During the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, life expectancy hovered around the upper 30s, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, those numbers rebounded to a staggering 50.  This upward momentum continued through the 1900s, and today women living in the United States can take comfort in the fact that, on average, they may live to be 82 or so.

Hm.

I have long wondered what it might be like to live in another time period.  Now, I know.  It drives home the true meaning of the old adage “life is short.”   While I am grateful to have been born in twentieth century, the numbers do paint a sobering picture.  At forty, I am now truly middle-aged.

Over the hill.  Long in the tooth.  A mutton dressed as a lamb.

Perhaps that Maserati isn’t such a bad idea, after all.  I wonder if it comes in red.

Even so, this depressing revelation doesn’t answer my original question:

What am I supposed to look like at forty – you know, now that I have statistically reached the midpoint of my life?

Should I have developed a hunch back?  A stilted gait?  A weather-beaten face?

Should I suddenly forget how to apply make up?  Allow my hair the freedom to convert back to its natural gray streaked frizz?

The more I think about the answer to this question, the more I’m convinced that age is simply an outdated societal construct designed to confine individuals to easily discernible categories in order to dictate acceptable behavior.  Generally, in our twenties we are considered young and beautiful with carefree spirits and the luxury of worldly ignorance.   In our thirties, we are plagued by the pressure of conformity, the harshness of reality, and the need to settle into designated career and familial roles.  By forty, any hint of the youthful spirit and beauty of our twenties is thoroughly eradicated and replaced by the exhaustion of motherhood, the cruelty of gravity, free-falling metabolisms, wrinkling skin, and mom jeans. By fifty, we are destined for the early bird specials at the local pancake house and an AARP lifetime membership.  Fifteen years later…well…it’s all over but the crying.

Do these categories represent reality? Perhaps there is a measure of truth to be found somewhere floating in the depths of these stereotypes, but I certainly do not believe that we, as individuals, fit into such nice neat boxes.  I don’t wear mom jeans, drive a minivan, or feel the weight of motherhood bearing down on me.   I did all of that in my early thirties.  Now, at the tender age of forty, I am on a wondrous journey of self-discovery and have never felt more alive.  This proves to me that I am right in my belief that age is a relative concept.  You are only as old as you perceive yourself.  I do not perceive myself as old, over the hill, or long in the tooth.  Therefore, I am not.

So, what does forty look like?

Fabulous.

Valentine’s Day: A lesson learned

I have never been one to put too much stock in Valentine’s Day – even when I was young and possessed a more romantic sensibility.  As an uncompromising cynic, I find the commerciality of it all ridiculous, and can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the men in our society who must live up to expectations they are structurally incapable of fulfilling.  It is as unfair a system as any I have ever seen.

To add to my derisiveness, my father passed away on Valentine’s Day, six years ago.  Any tolerance I may have had for the frivolity of the so-called holiday quickly evaporated and was replaced with the heaviness of grief.  It is no longer a day of light-hearted romantic celebration, but rather a day of quiet remembrance and reflection.

Still, I’m not completely heartless.  I usually pick up a few little trinkets, a box of chocolates, and an obligatory card or two.  This year, Valentine’s Day was a busy one.  An early morning vet appointment, last-minute cramming for a test, the test, a three-hour lab session, and finally, gymnastics practice.  I forgot all about buying gifts for the family until I overheard two classmates discussing their evening plans.

No worries.  On my way home, I stopped at a local grocery store – the one who likes to think of themselves as the neighborhood florist.  Of course, I was not alone in my procrastination, and the place was a sea of people – mostly men trying to live up to their love’s expectations.  I must say it is a funny thing to watch grown men pick through buckets of roses trying to find the nicest, yet cheapest flowers for the one’s they love.  I overheard one guy bragging to his buddy that he scored a bunch of lilies for nine bucks.  I wanted to tell him they were not appropriate – unless, of course, he was going to a funeral.  I refrained.  Some lessons are best learned firsthand.

