The Big 4-0
40 has always loomed large in my mind. I remember being younger and kids discussing whose parents were over 40 and whose parents were still under 40. I don’t remember my parents turning 40, but I remember hiding upstairs with my cousin during her mother’s 40th birthday party. She had a waiter walking around the room, bringing hors d’oeuvres to the adults, and I thought that was the epitome of sophistication. The waiter was gorgeous and named Marco. I promised myself that when I turned 40, I would have a gorgeous waiter named Marco bringing us fancy Shirley Temple cocktails on a silver platter.
I am turning 40 this year.
One needs to be okay with it in the sense that the alternative is that I am dead and not turning 40. But in all other regards, I’m not okay with it. I’ve been barreling towards 40, seeing it in front of me and feeling as if I’m in an out-of-control car that is about to crash into that numerical wall. And come out the other side? And simply stop? What happens once I cross that age line? Beyond the obvious answer of nothing. I am well aware that I will wake up the next day and still be the same person living the same life. So why does this randomly-chosen age have such a hold over my emotions?
I worry about vitality. Am I needed? Luckily, I chose a career that can go on indefinitely. That doesn’t change appreciably over time so there is rarely new things to learn. An essay is an essay. If I could teach a child how to write an essay at 30, I could teach a child how to write an essay at 80. It’s a low-tech base of knowledge, and the changes come so slowly that it’s not very difficult to keep up. Also, while publishers may expect me to know how to upload a manuscript using their FTP client, as long as I have the basics of word processing down, I can pretty much sail on for decades. I don’t work in a field such as engineering or medicine that demands that I stay knowledgeable about new advances. So on one hand, I feel as if that sense of vitality is on lock. (Isn’t that what the young’uns say?)
But is my voice as meaningful at 40? My mentor used to have me list my age in my cover letter for submissions. He said my young age was one of my selling points. He stopped telling me to list my age somewhere in my thirties. The message I’ve gotten over the years from society as a whole is that the ideas of the young are fresh! exciting! brilliant! new! whereas the ideas of the old are weary! worn! mundane! out-of-touch! Do I think this is true? No. Especially because I can point at writers who have gotten better with age. First books are rarely as good as fifth books in terms of construction. But is that the message I’ve picked up in our youth-obsessed culture? Absolutely.
I worry about still being visible. About still contributing to society. My opinion being heard. About making a difference. I’ve grown accustomed to the world treating me in a certain manner, and I don’t want to lose that type of interaction with the greater whole. My thirties were pretty damn sweet. I want my forties to follow suit.
I don’t know how to mark the occasion. Marco delivering a Shirley Temple on a silver platter no longer appeals to me. I don’t want to have a do-gooder party like Josh, mostly because I am not as good a person. We’re not really in a financial space right now to host a big party, and I’m not really a big party person anyway. I could grab my cousin and serve us Shirley Temples to honour that childhood promise. Part of me wants to go somewhere loud and kitschy like Dollywood and Graceland, and part of me wants to go sit on a deserted beach and contemplate the ocean in silence. Nothing that I’ve come up with so far feels quite right for marking the moment.
What did you do to mark 40? Or if you’re younger than I am, what do you plan to do to mark the occasion? I may borrow your ideas since I am too old and decrepit to come up with my own.