How is it that sometimes I just wake up in a mood? Nothing happened in the night beyond the ordinary getting up once to pee, dreams are neither remembered nor rehashed. And yet, as my eyes adjust to the morning light, I feel a mood in full force in my mind and body…happy or grumpy, energized or frazzled, worried, or, (and rarely these days), at peace. This morning I woke up in full “I’m a fraud!” glory! You might know what I’m talking about: Who do I think I am _______, doing what I do? For me, that means writing. I beat myself up. What do I have of any value to add to the conversation? How am I going to drag myself to my desk and stare at a blinking curser on a blank screen? The curser who says, fake, fake, fake.
And then I move on to: Oh crap, what am I going to do with the rest of my life? I should have gone to law school! How did I get myself into this awful space of feeling like a loser if I do work/write and feeling like a loser if I don’t work/write? And, how do I get out of it?
When I’m falling into my self-made sinkholes:
- I make my bed. Literally. A made bed tells me that I’m a doer. That I care about myself enough to have a sweet spot to welcome me back at the end of the day. I know, it sounds possibly ridiculous, but it works for me, so I’m not going to argue with myself.
- I reach out to friends. Because it is now, that means a text. This morning I texted a pal:
Which led me to texting a dozen pals (that’s kind of like writing, isn’t it?) to discover: “What are the three most pressing midlife concerns for women?” Which led to lots of interesting conversations, some laughs, enormous gratitude for friends and, here is the key, it all led to me FEELING LESS ALONE. I know in the best case scenario, I would have taken a walk or had coffee with a friend IRL. But this way, I talked to 12 women who live all over the country. And, what I learned lifted me up and fed my work. How great to put these crystallized worries at the center of my characters’ lives.
Here’s how it came out:
- shifting parenting roles w/adult children vs. teens: “What now? How to shift focus from family as a priority to another priority of meaning and value?”
- aging parents: “What will I be when I am no longer a daughter?”
- aging body: “What happened to my face? Knees? Vagina?”
- finances: “Will I ever be able to retire?”
- health and worry over future loss of a facile mind
- and, no surprise here: Who Am I/Who do I Want to Be?
- “Isn’t it supposed to be easier now?”
- “Will I ever figure out my life?”
- “How is it that everything that motivated me in my career now seems worthless?”
- “Is my marriage working?”
- “Isn’t love enough?”
- “Is my life about others? Or is it about me?”
Even the glib answers, which made me laugh, spoke to loss and worry about our place in the world—how we can claim what we want, and how we often cave in to what a youth-obsessed society tells us about middle aged women. Elective surgery? Self-medication?
- “Who has the name of a good plastic surgeon?”
- “What is the best rosé?”
- “Is this fat around my stomach or is it really a new organ?”
- “Shall I color my hair?”
- “How do I stay supple?”
We are caregivers. We want love. We want to feel our lives and our work are of value. Of course we support our adult children as they learn to support themselves. We care for our parents. And at times we feel squeezed dry. (How do I stay supple? has many implications, no?) We maintain our sense of humor. We worry over at risk populations in a post-democratic United States. We vote, march, make phone calls, give money, change jobs, dye our hair or let it go gray. We leave marriages, we fall in love, sometimes we drink too much rosé, we worry, and we think about how to be the best old ladies we can. As one friend (who, by the way, was recovering from a bilateral mastectomy when she wrote this) said:
We do have choices. We may wake up in a state, but we can choose how we want to face the day, and how we want to face the last act of our short and beautiful lives. Lots of Beauty. Lots of laughs. That shit is real!