I was quite pleased with my own purchases, especially given the late hour.  My daughter is one of simple tastes.  She prefers chocolates above all else and really likes it when I buy her a candy bar bouquet.  My mother likes Ghirardelli chocolates – done.  My husband likes chocolate covered cherries, and I almost bought him two boxes.  Then I spied a heart-shaped box of Italian truffles.  I chose those instead.  I thought he would appreciate the change.

He did not.

It seems Italian truffles are full of two things he hates most in life – almonds and hazelnuts.

IMG_1305He was even kind enough to circle them on the ingredients panel so that I could see my mistake firsthand.

Lesson learned.

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad passed away almost six years ago.  Today would have been his birthday.   In celebration, I’m sharing with you a few of his favorite songs – songs that make me feel close to him.

Enjoy.

Things I learned this week

“A spy, like a writer, lives outside the mainstream population. He steals his experience through bribes and reconstructs it.” 

John le Carre

I’m on a bit of an early Cold War era spy kick right now.  Two reason for this:  I am writing a paper for my African-American history class that explores the Cold War’s influence on the civil rights movement; and I recently picked up a couple of John le Carre novels at my local second-hand bookseller.

I don’t have the luxury of a lot of free time this semester.  I spend most of my days immersed in a bubbling vat filled with school, work, and family obligations.  However, I have been able to sneak in a few minutes here and there – mostly in the carpool line – to delve into the 1963 classic The Spy who Came in from the Cold and the dark world of aging British spy, Alex Leamus.  It’s not a book packed with action.  Indeed, most of the story plays out within Leamus’ head as he struggles to find moral justification for his life’s work.  I find his introspection fascinating.  John le Carre is a master of his craft, and I am more than a little jealous of the intricate and thrilling story he weaves – without blowing anything up.  Amazing.

Alright, so now that I’ve bored you to tears with my spontaneous book review, let’s get down to business.  I’ve learned a lot this week.  Some good; some not so much; all of it meaningful to my journey of self-discovery.

I learned this week:

that I missed having the BFF around.   This week she and I were able to meet in the middle of the day, on a whim, for a little coffee and girl talk.  It’s been years since we’ve lived close enough to do that.  It was a fabulous way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

(rant of the week)

…that sometimes I expect too much from of my higher education experience – and my professors expect too little from their students.   As I’ve said before, I am in the midst of the group project hell.  In general, I struggle with these sort of things because a) I am a control freak; b) anything less than perfection is failure; and c) I am an introvert who finds prolonged interaction with people I don’t know (or necessarily like) exhausting.  It is no different with this project, though I do generally like the members of the group.

This assignment is two part:  written paper and oral presentation.  Everyone has an individual part to play, but success is contingent upon cohesion.  Bearing this in mind, I took my portion of the paper to my professor for help with an unusual citation.  I would hate to get it wrong and the group grade suffer for my incompetence.

He took it from me, read the first line, looked up at me over his reading glasses and said:  “Are these your own words?”

I said:  “What?  Of  course, they are my own words.  Why on earth would you ask me that?”

I glanced down at my paper because, by this time I couldn’t remember what I had written to illicit such a reaction.  It was a simple opening statement, short and to the point.  No fuss, no muss.  No ten dollar words.  Nothing complicated or provocative.  As you might imagine, I went through a medley of emotions:  shock, indignation, anger.  He backtracked then, but the damage was done.  I walked away from the conversation feeling irritated, more than a little offended, and wondering why I was voluntarily subjecting myself to such nonsense.

Over the next few days, the group began to email me their portions of the paper for editing.  My professor’s cynical attitude solidified before my eyes.  It turns out that decent writing in these sort of survey courses is not necessarily the norm.  Needless to say, I was flabbergasted by the lack of quality, and dare I say, effort, I found in their work.  While I understand everyone has different writing skills and styles, I had expected by this stage in the game, they would have gained the ability to produce a passably intelligent product – with complete coherent sentences.  You know, with a noun, a verb, and the occasional adverb or two thrown in for good measure.

