48

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I turned 48 in February. We were in Kauai, which was a terrific location for a ho-hum aging milestone (not quite the big 5-0). I’ll probably always fondly remember how the chair I sat on for my birthday dinner left a festive pattern of tropical cane-weave indentations into the back of my not-so-firm-and-youthful thighs that lasted for several humbling hours.

Just kidding, I will almost certainly forget that, or worse, replace a large swath of what actually happened with some filled-in memory gap bullshit. Remember how we were in Maui for my fiftieth and I sat in, what was it, fry sauce?

This is something I have noticed about getting older, how unreliable my memory is. It often feels like sifting through half-dissolved dreams, grabbing for bits of time that stick out for whatever reason in the foggy sea of the forgotten.

I sometimes think of all of the years I have lived and how I am filled with things that are only known to me and will die with me. How we all are. There’s a weight to being middle-aged and it’s not just the slowing-metabolism spare tire of belly fat. We are all heavy with our own stories.

Here at 48, I am not where I want to be. People talk about being freed from self-criticism as they age but I appear to have missed that wisdom memo: I am harder on myself now than I ever have been, or maybe it’s just that I see it more clearly. I am so stupidly bitter and hateful and despairing over my body and all its changes. I am so sad about my man-sized children growing up, up and away from me. I am so incredibly unclear on what it is I want to do with the rest of my one goddamned wild and precious fucking life.

The good news, of course, is that I am here to write all those embarrassing true things. My story goes on. It will change, because it always does.

I have a little paper journal that I’ve been writing in for several years now, ever since my first hospice patient told me she regretted not keeping a diary and advised me to do so. Every few days I update it with a few random sentences about daily life: Went to D’s 8th grade bball tournament. Driving practice with R. Currently watching ‘Billions’.

The last couple years I’ve sprinkled in inadequate pandemic updates, jarring little segues from Did a workout with Jodi! to 800K people dead. In the same way, I have now documented Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; while it felt almost sacrilegious to try and condense the horror of it to a few words (adjacent to the thrilling mention of an orthodontist appointment) it felt equally impossible to make no mention of it whatsoever.

It is of course a privilege to be pondering such things instead of, say, being actively shelled by tanks.

There’s a particular mental loop I’ve found myself in, over and over throughout the pandemic: feeling deeply affected by everything that’s happening, then berating myself for feeling anything other than gratitude considering my relative good fortunes, then going back to feeling terrible because what kind of monster just is grateful and enjoys life right now when there’s so much legitimate awfulness going on, and so on.

The main problem, although I suspect there are many additional downsides, with swinging between doom-wallowing and self-flagellation is that it’s hugely ineffective and really good for nothing at all except spiraling into paralyzing anxiety.

The only thing I’ve found to help with the onslaught of bad news is to detach from it. I don’t mean ostrich-style and oblivious — as you’ve probably noticed, it’s actually damn near impossible to opt out altogether unless you’re in a tech-free silent retreat or something. I just mean scanning the news a few times a day instead of installing a powerful and continuous IV drip of it directly into my amygdala.

Still, it’s hard to know where to send one’s despair these days. Is it over the lingering spaghetti-stain of a global pandemic? The endless shitshow of staggeringly fucked-up politics? Actual warfare footage being turned into upbeat TikTok content?

Sometimes it’s all about bringing myself back to the minutiae of my diary. Haircuts, sports practices, dinners, all the tiny moments that make up a life. Life goes on, whether or not you’re paying attention.