THIS LIFE

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - CONTENTS - by Joan Brady

‘IF YOU THINK I’M 60 and you want my money, come on sugar, let me know…’ I’ve been sing­ing this lit­tle ditty for quite some time now – mirth­fully para­phras­ing Rod Ste­wart’s an­them, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, for friends and fam­ily who have reached the big 6-0. At par­ties, I’d sub­sti­tute Rod’s ‘If you want my body and you think I’m sexy’, for my more ageap­pro­pri­ate line and oh, how I laughed!

Now all those birth­day can­dles are on my cake and some­how it doesn’t seem quite so hi­lar­i­ous.

This is the first birth­day I deem sig­nif­i­cant. Any lin­ger­ing de­nial that I’m ac­tu­ally in my Third Act was ruth­lessly swept away by those big sixes and ze­ros on my birth­day cards and a let­ter which ar­rived in the same post invit­ing me to go for a free bowel screening. Yes in­deed. This is where I’m at.

Drawn to ar­ti­cles on pos­i­tive age­ing and gloss­ing over the lat­est de­tails of Brad and An­gelina’s di­vorce ar­range­ments, I have no time for other folks’ dra­mas now. I feel gripped with an urge to do some­thing for my­self – some­thing dra­matic and out of char­ac­ter, like trekking in a jun­gle in Costa Rica or throw­ing my­self out of an air­plane in one of those char­ity events – even though ac­tu­ally stay­ing strapped into a plane seat for the ten hours it takes to get to Costa Rica would be out of my com­fort zone.

I don’t re­mem­ber other dead­line birth­days be­ing like this. Turn­ing 30 was a dod­dle – I was a young, mar­ried mother, I had a job I loved, my fam­ily were all alive and well. I don’t re­mem­ber what I did, but I’m pretty sure it was celebratory and fun. By the time my 40th birth­day rolled around I was check­ing my pulse to make sure I was still alive. A decade of dev­as­tat­ing be­reave­ments had left me shell-shocked and – to quote another Rod Ste­wart song – not want­ing to talk about it. Or maybe not know­ing how to.

When I was 50 I re­mem­ber mak­ing my­self a prom­ise – this decade will be for me. And it was, but not in the way I’d imag­ined. My orig­i­nal, ad­mit­tedly fuzzy, plan was that maybe I would in­dulge my in­ner hip­pie with a round-the-world plane ticket and a gap year for grown-ups type of itin­er­ary, like El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert in Eat, Pray, Love. Well maybe not the ac­tual ashram in In­dia. But I was a med­i­ta­tor and a yoga lady al­ready so I felt I could def­i­nitely do the Bali bit. And who couldn’t do eat­ing ice-cream in Italy?

I didn’t go around the world as it turned out. But I did in­dulge in a decade of un­abashed navel-gaz­ing, the sort of re­lent­less in­tro­spec­tion that busy peo­ple get ir­ri­tated by.

My younger, hip­per, more suc­cess­ful self was hor­ri­fied at how my life was go­ing. That younger self was all about how fast I could go, how fast I needed to go, to out­run the painful feel­ings of grief and hurt and loss that I had buried many years be­fore. Too fast as it turned out.

Be­cause when I slowed down there they were, all the un­re­solved emo­tions I thought I had dodged, play­ing havoc with my life and my health and my re­la­tion­ships. De­mand­ing at­ten­tion. So I gave them at­ten­tion. I threw the book at them. I threw hun­dreds of books at them – the col­lec­tive wis­dom of all the writ­ers who ex­plained the dan­gers of avoid­ing dif­fi­cult feel­ings through drink­ing, eat­ing, shop­ping, or watch­ing too many Amer­i­can box sets.

So now I’m all mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion, imag­ing (draw­ing out your feel­ings us­ing stick fig­ures as char­ac­ters) and jour­nal­ing. I’m even read­ing a book about whether my hip pain could be from re­pressed anger rather than the torn ten­don that re­fuses to heal. The jury is still out on that one.

My life at 60 is noth­ing like it was at 50. The ex­cit­ing, dead­line-driven job that once fas­ci­nated me has been re­placed by the more pre­car­i­ous ad­ven­ture of writ­ing. To write nov­els you’re not sure any­one will want to read and fea­tures that are less re­liant on the clever turn of phrase and more on au­then­tic­ity have re­quired me to de­velop a dif­fer­ent kind of skill. Some­thing El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert calls ‘stub­born glad­ness’ – be­ing glad with your ef­forts re­gard­less of the re­sults. In her book Big Magic she writes about ‘cre­ative liv­ing be­yond fear’ – do­ing what makes you happy be­cause it makes you happy and not for any ul­te­rior mo­tive; clear­ing space in your life for things you love by drop­ping the things you don’t even like that much.

Sounds great, but ac­tu­ally it sounds eas­ier than it is. Be­cause we all im­pose stan­dards on our­selves and spend time and en­ergy try­ing to live up to them. If you de­cide you want to change them, the chances are you’ll come up against con­sid­er­able re­sis­tance – and only some of it will be from other peo­ple.

We all get in our own way. Try­ing to get out of it is what I’m all about now.

Any lin­ger­ing de­nial that I’m ac­tu­ally in my Third Act was ruth­lessly swept away by those big sixes and ze­ros on my birth­day cards

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