I was wrong.  Lesson learned.

…that my dog’s most prized possession is his raw hide chewy thing, and it is imperative that it be kept stashed in a secret spot until it is time to finish it off.   As a novice dog mom, I am perplexed by canine behavior.  Cats are easy and predictable.  They expect to be fed, acknowledged upon demand, and left alone to nap wherever they choose.  Dogs are different.  Mine reminds me of a mischievous toddler – left to his own devices, mayhem ensues.

While in the backyard this week, I  watched Rocco dig feverishly in a remote corner.  I went to investigate.  He was burying his chewy thing.  I’m not sure why he thinks such a drastic thing is necessary, but there was an air of desperation in his actions.  I suppose he could be worried about a cat uprising.  He is, after all, the only dog in a houseful of felines.  He would be stupid not to feel a little paranoia.  I’m sure even as I type this they are plotting something diabolical.  Hmmm…it seems I understand Rocco a little better than I thought.

…that Skyfall is the best damn Bond movie I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen them all.  Multiple times.  In the beginning, I wasn’t thrilled with the choice of Daniel Craig for the part.  When they announced it, I was peeved.  He didn’t fit.  He wasn’t right.  I swore I wouldn’t see Casino Royale.  I was convinced it would be complete shit.  Then  I saw it.  I was speechless.  Bond had evolved.  He was grittier, rougher around the edges.  There was a vulnerability emulating from him, giving him a new level of humanity and mortality.  Despite all of my efforts to the contrary, I liked the film- I liked Daniel Craig as Bond.  I went into Skyfall with high expectations.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with another review.  If you like this sort of thing, go see it for yourself.  Tell me what you think.

…that my daughter has suddenly decided that jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets is not so repulsive after all.  I’m not real sure what to make of this sudden shift, but rest assured there is a boy involved.

that last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a ladybug I stumbled across in the garden.  He was an uncooperative subject who dodged my best efforts to shoot him from his more photogenic side.  It was almost as if he was mooning me.  Surely not.

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Things I learned this week

Learn we may be with another man’s learning:  we can only be wise with wisdom of our own. – Michele de Montaigne

I learned this week…

…that a simple thing like a hair color touch up and a trim is enough to ease the sting of a trying week.  It won’t make up for the B (very low B) I earned on that Geology exam, and it won’t erase the craptastic essay exam (worse heap of horse manure I’ve ever produced) in my African-American History class, but at least I will feel pretty as I go forward into the aftermath.  I can weather anything life throws at me, as long as I have perfectly coiffed hair.

…that Andy Williams has died at the age of 84.  He is best known as the crooner of the classic Moon River, but to me, he will always be the voice of Christmas.  I’m not a big fan of Christmas – never have been.  It’s nothing personal, I’m not a holiday advocate, in general.  You can read more about that here and here.   My mother, however, loves the holidays and one of her prized possessions was an Andy Williams Christmas album (circa 1963) – on vinyl, of course.  From December 1st until December 26th, that record played ad nauseum.  It took a little time, but it grew on me.  I don’t listen to it very often anymore, but sometimes, when the moon is full and the stars are aligned just so, I add it to my playlist and dream of sugar plums, sleigh bells, and snow covered hills.  RIP Andy Williams.

…that football, at the middle and high school level, is serious business in my neck of the woods.  As a Texan, however transplanted, I should understand this, accept this, and even relish in the glory of the Friday night lights.  I, however, do not.  I’m not a fan of the game and, under normal circumstances, would never entertain the thought of spending my evenings sitting on a cold, hard metal bleacher, in the chilly night air, watching kids try to plow over one another in their quest to get an oblong ball from one end of the field to the other.   It’s really sort of barbaric, if you ask me.  And boring.  This year, however, I have a middle school age daughter in the band.  The band plays at the football games.  Ergo, I am spending a good deal of time sitting on a cold, hard metal bleacher watching a game I do not like.  Of course, if you know me, you know that I’m not really paying much attention to the action on field.  Instead, I prefer to watch the parents sitting around me.  I am treated to an extra special dose of crazy at these things because not only do I get to watch the football dads freak out over an erroneous off side’s call (I’m not even sure what that is), I get to observe my favorite exotic beast, the Cheer Mom, in her natural habitat.   That right there, makes it all worth it.

***Side note:  My daughter’s middle school band rocks!

that Alias has arrived on streaming Netflix.   Score.

…that after years of boycott, I am going to put aside my grudge against Ben Affleck and see his new movie.   Yes, I know this goes against my longstanding vow to loathe him for all eternity.  However, in the infinite wisdom that comes with age, I have found it is unrealistic to stringently adhere to such limiting assertions.  Sometimes, for reasons beyond my control, I must adapt and evolve, especially when it is most self-serving.  I love a good spy thriller – one that is smart, well-written, and keeps me on the edge of my seat from the opening frame until the closing credit.  By all accounts, his new film, Argo, will do just that.  I have thought it over most carefully and have come to the conclusion that I would not forgive myself if I were to allow this work to pass me by simply for the sake of a grudge – a very worthy grudge, but one I readily admit falls slightly to the right of juvenile.   Of course, this does not mean that I am going to abandon my feelings.  I will allow Mr. Affleck to wow me with his directorial (and acting) genius and then it’s back to business as usual.  My rationality and goodwill only go so far.

…that I have to participate in a group project/presentation for a political science class I am taking this semester.  At first, I was pissed off about this.  It seems to be a growing trend among professors, even though it really is not representative of workplace reality.  At least, not in my workplace.  I can’t tell you the last time I had to work in conjunction with a colleague on a project.  I am largely a solitary worker, responsible for my own successes and failures.   I like it that way.  It keeps me from committing acts that might be construed as felonies under the current rule of law.  Having said that…this week my group had its first meeting.  They’re an interesting lot – young and energetic, full of misinformed ideology and false hope.   I sit and watch them through the eyes of the cynic I have grown to be, wondering how they will make it out in the wilds of the real world.  This week, however, I realized that all of my fears were unfounded after one member of our six-man team failed to make an appearance at our little get together.  Group participation is key to our success and as such, any weak link will be detrimental to our overall grade.  My fellow classmates took it upon themselves to nip a potential problem in the bud, and informed our absentee member that if she didn’t produce her part of the project by the next meeting, she was out.  Period.  No excuses.  End of discussion.  Please pack you knives and go.

Alright, then.  I think they are going to be just fine.  And perhaps this group project will not complete suck, after all.

…that school is putting a damper on my creative endeavors.   I apologize for the neglect this blog has suffered since the beginning of September.  I fear it will not get better until December when I can finally put this hellish semester behind me.  The lesson to be learned here – Geology is an evil best endured solo without the added distraction and pressure of…well…everything else.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by Underdog and the Chick-fila cow sharing an intimate moment during a recent football game.  Heartwarming, isn’t it?

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Water droplets

I’ve been busy.  This semester is shaping up to be brutal.  I blame the science. 

Today, I spent a great deal of time trying to differentiate between unconformity, disconformity, angular unconformity, and nonconformity as they pertain to the calculation of geologic time.

I know, right.

I suffered a complete brain short.

So, I went outside.

Do you know what I found?

Water droplets. 

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Enjoy. 

I did.

A hint of fall and a dragonfly

This weekend a cold front blew through my neck of the woods.  The first of the season, putting a welcomed end to a long stretch of 100+ degree days.  On Friday, we set a record when the mercury topped 105.  By Saturday morning, we were enjoying lows hovering around 60 and highs in the mid-eighties.  Around here, we call that fall.

It was fabulous.  Picture perfect, and I just simply couldn’t allow it to go by without getting out to enjoy it.  Along the way, I found this guy perched on a dead tree branch.

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